| Thousands of pilgrims from all over India bear
witness to this event and participate in pulling the chariots to their summer
sojourn. It is believed that all who pull the rope of the chariot of Jagannatha
and his brother and sister will go to heaven. According to another ancient belief,
anyone who dies under the massive wheels of the chariot will attain salvation.
Hence in the past, many devotees, wanting to attain salvation, flung themselves
under the wheels. The practice has now been banned and the state and law enforcement
take huge precautions to prevent anyone from doing this. Devotees now content
themselves by simply pulling at the rope attached to the chariot. On this auspicious
day, devotees hurl obscenities and profane abuses at the god. Locals believe that
there existed an incestuous relation ship between Jagannatha and his sister Subhadra,
which provoked abuses when the images were out in public. Hurling obscenities
at the statue appears to be an old practice, observed for years. The entire Jagannatha
Rath Yatra is a symbolic humanization of god. All the rituals associated with
this festival demonstrate an attempt to bring the god down from his pedestal of
glory to a more human level.
|This ritual is believed to be part of that attempt.
On the day of the journey, people get up early in the morning and after bathing,
offer prayers to Jagannatha. The three chariots are kept ready, lined in front
of the Puri temple. The King of Puri with great pomp and ceremony then brings
the deities to their respective chariots. Devotees then climb onto the chariots
to offer prayer sand take the blessings of the deities. Descendants of the King
of Puri, heralded by gaily-caparisoned elephants then sweep the chariot platforms
with a gold-handled broom and sprinkle scented water to demonstrate that in the
eyes of god, kings are no different from the lowliest of men. Only the King of
Puri and the King of Nepal are allowed to enter the temple and touch the idol
as they belong to the Chandravanshi dynasty, the same dynasty as Krishna. Then
comes the most important moment. The teeming pilgrims line up Jagannatha Rath
Yatra holding the ropes and pull the chariot with all their might. Everyone's
sole aim is to have the supreme privilege of helping the chariots on their journey.
This is believed to absolve them of all their sins. When the chariots reach the
summerhouse, prayers are offered. The idols of Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra
are installed in their respective places. With this, the festivities come to a
| The week passes quietly, with only
a few local people offering prayers to the deities. The journey back consists
of another ritual, observed on a much smaller scale, known as Phera Rath Yatra.
Every year, the great chariots are broken down and its wood is sold as relics.
A replica is made on exactly the same pattern the next year. However the images
of the deities are preserved. It is only in a year in which two Ashadha months
occurs one after the other that the images are changed. This usually happens once
in 12 or 24 years. The ceremony, called Naba Kalebar, consists of burying the
old images inside the temple. Then new images are created from the wood of the
lime (Citrus acida) tree. This practice of replacing the idols stems from the
belief that in such a year, everything in the universe changes shape and form,
and therefore Jagannatha receives the same treatment. The year 1996 was the most
recent year of Naba Kalebar, and the one before that was 1974. In the evening,
people dress in new clothes and go visiting. Shops and houses are decorated with
flowers and lights, and traditionally with rangoli. Special dishes and sweets
are made on this day. Fried papad is usually eaten in every home. Pakoras are
also popular favorites. Most people refrain from eating non-vegetarian food.
| Being of utmost importance, especially to the people of Orissa,
this day is a public holiday in the state. As this chariot festival falls during
the monsoon season, people also thank the gods for their mercy and bounty, by
participating in the procession. The special significance of the Rath Yatra is
that god comes out from behind the curtains of rituals to move amongst ordinary
people and offer redemption. Nowhere else is a deity, once consecrated, taken
out of the temple. The only exception is when a temple requires some repair work.
However, even then, the idols are removed following the strictest of guidelines.
The Jagannatha Temple at Puri is the sole exception to this general rule. In fact
during the Rath Yatra, the chariots become mobile temples, which sanctify the