The Jagannath Rath Yatra is an annual Hindu festival associated with Lord Jagannath celebrated in Puri at the state of Odisha. It is celebrated on the Ashadha Shukla Paksha Dwitiya which is the third month according to the traditional Oriya calendar. A 9-day long event, it is celebrated as the return journey of Lord Krishna- who is known as Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra- also known as Balaram and his sister Devi Subhadra to Vrindavana . On their way back from the Shri Gundicha Temple, the three stop near Mausi Maa’s Temple (their aunt’s abode) where Poda Pitha is offered to them.
The rath yatra begins at the Jagannaath Temple in Puri. The Jagannath Temple is believed to have been constructed by the king of Ganga Dynasty- Ananta Varman Chodaganga Deva in the 12th century(source-wikipedia). The image of Sri Krishna (Lord Jagannath) in the temple of Puri is made of wood and is replaced every 12 or 19 years by an exact replica. This temple is part of the Char Dham( that comprises of the temples of Badrinath, Dwaraka, Puri and Rameswaram).
Every year, the rath of all three deities is newly constructed by a specialized team of carpenters from the wood of a particular type of neem tree and takes about 2 months to construct. They are given hereditary rights for the very same. A week prior to the Rath Yatra, the Jagannath temple’s doors are shut as the lord is believed to have caught a high fever during his annual bath. After the end of the 7-day rest period, the doors are opened and the 3 km Rath Yatra begins, where thousands of devotees from all over the world participate in pulling the raths of the 3 deities to Shri Gundicha Temple. It is a popular belief that anyone who participates in the Rath Yatra is blessed with a good fortune. During the festival, the king dressed as a sweeper, sweeps the area around all the 3 chariots with a golden broom and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder as a part of the Chera Paahara ritual held on two separate days that marks the beginning as well as the end of the Rath Yatra. This day of the beginning of Rath Yatra also marks the beginning of agricultural season and farmers start ploughing their fields. It also marks the beginning of a three weeks long Chandan Yatra.
This year, however, in response to the covid-19 pandemic that is spread across the country, the government said that the Rath Yatra will take place with only 5 vehicles including 3 chariots and no devotees. The Supreme Court also said that the Rath Yatra will take place in limited areas of Puri. It began on the 12th of July,2021.