Jagannath Rath Yatra, Puri - Indian Culture At Its Best

14th Jul 2018

Jagannath Rath Yatra

Photo of Jagannath Rath Yatra, Puri - Indian Culture At Its Best by Arti Agarwal

Rath Yatra at Puri is one of the most awaited, talked about religious events of the year. It is an ancient Hindu festival, which has been continued for decades due to the persistence & devotion of Hindus. It is a cultural emblem for Hindus, who fought many battles to protect the Jagannath temple, and their heritage. The temple was attacked 18 times, and rebuilt each time. The priests of the temple protected the deities with their lives, and hid them in a secure place when in danger. This is a brief summary of the history of the temple, which was built in 12th century.

The festival marks the journey of Lord Jagannath with Subhadra and Balram, where they visit the Gundeecha temple in 9 days, and then back to the main Jagannath temple.

The crowds at the temple have a devotion and energy of a different kind. If you are new to Hindu festivals, you should be mentally prepared to get lost in a sea of people, all moving towards the same place - where the deities are sitting decked up in their chariots.

As July is the month of monsoon, expect rain showers now and then. When it is not raining, the Sun is bright. It is important to carry water. Though at every few hundred feet, there are stalls of people offering free prasad and water to yatris. There are also people going around the entire area picking up plastics and other litter and keeping the place as clean as possible in the rainy season. The police ensure to keep the hawkers off the streets, so the yatris have more space to walk, and are not beleaguered by hawkers to buy something. But you can still find diyas if you would like to buy those to offer at the deity.

Photo of Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri, Odisha, India by Arti Agarwal

Traffic is diverted almost everywhere in the small temple town. So, expect to walk around the town for almost every thing. In these few days, the entire town comes to life as a host city to lakhs of pilgrims. Puri is a very small town with lots of by-lanes and small homes painted in bright colors. If you take a walk in the lanes, you can often see kids and adults alike painting wooden deities of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balram.

There are groups of people who make this journey as a sacred and celebrative pilgrimage. While I was sweating and looking for a place to sit, this group of people singing, dancing, completely oblivious of the tiredness of the long walk or the Sun, passed by me, giving me inspiration to hang on and keep going.

There are numerous shops around the main Jagannath temple area, so if you want to eat, or buy original Orissa fabric or clothes, you can get items at a very reasonable price. Orissa fabrics are one of the most artistic, with a wide price range.

It is worth mentioning, that though I was one tiny person in the midst of lakhs of people, not once did I feel "groped" or otherwise harassed. Most people were too busy in their own journey and otherwise respectful towards women.

To head back to my hotel, I managed to find a rickshaw after walking for 1 hour. The rickshaw puller was kind enough to figure out all the detours and take me back to my hotel, because I was clueless about where I need to go.

All in all, it is a journey worth taking, even if you do it only once in your life. But when you do, make sure to not litter the place, and to go there with devotion in your heart, else you will go back a disappointed, disillusioned "tourist" with nothing more than a few gifts, and no fond memories or spiritual transformation.

For more of my stories, visit my blog The Eternal Traveller