The cart festival of Lord Jagannath, traditionally known as the Jagannath Rath Yatra, is said to be the oldest of its kind and marks the return of Lord Krishna to Vrindavan with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. Also known as Rathjatra or Chariot festival, it attracts huge crowds of Hindu pilgrims who join the procession every year in Puri, Odisha.
The rath yatra is a journey in a chariot accompanied by the public and it usually commences in the month of June or July. Three chariots of the deities with the temple in the background are led onto a 3km street in Puri, popularly known as Bada Danda. The procession culminates at the Shri Gundicha Temple, where the deities revel in a nine-day stay. After that, they ride the chariots back to Shri Mandir. This year, the festival is all set to commence on June 25 and the return cart festival or Bahuda Jatra will fall on July 3.
Considering the “body to be the chariot” and “the soul of the deity to be instilled inside it”, the concept of chariot festival has been explained in Kathopanishada in Sanskrit as:
Atmanam rathinam viddhi sareeram rathamevatu,
Buddhim tu saarathim viddhi marah pragrahameva cha!
The phrase gives out the message to let your wisdom be the charioteer so that it can “control the mind and its thoughts”. It is believed that people who attend the festival can find their way towards heaven after death.
The celebration begins with the pounding of drums and mridangams as the Gajapati King cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder with utmost devotion. The Rath Yatra at Puri makes for a fascinating sight as millions of people from the whole state and different corners of the country seek for darshan, or the holy view. The celebrations date back to the period of the Puranas. Vivid descriptions of this festival have been found in Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, and Skanda Purana.