There are many who don’t know that the Lord Jagannath of the Jagannath Yatra fame is actually a form of Krishna. And that he is flanked by his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. So essentially it’s a celebration of the siblings going for a nice chariot round to his birthplace Gundicha and his aunt’s home. This is what the festival is all about, sounds simple, it’s not so. The festival is loaded with immense significance and that’s what draws lakhs to Puri during this time. This year it starts on July 14th and ends on July 26. It is mainly celebrated at the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha. The capital of Odisha is Bhubaneshwar and Puri is under two hours from there.
There is a special ritual associated with the idols of Lord Jagannatha. Since the idols are made of wood, it needs to be replaced. The replacing doesn’t happen in a random fashion. It is done once every 9 to 10 years. There is a specific ritual associated with the replacement of the idols. It is called the Nabakalebara ritual. The literal translation is being a new body. The last time the ritual was done was in 2015.
Mind you, the idols are not made of just any wood. Neem wood is used for this and not just any neem wood. Apparently, the neem tree has to fulfill certain criteria, like it has to have x number of branches, colour and even the location of the tree is significant. Even the sourcing of the tree is a journey, it’s called the Banajag Yatra. An army of priests, helpers and carpenters go on the journey to find the right tree.
Rituals, Stories and Significance
Once the new idols are created the old ones are buried in a secret ceremony. The Govt of Odisha declares a power cut when the ritual of burying the old deities is carried out. Legend has it that the person witnessing the ritual dies. Even when the new idols are placed in the temple, the ritual of transferring the energies from the old idol to the new is shrouded in secrecy, even the priest performing the ritual is blindfolded. The significance of the old and the new idols stand for destruction and reincarnation. An age-old Hindu belief.
The three mammoth chariots meant to take the idols around during the festival are made in a very detailed yet public process. It’s done in front of the royal palace, it is said that one family of carpenters have been carrying on the task of building the chariots for generations.
Rath Yatra 2018
• Sri Gundicha: July 14. Placing of the deities in the chariots (rath) and the rath yatra (journey) to Gundicha temple.
• Hera Panchami: July 17. The irate consort of Lord Jagannatha, Goddess Lakshmi, is miffed that she isn’t a part of the journey and she sets out to Gundicha temple to find out about him.
• Bahuda Yatra: July 22. The retreat of the chariots to Lion’s Gate entrance of Jagannath Temple. The chariots move in reverse.
• Suna Besha: July 23. Adorning of the deities with gold jewellery. A popular ritual.
• Adhara Pana: July 24. The ritual of offering a special health drink to the gods.
• Niladri Bijay: July 26. Placing the deities back in the temple.
Food Of The Gods
Mahaprasad is the food offered to the gods during the Rath Yatra. It is the ‘chhappan bhog’ or 56 dish meal. Of which some are particularly significant. Podha Pitha is said to be Lord Jagannath’s favourite delicacy. Apparently, he has a sweet tooth, so desserts are an important part of the 56 dishes. There has long been a debate on the origins of the rasgulla, while the Bengalis claim it as their own, Odiyas say its origins are in Odisha. Debate or no debate what is served in the Mahaprasad is a richer and darker version of the rasgulla called Khir Mohan. Khaja a deep fried sweet is another specialty. It is one of the iconic sweets of the region. Then there is the heavenly khichdi, delicious dal dholma, and the fermented rice dish. It is said that the temple kitchens cook to feed 100,000 devotees. Everyone who comes there, eats. Other than the temple food, Odisha is full of amazing food joints. But that is another story altogether!