The air is thick with devotional frenzy and the excitement is palpable. A crowd flows into every nook and corner of the town as Puri enters the annual celebration of the Rath Yatra. The most colourful festival on the eastern coast of India, this is the only one 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.
What to Expect: As the monsoons touch the coast of Puri, it’s time for the deities to be brought before the devotees for a darshan. 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. If you get close enough, you will be able to see the Chera Pahara ritual, in which a man dressed as the Gajapati (King) sweeps the floor in front of the moving chariots with a gold-handled broom, a depiction of absolute, classless humility before God. In a strangely contradictory ritual, devotees are also allowed to kick, slap or spew derogatory remarks to the Gods on this day alone.
When: 10 July 2013
Best Way to Witness the Parade: If you happen to be in Puri on the first day of the Yatra, make sure you arrive very early in the morning in order to reserve a decent spot on the 3km trail of the Rath Yatra. Since the first day of the parade is heavily crowded, you may want to wait till the last day, when the deities are taken back to the Mausi Maa temple. Even then, it’s best to find a spot early in the morning, though you will still find yourself sandwiched between photographers, devotees and other intrigued travellers. Also, if you are arriving early to the city, do not expect to get entry to the Jagannath Temple at least 15 days prior to the festival. Apparently, the God must be well rested to make an appearance and all darshans are closed for a fortnight before the Yatra.
Where to Stay: Needless to say, getting accommodation is a challenge for this period. Book ahead at Nilachal Bhakta Nivas (Ph: 9861444677, 9437284108) for sparse arrangements but a good location. Other hotels you can contact are Z Hotel (Ph: 06752– 222554) and Toshali Sands (Ph: 9937003223).
With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications. More on www.supriyasehgal.com