The Festival of Ratha Yatra in Puri

The Ratha Yatra or the festival of chariots is associated with the worship of Jagannath. It is commemorated in the city of Puri in the state of Orissa in eastern India during the second day of the crescent moon of Ashadh or June. The festival is also known by Gundicha Jatra, Navadina Jatra, Dasavatara Jatra and many other names. What many may not know is that in its origin there are similar festivals in which there was a procession of chariots. These were held already in prehistory, with astronomical inspiration.

A Scandinavian work of art drawn on the stone floor, in Begby, Borge, Osfold, Norway is dated to the second millennium. It reflects that in this region it was already celebrated the procession of chariots with four carriages in procession. At the bottom of the Scandinavian glyph, several carriages appear in procession and in the upper boats. The chariots reflect one of the car festivals celebrated in other regions of the Mediterranean, at the beginning of historical time.

There was also a sacred ritual of the first agricultural period, reflected in the prehistoric painting of Congosto de Olvena, La Puebla de Castro, Huesca. It is considered 7,000 years old. The prehistoric scene reflects as an antecedent of a rite of historical epoch in varied regions of the Mediterranean. It has a religious and agricultural character, that consisted of the procession of the image of the Goddess in her throne, who is mounted in a boat in a cart, whose wheels were dragged by oxen.

Examples include the Isidis Nagium and Isidias celebrations that were celebrated in honor of the Goddess Isis, the Suevi and Danes, the Goddess Nerthus/Nerta/Hertha on the island of Rugen in the Baltic Sea, Germany along the coast of Pomerania, Prussia. It was inhabited by Vandals who emigrated and the Goddess was later replaced by her husband-brother Njördhr, whose images assumed feminine aspect in acts of cult/travesty). There were similar festivals in honor of the Scandinavian Goddess Nerthus and those of Reus, east of Spain. The rite was practiced in the spring, around March, when nature resurfaced.


In fact, during the spring in Greece, and in the Teutonic and Celtic countries, there were processions in which a boat was wheeled. These were made up of masquerades who performed promiscuous dances and songs of sarcastic and obscene satire. It was performed by women with disheveled hair, chanted by the bustling exhilaration of the companions. And in the Antiquity, it engendered dramatic representations. It refers to the hymns and burlesque representations called Gefirismos or the similar Stenia in which were said obscenities and profanities of a religious character.

One of these celebrations preceded fifteen days before the day of the 'sowing' of the second agricultural period of the year. It was celebrated around archaic July-August. And therefore, the festivals of processions of carriages took place around June-July. They consisted of a procession of chariots, from the city to the shrine of the Goddess of the field. It was presided over by the supreme priestess. She represented the Goddess on Earth, and was mounted on a cart. In each region, the car was pulled by different types of animals like oxen, deer, and mules.



Examples include the procession that preceded the Tauropolias festival in honor of the Goddess Artemis of Taurópola. Tauropoliasta presided to move her to the Tauropolion Shrine, with a herd of the white ox pulling her cart. A similar festival was celebrated in Samos, where the goddess was moved to the Shrine of the Goddess Hera/Juno in Samia. Priestess Samia opened the procession, guiding the oxen in her ox cart.

The festival of Argos, which preceded the Heraeas festival on the month of Heraios (July-August), was in which the Heresida of the Goddess Hera, presided over the procession to the Heraión Sanctuary. She guided the chariot with a herd of white oxen. Also known is the procession of mules chariots of the Helenias in honor of the Goddess Helena, that was held in Sparta. This was the one presided by the Priestess of the Goddess Artemis of Lafria.


Other artistic manifestations of the historical epoch that illustrate the celebration of chariots guided by the main Priestess are the coin of Argos, Greece of the 1st millennium. It represents the Heredida Cidipa directing a procession, in its cart of Oxen. She was later replaced by her daughter Cleobis and her son Bitón. When the procession was conducted, a chariot of oxen was driven. And when there were no oxen, the local populace replaced them for 8 km journey, from Argos to the shrine, which was in the field.

The sculpture of Klicevac, Dupljaja, Vojvodina, Serbia depict the Priestess of the Krasopana, leading the Goddess in the procession in her carriage of swans. Likewise, the Indian sculpture of Harappa of the year 3000 BC depicts Indian priestess directing procession in her ox cart.

In these ceremonies, until 4,000 years ago in some regions and in others well until into the historical period, only women participated. It was according to the feminism of religion, as a vestige of the matriarchal age, in which the exercise of worship was practiced exclusively by women. It was because they alone represented Mother Earth. They were the only and most archaic Goddess who was worshiped by humanity, for 40,000 years, before the male principle dethroned it.

These rituals with chariots represented in artistic scenes had a sacred and magical purpose and were directed to Mother Nature. It was done to propitiate certain phenomena that were necessary to have good harvests. And that in this case, they would have the purpose of propitiating the divine functions. On the day of sowing of the fields, divine intervention was requested to send a specific phenomenon, that is favorable to agriculture coinciding with the stellar situation of a certain date.


The carriages were also astronomical symbols of certain constellations. They were personified by the Mother Nature through the Sun, Moon, and the stars. The inventors of sacred agricultural rites were inspired by constellations to invent the ritual procession of chariots.

