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Location: Orissa, India
Area: 16.33 square kilometer
Nearest Railhead: Puri railway station
Nearest Airport: Bhubaneswar International Airport
How to reach: 60km drive from Bhubaneswar airport and Puri railway station
Famous for: Jagannath Puri temple, Rath Yatra, Puri beach,
Months Open: All year
Best time to visit: June/ July depending on dates of the Rath Yatra
The Puri Rath Yatra is a popular festival celebrated in Odisha and Jharkhand every year during the month of Asadha that falls between June and July. Rathyatra is a derivation of two Sanskrit words, ‘rath’ meaning chariot and ‘yatra’ meaning journey. It is the journey or pilgrimage of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra in massive wooden chariots to the Gundicha Temple, 3km away where they stay for nine days before returning to the Shri Jagannath Temple, that marks the significance of the festival.
Jagannatha temple, Rath Yatra, Gundicha Temple, Puri beach
The mention of various Rath Yatras undertaken by Lord Vishnu and Surya finds mention in the ancient Puranas and epics of Hindu mythology. The yatras are a grand event, where the deities are accompanied by devotees and followers across the streets and regions. India is home to many rath yatras, including, the Rath Yatra of Mahesh and the Rath Yatra of Puri. It, is however, the Puri Rath Yatra that attracts millions of pilgrims and devotees every year. The Jagannath Rath Yatra also dates back in time and has been mentioned in the Brahma and Padma Purana. In Odisha, the kings of Mayurbhanj and Parlakhemundi have been recorded as celebrating the Puri Rath Yatra on a grand scale. Similarly, there is evidence of the Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath also carried out by King Ramsingh of Jaipur during the Mughal era in the 18th century. In fact, this festival is one of the earliest Indian celebrations to have been reported to the Western world.
How is it celebrated?
Shri Jagannath Temple is the abode of Lord Jagannath (reincarnation of Vishnu), his brother Balabhadra and his sister Subhadra. During the Puri Rath Yatra, the three deities are brought out of the temple on the Bada Danda or main road on chariots that travel to the Gundicha Temple. Along the entire stretch or distance, devotees throng the chariots for worship and ‘darshan’ or the Holy view. The Raths are huge wooden chariots that are approximately 45 feet high and take a couple of months to build. Each deity has an individual chariot with subtle variations, such as Lord Jagannath’s rath has 18 wheels, Lord Balabhadra’s chariot has 16 wheels and Subhadra has a 14 wheeled chariot. The chariots are newly constructed every year; however, the idols also made of wood are replaced once in about 12 years. One of the most important rituals is called the ‘chera pahara’. The Gajapati King (erstwhile dynasty of Odisha) dresses up as a sweeper and sweeps the chariot as well as the streets on which the chariot of Jagannath Rath Yatra is said to travel. The meaning of this ritual is to signify that even someone who holds the highest order in the kingdom bends and sweeps before the Lord. This ritual marks and reaffirms the values of humbleness and equality in the eyes of the Almighty. This ritual is done twice, once when the idols are on the way to the Mausi Maa Temple and then again when they return to the Shri Jagannath Temple. The Rath Yatra in Puri attracts huge crowds and is the most visited Rath Yatra in the world. The large chariots are pulled by ropes by hundreds of followers, whose devotion, intensity and eagerness to do their bit in the journey of the Lords’ keep the streets of Puri abuzz with chants and a marked religious spirit.
Things to see nearby
The Puri beach is a relatively untouched coastline suitable for a peaceful un-crowded beach experience. It is also famous for the various sand sculptures by the world-famous artist Sudarshan Patnaik.
Dedicated to Sun God, the temple is a marvelous example of architecture and scientific knowledge of the people who built it in the 13th century AD. Built like the chariot of Sun God as per Hindu mythology, the intricate artwork is a fine example of the Kalinga style of architecture. Especially noticeable are the wheels of the chariot, each of which is a sundial that can be used to tell the time and day precisely.
HOW TO REACH
Puri town is 60km away from the Biju Patnaik International Airport, Bhubaneswar. There are frequent bus connections between Bhubaneswar and Puri. Alternatively, you could also hire a private taxi that will take about 1.5 hours.
Puri railway station is well connected to the Eastern Railway network of India. There are overnight trains from Kolkata and also connections from other major railway stations in India.
Bhubaneswar is well connected with the rest of India through the NH16 and Golden Quadrilateral network. From Bhubaneswar, NH316 will take you to Puri within 1.5 hours.
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