Annual Sri Jagannatha Rath Yatra in Puri
God is actually able to ride on the Rathayäträ cart, and in His form as the Deity, bestow His blessings upon all. Who can deny God if He wishes to appear before us? Lord Jagannätha is Kåñëa Himself – He rides on, and the devotees feel pleasure at heart, and all persons factually receive His blessings on the occasion of Rathayäträ.
Yoga means to link with God in loving exchange. Lord Kåñëa teaches in Bhagavad-gétä (6.47) that the highest yogé is “he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service.” The Rathayäträ Festival is a potent transcendental stimulus for developing love of Godhead. The Rathayäträ procession—the gigantic, opulently decorated Deity cars and thousands of people chanting Hare Kåñëa and dancing ecstatically—can attract even the materialistic person. By becoming attracted to the Supreme Lord in His form as Jagannätha one loses his attachment to the illusory happiness of the mundane world. Thus simply by seeing the Deities, simply by hearing the transcendental sound vibration of Hare Kåñëa, Hare Kåñëa, Kåñëa Kåñëa, Hare Hare/Hare Räma, Hare Räma, Räma Räma, Hare Hare, or simply by tasting foodstuffs offered to Kåñëa, anyone can begin his progress back to Godhead without difficulty. And by applying his energy in understanding the Kåñëa consciousness movement and participating in glorifying the all-blissful Lord of the universe, one can revive one’s eternal loving relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As stated – “Real religion is that which awakens unconditional, unmotivated love for the Lord from within our hearts. The love for God, which is dormant in the heart of all living beings, can be awakened by chanting of holy names of the lord.”
Externally, Rathayäträ is spectacular—colorful and entertaining. Yet the Gauòéya Vaiñëavas, the followers of Lord Caitanya, see in the Festival of the Chariots much more than just a happy event. The pulling of the cart by the Lord’s devotees symbolizes the attempt of the Vrajaväsés, especially Rädhäräëé and the gopés, to bring Kåñëa, Balaräma, and Subhadrä back to Våndävana. Today those who take part in a Ratha-yäträ festival can share in the feelings of Kåñëa’s devotees who drew Him back to Våndävana with their love.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada very simply explained the meaning of Ratha Yatra. He said that Ratha Yatra is the meditation on bringing Krishna back into our hearts. Krishna resides within the heart of all living beings, but we have forgotten Him. The real purpose of spiritual life is to make our heart a suitable home for God to reveal Himself to us. If we are inviting God to reveal himself in our hearts it must be clean. But if our hearts have accumulated the dirt of lust, envy, arrogance, greed, anger and illusion then He will not be happy to reveal His home within our heart. The purpose of every great spiritual path in this world is to help one another to honestly and sincerely clean our hearts, to cultivate the character of humility, charity, love for God and compassion to all beings.
That night, Jagannatha spoke to the king in a dream and reassured him, explaining that He was revealing Himself in that form out of His own inconceivable desire, to show the world that He can accept offerings without hands, and move around without feet. Lord Jagannatha told the king, “Know for sure that My hands and feet are the ornament of all ornaments, but for your satisfaction, you may give Me gold and silver hands and feet from time to time.” Devotees now worship the same “unfinished” forms of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra in Puri and in temples around the world. These forms are part of their eternal pastimes.
Narada Muni, during his conversation with King Indradyumna, explained to him about the origin of the strange form of Krishna as Jagannatha, which he had fortunately seen once before.
The reason behind Lord Jagannatha’s unusual form
Once Lord Kåñëa, His brother Balaräma, and His sister Subhadrä journeyed on a chariot to Kurukñetra, India, to observe the ancient Vedic custom of bathing at a holy place during a solar eclipse. On this auspicious occasion, knowing that Krsna would be there, many great devotees of the Lord (expecially Srimati Radharani, Mother Yashoda & Nanda Maharaj) went to Kurukshetra & were reunited with Him. Kåñëa had spent His early years in Vrindavana before He had left to live as a king in the opulent city of Dvärakä. During Kåñëa’s absence from Våndävana, the devotees there—especially Çrématé Rädhäräëé—always thought of Him and longed for His return. Being separated from Krishna, Srimati Radharani & the gopis had practically gone mad due to the acute pangs of separation. In their madness, they gave up ordinary happiness & religious duties – their minds, words & activities were constantly engaged in the remembrance of Krishna & seeking Him. Srimati Radharani would not differentiate between conscious & unconscious things – she would just inquire – “Where is Krishna?” “Have you seen Krishna?”. In their intense separation, the gopis were ready to give up their bodies anytime, but the only reason for their continuing existence was Krishna’s promise that He would return to Vraja.
