The state of Odisha in East India is full of beautiful temples, ancient monuments, freshwater lakes and gorgeous golden beaches. Puri, a coastal town in eastern Odisha is popularly known as the Land of Lord Jagannath.
The magnificent Jagannath temple in Puri is considered to be one of the Char Dhams (four abodes of God), along with Badrinath in the north, Dwarka in the west and Rameshwaram in the south. It is believed by Hindus of India that worshipping at all the Char Dhams is a short cut to salvation.
As per folklore, a King once dreamt of Lord Jagannath who asked him to build a temple for him. The King built the Lord Jagannath temple and set three deities in the temple’s sanctum sanctorum – Lord Jagannath (a form of Lord Krishna), his sister Goddess Subhadra and his brother Lord Balabhadra. The unique feature of Jagannath temple is that Lord Krishna is worshipped with his siblings and not with his spouse.
Once every year, in the month of June or July, a Rath Yatra (chariot festival) is celebrated at the Jagannath temple in Puri. The 3 deities of the temple are brought out with a lot of pomp and cheer and placed in three towering Raths (chariots). These huge wooden Raths are then pulled with the help of ropes by hundreds and thousands of devotees on the streets of Puri. Interestingly, the word ‘juggernaut’ originated when the British first observed the Rath Yatra in the 18th century and were amazed by the large and heavy chariots.
The Raths are slowly pulled and navigated for 2 kilometres from Jagannath temple to another temple named Gundicha, where the deities spend nine days. As per local folklore, a fortnight preceding the Rath Yatra, Lord Jagannath and his siblings step out of the temple in summer to take bath. They soon fall ill after bathing in the blazing sun. When they recover and their appetite improves, they step on grand chariots to proceed to their aunt Gundicha’s house to eat her home-cooked food. They stay at their aunt’s place for nine days to recover fully and return back to Jagannath temple thereafter. Hence, after nine days, the deities are brought back to the Jagannath temple with the same festivity.
The Raths in which the deities travel are made out of fresh wood every year by age-old artists and painters. The chariots resemble temple structures and are intricately carved and painted by the artists. Lord Jagannath’s chariot is the tallest (45 feet), followed by that of Lord Balabhadra (44 feet) and Goddess Subhadra (43 feet).
It is said that the Lord takes bath in the seaside Rameshwaram temple in the south, proceeds to Puri’s Jagannath temple in the east for a meal, then goes to meditate towards the north in Badrinath temple and finally retires in the west at Dwarka temple. Since the Lord eats in Puri, the Jagannath temple serves Mahabhog (Mahaprasad). The delicious mahaprasad (holy food) that is distributed at the Jagannath temple is pretty well-known. It is a mixture of 56 holy food items (called as Chhapan Bhog) that are cooked in large earthen pots in the temple premises. This mahaprasad is first offered to Lord Jagannath and then served to the people of all castes and creed on a banana leaf.
This year the Jagannath Rath Yatra is to be held on 4th of July and will go on for 9 days. If you plan to witness this majestic chariot festival, book your stay with Sterling Puri to have a memorable experience. The Sterling Puri is located right at the point where River Dhaudia meets the Bay of Bengal, hence giving you access to its own private beach from where you could watch spectacular sunrises. Sterling Puri has 91 well-appointed rooms and the staff promises to take you on an authentic culinary experience. You can book your Rath Yatra experience in advance as a complete package with Sterling Puri that will include accommodation, food and transport. The best part is that you do not have to queue up in long lines at the temple for the delectable mahaprasad as it is being served at the Sterling Puri itself. Isn’t that convenient?! So, hurry and book your stay with Sterling Puri before the rooms are sold out.