Centuries of history have all mixed into a gigantic composite culture revolved around Jagannath-the Lord of the Universe. The preliminary references to Lord Jagannath are found in ancient literary works. According to Puranas Jagannath was preliminary worshipped by Shavars tribals of Southern Odisha. With due course of time the cult of Lord Jagannath assimilated and compounded with Aryanised concept of Lord Jagannath, symbolizing unity in diversity. It senses of unity among believers of all sects and classes.
Ratha yatra (car festival) are a grand culmination of the festival at the onset of the monsoon months. Three deities come out of the temple and travel through the magnificent road to reach the temple at the other side of the city. It occurs on the second day of the bright fortnight of the month of Ashadha (Hindu calendar). The three deities come out from Grand temple of Puri in a spectacular procession called Pahandi in local language. Deities are seated in their respective chariots. The most amazing part of this festival begins after that. Along the marvelous road, ten lakhs of people are pulling the chariots. Wooden chariots move slowly until they reach the Gundicha temple and stay there for seven days.
Lord Jagannath principle deals with love for all, hatred for none. God is formless, birth less, deathless, and incomprehensible even to highly cognitive man. In prehistoric time, Purusottam Kshetra (Puri) was also known as Nilagiri (Blue Hill) where Lord Vishnu (Nilamadhab) was worshipped by tribal king Viswavasu. The Jagannath of Puri has attracted saints, sages, poets and philosophers from ages. They come here for peace, solace and spiritual joy. There is no religion higher than truth. The truth is revealed forever that no time wave can wash into the abyss of impingement.
The meaning of Sri Jagannath is Lord of the universe. Some historians believed that Sri Jagannath is Buddha. Puri is ancient than the birth of Buddha. The most ancient literature of the world is the Rig Veda. In this Veda it is recorded that ‘Ado ja daru plabate’ (10/155/3), so this Daru Brahma (Brahma- Supreme Godhead manifested in wooden form) is Sri Jagannath. The meaning of participation is purifier of fallen souls.
The flattering flag of Nilachakra of the Srimandir (Grand Temple) is also known as Patitapaban Bana (flag) which is identical with the Lord. By the year 1997, in 62 foreign countries this festival is observed. Alexander Hamilton who visited Puri in 1708 A.D. has furnished a report on the Car Festival. According to him, “Jagarynat’s effigy is carried abroad in procession, mounted on a coach four storied high and people fell flat on the ground to have the honor to be crushed to be pieces by each wheel”.
The chariot of Lord Jagannath is known as Nandigosha. It has 16 wheels. The colors of fabrics that cover the roof of the chariots are red and yellow. The chariot of Lord Balabhadra is known as Taladhwaja. It has 14 wheels and the colors of the fabrics are red and green. Subhadra’s chariot Devidalan has 12 wheels. The colors of the fabrics are red and black. On the first day, if any chariot cannot reach the Gundicha Ghar, it is dragged on the next day. Sweeping of Cars by the king before the multitude of devotees standing below is the height of religious humility incomparable and inconceivable.
Odisha’s jagannath culture binds every cult under one platform. Sometimes, diversity may create a threat in terms of cultural differentiation among different groups. This cultural uniqueness of Sri Jagannath reduces fundamentalism, communalism and encourages and encourages all pilgrims to visit here and watch the car festival again and again. The modern Odisha comprises the ancient state of Odra, Utkal, Kalinga, Kangoda, South Kosala and tri-kalinga. Jagannath culture is a part and parcel of life for the people in these geographical societies.
Historically, in the remote past, Odisha was inhabited by the aboriginal tribes, who had life and culture completely distinct from Aryan way of living. Aryan migrated to Odisha at a later stage. The cult and culture of Lord Jagannath found its origin in the primitive system of the non-Aryan tribe who had established a shrine of Lord jagannath at Puri at a very ancient time. Then the Aryans have taken over this place and introduced their Vedic rites and rituals with all religious practices connected with them. Thus, Sri Jagannath is equally claimed by the aboriginal tribes and the Vedic Hindus to be their original deity.
As stated earlier, Vidyapati, a Brahmin minister of King of Puri (Gajapati of Puri) who was credited with discovery of Nilamadhab (original form of Lord jagannath) married to daughter of Vishwavasu, the chieftain of aboriginal tribes. Descendants of both Vidyapati and Vishwavasu are performing the most important rituals of Lord jagannath, during one month of the car festival. Most likely the word Daita is of Daitya or a person from non-Aryan society and Pati is from Vidyapati, offspring of the Brahmin minister.
In the society high cast, Brahmins would not take food touched by low cast people. In front of Sri Jagannath, the great grace (Mahaprasada) is the established practice that so called high cast take the foods from the same plate of the so called low cast people. All people irrespective of their cast and creeds seem to be enjoying the wonderful grace sitting in a row. From the footprints of age less cultural heritage in India and abroad, we find that tribal-original inhabitant of Odisha, Dravidians, Aryans, orthodox Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and sects of Hinduism have reposed their faith In Lord Jagannath according to their beliefs. The culture of Lord Jagannath stands for religious tolerance, co-existence of all religions, communal harmony and international integration. The gap between men and divine has been bridged in Jagannath culture because Sri Jagannath is a highly humanized deity. Sri Jagannath is a mystery and enigma in Him-self. He is Finite and Infinite, Visible and Invisible, tangible and intangible.
Gundicha temple or the Garden House of Sri Jagannath is a Hindu temple situated in Puri town of Odisha. It lies at a distance of about 3 K.M. from the main temple of Sri Jagannath (Srimandira). This place is known as God’s summer retreat. In the garden, there are coconut, Mango, Neem, Bael trees, Tulasi, rose and jasmine flower plants. The Rath Yatra (Car Festival) starts on the second lunar day (Dwitiya), the bright fortnight (Sukla Paksha) of the Hindu month of Asadha. The highest temple of Sri Jagannath and the Garden House of Sri Jagannath is located at two ends of Grand Road (Bada Danda).
In the 16th century, Nanak paid a visit to Odisha. In the evening prayer of Srimandir (Grand Temple) at Puri, he sang. “Your light is as bright and due to your grace I see light and the world will be plunged into darkness if You do not exist”.
Ratha Yatra or the Car Festival, the most important festival of Lord Jagannath, commences on the 10th July and Return Car Festival or ‘Bahuda Jatra’ falls on 18th July this year. Lord Jagannath, Lord of the universe comes out of His sanctum to give darshan (holy blessings) to all devotees belonging to all sects and communities. Reference to the Car Festival is available in various scriptures like those of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.
Three chariots of Lord Jagannath and His brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are dragged by thousand of devotees in three beautifully decorated chariots from the main gate of the temple to Gundicha Mandir near about three kilometers away. At Gundicha Mandir, the Lord along with His entourage remains for seven days. The Gods performed their Return Journey on the ninth day and this is known as bahuda Jatra. The three chariots, pulled by thousands of devotees, reach back to singhdwar (Lion’s Gate) in the late afternoon of Bahuda day.
The land of Odisha is very peculiar. Many tribal communities from major part of the population. They almost have common mystical belief of worship of Lord Jagannath. Lord jagannath is the God of the masses. Culture of Lord Jagannath has been an elastic culture. His worship, attire, foods, rites and rituals are nothing but a synthesis of diverse cultures and beliefs. The Ratha Yatra is being celebrated at Puri since long. It is indeed very difficult to say since when it exactly started. The festival will be there as long as the Sanatana Dharma exists on the earth.