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Ratha Yatra: The Festival Of Celestial Carts

Mar 6, 2008
Ratha yatra is the celebration of when Lord Krishna (Lord Jagannatha) left Dvaraka and attended a religious function in the holy pilgrimage site, Kuruksetra, around 5,000 years ago. He was traveling on a big opulent chariot along with His sister, Subhadra, and elder brother Balarama, to Vrindavan. In remembrance of that incident, Ratha Yatra, the Festival of the Chariots is celebrated every year at Puri, the temple town in Orissa, on the east coast of India, where Lord Jagannatha eternally resides.

The presiding deities of the main temple, Sri Mandira, Lord Jagannatha, Lord Baladev and Lady Subhadra, with the celestial weapon known as Sudarshana are taken out from the temple compound in a grand ritual procession to their respective chariots. The massive, beautifully decorated chariots, are drawn by hundreds and thousands of devotees on the bada danda, the grand avenue that leads to the Gundicha temple, about two miles away to the North. After staying there for seven days, the deities return to where they are eternally worshipped, in the Sri Mandira.

Each year in Jagannatha Puri, Lord Caitanya, an incarnation of Krishna who appear as a devotee some 500 years ago in the district of West Bengal, India, took part in the chariot festival of Lord Jagannatha, manifesting symptoms of the mood of separation from Himself, as if Radharani, Krishna's consort, was taking Krishna back to Vrindavan. So this Ratha-yatra festival is a festival based on emotions, as far as the Vaisnavas are concerned. Lord Caitanya taught us by his own examples of how to feel separation from Krishna. Lord Caitanya never taught us that He had seen God, but that He felt the separation of God very severely.

Every year in Jagannath Puri, three enormous chariots are constructed anew for Lord Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhardra. Over 1,000 logs are are cut down and brought from the Dasapalla and Ranpur forests, and more than 100 carpenters work for two months constructing these three giant chariots. A local mill provides around 2,000 meters of radiant cloth each year to drape the chariots. The devotees pull the chariots along the procession route using very strong coconut fiber ropes, 8 inches in diameter. The nails, brackets and fixtures are locally made, and the smiths work for a month on them. The carts' main structure contains eighteen pillars and roofs. Each chariot holds nine subsidiary deities; two doorkeepers, one charioteer and one presiding deity of the crest banner and all are made of wood.

Today, this same Ratha Yatra festivals, nondifferent from Puri, are performed in cities around the world, organized by the Hare Krishna Movement. It's one of their main festivals because such events revive our God consciousness, or Krishna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acharya of the Hare Krishna movement, was very fond of Ratha-yatra. At five years old he began celebrating Ratha-yatra, using a small home-made cart and pulling it around the neighborhood with his friends. Later in life, from 1967 until his passing away in 1977, Srila Prabhupada assembled thousands of disciples in cities around the world as they celebrated the Ratha-yatra chariot festivals in the streets of London's posh Hyde Park Lane, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and on New York's prestigious 5th Avenue.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for Krishna art, religious gifts from India, and Hare Krishna books. You can find the best marketplace for Krishna art, religious gifts from India, and Hare Krishna books at these sites for Jagannatha art, Jagannatha gifts, and Ratha Yatra books.
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