Every year in mid-summer, Lord Jagannath, with his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, goes on vacation, travelling on grand chariots, from his temple in Puri, to his garden palace in the countryside. This belief of the Hindus has given rise to one of the biggest religious festivals in India — the Rath Yatra or the Chariot Festival. This is also the etymological origin of the English word ‘Juggernaut’.
Jagannath, believed to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu, is the Lord of Puri — the coastal town of Orissa in eastern India. Rath Yatra is of great significance to the Hindus, and especially to the people of Orissa. It is during this time that the three deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out in a grand procession in specially made gigantic temple-like chariots called raths, which are pulled by thousands of devotees.
The smiling figures of Lord Jagannatha, Lady Subhadra and Lord Balarama ride on three, huge, wooden carts. They are the focus of the festival which dates back many thousands of years.The festival was introduced to the west in 1967 in San Franscisco by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his first American disciples.
This year it was the 10th anniversary of having the festival in Cardiff, South Wales (UK). All the way through procession there was melodious singing, chanting and dancing to rhythmical drums and cymbals. The procession ended with a stage show, a festival and delicious vegetarian prasadam feast.
Rath Yatra is a great festival because of its ability to unite people in its festivity. All people, rich and poor, brahmins or shudras equally enjoy the fairs and the joy they bring.