|Next Car Festival 2017: 25 June 2017, Sunday|
Ratha Yatra, the grand and colorful festival of chariots, is held on Asadha Sukla Dwitiya i.e. the second day of bright fortnight of Asadha (June-July) every year. Millions of devotees from different parts of the country and abroad witnessed the spectacle of world famous Car festival of Lord Jagannath at Puri. This festival is also known as 'Gundicha Yatra' and 'Ghosha Yatra'. As per the prevailing tradition, Gundicha was the Rani (queen) of Raja Indradyumna, the legendary builder of the first temple. She had initiated this grand festival. Hence, this festival is also known after her name.
On this day, the three deities are taken out from the main Temple, placed in three gorgeously decorated chariots and start their journey to Sri Gundicha Temple. The chariots are dragged by thousands of devotees from the Lion's gate of the Jagannath temple to Sri Gundicha Temple which is located at a distance of 3 kilometers. The 3 kilometers Grand Road , known as 'Bada Danda', between Jagannath Temple and Sri Gundicha temple, looked like a sea of humanity as the devotees pumped to have a glimpse of the deities on the chariots.
At Gundicha Temple the deities remain for 7 days and perform their return journey on the 9th day which is known as 'Bahuda Yatra'. The three chariots reach back the main temple in the evening. On the next day, the three deities are attired in costumes of glittering gold ornaments and are worshipped by millions of devotees. This is known as the 'Suna Vesha'. Next day morning, the three deities go back to their original place of the temple. Their arrival into the sanctum sanctorum marks the end of the Car festival.
More than a religious festival, the Ratha Yatra is an eternal celebration of the divine values of love and compassion, of equality and fraternity. The general public is allowed to pull the chariots irrespective of caste, creed, sect, and religion and sex distinctions. This liberty indicates that the deity is equal for every person on earth and grants equal opportunity to all. Also, the festival signifies that the benevolent deities' desire to come down to the level of the common man to share the joys and suffering of the common folk and to travel with them on the Grand Road for some time to reach Sri Gundicha Temple.
The Ratha Yatra is the grand finale of a series of festivals spread over the summer and the monsoon month.
FESTIVALS ASSOCIATED WITH CAR FESTIVAL
Akshay Tritiya festival marks the beginning of the famous Car Festival of Lord Jagannath. Akshay Tritiya festival is observed on the third day of the bright half of the lunar month of 'Baisakha' of the traditional Hindu calendar. On this auspicious day the carpenters start building the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabadra and Subhadra. This day also commences the famous Chandana Yatra.
Snana Yatra festival is observed on the full-moon day of the month of Jyestha (May-June). This is the bathing festival of the deities. On this day, the three deities move in colorful processions to the Snana Mandapa (Bathing pandal) where the deities are bathed with 108 pitchers of water drawn from a well near the Northern Gate. At the end of Snana Yatra day, the deities are supposed to fall ill (fever) and do not return to their pedestal. They stay away from the public view for a period of 15 days. This period is known as 'Anabasara' or 'Anasara' in local language. After this period, people get the first glimpse of their deities on the day before Rath Yatra, on this day the deities are re-painted and brought to the main platform for the devotees to see and pay homage which is called 'Nava Yauvana Darshan'. This is also known as 'Netrotsava'. Next day, the Ratha Yatra Festival is observed.
Finally comes the Ratha Yatra on the second day of the bright fortnight of the month of Asadha.