Just as Srimati Radharani & the gopis felt intense separation from Krishna, Krishna in Dvärakä also used to feel the same level of separation from his dearmost Srimati Radharani & the gopis & He would also go mad. Krishna’s queens often heard Krishna crying out in His sleep, ‘Radhe, Radhe, Radhe, gopé, gopé.’ So they asked Mother Rohini, who had witnessed Krishna’s Vrindavan pastimes, about Krishna’s behaviour & the extent of gopis’ love that caused such separation. Rohini, Lord Balarama’s mother, narrated Krsna’s Vrndavana pastimes to the queens of Dwaraka and others.
The residents of Dwaraka are said to be in the mood of opulence (aisvarya), and they worship Krsna as the Supreme Lord. But the residents of Vrndavana are in the mood of sweetness (madhurya), and they have a confidential relationship with Krsna that surpasses awe and reverence because it is based on friendship and love. The subject (mutual love of gopis with Krishna) was so nectarean that it would attract Krishna & Balaram wherever they were – Once they came, the discussion would agonise them & Rohini would be unable to continue speaking. Rohini’s narration was thus extremely confidential, so she posted Subhadra at the door to prevent anyone from entering.
Though posted at the door, Subhadra got engrossed in hearing Krishna’s Vrindavan pastimes, causing her to become ecstatic & forget herself. Meanwhile Krsna and Balarama came to the door and stood on either side of Subhadra. While listening to Rohini’s narration of Krsna’s intimate Vrndavana pastimes, Krsna and Balarama became ecstatic due to intense separation from Srimati Radharani & other devotees of Vrindavana, and Their internal feelings were exhibited externally. Their eyes became dilated, Their heads compressed into Their bodies, and Their limbs retracted. Seeing these transformations in Krsna and Balarama, Subhadra also became ecstatic and assumed a similar form. Thus, by hearing about Krsna’s pastimes in Vrndavana, Krsna and Balarama, with Subhadra in between, displayed their ecstatic forms of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra.
The Lord’s Highest Ecstasy
According to the Skanda Purana, the Jyestha- purnima is the time when Krsna appeared in the form of Jagannatha with big, dilated eyes and shrunken limbs. This is known as mahabhava-prakasa, the ecstatic form of Krsna. Mahabhava means “the highest ecstasy,” and prakasa means “manifestation,” so Jagannatha is literally the ecstatic form of Krsna. Jagannath is the embodiment of Krsna’s pangs of separation from the residents of Vrndavana, particularly Srimati Radharani and the gopis. Scriptures explain that intense feelings of spiritual ecstasy, especially in this mood of separation from a loved one, produce transformations in the body. Since Krsna is not different from His body, His internal feeling showed externally, and He assumed the form of Jagannatha. The ecstasy of mahabhava is compared to an ocean.
In the pastime with King Indradyumna, a giant log floated on the ocean. Similarly, the forms of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra float on the ocean of mahabhava.When the sage Narada saw Krsna transformed as Jagannatha, he prayed to the Lord to appear like this again. Although the Lord is not obliged to anyone, He reciprocates with His devotees to fulfill their desires. Thus, He appeared in the deity form as Jagannatha and resides in Jagannatha Puri to satisfy the desire of Narada Muni. This special form of Krsna is also known as Patita Pavana, the savior of the fallen, and anyone who takes His audience with proper consciousness is awarded spiritual liberation.
