Puri, the holy city of Lord Jagannath is culturally enriched by several rituals, colourful festivals and living traditions. A spring carnival called 'Sahi Yatra' or the street play of the pilgrim city Puri is a very popular festival. It is one of the oldest festival of Puri and believed to have begun in 1230 AD. As per the records, in the 11th century, during the regime of Chodoganga Deva, King of Puri, many 'kotas' (forts), bastions and 'Jagagharas' (Gymnasiums) were developed to safeguard Puri town from invaders. At that time Meghanada Prachira, the massive boundary wall which surrounds Lord Jagannth Temple now, was not built and it was the duty of the Jagagharas to protect the temple from enemies.
In local language 'Sahi' means a particular area or locality or street. There are seven very old sahis in Puri on both sides of the main road and around the Jagannath temple. Each Sahi has its own Jagaghara and its own Presiding Deity. Most of the Sahis are named after their Presiding deities. The Jagagharas in different Sahis are responsible to trian the local people with wrestling techniques, acrobats and various war techniques like handling of sword, stick and other weapons. It is believed that these sahis once defended the temple of Lord Jagannath from outside attck. Due to this, during Sahi Yatra, traditional weapons of Jagagharas are taken out to the street in grand procession and the wrestlers get an opportunity to display their strength and skill.
Sahi Yatra is partly martial but its theme is religious. This fortnight-long festival begins on Ram Navami day and celebrates the birth of Lord Rama. Sahi Yatra is a kind of folk drama and the most attractive feature is the grand procession which starts from the narrow lane of each Sahi and finally comes to the grand road of puri. The procession is accompanied by decorated elephants, horses, flag bearers, flame torches and music bands playing drumss, trumpets and conch shells. Famous sahis like Harachandi Sahi, Baseli Sahi, Markandeswara Sahi, Dolomandapa Sahi, Matimandapa Sahi, Bali Sahi and Gaudabada Sahi are responsible for carry out grand events.
Each sahi is distinguished by its distinct flag. Each sahi is assigned a different event to play like birth of Lord Rama, killing of deamon by goddess Durga, Ravana lifting Kailash mountain, capture of Sita by Ravana, battle between Parasuram and Lord Rama, war between Rama and Ravana etc. The actors of each sahi wear huge and elaborate masks of ten headed Ravana, five faced Ganesh, Nursingha and of various deities and demons. The most eye catching actor of the procession is the 'Naga'. He is seen wearing a loin cloth and a tiger skin around his chest. Amasal (torch) and a gun can be seen in his right and left hands respectively. On his waist portion several weapons like shield, dagger and knife are placed. He wears a rosary around the neck. On the back portion of the figure, a bamboo mat can be seen which is tied on his body. His face consists of big round eyes, sharp nose, curly mustache and beard, a beautiful heavy headgear adorns his head. This type of Naga decoration is indigenous to Puri and not seen anywhere.
Apart from the world famous Car Festival , every year Puri hosts various colourful festivals like Gosani Yatra, Sahi Yatra, Chandan Yatra, Beach Festival etc. It is worth to visit Puri during these festive occasions.