An Earnest Invitation
By Gauranga Darshan Das
Just imagine you haven’t seen your most beloved one for a long time. When you meet him or her again, wouldn’t that reunion be the cause of your great pleasure? But something different happened about 5000 years ago, when the reunion of two most intimate parties had been the cause of enhanced separation.
Krishna and Balarama had enacted their enchanting childhood pastimes in Vrindavan and captivated the hearts of the residents there, so much so that they could not bear even a moment of separation from the divine brothers. More than a decade passed as Krishna performed His sweet pastimes with the Vrajavasis. Unexpectedly, Akrura, a minister of the cruel king Kamsa, came to Vrindavan and took Krishna and Balarama to Mathura, leaving the tender hearts of the residents of Vrindavan devastated. Krishna and Balarama stayed in Mathura for some years and later made Dwaraka their headquarters.
After several decades, on a day of solar eclipse, Krishna and Blarama along with Their sister Subhadra came to the pilgrimage place of Kurukshetra to have holy baths. They came on royal chariots accompanied by many soldiers and other royal paraphernalia. The residents of Vrindavan also came to Kurukshetra and saw Krishna there.
Although the sight of Krishna was as if their lives were revived, they simultaneously felt extreme separation even at that time of reunion. The reason being, every relationship has an inherent mood that forms the basis of such bonding. And that mood often demands a particular ambience and even outfits. The residents of Vrindavan were accustomed to see Krishna as a simple cowherd boy holding a flute in his hand. They could not appreciate this form of their beloved as a royal prince of the kingly order. Desiring to have his association again in his charming form of Gopal, they pulled the chariots of Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra within their hearts towards Vrindavan. This earnest invitation that the residents of Vrindavan offered to Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra to Vrindavan later turned out to be the grandest and most popular event on this planet called ‘Jagannath Ratha Yatra.’
Ratha Jatra, the Festival of Chariots which is also called by the names – Gundicha Yatra, Ghosa Yatra, Navadina Yatra and Dasavatara Yatra is celebrated every year at Jagannath Puri in the state of Orissa. The wooden deities of Lord Jagannath (Krishna), Balabhadra (Balarama) and Subhadra, with the celestial wheel Sudarshana are taken out from the temple precincts in an elaborate ritual procession on huge chariots. The colorful chariots are drawn by thousands of devotees to the Gundicha temple. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode in Srimandira.
The custom in South Inida is that the utsava murtis or the representative deities of a temple are taken out in procession. But the presiding deities of Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra are taken out for procession during the Jagannath Ratha yatra. Saints and scriptures have repeatedly glorified the sanctity of this most special festival. A glimpse of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious. The sanctity of the festival is such that even a touch of the chariot or even the ropes with which these are pulled is considered enough to confer the results of several pious deeds or penance for ages.