The Ratha Yatra, also known as the Ratha Jatra, is an annual Hindu festival that commemorates the journey of Hindu deity Jagannath to visit Gundicha Temple.
Hindus typically hold the Ratha Yatra in the Puri region of India hence the name Puri Ratha Yatra. The festival takes place on the second day of a fortnight-long moonlight phase (Shukla pakshya) in Ashadha, the third month of the Hindu lunar calendar. The festival will fall on June 25 this year.
Hindus celebrate the Ratha Yatra to relive the period when Lord Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe paid a visit to his aunt, the goddess who built the famous Indian Gundicha Temple. Lord Jagannath, along with two of his siblings, had undertaken the journey to pay tribute to their aunt. Hindus mimic the journey of the three deities during the feast of Puri Ratha Yatra.
The preparations for Ratha Yatra take place weeks before the feast itself. Devotees come from all over the world to pull decorated chariots through the streets (bada danda). Carpenters from chosen families gather in Puri and in other cities where the celebration is held to begin building the chariots for the celebrations during Akshaya Tritiya. The carpenters build three chariots from special trees, one for Lord Jagannath (the Nandighosa), one for his brother Lord Balabhadra (the Taladhwaja) and another for their sister the goddess Subhadra (the Dwarpadalana). The three chariots are all large, about 45 feet in height. The Nandighosa has sixteen wheels, the Taladhwaja has fourteen wheels, and the Dwarpadalana has twelve. About eighteen days before the feast of the Ratha Yatra, temple devotees give the statues of the three deities a ceremonial bath. The deities are housed in the Main Temple at this time.
On the Puri Ratha Yatra, millions of Hindu devotees gather at the Main Temple, also called the Jagannath temple, to pull the chariots. The Jagannath temple is one of four Char Dham, pilgrimage centers that all devoted Hindus should visit before their deaths. The devotees pull the chariots through the streets. Many foreigners and non-Hindus come to watch the colorful chariots on their way to the Gundicha Temple. The Nandighosa is pulled first, noticeable for its white wooden horses and red and yellow theme. The Taladhwaja has black wooden horses and a red and blue or red and green theme whereas the Dwarpadalana has red wooden horses with a red and black finish.
People dance in the streets as the chariots pass. Children sing choruses specific to the feast. Musicians fill the streets with the sounds of their drums, trumpets and tambourines. The chariots are moved from the Main Temple to the Gundicha temple, where the deities remain for eight days. On the ninth day, priests and other Hindus return the deities to the Main Temple, making two steps along the way. The two stops that devotees make during the Puri Bahuda Jatra, the return journey, are used as periods to make offerings and pay tributes. The end of the Puri Ratha Yatra marks the return of the Lord of the Universe to his home.