Rath Yatra

When:27 Jun 2006 (annual)
Where:Jagannath Temple

Each year, the 12th-century temple town of Puri on the Bay of Bengal transforms under the weight of one of India’s most impressive festivals, which draws hundreds of thousands of ecstatic devotees from all over the subcontinent.

Each June or July, the image of the Hindu God Krishna (who is known as Jagannath in the state of Orissa) is taken out with great ceremony in an awesome procession, and pulled through the streets to a nearby temple 2km away. His image is accompanied by those of his brother, Balarama, and sister, Subhadra – all of which are placed in three giant yellow chariots or raths drawn by pilgrims. The chariots are huge – 45 feet high with six wheels each.

The procession, or rath yatra, starts at the Jagannath temple, and moves along a wide (and always completely rammed) street to the temple of Gundicha Ghar. An atmosphere of almost hysterical devotion tends to mark the day and in earlier years, devotees were known to have thrown themselves under the wheels of the rath in the hope of obtaining instant salvation.

Puri is considered one of the four holiest sites in India. The town is so special because it is the home of Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, who is in turn one of the three most powerful deities in Hinduism, the other two being Shiva and Brahma. Hindus believe that if they visit and stay three days and nights there is a chance they can escape the eternal cycle of reincarnation. Pulling the chariot of the Lord of the Universe is considered a symbol of life’s journey and a sacred practice that blesses the doer.

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