Rath Yatra or Chariot Festival is a Hindu festival that is held annually in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and other East Indian states. The one that is most famous is the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra that is held in Puri, Odisha in the months of June or July. Also Read - Puri Rath Yatra Can be Held Without Public Participation, Centre Tells SC
The Puri Rath Yatra is very well known and attracts thousands upon thousands of devotees each year from India as well as abroad. The festival commemorates the annual visit of Jagannath to Gundicha Temple via Mausi Maa Temple near Saradha Bali, Puri. It involves the pulling of chariots with the idols of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra, younger sister Subhadra and his weapon Sudarshana Chakra. Also Read - Puri Rath Yatra in Odisha: SC to Hear Four Pleas on Modification of its Earlier Order on Monday
The three deities are usually worshipped inside the temple, but on the day that they are taken out of the temple, devotees who would otherwise not be able to see them, can catch a glimpse on that day. The procession starts from the main shrine of Jagannath Temple, where the idols are placed in the chariots standing at the front of the temple. Also Read - Odisha News: SC Stays This Year's Puri Rath Yatra, Says 'Lord Jagannath Won't Forgive if we Allow'
The chariots, which are wheeled wooden structures, are built anew each year using a particular type of tree. The chariot for Lord Jagannath is approximately 45 feet high and 35 feet square, takes about two months to construct and has 16 wheels. Other than that, the chariots of all three are decorated in bright red, yellow and green and have four carved wooden horses each.
Devotees, who throng the temple, help in pulling the heavy chariots for about 3 km to the Gundicha Temple, making a stop at the Mausi Maa Temple. After staying for 7 days at the former, the deities are then returned to their abode, the Jagannath Temple.
Rath Yatra 2020:
This year the Rath Yatra is supposed to be held on June 23, 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court of India had issued a stay order on the activities. After a number of petitions asking the apex court to recall its stay order, the Centre told the former that the event can be held without public participation.
At a time when the coronavirus pandemic is surging, a large gathering at the temple could prove disastrous, as it could lead to the virus spreading even more.