In the Shri Jagannath temple of Puri, the day of Akshay Tritiya has a lot of importance. While one celebrates and offers worship to Bhagwathi Lakshmi around the whole country, the temple is busy with something else too, and that being the start of preparations of the chariots for the divine Shri Jagannath Rath Yatra. The ten days Rath Yatra indeed is a celebration of pure devotion where rich-poor, high-low, all become equal and there is only one chant which goes in the air, which is Jai Jagannath.
As the incarnation of Shri Krishna, Shri Jagannath resides as the presiding deity along with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra in the Puri Jagannath temple. The Rath Yatra is celebrated on the occasion where Shri Jagannath pays a visit to the famous Gundicha Mata temple and then returns back to his original abode. This Rath Yatra is mentioned in the Brahma Puran,, Skanda Puran and the Padma Puran.
The preparations of the chariots start on the Akshay Tritiya wherein the three chariots are built with the wood of Neem tree. The chariot of Shri Jagannath is called the Nandighosa and is around 44 feet tall. Shri Balabhadra’s chariot is called as the Taladhwaja and is 43 feet tall and their beloved sister Subadhra’s chariot is called Darpadalana and is 42 feet tall. After the successful completion of the Rath Yatra, the chariots are dismantled and the wood is dispatched to the temple kitchen as firewood to cook the famous Bhog of Shri Jagannath,
The Puri Jagannath temple was built by the large efforts of the righteous king Indradyumn, and the Rath Yatra is commenced in the honour of his queen Gundicha who herself was an ardent devotee of Shri Jagannath. It is till date that the descendants of King of Puri play an important role during the start of the Rath Yatra. At the start of the festival, the king sweeps the road with a golden broom and water and fortifies the route of the chariot with a mark of sandalwood paste, thus officially starting the Rath Yatra. This ritual is called the Chehra Pahara ritual. The procession then begins with lakhs of devotees coming ahead and pulling the ropes of the huge wooden chariots while singing
Dahuka Boli which symbolise the life cycle. It is believed that the chariots do not move unless these songs are sung.
After the visit to the Gundicha Mata Temple, the deities start returning back to their original abode. Here, they halt for a couple of days at Mousi Maa temple, which is considered to be the maternal abode of Shri Jagannath and take rest. This is because the deity is believed to have caught a high fever after taking his annual bath, and hence he takes rest for few days at his aunt’s place. During this time, Shri Jagannath is offered roots, tubers and medicinal herbs as offering to cure his sickness. This is done by the descendants of Viswavasu, the coveted tribal devotee of Shri Jagannath. After the rest is complete, an offering of Poda Pitha (a typical pancake) is served and he travels back to his original sanctum thus successfully finishing the Rath Yatra and bringing happiness to one and all.
As a symbol of brotherhood, peace and pure devotion, the Rath Yatra has become a representation of good fortune, health and happiness to all who serve Shri Jagannath in this famous and splendored festival of chariots.