Have you ever looked forward to something but didn’t quite know what it was? Well, I find myself doing that in reference to The Rath Yatra, the chariot festival of India. The Celebration, or one celebration of which I am aware is at The Hindu Temple of Arizona, http://www.hindutempleaz.org/ where incidentally a special puja is held for Lord Jagannath every second Sunday. Jagannath’ literally means the Lord or master of the Universe, and he is non-sectarian though there are several common aspects with Vaishnavaism, Saivism, Shaktism, Buddhism and Jainism. There will also be a celebration at ISKCON of Phoenix http://www.hindutempleaz.org/
The largest festival attendance is of course in India, particularly in the coastal town of Orissa in Eastern India. The area is important because it is during this time 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 thousands of devotees pull . The festival has also gained popularity in some US cities. San Francisco has one that is fantastic. Sponsors invite the entire community to Golden Gate Park where all help to pull the chariots, watch Indian dance and exhibits and enjoy a free vegetarian meal.
So where do these deities go every year? Well legend has it that 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 is a time when they come out of their temple to be seen by all. Each deity visits Gudicha Temple in their specific chariots drawn by devotees. Gudicha, is dedicated to Lord’s Aunt.
The sojourn is certainly not without spiritual significance, and according to Katha Upanishad- The festival talks about Human body as Rath and sarathi or driver as God, who drives the chariot of body to the yatra/journey to material existence or Bhavasagar. Classically it is mentioned as- The soul drive with in the Rath of body, which has been intellectually and totally devoted to God the driver of the chariot towards the material existence. The wheels are the significance of velour. The horses are persistence. and symbols of vigor, self – discipline, tolerance, charity and discrimination, where as pity, equanimity and forgiveness are the horses reins.
In other translations, the atman as traveler in Ratha. The owner of Ratha (chariot) is body. The intellect and total devotion to God is Sarathi (driver of chariot). Velour and persistence are wheels of Ratha. The senses are horses. Vigor, tolerance, self-discipline, charity and discrimination are ground on which Ratha moves. Pity, equanimity and Forgiveness are the horses’ reins. Thus person who travels in such kind of Ratha can traverse through Journey of life to reach the desired goal – the Lord’s abode From <https://www.thoughtco.com/rath-yatra-1770555>
Here in Phoenix, the Hindu Temple of AZ, devotees pull the chariots for two blocks to replicate the journey. It is very well attended, and one of the highlights of the year for the temple. I should arrive early to get good parking.