Rath Jatra 2017 in pictures

The Rath Jatra (Chariot Festival) is one of the most colourful, enigmatic and important festivals in India and one of the oldest of its kind, finding mention in the ancient Puranas. It is an annual festival held at the Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) temple at Puri in the state of Orissa, India which is considered to have its origins in tribal culture (tribal art shows itself in the depictions of the deities of the temple) . The English word ‘juggernaut’ meaning an unstoppable force, derives from Lord Jagannath and the massive force of the Rath Jatra procession.

The festival involves the idols of the three deities of the temple – Lord Jagannath (form of Vishnu), his elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra – along with the Sudarshana Chakra (celestial wheel) being taken out of the temple in a huge procession, to the Gundicha temple (at a distance of ~2km) where they remain for 9 days before being returned to the main temple.

The chariot (rath) of Lord Jagannath is called Nandighosha. It has 16 wheels and 832 pieces of wood are used in its construction.

This year the festival took place between 25 June and 3 July. Below are a few glimpses (credit to @shrijagannatha for the tweets).

The first day of the Rath Jatra (25 July this year) is traditionally marked by a frenzy of festivities including song, dance and rituals. Both classical Odissi and tribal dance and music is performed side by side.

The idols are carried out of the temple amid an explosion of festivities.

The ISKCON Hare Krishna movement was instrumental in making the Rath Jatra an international event that happens every year in over 108 cities around the world in the US, Canada, Europe, Russia and South East Asia.

The festival includes several rituals. One of the most important of these is the Chhera- Pahanra. This ritual is performed once the deities are brought from the sanctum of the temple, to their chariots (raths). It is part of ritual for the king of the region to come to pay respects to Lord Jagannath, perform aarti, fan the deities with a golden hand fan, offer flowers and fragrant sandalwood water and sweep the chariot with a golden broom. It is believed that the chariot cannot budge unless the king performs this ritual which symbolises humility through the complete submission to the Lord of the Universe by the lord of the land.

The Chhera-Pahanra is performed by diverse peoples, from Hindu royalty to Muslim leaders and tribal chiefs – in a spirit of universality.

Around the grand chariots are the  lesser-known Gods, Parshwadebatas, such as Harihara (composite form of Vishnu and Shiva), Ganesha (son of Shiva and Parvati and the remover of obstacles), Bhubhaneshwai (Goddess of the world), Goddess Bimala (presiding deity of Puri and identified with one of the 4 Shakti Peeths), Varahi (feminine counterpart of Lord Vishnu’s boar or varaha reincarnation), Madhusudana (Vishnu as the vanquisher of the demon Madhu), Banadurga (a form of Goddess Durga), Tantric Goddess Chamunda, Chintamani (benevolent Krishna) and Gajantaka (form of Shiva that destroyed the elephant demon Gajasura).

On the 9th day, Lord Jagannatha returns from the Gundicha temple on the day of Bahuda Jatra, culminating the festival. This was on 3 July this year.

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