Bhubaneswar: As the sun plays truant amidst the clouds, the biggest festival of Odisha that marks the collective identity of this coastal state is here to bewitch the world with its orchestration of rituals, resplendent with the harmony of tradition, culture, faith and belief.
After the auspicious Debasnana purnima, the sibling deities— Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra along with Sudarsan—embark upon their journey on the Grand road for a 9-day sojourn to the Gundicha temple.
As the Lords emerge in their glorious Naba Joubana avatar from the Anasara ghara after falling sick for a fortnight, devotees throng the temple to catch a glimpse of the deities, a day ahead of pulling of chariots.
The day of Ratha Jatra (i.e. dwitiya of Shukla pakhya of Asaadha month) is when the holy trinity along with Lord Sudarsana are taken in a procession (called pahandi) to their respective chariots parked in front of the temple as the entire Bada danda (Grand Road) reverberates with the sounds of ghanta (cymbals), kahali (type of shehenai), mahuri (a double reeded instrument), pakhauja (variant of mridangam), mardal (similar to pakhawaj), telingi baja, etc.
Lord Sudarsan is carried to the chariot of Devi Subhadra first, after which Lord Balabhadra is taken to his chariot, Taladhawaja. Devi Subhadra is then brought to her Debadalana chariot and at the end; the mighty Lord Jagannath enters his Nandighosha chariot.
From supplying filigree embroidered accessories for the deities to coloured fabrics for the chariots, mutts across Puri are assigned duties according to traditions dating back to centuries. The chief servitor of Lord Jagannath, the king of Puri Gajapati Maharaj Shri Dibya Singh Deb arrives in his royal palanquin and sweeps the perimeter of the chariots, thus performing the chera pahanra.
Multitudes of devotees from all walks of life assemble on the Grand Road to participate in pulling the chariots from the Jagannath temple to the Gundicha temple. Some faint, but others brave the humidity (sometimes rain) to be a witness to this grand annual spectacle. Some devotees travel on feet from corners of Odisha and others from all over the globe, to be a part of the Ratha Jatra aka car festival. Dancers, musicians, volunteers, media persons and security personnel have a field day.
The procession of the chariots is stopped after sunset and resumed the next day. The deities spend the next nine days in the Gundicha temple and are worshiped there. Their return journey, known as Baahuda Jatra is another occasion where the pahandi is followed by the journey of the Lords back to the Ratna singhasan and subsequently ends with the Suna besa.
Every year, Puri enraptures the global audience with its vibrant, exuberant and magnificent display of the rich cultural heritage of the Jagannath culture that forms the very foundation of Odia ethnicity.