A Historical Background-
Believed to be as old as the Jagannath temple at Puri, Orissa, the Ratha Yatra, or the Chariot Festival as it is popularly known outside India, is unique in its benevolence and massive cultural aspects. Considered to be the only fair in India wherein the deities are taken out of their temples, the biggest processions of the fair take place in Puri, Orissa along with the other one that takes place in the Western state of Gujrat. The fair marks the annual ceremonial procession of Lord Jagannasth, his elder brother, Balbhadra and younger sister, Subhadra, from their home temple in Puri to another temple, in what is believed to be their aunt’s place according to the age long myth.
Cultural and sentimental conundrum-
This journey is known to have been documented in the Puranas, thus creating the largest chariot procession in the world. People belonging to all religions, creeds and cultural backgrounds form more than a million group of visitors for the fair every year. In fact, the impact of its belief is so profound that it has received immense enthusiasm from New Zealand to South Africa, from New York to London. Millions come to experience this holy yet astounding procession as a ‘king’ sweeps the road with a golden mop and five massive 18-wheeled chariots bearing the sibling deities make their way through the crowd.
Devdutt Patnaik who writes on the relevance of mythology in the modern times, aptly sums up the intention behind the admiration of the Lord Jagannath cult and the Chariot festival as he states, “Locally, Jagannath is called Kaliya for its black colour with great affection. Although, modern colour prejudice makes many insist that Krishna is actually blue. He is God, of course, spelt with a capital G, but more than that, he is a friend, as the dominant mood in the temple of sakha-bhaav, devotion through the emotion of friendship”. Analysing this statement generates a clear understanding of how the Rath Yatra is a culturally and spiritually tied way of the local expression.
Spiritual Inclusivity and Concord-
Unlike the ornate, carefully crafted metal idols used elsewhere, these three deities are fashioned from wool, cloth and resin. These are mal-formed with large heads and no arms, thus reminding of a native legend about an impatient king. At the end of the festival, the chariots are dismantled and their wood is used as fuel in the temple kitchen, believed to be the largest kitchen in the world that cooks 56 things every day, thus feeding nearly 2000 to 20 lakh people.
The glory of Jagannath influences the daily lives of the natives, right from their birth, marriages and even death. Puri is connected with all the important regions and places throughout the nation with railways, roads and flights. Due to the increasing number of pilgrims, the British government constructed the networks starting right from their rule in India. Thousands of native artisans, producers and priests are employed through generation, who wait throughout the year for this time of economic aid and steadiness that is socially and culturally rendered to them since ages.
Potteries and paintings that are demanded on a large scale provide a sense of stability to the native potters and artists along with the purohits, pandits, traditional dancers and musicians who enthusiastically engage in the yatra and attract many more people, thus aiding a continuity of the age-long culture. The Orissan art, literature and music are influenced immensely by the Jagannath cult and are a major cause as well as a promising outcome of this cultural abode. The Rath Yatra, is thus, a reminder of spiritual inclusiveness and harmony that has found barriers with the coming generations of conflict and an otherwise cultural disintegration.