Every year as the monsoon season arrives thousands of devotees start their religious journey from all over the country – small villages, mid sized towns and the urban centres – to the town of Puri in Odisha. The air is thick with devotional frenzy and the excitement is palpable as its time for the grand festival – the annual celebration of the Rath Yatra. This year it is falling on 25th June (Sunday).
This festival is dedicated to the Jagannath triad: brothers Jagannath (Krishna) and Balabhadra (Balarama), and sister Subhadra. Immense chariots containing Lord Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra are hauled from Jagannath Temple to Gundicha Mandir, their holiday home.
It is difficult to fathom the magnitude of the festival as millions congregate to catch a glimpse of the deities as they come out for their yearly ride! Puri Rath Yatra attracts more than one million pilgrims every year and to photograph this major festival, is thrilling.
Around noon a team of priests march out from the temple carrying the enormous deities to make them sit in the chariots. It takes more than two months to construct the idols’ 45ft-high wooden chariots. Intricately designed and brightly painted, these massive structures tower over the sea of people as it makes way from the Jagannath Temple onto the main road (Bada Danda) and along a 3km stretch to the Shri Gundicha Temple.
The deities are welcomed by the devotees as they dance and sing to the loud hypnotic beats of cymbals being beaten and the decorated and colourful chariots begin their journey among the surging crowds.
Tips for photographers:
1. Carry plenty of water or energy drinks as it gets very humid during the festival and you need to keep hydrated.
2. Wear light cotton pants and a full-sleeved shirt, adequate sun block and use a hat.
3. A handy water proof bag will be useful to save your gear from getting wet. As this is also the onset of the monsoon season, it can start raining any time.
4. Mingle with the crowd for close-up shots of the raths.
5. To get a larger picture and long shots, climb up an adjacent high building overlooking the crowds.
6. Try and arrive two days before the main festival day to get a feel of the place and crowd which also offers exciting photography opportunities.
With inputs from Supriya Sehgal