Thousands of devotees pull these chariots to Gundicha Mandir, a temple 3 km away. After a week, on ‘Ashadha Sukla Dasami’, the 10th day of the bright fortnight of Ashadha (June-July), return journey or ‘Bahuda Yatra’ of the deities commences in the same manner from Gundicha temple to the main temple like Rath Yatra. When two months of Ashadha fall in one year, Rath Yatra is observed as the festival of ‘Nabakalebar’ the old deities are buried within the temple premises (‘Koilibaikuntha’) and are replaced by new deities, carved out of Margosa trees for which there are set procedures. Double Ashadha occurs at intervals of 8 to 19 years. Construction of the chariots begin as early as April.
Jagannath Rath Yatra or the ‘chariot journey of Lord Jagannatha’, observed in the month of Ashadha (June-July), is a festival that celebrates the annual visit of the God to his birthplace. The Jagannath Temple at Puri, Orissa is the venue for all celebrations. Several lakh people converge at Puri for this festival. An atmosphere of almost hysterical devotion prevails on this day and in earlier years; devotees were known to have thrown themselves under the wheels of the rath in the hope of obtaining instant salvation.
Images of Jagannath, as Lord Krishna is known, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, are taken in giant chariots to Gundicha Ghar. They stay there for a week and then return to the temple. On their journeys, they are accompanied by a huge procession of people, singing and celebrating.
The festival has been celebrated since ancient times. According to a legend about its origin, Jagannatha is said to have expressed his desire to visit his birthplace every year for a week. Accordingly, the deities are taken to the Gundicha Mandir every year.
According to another legend, Subhadra wanted to visit Dwarka, her parent’s home, and her brothers took her there on this day. The Yatra is a commemoration of that visit.
According to the Bhagavad Purana, it is believed that it was on this day that Krishna and Balarama went to Mathura to participate in a wrestling competition, at Kansa’s invitation.
Some Hindus believe that Jagannatha is an incarnation of Vishnu. Since Vishnu has four arms, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshana represent Vishnu’s four arms. Each deity has its own massive chariot, which are replicas of the temple. Jagannatha’s chariot, Nandighosha, is yellow in color, 45 ft high and has 16 wheels, each one seven feet in diameter. About 4,200 devotees draw the chariot. Balabhadra’s chariot is called Taladhvaja, is blue in color and has 14 wheels. Subhadra’s chariot is the smallest, with 12 wheels and is called Deviratha.