Rath Yatra puri is the grandest of all festivals celebrated in the lands of Odisha. This festival celebrated in the month of June or July commemorates the journey of the lords of Jagannath Temple of Puri Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balbhadra and their younger sister Goddess Subhadra from their abode, the Jagannath Temple of Puri through the Bada Danda or the Grand Avenue of Puri to the dwelling of Queen Gundicha called the Gundicha Temple, for a seven day visit. The journey of the Lord of the entire world begins from the eastern entrance of the temple called the lion gate or the Singha Dwara named after the statues of two giant lion on either side of the gate crushing elephants beneath their feet.
Gundicha is the wife of King Indradyumna, who as per the legends believed to be the founder of the holy Jagannath Temple of Puri. The grand journey of the Lord Jagannath along with Lord Balbhadra and Goddess Subhadra leaves there abode in three immensely decorated Raths or chariots. The Rath Yatra celebrations have been followed for centuries now and the customs and the tradition followed during the Puri Jagannath Yatra has remained unchanged since its initial years. The craftsmen involved in making the chariots of Gods have inherited the rights from their forefathers. The preparations of the Yatra begin from the pious day of Akshaya Trithiya with the Sandal wood paste festival.
The festival has many religious significance, the Chariots are built for the three deities following the instructions mentioned in the religious texts of Hindus and the measurement, coloring and clothing of the chariots are done as per the prescribed manners. The chariot of Lord Jagannath is called the Nandighosha and it is forty five feet high and forty five feet square at the wheel level. The canopy of his chariot has the yellow stripes as one of his many names is Pitambara meaning the one wearing a golden robe. The chariot of Lord Balbhadra is called the Taladhwaja and bears Palm Tree on its flag as its meaning. His chariot is forty four feet high and the pair of seven wheels of his chariot is seven foot each in diameter and is draped in blue and red color. Chariot of Deity Subhadra is called the Darpadalana and is forty three feet high. It has a pair of six wheels and her chariot is draped in red and black color, red resembling the color of prosperity and marital bliss and black being the representing color of power.
For centuries the king of Puri has been clearing the path of the Gods with a Golden broom before the holy journey of the lords begin. On the auspicious day of the Rath Yatra the deities of the Jagannath temple are believed to come out from the temple to give a holy glimpse to their devotees belonging from the lower class and other religions as on normal days they are not allowed entry inside the temple and have been fulfilling the desire of worshipping the lord through their idols embedded on the lion gate or the Singhadwara.
While returning back to their abode from Queen Gundicha's abode the three deities halt at their maternal aunt's place for a meal of sweet pancake which is believed to be the favorite of Lord Jagannath. And upon arrival in the main temple they try to pacify the anger of Goddess Mahalakshmi and request for forgiveness for not being able to take her along with them for the journey and request her to allow them inside the temple.
The Jagannath Temple of Puri is the center for many festivals all through the year. Apart from the elaborate daily ceremonies of offering food to the gods, there are numerous other festivals associated with the temple like the Snana Yatra, Rukmini Harana, Netrotsava, Jhulan Yatra and so on. It's divine and joyful to be a part of these grand ceremonies involving the Gods. Participating in even one such event can leave behind memoirs for a lifetime.