The artistic motifs of chariots often correspond to those constellations in that situation, as with agrarian rituals of chariots celebrated during Labrado festival. It promoted the phenomena associated with that festive date of the second agricultural season. Thousands of years later it continued to be preserved in the sacred rituals celebrated on the same date. It retained the same astronomical elements of carriages of yesteryear, despite the fact that because of the precession they were no longer synchronous.

It would manifest that people inherited such rituals and maintained them perhaps because they did not know its astronomical foundation. Or even knowing that, by precession, they were no longer coincident, but they would keep them because they would expect the Goddess to understand the metaphorical message of the old.

So, if the motifs of ships represent constellations in the Milky Way, it is not at all strange that we have deduced that the carriages represent constellations of chariots. There are many configurations of stars in the form of a carriage and that they have been given names of chariots.

Cuneiform texts and artifacts from the Euphrates Valley civilization suggest that the lion, bull, and scorpion were already associated with constellations in the year 4000 BC. Many scholars are intrigued by the fact that there is some resemblance between the names given to the constellations by civilizations separated by great distances.

Our argument would show that both prehistoric carriages reflected in the glyph of Scandinavia and the celebrations held in Mediterranean regions around July-August in the historical period have similar origins when they were fixed. They have a similar purpose of propitiating the phenomena coincident with the festival that was represented by the constellations that appeared on the horizon at dusk or at dawn.


Our ancestors were inspired to perform their sacred rites and hence there is the coincidence of the rites throughout the universe, from the earliest antiquity. The reason is that they have their origin in Prehistory, in a central nucleus from where human culture originated to where the migratory movement took place. They transported their knowledge and their ideas and religious rites, to the farthest corner of the Earth, where similar mythical beliefs were preserved with those of the rest of the world, despite not having contact with other civilizations.

Afterward, religions evolved, as did changes in the economy and in the social organization of peoples. But curiously the rites of many different religions have fundamental similarities. It is evident from their common origin. Although in time they already became dispossessed of its purpose and astronomical foundation. They become rituals that no one can give a reason of its why or in capricious symbols of which no one keeps a memory of their true reason.

The inherited rites were fixed, and later people retained the ritual and symbolic structure, in spite of precession, for different reasons. Thus, when analyzing rites with chariots and works of art with chariots, it is evident that they take full meaning interpreted in the light of our hypothesis. It would be observed that there is an exact correspondence between the constellations of the festivals. The works of art are reflections of constellations of those same days, and the rites practiced in the days of celebration. So the chariots have a magic-astronomical function in relation to the fields and agriculture.

With the passing of years, the simple ox carts, filled with wheat, began to be enriched with straw garlands. In the course of the modern era, the event underwent an evolution and made the appearance of the first reproductions of paintings and votive altars, where the art of weaving is fused with the image of Jagannātha. In the early twentieth century, the procession embellished more refined works, becoming a traveling museum.

Ratha Yatra is the most important festival in India. It includes the worship of Jagannātha, one of the manifestations of Krishna, around the temple, which is an essential part of the area's folklore. The festival celebrates the visit of Jagannātha to the temple of Queen Gundicha, the wife of the King Indradiumna.


The festival includes the appearance of three highly decorated floats resembling the temple statues that are moved around the streets of Puri. It commemorates the annual trip of Jagannath, his brother Balarama and his sister Subhadra with the celestial wheel of Sudarshana to his aunt in the Gundicha Temple, located 3 km away. New carriages are built every year. Only during this day, devotees allow non-Hindu and foreigners to see the deities.

During the festival, devotees from all over the world travel to Puri. They have a desire to pull the ropes of the floats, which is considered as an act of piety. It measures 14 meters in height. The procession that goes with the floats intones chants accompanied by drums and trumpets. Lines of children are formed in the streets and to which add a mass of people.

On their way to the temple of Gundicha, the deities are stopped near the Temple of Mausima and offered Poda Pitha. It is a kind of pancake that is supposed to be Jagannātha's favorite. After their stay of seven days, the deities return to their abode.

The floats are built every year with wood from specific trees such as Dhausa and Phassi. The wood is usually brought from the former princely state of Dasapalla by a team of specialist carpenters, who have the rights and privileges for the same. The logs are traditionally carried on rafts by the river Mahanadi. These are collected near Puri and then transported by road.

The three floats are decorated according to the prescribed scheme followed for centuries in the Dada Banda, the Great Avenue. Covered with shimmering canopies made of strips of red cloth, combined with those of black, yellow and blue colors, floats line up across the broad avenue in front of the majestic temple near its east entrance, which is also known as the Simha Dwara or the Lion Gate.

The car of Jagannātha is called Nandighosa. It measures fourteen meters high, and fourteen square meters in the plane of the wheel. It has 16 wheels, each one of a diameter of two meters, and is covered with a cloth of red and yellow color. The car of Balarama is called Taladhwaja and is the one that has a palm tree on its flag. It has fourteen wheels, each one of a diameter of two meters and is covered with a red and blue cloth. Its height is thirteen and a half meters.


Subhadra's car is known as Dwarpadalana and is thirteen and a half meters high with twelve wheels, each one with a diameter of two meters. This car is dressed in the gala with a fabric cover of red and black.

Around each of the carriages are nine flanks or Parsvá, in which are painted wooden images depict the different deities on the sides of the carriages. Each of the chariots is tied to four horses. These are of different colors with the white for Balarama, the dark ones for Jagannātha, and the red for Subhadra. Each car has a coachman named Sarathi. The three car drivers attached to the carriages of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra, are Matali, Daruka, and Arjuna respectively.