It was 29th June, 2014.
It was a hot and sultry day in Puri in Odisha. But more than 8,00,000 who gathered on the ‘Badadanda’ were oblivious of the heat and the humidity. It was the faith and opportunity of having a darshan of Lord Jagannath which had brought them there. And this is a yearly event which the faithful really look forward to.
I have had the privilege of witnessing the ‘Ratha Yatra’ a few years back. There is nothing quite like it in the whole world.
Lord Jagannath is on the move for his annual vacation to his countryside home along with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra on the day of Asadh Sud 2. As in the past, the deities are travelling from their coastal home in Puri in their royal chariots. The “yatra” or journey, will take nine days to cover the distance, after the “Ratha Pratishtha” invoking ceremony in the morning and almost a million pilgrims are expected to throng the route to escort the Lord.
Artisans, craftsmen and weavers have already created a fresh new wooden chariot for the Lord. The 3 chariots for each of the deities, resemble a temple structure reaching almost 45 feet, and are pulled by a rope which is considered lucky amongst pilgrims. . The “darshan” of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious, and worshippers believe that touching the Lord’s vehicle brings prosperity.
The rath yatra festival is also referred to as Gundicha Jatra, Ghosa Jatra, Navadina Jatra or Dasavatara Jatra
The old deity is buried in the temple premises in ‘Koili Baikunth’ after the new deity is installed.
I reproduce below an extract (translated in English) of one of the letters which was published in the compilation “Annales de la Propogation De La.Foi- Recueil Periodique,2” published from Lyon in France. It was written on February 27th February 1877 by one of the French priests Father G. de Clercx, of The Company of Jesus to his Mission in Paris. This letter was written from Balasore in Orissa, where the French had a ‘Loge’ (trading post) and French Jesuit Missionaries used to be stationed there. It gives the following account of the adoration of people of Orissa for Lord Jagannath:
“ It is at Jaggenauth, towards the south of Orissa, that one finds the place of piligrimage the most visited in the whole of India. People come here from hundreds of miles away and even from the districts located on the foothills of the Himalayas. Balasore, which is situated on the route of the pilgrims coming from the north-east of the peninsula, is continuously crossed by a crowd of pagansof all ages; of both the sexes and of all social levels, who visit or return to this place. The largest number come on foot; some come on horsebacks, on the backs of camels or of elephants, or in carts of all types. When, in January last, I was on the route from Midnapore to Balasore, the number of pilgrims was so -large that it looked like a procession as far as the eye could see. Most of them were full of tiredness; they moved forward painfully; quite a few had blood on their feet.
On seeing us approach, a number of them started singing, out of which the only thing that I could understand was the name of Jaggernauth. In the crowd of the pilgrims, I noticed a Hindu penitent, almost naked; his long hair covering his shoulders; his entire body was covered with ash. His companions on the route looked at him with admiration and regarded him as a saint. During the month of February about 3,000 pilgrims stay at Balasore each day. In the eyes of the pagans, even the route going to Jaggernauth is sacred; often the indigenous people taking this route, touch the earth with hands, kiss it with respect before putting their feet on that route….” ( See my article “Orissa (Odisha) through French eyes: An account written by a French priest in 1877″ on my website http://www.fiftyplustravels.com/?p=2646).
(Text sources: Internet, Orissa Tourism and my article)
Photos, text & copyright K.J.S.Chatrath 2014.
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