Real Magic Is Very Much Alive In India – Here's The Story Of The World's Largest Chariot Festival

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Far away from the clamour of the city, Puri basks in its serenity.
Far away from the western influences, Puri thrives in its cultural glory.
Far away from science, Puri glimmers in its mysteries and magic.

One such mega celebration of culture and magic is the Jagannath Rath Yatra.

The world’s biggest chariot festival is celebrated all over the world, including Dublin, Belfast, Birmingham, London, Bath, Melbourne, Montreal, Paris, New York and Singapore.

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A member of the ISKON performing at the Rath Yatra.
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Rath Yatra celebration in Russia.
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Rath Yatra celebrations in Toronto.

In its homeland, Puri (India) the Jagannath Rath Yatra is a massive affair, with a turnout of 1.4 million devotees on a regular year.

But why is the rath yatra celebrated?

The Rath Yatra at Puri is celebrated in honour of the return of Jagannath, who is an avatar of Lord Krishna, from the epic mythological war, Mahabharatha. It is believed that Lord Jagannath falls ill after a bath. He continues to have high fever for 7 days, a period during which the temple remains closed for the ‘visitors’. The temple reopens on the day of the Rath Yatra.

The Rath Yatra begins with the King of Puri, who was once the most powerful ruler of the Kalingan Kingdom, sweeping the ground with a pure gold broom, making way for chariots to move forward.

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Right from the flag on top of the Grand Temple of Puri, waving in the direction opposite to the wind, the land of Lord Jagannath houses magic in its every nook and corner. Here are some interesting episodes from the Rath Yatra history, listed below.

It rains every year on the day of the Rath Yatra.

No matter how hot the sun was shining the day before or what the weather forecast claimed the colour of the sky would be. Every year, right before the Rath Yatra begins, it pours in Puri, cleansing everything around.

The chariot wheels resist movement after sundown.

The Rath Yatra proceedings only continue till sundown, after that the chariot wheels are said to resist movement. It has hence been tradition for the chariots to proceed ahead only till sundown and then continue the next day.

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It is the only temple in India where the deity leaves the temple premises.

The idols of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra leave the temple premises for nine whole days. The central temple is believed to lose its sanctity for that period. The prayers that usually echo through the hall don't hold the same treble and the diyas (oil lamps) don't glow for half as long.

The chariots refuse to move, on their way back

After staying at the Gundicha temple (which is considered Lord Jagannath’s maternal aunt (mausi)’s place) the chariot returns to the grand temple of Puri. This journey back home is called Bahuda. But the magical element here is that with the same number of men pulling with the same amount of force, the chariots refuse to budge for hours. This is considered a sign of Lord Jagannath not wanting to leave his aunt’s place.

Modern-day magic

A truly magical moment during the last Rath Yatra, was when a brewing stampede was avoided and the crowd made way for an ambulance to rush a devotee to emergency medical aid.

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Experience the magic yourself on 6th of July, 2016 as the World's biggest chariot festival takes shape in the primal town of Puri.

Tell us about your magical experiences at the Jagannath Rath Yatra that you might have attended in the past.

Click here to share your own stories.

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