Krsna becomes Lord Caitanya to experience & teach Bhakti
When the gopés of Våndävana, the residents of Gokula, met Kåñëa at Kurukñetra during the solar eclipse, they wanted to take Kåñëa back to Våndävana. Çré Kåñëa Caitanya Mahäprabhu also felt the same ecstasy as soon as He saw Jagannätha in the temple or on the Ratha-yäträ car. The gopés of Våndävana did not like the opulence of Dvärakä. They wanted to take Kåñëa to the village of Våndävana and enjoy His company in the groves. This desire was also felt by Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu, and He danced in ecstasy before the Ratha-yäträ festival when Lord Jagannätha went to Guëòicä.
Lord Caitanya in The Ratha Yatra
During Ratha Yatra, Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu and His prominent devotees witnessed how King Pratäparudra personally engaged in the Lord’s service by cleansing the road with a broom & sprinkling sandalwood-scented water. Although he was most respectable, the owner of the royal throne, the King engaged in menial service for the sake of Lord Jagannätha & thus became a suitable candidate for receiving the Lord’s mercy. King Prataparudra very soon got the treasure of ecstatic love of Godhead & was able to witness & understand the Lord’s divine pastimes.
Lord Jagannätha was astonished & very pleased to see the transcendental dancing and chanting of Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu, and He stopped His car just to see the dancing. When Caitanya Mahäprabhu danced, He displayed various blissful transcendental changes in His body. Sometimes He appeared as though stunned. Sometimes the hairs of His body stood on end. Sometimes He perspired, cried, trembled and changed color, and sometimes He exhibited symptoms of helplessness, pride, exuberance and humility. When Caitanya Mahäprabhu danced and jumped high, eight wonderful transformations indicative of divine ecstasy were seen in His body. All these symptoms were visible simultaneously. Thus there was a sort of competition between Caitanya Mahäprabhu and Lord Jagannätha in seeing who would lead, but Caitanya Mahäprabhu was so strong that He made Lord Jagannätha wait in His car.
Lord Caitanya in the mood of Srimati Radharani
In the ecstasy of Srimati Radharani, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu recited “That very personality who stole away my heart during my youth is now again my master. These are the same moonlit nights of the month of Caitra. The same fragrance of mälaté flowers is there, and the same sweet breezes are blowing from the kadamba forest. In our intimate relationship, I am also the same lover, yet still my mind is not happy here. I am eager to go back to that place on the bank of the Revä under the Vetasé tree. That is my desire. You are the same Kåñëa, and I am the same Rädhäräëé. We are meeting again in the same way that We met in the beginning of Our lives. Although We are both the same, My mind is still attracted to Våndävana-dhäma. I wish that You will please again appear with Your lotus feet in Våndävana. In Kurukñetra there are crowds of people, elephants and horses, and also the rattling of chariots. But in Våndävana there are flower gardens, and the humming of the bees and chirping of the birds can be heard. Here at Kurukñetra You are dressed like a royal prince, accompanied by great warriors, but in Våndävana You appeared just like an ordinary cowherd boy, accompanied only by Your beautiful flute. Here there is not even a drop of the ocean of transcendental happiness that I enjoyed with You in Våndävana. I therefore request You to come to Våndävana and enjoy pastimes with Me. If You do so, My ambition will be fulfilled. My dear Lord, kindly hear My true submission. My home is Våndävana, and I wish Your association there. But if I do not get it, then it will be very difficult for Me to keep My life.”
“The gopés are not like the mystic yogés. They will never be satisfied simply by meditating on Your lotus feet and imitating the so-called yogés. Teaching the gopés about meditation is another kind of duplicity. When they are instructed to undergo mystic yoga practice, they are not at all satisfied. On the contrary, they become more and more angry with You.” Devotees do not care for such temporary things. They engage in transcendental devotional activities because they desire elevation to the spiritual world, where they can live eternally and peacefully and with full knowledge of Kåñëa. In Våndävana, the gopés, cowherd boys and even the calves, cows, trees and water are fully conscious of Kåñëa. They are never satisfied with anything but Kåñëa.
“The gopés have fallen into the great ocean of separation and are being devoured by the timiìgila fish of their ambition to serve You. The gopés are to be delivered from the mouths of these timiìgila fish, for they are pure devotees. Since they have no material conception of life, why should they aspire for liberation? The gopés do not want that liberation desired by yogés and jïänés, for they are already liberated from the ocean of material existence.”
