Ratha Yatra, also known as the Festival of Chariots, is a major Hindu festival celebrated in India, particularly in the state of Odisha and the city of Puri. It is one of the oldest and grandest chariot festivals in the world. The history of Ratha Yatra dates back thousands of years and is closely associated with the Jagannath Temple in Puri.
The origins of Ratha Yatra can be traced back to ancient scriptures and legends. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, along with his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, leave their regular abode in the Jagannath Temple and embark on a journey to visit their aunt’s temple, the Gundicha Temple, which is about 2.5 miles away. The deities travel in three separate chariots, which are pulled by thousands of devotees during the festival.
The earliest historical evidence of Ratha Yatra can be found in the records of the 10th-century king Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. He was a devout follower of Lord Jagannath and played a significant role in the development of the Jagannath Temple and the Ratha Yatra festival.
Over the centuries, the Ratha Yatra festival gained immense popularity and became a significant event in the social and cultural life of the region. The Gajapati Kings of Puri, who were considered the religious and political custodians of the Jagannath Temple, took great interest in the festival and made elaborate arrangements for its celebration.
During the British colonial era, Ratha Yatra faced some challenges due to restrictions imposed by the British authorities. However, the festival continued to be celebrated, and in the year 1905, the British administration lifted the restrictions, allowing the grand procession of the chariots to take place.
Today, Ratha Yatra in Puri attracts millions of devotees from all over the world. The main highlight of the festival is the pulling of the chariots by devotees, who consider it a great honor to participate in this sacred act. The three chariots are constructed anew each year and are pulled from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple and then back to the Jagannath Temple over a period of several days.
The festival is marked by joyous celebrations, devotional songs, dances, and various religious rituals. It is believed that anyone who gets the opportunity to pull the chariots or even touch the ropes is blessed with good fortune and spiritual merit.
Ratha Yatra has transcended religious boundaries and has become a symbol of unity and inclusivity. It is celebrated not only by Hindus but also by people from different faiths and nationalities, who come together to witness and participate in this magnificent spectacle.