The 136th Lord Jagannath´s Rath Yatra began on Wednesday morning, with the entire nation getting involved in pulling Lord Jagannath´s rath (chariot) symbolising the journey of the deity from his temple to the garden palace in the countryside.
The epicentre of the festival lies in Puri (Odisha) where over ten lakh devotees are likely visit the city to be a part of the annual event that is celebrated with great pomp and gaiety.
The three chariots of Balarama, Subhadra and Jagannatha are newly constructed every year with wood of specified trees like phassi.
The artists and painters of Puri decorate the cars and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood-carved charioteer and horses, and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne.
With the recent serial blasts at Mahabodhi temple, security arrangements have been tightened in Puri.
The newly formed Special Tactical Unit of the Odisha Police was reportedly deployed in Puri on Tuesday.
Around 35 Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras have been installed around Jagannath temple and Grand Road to maintain a strict vigil, reports said.
Thousands of devotees flock the road to drag the Lord´s chariot from his temple to Gundicha mata´s temple through his aunt´s home (Mausi Maa Temple which is near Balagandi Chaka in Puri).
Jagannath is accompanied by his brother Balarama, and their sister Subhadra in this journey.
Three beautifully decorated chariots which resemble temple structures are pulled through the streets of Puri by thousands of people who consider it to be a pious activity to help Jagannath reach his aunt´s residence.
It is a customary tradition to bring the wood for the chariot from the ex-princely state of Dasapalla by a specialist team of carpenters who have been performing this activity for ages.
The logs are traditionally set afloat as rafts in the river Mahanadi and are then collected near Puri and transported by road.
Interestingly, the three chariots are decorated as per the unique system that is prescribed and followed for centuries and kept on the Bada Danda, the Grand Avenue in Puri.
The chariots are covered with bright and beautiful canopies that have been made of stripes of red cloth and combined with those of black, yellow and blue colours.
The giant-sized chariots are then lined across the wide avenue in front of the beautiful temple, close to its eastern entrance, which is also known as the ´Sinhadwara´ or the Lion´s Gate.
Lord Jagannath´s chariot is known as ´Nandighosa´. The huge chariot is forty-five feet high and forty-five feet square at the wheel level.
It takes a period of almost two months to construct the chariot.
The chariot of Lord Balarama is called ´Taladhwaja´ and it has a Palm Tree on its flag. The forty-four feet high chariot has 14 wheels and each of them is seven-foot in diameter and covered with red and blue cloth.
The chariot of Subhadra is known as ´Dwarpadalana´ , which literally means "trampler of pride". The 43-foot high structure has 12 wheels which are seven-foot in diameter.
This chariot is decked with a covering of red and black cloth - black being traditionally associated with Shakti and red with the Mother Goddess.
Rath Yatra or the chariot dragging festival is followed in every city in India.
In fact it is also quite popular outside India with chariots being dragged in cities like Dublin, Belfast, Birmingham, London, Bath, Budapest, Melbourne, Montreal, Paris, New York, Singapore, Toronto, Antwerp, Kuala Lumpur and Venice.
In Gujarat, state Chief Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the traditional Rath Yatra from the 400-year-old Jagannath Temple in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.
"Ahmedabad´s Jagannath Temple Rath Yatra is famous all over the world. Since the last 136 years, this tradition is going on. This year, once again, Jagannathji is out on a ´nagar charya´ (city tour) to give a glimpse to the people," said Modi.
In Kolkata chariot of Jagannath is dragged with huge fanfare on this day. The largest chariot of the city is brought out by ISKCON.
The "idols" are brought back after a week in the chariots as the festival is then called ´Ulto Ratha´ ("reversed Ratha") .
Kolkata also witnesses numerous fairs that are held to mark the mood of festivity and celebration.
Kids in different localities bring out small raths (chariots), decorated with flowers and canopies to celebrate this occasion.
Food is an integral part of any Indian festival and for ´Rath´ the Bengali community has special dishes to match with the mood and ambiance.
On this day, one can find ´papad´ (Indian crispy thin flatbread) and ´telebhaja´ (Bengali oil friend fritter) being savoured by the Bengalis all over the country and even if one fails to prepare them at home, they are easily found at roadside food stalls.
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