'RATHA JATRA' or the 'Car Festival', the most important festival of Lord Jagannath commences on the 18th July, Saturday and Return Car Festival or' Bahuda Jatra' on 26th July this year. This colourful festival, which draws millions of devotees from various parts of the country as well as from abroad to Puri, is held in June-July every year. Lord Jagannath, Lord of the Universe, comes out of His sanctorum to give Darshan to all Devotees belonging to all sects and communities.lt is said that those who take part in the Car Festival earn their passage to the Heaven.
'Snana Purnima' marks the beginning of this festival. On this day the three deities - Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra take a prolonged bath on an open platform known as 'Snana Bedi', Then they retire for 15 days popularly called the period of 'Anabasara' and remain in isolation. During this period, no public worship is performed. After 15 days of isolation, the Gods come out of the temple in a colourful procession to board their respective Chariots and thereafter begins the journey known as "Ratha Yatra'.
The much famous Temple Chariot Festival of Lord Jagannath, takes place in Puri. On the first day, the Jagannath temple images are carried through the street in three huge thundering chariots which have made this event internationally known. Nine days later, the journey is repeated in the opposite direction. To witness this festival is an experience of a life time, but ensure to book rooms and make all other arrangements well in advance.
Each year, in monsoon season, the proxy images of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra--the deities enshrined in the Jagannath Temple at Puri--are carried in colorful processions every evening for 21 days to the Narendra Tank where they cruise in a bright decorated boat.
In gaiety and color, this festival stands next only to the Car Festival. On the full noon day of Jyestha (June), the Sananjatra or the bathing festival is observed when the images in worship are actually brought out for public viewing.
After the bathing festival, the deities spend 15 days in seclusion during which period they are repainted and prepared for the Car Festival. The Car Festival is celebrated on the second day of the bright fortnight of Ashadha (June-July) and the deities are taken on a journey of around 3 kms in stupendous and decorated chariots for sojourn in the Gundicha Ghar till the return Car Festival which is held 9 days later.
The chariot of Lord Jagannath, known as 'Nandighose', is 23 cubits high and has 18 wheels. The chariot of Balabhadra, which is 22 cubits in height and has 16 wheels, is named 'Taladwaja'. 'Devadalan' the chariot of Subhadra, is 21 cubits in height and has 14 wheels.
The chariots are made anew every year in accordance with strict and ancient specifications and are pulled by several thousand devotees at a time. In terms of splendor and fervent devotion, the Car Festival is one of the world's most incredible spectacles.