Book Review “Ratha Yatra: Chariot Festival of Sri Jagannatha in Puri” by Subas Pani (Niyogi Books)

Review: Varsha  Singh

“Ratha Yatra, the ancient festival of chariot journey by Jagannatha, the presiding deity of the great temple Srimandira at Puri, is one of the grandest spectacles on earth. Jagannatha and his siblings Balabhadra and Subhadra ride three colourful chariots in their annual sojourn to their garden house and birthplace, the Gundicha Temple, where they stay for seven days before returning back. Full of drama, and panoply of rituals and ceremonies, Ratha Yatra is rooted in ancient traditions, myths and legends and embodies the most colourful elements of the classical and folk cultures of the Indian subcontinent and the Odisha region.”

Documenting each aspect of this grand and elaborate festival, Subas Pani lays bare the minute details imbibed in the crescendo of Ratha Yatra: Chariot Festival of Sri Jagannatha in Puri. The book takes its readers to the grandness of Ratha Yatra with erudite details along with meticulous pictures supporting each document of the fiesta.

Bearing an elaborate section dedicated to the introduction of Lord Jagannatha, the book opens up the genesis of “god of the masses and his unending, deep and ever flowing love for his ordinary devotee…”

“This is amply evident more than anything else in his annual Ratha Yatra, the festival of chariots, during which the divine comes down to mingle with his devotees and becomes one with them. As if this annual demonstration of his intimacy with his devotees is not enough, Jagannatha also goes through the cycle of human life of birth and death in a periodic ritual and festival of renewal of his mortal body in the unique ceremony of Naba Kalebara – literally acquiring of new bodies – thus completely identifying with his human devotees.”

This grand festivity lasts almost four months leaving it incomparable to any ritual or ceremony of any deity in India or any faith in the world.

The book also discusses the Srikshetra and Srimandira, the festivals of Srimandira along with preparation for Ratha Yatra, the grand making of the Chariots which would bear the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, and the final Chariot ride making the heaving crowds line up along the route to pay their respects to the gods.

Subas Pani concludes the book with an elaborate afterword, stating by the end, “It is as much a celebration by the devotees, pilgrims and visitors as it is by Jagannatha who himself eagerly a waits stepping outside the confines of his palatial abode to meet his loved ones. The celebration of Ratha Yatra can perhaps be best described as celebration of life itself.”

Blurb:

Ratha Yatra, the ancient festival of chariot journey by Jagannatha, the presiding deity of the great temple Srimandira at Puri, is one of the grandest spectacles on earth. Jagannatha and his siblings Balabhadra and Subhadra ride three colourful chariots in their annual sojourn to their garden house and birthplace, the Gundicha Temple, where they stay for seven days before returning back. Full of drama, and panoply of rituals and ceremonies, Ratha Yatra is rooted in ancient traditions, myths and legends and embodies the most colourful elements of the classical and folk cultures of the Indian subcontinent and the Odisha region.
This book is a comprehensive account of Ratha Yatra, the great socio-cultural and religious event and phenomenon unique in the entire world. It provides the background on the syncretic faith represented by Jagannatha, his origin and strong links with the heritage of aborigine tribes and an account of the Naba Kalebara ceremonies, celebrating the periodic renewal of the bodies of the presiding deities. Rich in detail, the book covers a wide span including the sacred geography of Puri, legends surrounding the temple, the unique architectural style of the temple complex, the elaborate preparatory summer festivals leading up to the main festival and the process of making the chariots with its associated special ceremonies. It brings alive every stage of the intricate rituals and ceremonies lasting almost two months, giving a complete portrayal of the different phases of the festival.

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