“I do not care for My personal unhappiness, but when I see the morose face of mother Yaçodä and the hearts of all the inhabitants of Våndävana breaking because of You, I wonder whether You want to kill them all. Or do You want to enliven them by coming there? Why are You simply keeping them alive in a state of suffering? The inhabitants of Våndävana do not want You dressed like a prince, nor do they want You to associate with great warriors in a different country. They cannot leave the land of Våndävana, and without Your presence, they are all dying. What is their condition to be? My dear Kåñëa, You are the life and soul of Våndävana-dhäma. You are especially the life of Nanda Mahäräja. You are the only opulence in the land of Våndävana, and You are very merciful. Please come and let all the residents of Våndävana live. Kindly keep Your lotus feet again in Våndävana.” So when Çrématé Rädhäräëé met Kåñëa at Kurukñetra, She invited Him to come back to Våndävana and again enjoy loving pastimes with His devotees there.
Love of God – Lord Caitanya’s gift to humanity
People are wasting away in this material world, trying vainly to squeeze a few drops of happiness out of dead, dry matter. Lord Caitanya disclosed these innermost pastimes of Kåñëa, opening this incalculable treasure of spiritual feelings, to show that nothing in this world can compare to Kåñëa.
For a long time, the world has heard of God’s power and majesty, but it is not much attracted. Therefore, Lord Caitanya also revealed God’s sweetness and beauty. The all-attractive feature of God was actually revealed when Kåñëa descended five thousand years ago. But Lord Caitanya revealed it more completely and more openly by showing through His own ecstatic attraction how attractive Kåñëa is. We know how lovable Kåñëa is because in Çré Caitanya we see how much love He evokes. And just as Lord Caitanya at the Ratha-yäträ disclosed the highest love of God, He also showed the way to attain it.
Love for Jagannatha is krsna-prema, love of Krsna, which is our ultimate goal. Krsna has become available to everyone in the form of Jagannatha. Due to his intense ecstatic separation from his beloved Srimati Radharani, he is more approachable & easily helps devotees in their progressive spiritual lives. Jagannatha is no one else but the ecstatic manifestation of Krsna, who appears in His most merciful form to help us go home, back to Godhead.
Lord Caitanya demonstrated the powerful process of saìkértana—congregational chanting of the holy names of God. This simple and natural practice possesses such immense spiritual potency that people with no spiritual qualifications at all can come to the highest level of spiritual realization. Thus Lord Caitanya made Çré Kåñëa available to everyone. For eighteen years He worshiped Lord Jagannätha at Puré, and every year He danced and chanted before the Lord’s chariot. Following Lord Caitanya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has introduced the Jagannatha Rathayatra in many cities around the world to uplift the conditioned souls from their state of ignorance & dull, miserable lives.
Ratha-yäträ, the festival of the chariots, is an ancient celebration that draws our hearts away from the distractions of temporary material life and back to Kåñëa, our original, eternal friend. Ratha-yäträ gives us a taste of the happy life we’re all looking for. It’s chance to absorb our senses—which, with their insatiable demands, bind us to material existence—in spiritual life. Our ears fill up with the holy names Hare Kåñëa, Hare Kåñëa, Kåñëa Kåñëa , Hare Hare/ Hare Räma, Hare Räma, Räma Räma, Hare Hare; our eyes gaze on the colourful chariots with their billowing canopies, the exhibits, the entertainment, and the people—so many happy people—who’ve come for a day with Kåñëa; our noses catch the wafting fragrances of incense and flowers; and our tongues delight in the sumptuous feast of kåñëa-prasädam—savories, sweets, succulent vegetables, and more.
And we learn something at Ratha-yäträ. We learn—not just theoretically, but practically, if we allow ourselves—that real happiness comes from remembering God and serving Him in the way He likes best: by hearing and chanting His names. We learn that spiritual life isn’t dry renunciation. One can very easily revive his dormant loving relationship with God (Krsna) in the association of devotees & begin a new, happy chapter to his life. Let us take advantage of the occasion of Ratha Yatra & the constant mercy from Lord Jagannatha & his dear devotees.