The most celebrated and respected festival of Odisha is the Ratha Yatra or the Car Festival of Puri. Ratha Yatra is the festival which consists many rituals. The following rituals performed from the day of Ratha Yatra till the deities start their return journey.
MORNING RITUALS (inside the temple):
Arati, Avakasha, Rosa homa (puja in the temple kitchen), Surya and Dwara pala Puja, Sakala dhupa (morning offering-specially cooked food), Mangal arpana, Doralagi, Puspanjali and Tuli offering, Mailam lagi, unfastening of deities and preparation for pahandi.
PAHANDI (from the Sanctum to the Chariot):
The journey of the deities to the world outside, starts with a spectacular royal procession called Pahandi Bije. This Pahandi procession of the deities is in a row and is known as ‘Dhadi Pahandi’ or a group movement. In Dhadi Pahandi procession the deities take rest whenever required during the journey to their respective chariots. All the deities move simultaneously one after the other in close succession. First Lord Sudarshana, then Balabhadra, then Subhadra and lastly Lord Jagannath are taken out from the inner Sanctum. At the seven-stairs northern exit from the dancing hall, the three deities assemble and receive giant floral crowns, called Tahias. Then the deities are literally pulled, pushed and dragged in rhythmic movement with the accompaniment of the beat of cymbals, drums and chanting of their names in chorus by devotees. Lord Sudarshana & Subhadra are carried on the shoulders but Balabhadra & Jagannath are carried all the way with little pauses in forward and backward motions. The deities are ushered through the Pata Agana, Ananda bazar, inner lion’s gate, Baishi Pahacha, lion’s gate, Gumuti, Arunastambha and finally to their respective chariots.
When the deities are installed in their respective Rathas,the following rituals are observed on the eve of commencement of the journey.
(i) Chaka Apasaras - Circular cushions are provided to the deities
(ii) Proxy divinities - Madanamohana and Ramakrishna are brought from the temple and placed in Nandighosha and Taladhwaja respectively
(iii) Two big chests containing provisions, raiment and other necessary articles for use of the deities during the journey and sojourn, are kept in the chariots
(iv) Chita Lagi - Special head ornaments made of thermo cool and studded with artificial gems, flower decorations and pata vastra are provided to the deities. A cocoanut sent by the villagers of Baligaon Dasia Bauri is also presented to Lord Jagannath
(v) Chhera Pahanra - Moping of the chariot platform by the King of Puri. The King comes from the palace in a richly decorated palanquin, offers garlands, performs arati, pays reverential salute, fans the deity by golden flywhisk, and sweeps the chariot platform round the deity. He holds a golden broom in his hand and other Sevayatas meant for this purpose remain present there to throw flowers on the space of the chariot for sweeping purpose by the king. Thereafter fragrant sandal water is sprinkled on the surface of the chariots to sanctify them. It is an exciting scene for which devotees wait eagerly despite the scorching heat or rain as the case may be that happen on that day. It is because King of Puri is regarded as Vishnu and to witness the king along with Lord Jagannath on chariots is believed that all sins of a devotee are washed away. The Chhera Pahanra act signifies that there is no distinction between the king and a sweeper. The King, as the foremost servitor performs the ignoble job of a sweeper as a mark of utmost humility in the presence of the Lord of the Universe
(vi) Sarathi Lagi - Three wooden charioteers one for each chariot are then
fastened on to the chariots
(vii) Charamala Phita - Impromptu wooden flights of stairs to the chariots are taken out
(Viii) Ghoda Lagi – Four wooden horses to each chariot are yoked
(ix) Pulling of the chariots & start of the journey
First moves the Taladhwaja, the chariot of Balabhadra. Then Darpadalana, the chariot of Subhadra and lastly Nandighosa, the chariot of Jagannath. Lakhs of devotees, men, women, young and old irrespective of caste, creed and nationality scramble eagerly for a touch of the 250 feet holy coir cables to pull the chariots along the 3km. long Grand road to the terminal point at the Gundicha temple. The devotees are also assisted by the professional chariot pullers. During the journey, the deities are presented with holy offerings on behalf of various mathas and institutions.
After the chariots reached and parked in front of the Gundicha temple
(i) The deities undergo a ceremonial bath
(ii) They are dressed in Boirani cloth
(iii) Various offerings are made i.e. bhoga, arati, badasimhara dhupa and khandua lagi, etc
The deities stay in the chariots from the following night to the next day evening.
ENTRY TO GUNDICHA TEMPLE
Next day evening the Vijaya kahali, the trumpet announcing deities' august entry, leads the procession of ‘Goti Pahandi’. Once the deities leave their seat, they are taken directly to their prescribed seat in side the temple without taking any rest during the Pahandi procession. In Goti Pahandi Procession the next deity moves only after the preceding deity is already ensconced at the appropriate place. At Gundicha Temple the deities remain for 7 days. The Simhasana in Gundicha Mandir unlike the Ratnavedi is known as Mahavedi or the Janmavedi. It is said that the deities were born here and here King Indradyumna conducted the historic aswamedha yajna. The temple is also known as the Mahavedi, the Yajna Mandap, the Janakapuri and Narsimha Kshetra. During their sojourn in Gundicha temple the deities are dressed in Dasavatara Vesha.
Hera Panchami is a unique festival at the Gundicha Temple. ‘Hera’ means to ‘see’ and ‘Panchami’ means the ‘fifth day’. On the fifth day of the Rathayatra Festival, Goddess Lakshmi becomes very worried and thinks, "Where has my husband gone? He told me, I am going for a change of environment for some days, and I will return very soon. It has been five days now, and still He has not come back." She appears anxious because her husband forgets to take her. Four weary nights have already passed and Goodess Lakshmi becomes disconsolate. She goes to the Gundicha Temple on the 5th day to see Lord Jagannath. The main doors of Gundicha temple are suddenly closed with a bang. She returns with a heavy heart and in a fit of anger breaks a small part of the Nandighosa chariot (the chariot of Lord Jagannath) and returns secretly to the main temple via Hera Gohri Sahi. It is all to teach a lesson to her beloved husband.