A look at the several stories
associated with its origins throws light on the sentiments underlying
- Kamsa, the maternal uncle of Lord Krishna,
invited Krishna and Balram to Mathura with the malicious intention
of killing them. The evil Kamsa sent Akrur with a chariot to Gokul.
Lord Krishna and Balram climbed onto the chariot with Akrur, taking
leave of the Gopis to proceed to Mathura. This day of departure is
celebrated by the devotees as Rath Yatra.
- Jubilant devotees celebrated the day
when Lord Krishna, having vanquished the evil Kamsa, gave them darshan
in Mathura in a chariot with his brother, Balaram.
- Devotees in Dwarika celebrated the
day when Lord Krishna, accompanied by Balaram, took Subhadra - his
sister, for a ride on a chariot to show the city's beauty.
- Once in Dwarka, Lord Krishna's eight
queens requested mother Rohini to narrate the divine episodes of Lord
Krishna with the Gopis while he was in Vraj. For a while Rohini dithered.
Finally, after a lot of insistence she relented. However, considering
it unbecoming of Subhadra to hear such episodes (Leela), she sent
her to guard the palace doorway. Yet the Vrajkatha soon absorbed Subhadra.
Soon, Lord Shri Krishna and Balaram arrived at the doorway. With arms
wide apart, she stood between the two, preventing them from entering.
However, from where they stood, Rohini's katha soon engrossed them
all! Just then sage Narad arrived. Seeing the siblings standing together
like murtis, he humbly prayed, "May the three of you grant darshan
in this manner forever." The Lord granted the boon. And the three
eternally reside in the Jagannath Mandir in Puri.
- There is an interesting story of Lord
Krishna becoming the Sarathi - driver of Arjuna's chariot, during
the eighteen-day battle of the Mahabharat.
- Finally, a story which has been passed
on from mouth to mouth, concerns about what happened after the cremation
of Lord Krishna's mortal body.
When Shri Krishna was being cremated in Dwarika, Balaram, overcome
with grief, dashed into the ocean with Shri Krishna's partially cremated
body. Subhadra too, followed both the brothers. At the same time,
on the eastern shore of India, King Indradyumna of Jagannath Puri
had a dream that the Lord's body would float up to the shores of Puri.
He should build a huge mandir in the city and consecrate the wooden
murtis of Shri Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra. The bones (asthi) of
Lord Krishna's body should be placed in the hollow in the back of
the murti. The dream came true. He found the splinters of bone (asthi)
and took them. But the question was who would carve the murtis. It
is said that the architect of the gods - Vishwakarma - arrived as
an old carpenter. He stipulated that while carving the murtis nobody
should disturb him and if anybody did, he would stop work and leave.
A few months elapsed. Driven with impatience, Indradyumna opened the
door of Vishwakarma's room, who vanished instantly as he had stipulated.
Despite the incomplete murtis, the king consecrated them, placing
the holy cinders of Lord Krishna in the hollow of the murti and installed
them in the mandir. Every year a grand procession is carried out with
the murtis of Lord Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra in three gigantic
floats. The floats are pulled by devotees from Janakpur to the mandir
in Jagannath Puri. The murtis are changed every twelve years, the
new ones being incomplete too.
The Jagannath Mandir in Jagannath Puri is one of the four most sacred
mandirs in the four directions of the Indian sub - continent. The
other three are: Rameshwar in South, Dwarka in West and Badrinath
in the Himalayas. Probably the mandir in Jagannath Puri is the only
mandir in the world housing murtis of three deities who are siblings
- Lord Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra.
are several Raths mentioned in the Hindu scriptures:
Katha Upanishad (1/3/3-4) - the Body Rath
Yama, the Lord of Hell reveals to young Natchiketa the Rath with which
one can attain Brahma-vidya - knowledge of Brahman.
Atmanam rathinam viddhi shareeram rathameva tu,
Buddhim tu sarathim viddhi manaha pragrahameva tu.
Indriyani hayanyahur vishayansteshu gocharan,
The atman is Rathi - owner of the `chariot' - the body,
The intellect is the Sarathi - driver,
The mind is the rein,
The senses are the horses, and
The Panch Vishayas - material objects of the five senses - are
the fields of pasture for the horses.
i.e. The person whose Sarathi - intellect
- is wise, whose mind fully controls the senses, can traverse Samsara
to reach the desired goal - the Lord's abode.
Ramayana - The
Lord Ramachandra describes his chariot to Vibhishan, with which he is
Courage and tenacity are its wheels,
Immutable truth and character are its flags,
Strength, discrimination, self-control and charity are its horses,
Forgiveness, mercy and equanimity are the reins, and
Devotion to the Lord is its Sarathi.
With such a chariot one can surely traverse Samsara.
The Life Rath
Shri Krishna becomes
his devotee, Arjun's Sarathi, leading him and the Pandavas to victory.
Shri Krishna says in the Gita (18/78) that,
where there is Krishna and Arjuna, there's wealth, victory, power and
immutable morality. This was borne out during the battle when the mighty
warrior Bhishma vowed to kill Arjuna on the tenth day. Lord Krishna
anxiously searched for Arjuna and found him asleep. Bewildered, Lord
Krishna asked him how he could sleep with such a pledge looming over
his life. To his astonishment Arjuna answered, "Because you are awake!"
The ultimate essence of the chariot stories is that the Jiva should
unwarrantedly surrender to the supreme Sarathi - God or the God-realised
Sadhu, if he wishes to successfully traverse the yatra of life, Samsara.
Rath Yatra Festival
In many cities of Gujarat like Amdavad, Surat, Bhavnagar, etc, glorious
processions are carried out annually with devotional fevour and joy.
The Jagannath Mandir in Amdavad organises a yatra through the walled
areas of the city. People make kaleidoscopic Raths and floats of various
materials mounted on trucks. This year many youth and religious organizations
in the city of Amdavad constructed ninety-eight Raths, which followed
the Jagannath Mandir's fifteen decorated elephants. Onlookers and devotees
thronged the narrow alleys, buildings and balconies, patiently awaiting
up to three hours for the 5-km-long colorful procession to pass by at
a sedate pace. When the chariots with the murtis arrived, people ritually
sprinkled rice and gulal powder as a form of puja. The participants
sitting in these raths liberally handed out fistfuls of prasadam of raw, sprouted mung beans. Children were given sweets and confectionary.
Finally, at the rear were three raths of Subhadra, Balaram and Lord
Krishna. These were all hand-drawn and pushed by devotees. The flurry
and festive excitement was enhanced by the jubilant chanting of `Jai
Ranchhod Makhan Chor'. Indra, the god of rain, too arrived to participate!
It has been noted that sometime during the Rath Yatra, usually late
afternoon or early evening, he sprinkles a light shower, never a heavy
downpour, sanctifying the occasion.
The festival of Rath Yatra is celebrated at all the Swaminarayan Mandirs
of the BAPS. Every year the center in Calcutta celebrates it on a large
scale with colorful floats pulled by devotees and dignitaries.
This year the Satsang center in Surat carried out a procession of eight
floats with 15,000 devotees joyously chanting the Lord's name. The 1.5
km long procession inspired reverence and devotion in thousands of bystanders
The Rath Yatra is a festival suffused with devotional sentiments for
the Lord. For over five thousand years, Hindus have celebrated this spectacular
festival. Gathering together, they earnestly pray to the Lord to steer
the chariots of their mundane lives through the vicissitudes of Samsara.