In India, festivals are colorful celebrations full of rituals, legends, and myths. Food cooked is very special and distinct for every festival. It is according to the seasons and the harvest available at the time. On the 18th of July 2015 is the annual sojourn of Lord Krishna popularly known as Lord Jagannath from the temple where he resides with his brother Balaram or Balabhadra and sister Subhadra to his Aunt’s (maashi ma) Temple known as Shri Gundicha Temple. The Jagannath Temple is an ancient structure on the Eastern coast of India in the temple town of Puri and the state of Odisha. People converge to this temple town on this day for the Yatra every year. This year is the year of “Nabakaleraba’ i.e. changing the old statues to newly carved ones. The idols are placed on newly built and decorated individual chariots and taken out for a trip. The gigantic chariots are pulled by devotees for 2 to 3 km and taken to the Shri Gundicha temple also known as the Maashi Ma temple. The Idols stay here for 9 days before returning to the Jagannath temple. The Jagannath Yatra is a very important festival for people of this region and is also celebrated by Oriyas where ever they are living all over the world. Pulling the Rath is considered very auspicious for all people belonging to Odisha state. After the establishment of Krishna Temples by ISCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness), the Rath Yatra is celebrated all over the world.
It is said that Shri Gundicha who is the wife of King Indradyumna is Krishna’s maternal aunt (Maashi Ma). As Lord Jagannath/ Krishna wanted to visit his maternal aunt, this Yatra is organized every year. The first Chariot is of his brother Balabhadra followed by his sister Subhadra and finally of Lord Jagannath in the procession. The King, wearing the clothes of a sweeper sweeps the path in front of the Rath and sprinkles the path with sandalwood water and powder. This ritual is also performed on their return.
The story, legend, or myth related to the construction of the temple is not only a matter of belief but also faith. It goes back to the time of Mahabharat when Krishna dies in Dwarka, situated on the west coast of India. The body of Lord Krishna was cremated after his death but because he was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu it did not burn completely. The remains ‘Tattva Padarth” or Life force or Brahma were thus submerged in the sea.
King Indradyumna of Puri was a great Vishnu worshipper who had a dream that Lord Krishna’s ‘Tattva Padarth” will be found on the shores of Puri. He should build a temple and statues of wood and put the remains of Krishna in the hollow of the statue. The dream came true and an old man also appeared offering to carve the statues. He was Vishwakarma, the Architect of Gods, and offered to carve the images on the condition that he would work behind closed doors. If he was disturbed during his work he would disappear. The King agreed, but after some time he became impatient and opened the door. Vishwakarma vanished as promised and left the work unfinished. The King sanctified the unfinished statues, by placing the ‘Tattva Padarth” in them and had them installed at the temple.
The ritual of carving the statues is still followed after a gap of few years which are calculated according to the Hindu Lunar calendar. The lunar calendar is shorter than the solar calendar by 10 days, 21 hours, and 35.16 seconds. So every few years there is an extra lunar month in the year. The year which has the twin months of Ashaadha ( June – July according to the solar calendar) is the year when the statues are changed. This year is important as the statues are being changed. The statutes were changed in 1971, 1996 and now in 2015. The Chariots are made every year. The Changing of the statues also involves the placing of the ‘Tattva Padarth” from the old to the new statue of Lord Jagannath.
Trivia: The rath carrying Lord Jagannath is huge and heavy and requires hundreds to pull it. It becomes unstoppable and people have been crushed under it. The English word juggernaut originates from this to refer to an unstoppable force.