Navrang India: Ratha Yatra — famous annual Hindu temple festival
‘“Ratha Yatra” — a famous annual Hindu temple festival is an integral part of the Hindu religion and Hindu worship
The newly decorated car of the 1000 plus year old Brihadeeswarar Temple (big temple) in Thanjavur,Tamil Nadu, April, 2015. It was introduced for the first time after a gap of 100 years. and the credit goes to the late CM Ms. J.Jayalalitha.
Rathothsavam or Ratha Utchavam is an important temple festival celebrated in numerous Hindu temples across India. Also known as Car festival, it is a spectacular religious event associated with various Vishnu, Shiva and Sakthi (goddess) temples. In all Ratha Yatra (ratha means chariot; yatra means journey), the temple paraphernalia will precede the chariot and may include some of the following — caparisoned elephants, horses, bulls, cultural and Bhajan groups and Nadhaswaram (wind instrument) and Thaavil (percussion) as in the case of Tamil Nadu. The temple procession will also include a contingent of Vedic pundits attached to the temple led by the priests. Chanting of mantras enhances the spiritual atmosphere, prevailing during such holy events. Normally, such religious procession will go around the four streets adjacent to the temple called Ratha or Car streets. In the state of Tamil Nadu, the annual Ratha Utchavam festival is commonly referred to as Ther Thruvizha and it comes in the summer time.
Lord Jagannath rath yatra: Among the temple car festival, the Rath yatra of Puri Jagannath temple (dedicated to God Vishnu) is quite popular. This year it is scheduled to take place on June 23 and this annual event lasts for 12 long days and some 10 lakh people will be attending the festivities. The festivities will not be allowed this year as per Supreme Court order on account of prevailing Coronaviras Pandemic that is taking a strong grip slowly on India. The Supreme Court said today. “Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allowed the rath yatra, The crux of the problem is social distancing can not be maintained in such m such jostling gatherings as coronavirus is highly infectious; can spread via respiratory droplets and surface contact. The risk increases manifold in a crowded space. The unique fact about the Puri Rath Yatra is the wooden chariots are made afresh every year from Neem wood and the old ones are dismantled. In southern states , temple wooden chariots, once made are kept for decades. The base of wooden chariot is richly carved with images or episodes taken from the Hindu mythology.
The timing of such annual chariot festivals varies from temples to temples across the nation. So are traditions and designs of the wooden chariots and decoration of upper deck where the deities are seated. The chariot is tastefully decorated with different varieties of flowers, flags and festoons. The canopy over the wooden base in some states may be decorated differently. For example the Udipi rathas of Karnataka have a sort of decorative bulbous canopy, the design is altogether different from other southern states. At Tirumala Balaji temple, Andhra Pradesh, Rathotsavam takes place on the penultimate day of the nine-day annual Brahmotsavams. In the case of Puri Janganath temple, this spectacular Chariot Festival is held in the month of Asadha (Rainy Season of Odisha), on the second day of the lunar fortnight that falls during June-July. The Skanda Purana also fixes the date of the Ratha Yatra as the second day of the bright fortnight of the month of Asadha called Pushyami Nakshatra by astrological calculations. This internationally famous Rath Yatra, festival is celebrated in honor of Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
At Sri Andal temple, Sri Villiputhur, Tamil Nadu, one of the oldest temples, the car festival (in local parlance Therthiru Vizha) is associated with the ‘Aadi Pooram’ (end of July or August) festival that marks the birthday of the presiding deity Sri Andal Thayyar, daughter of Periyazhar. She composed devotional hymns in praise of lord Vishnu and later merged with the lord. It is a big event in this part of the southern state — 12 day-long celebrations beginning with flag hoisting mostly in August.The colorfully decorated temple car, carrying Goddess Andal and Lord Rengamannar(Vishnu).
Though the car festival here had been taking place for more than 162 years, since 1985 it has been held consecutively — for the past 29 years. As for the Thiyaraja Swamy temple, Thruvarur, Azhi Ther — chariot one of a few heaviest and tallest Chariots (Ratha) in India, the annual festival is held in the month of June. The 30-ft tall temple car rises to 96 ft, after decoration is completed with bamboo poles and colourful cloth, the kalasam alone accounting for 6 ft, all of which take the original weight of 220 tonnes to 350 plus. The base of the chariot has more than 400 beautifully carved wooden icons. It is believed to the the biggest in Asia.
Lord Krishna of Udipi Sri Krishna temple, Karnataka, has five temple cars, namely Brahma ratha (the largest), Madya ratha (medium), Kinyo (small), silver and gold rathas.
Above image: The temple car procession decorated with beautiful carved sculptures wood for the Chidambaram festival to worship the Lord Shiva, in his incarnation of Nataraja, held in Chidambaram Hindu temple
The famous Sri Natarajar Temple of Chidambaram, T. N celebrates the chariot festival twice a year; once in the summer (Aani Thirumanjanam, which takes place between June and July) and another in winter (Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai, which takes place between December and January)
Lord Krishna of Udipi Sri Krishna temple, Karnataka, has five temple cars, namely Brahma ratha (the largest), Madya ratha (medium), Kinyo (small), silver and gold rathas; note the design of the canopy over the base of the chariot.
The Rathotsavam (Chariot Festival), that is an annual gala event, is a tradition that goes back to several centuries. No matter where it is held, the festival is always conducted with gaiety, splendor and utter devotion. Normally such grand festivals start on an auspicious day only with the temple flag raising ceremony by the pundits The Vedic Pandits perform homams — special prayer before holy fire for the success of the festival and for the welfare of the people. The oldest rath yatra in the world is that of Puri Jagannath temple, Odisha followed by rathyatra of Mahesh, Jagannath temple, Serampore, west Bengal.
The tradition has it the god and goddesses are colorfully dressed in various styles, befitting the occasion and, during the fete, they are taken out of the temple, as stated earlier, for a celestial ride around the temple on the streets normally called Sannidhi streets in Tamil Nadu. Such streets are broad enough to accommodate the huge moving ratha and are well laid to take the weight of the chariot. Normally they are just close to the temples. Utchavar idols or processional idols — representation of idols in the Srikovil or Sanctum are used for this purpose. The huge chariot moves along as the devotees chant God’s name in chorus and pull the big, specially made rope connected to the front of the mammoth chariot on the right and left sides. In many case such heavy chariots need additional pushing from behind to tackle gradients and huge bulldozers are used for this purpose. The belief is that pulling the chariot carrying the deities will wash off sins and drive away our inner negative thoughts and instill confidence in us to face challenges in life.
The spiritual significance of the Ratha Yatra as expounded in the Upanishad is the festival perceives the human body as Rath (chariot) and the God as the Sarathi or driver who drives the chariot of body and takes it on a journey or yatra to material existence or Bhavasagar. Spiritually speaking, the soul goes along with in the Rath — body, and the intellect is totally devoted to God, the driver of the chariot towards the material existence. The wheels of the Rath or chariot are personification of valor. The horses, symbolic of the Vedas, are synonymous with vigor, charity, tolerance, self-discipline and discrimination (to know the right and wrong). On the other hand, the reigns of horses are pity, equanimity and forgiveness.
“Rathayatra celebrated in West Bengal”. The Hindu. 4 July 2008.
Originally published at http://navrangindia.blogspot.com. (modified 19 June 2020)