Rath Yatra – A festival of receiving the love of Krishna

“Lord Jagannatha is Lord of all the worlds” said His Devine Grace Srila Abhaycharanarbrinda Bhakti Vedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder Acharya of International Society of Krishna Consciousness. Ratha Yatra festival has been being celebrated at Puri in India for thousands of years. Later, about fifty years ago, Srila Prabhupada propagated this festival all over the world and now almost all major cities throughout the world are celebrating this festival with great enthusiasm.

History of Rath Yatra festival:

The Rath Yatra festival began five thousand years ago when Lord Sri Krishna, along with His eldest brother Balaram and younger sister Subhadra Devi, came from Dwarka to Kurukshetra by pressing on a chariot to bathe in the sacred river during the waning moon. Both Kurukshetra and Dwaraka City are still present and following Their footstep, people go to the sacred place Kurukshetra.
Having been heard, the news of arriving Krishna with His family members, all the Gopis and other residents of Vrindavan, where Krishna revealed His childhood pastimes, rush through to meet Him. Srimati Radharani, the greatest of all Gopis, once visited Sri Krishna with all His opulence, said, “My dear Krishna, we are all worried about You in Vrindavan. So, I wish You would come to Vrindavan with Me and would reveal Your pastimes in the Kunjabans again.” This feeling of separation was exhibited by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the mood of Radha Rani, later on the occasion of Ratha Yatra in Puri. He was in such a mood as if Radharani was taking Krishna back to Vrindavan. And so this Ratha Yatra is a festival for feeling separation for the Vaisnavas. He felt the mood of separation from Krishna. Likewise, His disciples, the six Goswamis, have progressed in their devotion in the mode of separation-

“hē rādhē brajadēbīkē ca lalitē hē nandasunō kutaḥ

śrīgōbardhana-kalpapādapa-talē kālindī-ban’yē kutaḥ.

ghōṣantābiti sarbatō brajapurē khēdairmahābihbalau

bandē rūpa-sanātanau raghuyugau śrījība-gōpālakau.”

Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastime during Ratha Yatra:

sajīẏāṯ kr̥ṣṇacaitan’yaḥ śrīrathāgrē nanartayaḥ

yēnāsījjagatāṁ citraṁ jagannāthōhapi bismitaḥ

“Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who danced in the forefront of the supremely beautiful chariot of Sri Jagannatha, and in whose dance all the devotees as well as Lord Jagannath, Himself, also marveled. All glories to Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu got up at night and went to visit Lord Jagannatha’s ‘Pandavijaya’ after bathing with His devotees. On this occasion, Lord Jagannatha left His throne and ascended to the chariot. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu along with His prominent followers like Advaita Acharya, Nityananda Prabhu used to visit chariot riding pastime of Sri Jagannatha. Like a drunken elephant, the giant Dayitas (the great devotee of Lord Jagannatha) had carried Sri Jaganatha from the throne. Some Dayitas held the shoulders of Lord Jagannatha, and some Dayitas held His Sri Pada-Padma. A very thick and hard silk rope was tied to Jagannath’s belly, and He was pulled and pushed from both sides. Lord Jagannatha is the Lord of all the universes. Who can take Him from one place to another? He was moved by His own will to exhibit His pastime. When Sri Jagannatha was being taken from the throne to the chariot, Maharaja Prataprudra, despite being a king, started to clean the path of Sri Jagannatha with a golden broom, considering himself trivial. Water mixed with Chandan was being sprayed across that route. So he was capable of having Lord Jagannath’s mercy. Seeing that service of the king, the Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was pleased, thus, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was gracious to the king. Without the grace of the Lord, He cannot be known or can’t be served. One can try to know Lord through their intellect and personal efforts, but it is impossible to know Him through this process only. Although Maharaja Prataprudra was desperate to visit Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he was refused to get. However, seeing the menial service performed by the king, He was overjoyed. In this way, King was able to receive the grace of Mahaprabhu.
Accepting Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as Krishna is the way of success in attaining the spiritual strength under the combined grace of Guru-Krishna. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu mentioned this while teaching Sri Rupa Goswami-

brabhāṇḍa bhramitē kōnō bhāgyabāna jība.

guru-kr̥ṣṇa prasādē pāẏa bhakti latā bīja.

Then the seeds of Bhakti (devotion) germinated and fructified the creeper of devotion. This creeper gradually grows up and finally reaches unto the lotus feet of Sri Krishna in Goloka-Vrindavan. By the grace of Sri Krishna, the bonafied spiritual master can be found, and by his mercy, we can get the chance to serve Lord. Godliness moves the creature from the material world to the spiritual world.
Benediction for joining chariot festival:
Participating in a chariot festival means the progression of one step closer to self-realization. Attending this festival means getting in touch with Krishna directly. Lord Jagannatha rides in the chariot and comes down on the highway to pay a visit to those who do not visit the temple. If anyone sees Lord Jagannatha on a chariot once, one will be free from the cycle of birth and death. Even if someone pulls a chariot or touches a chariot, then his release is sure. Anyone who participates in the Ratha Yatra can slowly develop an inner love for Krishna.

Updated: 20th December, 2021