Rath Yatra Festival

The Ratha-yatra festival commemorates a meeting that took place between Lord K???a, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Srimati Radhara?i, His most beloved devotee, when They were present on earth five thousand years ago. Once Lord K???a, His brother Balarama, and His sister Subhadra journeyed on a chariot to Kuruk?etra, India, to observe the ancient Vedic custom of bathing at a holy place during a solar eclipse. On this auspicious occasion many great devotees of the Lord were reunited with Him. Foremost among them were the devotees from the rural village of V?ndavana, where K???a had spent His early years before He had left to live as a king in the opulent city of Dvaraka. During K???a's absence from V?ndavana, the devotees there—especially Srimati Radhara?i— always thought of Him and longed for His return. So when Srimati Radhara?i met K???a at Kuruk?etra, She invited Him to come back to V?ndavana and again enjoy loving pastimes with His devotees there. Today those who take part in a Ratha-yatra festival can share in the feelings of K???a's devotees who drew Him back to V?ndavana with their love.

The journey of the chariots, a traditional Vai??ava festival held every year at Jagannatha Puri in Orissa. In Puri the devotees place the immense Deity forms of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Lady Subhadra on three towering, huge gaily decorated canopied chariots, each having sixteen wheels. Thousands of people pull these cars to the Gu??ica temple, where Lord Jagannatha abides for seven days, after which there is a return Ratha-yatra to the Jagannatha Temple.

One shouldn't think that Ratha-yatra is an empty ritual, a mere imitation of a remote historical event. Although the Jagannatha Deity riding on the chariot may appear to be a wooden statue, He is actually K???a Himself. By K???a's mercy and omnipotence, He appears as the Deity to give us the opportunity to see Him and serve Him despite our limitations. Though nondevotees cannot understand how the Deity can be God, the Deity reveals Himself to those who serve Him sincerely. We should not conclude, however, that worship of any form is worship of God, any more than we would think we could drop our mail into any box on the street and have it reach its destination. Because the Jagannatha Deity is carved according to the authorized Vedic scriptures, worshiping Lord Jagannatha is worshiping God, just as putting our mail in a mailbox authorized by the post office is the same as bringing the mail to the post office. So worshiping Lord Jagannatha as He rides His chariot in the Ratha-yatra festival is not idolatry; it is a sublime method of reviving our dormant love of God.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates gathered every year to observe this celebration with a massive festival of sa?kirtana. This great celebration of Ratha-yatra is now being held all over the world by the arrangement of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.