Puri: Although a religious festival, the Puri Rath Yatra stands out from other such celebrations due to the mass emotional involvement that fills the air.
Jagannath, the 'Ganadevata' (the lord of the people) with no barriers between his devotees and himself, transcends the barrier of religion and becomes accessible to comman man during the Yatra.
His is the story of religious integration. All important spiritual leaders from Guru Nanak to Sri Chaitanya were drawn to him.
'Lokabat tu lila kaivalyam'-various humanistic behaviour of Lord Jagannath brings out the truth of this 'shloka' that the god is born in this mortal world to let the devotees taste the 'rasa' in a loving surrender to him.
Lord Jagannath temple runs like a huge palace of a king. His daily chores are patterned closely on that of a temporal being. He is awakened by hymns sung to at dawn. Then like an ordinary man, he brushes his teeth, takes bath, puts on fresh clothes and after taking breakfast gives 'darshan' to the waiting devotees in the manner of a king listening to people’s grievances in a durbar!
Then he retires for his mid-day meal followed by a siesta. On getting up in the afternoon he takes tiffin and is ready for yet another 'darshan'. Then after taking supper in the night, he listens to the songs of the devadasis and is lulled to sleep.
Though the trappings of royalty are visible in his rituals he takes all kinds of food and on special festive occasions special cakes, kheer and pulao are prepared.
His birthday is also celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Jyestha.
Some other rituals also evidence his humanistic behaviour. Two such are 'Damanak-chori' and 'Rukmini harana'. During the former festival, the lord goes to the temple garden to pluck 'damanak' flower on the sly. During Rukmini harana, he elopes with his beloved Rukmini when her parents decide to marry her off elsewhere.
Where else can one find a lord who steals and elopes with girls!
The change of seasons has also its impact on his habits and dresses. During winter he gets covered with a cloth like a man getting wrapped in a blanket. Then comes the spring and as a preventive measure against smallpox, the lord gets smeared with a medicinal powder called 'phagu'.
During summer the lord gets a luxurious bath in sandalwood paste water and comes out with his siblings for evening bath in a big tank.
This festival is called 'Chandan yatra’ and goes on for 21 days.
Like a common man he is also not free from diseases. So after the ‘Chandan yatra’ is over when he takes a sumptuous bath in a festival called ‘snana yatra’ he falls ill and is attended on by a doctor.
Fifteen days of recuperation later, he emerges to embark on his ‘rath yatra’.
Although it is usally felt that a god is defiled by human touch in Lord Jagannath’s case, it is different.
The sight of euphoric devotees hugging him, cuddling him, pushing him, tearing his floral crown during his process ion of 'ahandi' to the chariots is a sight to watch.
Like a typical family man he gets cornered when he returns to his home, er the temple. He faces his spouse Laxmi all worked up for being left out of the journey of the chariots and the seven day sojourn at the garden house.
She gives him a pice of her mind and does not allow him to enter the temple. But with much coaxing and cajoling, Lord Jagannath pacifies her.
Finally, Lord Jagannath, though a god, is mortal. So in a periodical ritual called ‘Navakalevar’(meaning new body)the god sheds his old body and takes on a new one. This ritual observed once in roughly 12 years is unique in the Hindu religious system.
So Jagannath remains a god who is endearingly human and by humanising him the devotees have made him their friend, their kin, their dark darling! This is a wonderful concept where the finiteness of the devotees has mingled with the infiniteness of their god and become one in an effusion of religious frenzy.
Rath Yatra is also held in Ahmedabad city, one of the oldest in Gujarat that begins from Jamalpur. There are three separate chariots for the idols of Krishna, Balram and their sister Subhadra and all the three chariots bears strong resemblance.
This year Rath Yatra procession in Ahmedaba will see the fusion of 16 elephants, 98 trucks, 30 akhadas (local gyms),18 Bhajan mandlis and music bands.
Even tribal folk dancers from Dangs district have been invited to participate in the event.