Ratha Jatra (Car Festival), the Festival of Chariots of Lord Jagannatha is celebrated every year as per the Oriya calendar on Asadha Sukla Pakshya Dutiya Tithi at Puri – Srikhetra, the soul town of Orissa. The presiding deities of Sri Mandira (Main Temple), Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, with Sudarshana are taken out of the temple premises in an elaborated ritual procession to their respective Rathas (Chariots).
Ratha Jatra (Car Festival) is believed as the Grandest festival on Earth. It is also the cultural synthesis of tribal and folk, with classical. This festival represents International brotherhood and equality among every individual of the world.
Pahandi Bije – The journey of the deities to the world outside, starts with an elaborate royal ritual called Pahandi Bije. It is literally, going forward in a step by step movement to the accompaniment of several devotees beating the Ghanta, Kahali and Telingi Baja. During this auspicious moment all devotees of Lord Jagannatha become devotionally intoxicated in this pious spiritual environment. All dance together in the tune of Sankirtan. The singers dedicate their songs to their loving Gods during this time. At this unique spiritual moment Lord Jagannatha seems to be the only ruler on the Earth.
Chhera Pahanra (Cleaning the Chariots) – The second phase of the festival is an equally colourful occasion which is known as Chhera Pahanra. The Raja, (King of Puri), is informed of the deities having taken their places on the Ratha (Chariots) through a messenger specially deputed by the temple officials. The King, clad in spotless white royal dress is carried in a silver plated palanquin from his palace in a small procession on the grand avenue led by a decorated elephant. He climbs the Rathas (Chariots) one by one. He first offers his prayers to the deity seated on the Ratha (Chariot). He then cleans the platforms with a golden broom, sprinkling white flowers and fragrant sandal water on the surface of the Rathas (Chariots). The ritual goes back several hundred years and is a symbol of the subjugation of the temporal to the spiritual. The emperors of Orissa, beginning with the valiant “Anantvarman Chodagangadeva” in the 12th century, had declared themselves to be the Rauta, servant of Lord Jagannatha and ruled the land as his representative. The ritual is also a public demonstration of the unique philosophy of integration and unity symbolized by Lord Jagannatha. There is no distinction of caste, creed or any other barrier during the entire festivities. After cleansing the Ratha (Chariots) the King leaves for the palace. After the ritual is over the wooden horses, brown, black and white, are fixed to the three Rathas (Chariots.) Thick ropes made of 250 feet long coconut fiber are tied to the individual Ratha (Chariot).
Rathatana (The Pulling of Chariots) – The final ritual in the celebration is the pulling of the Rathas (Chariots). The Chariot of Lord Balabhadra is pulled first followed by that of Goddess Subhadra. At last the grand moment and the climax of the day’s celebration arrives when the Ratha (Chariot) of Lord Jagannatha, Nandighosha starts its spectacular journey to the Gundicha temple. Thousands of devotees who patiently wait the whole day for this blessed moment are ecstatic with joy and pull the chariots with a sense of fulfillment.
The Deities, after a 7 day stay at Gundicha temple, also known as their place of birth, commence their return journey, the Bahuda Jatra, on the tenth day of bright fortnight of Ashadha. On his way back, Jagannath stops for a while at Ardhasini temple, popularly called Mausi Ma temple. The Deities don the golden attire or the Suna Besa. On arrival at the main temple, the gate is shut upon Lord Jagannath by his celestial consort Laxmi. Her anger, jealousy and frustration is channeled by her companions, represented by a group of servitors from inside. Another group representing Lord Jagannath responds with entreaties and endearments. The celestial couple finally makes up, and the Deities are allowed to return to their bejeweled throne, the Ratna Sinhasana.