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Jagannatha Ratha Yatra

Each year the splendidly decorated chariots of Jagannatha, the Lord of the Universe, roll down the streets of Puri, Orissa state. Their towering red-and-blue silken canopies rise into the sky as drums and cymbals resound in joyous celebrations. People young and old, their eyes bright with excitement sing and dance in the street, as if swimming in an ocean of overwhelming happiness.

The Ratha-yatra festival is perhaps the oldest continuously celebrated spiritual festival in the world. As far back as human records and memory extend, the chariots of Lord Jagannatha have rolled each summer in the town of Puri on the Bay of Bengal, to the delight of millions of joyous pilgrims.

Throughout the year, the Deity of Jagannatha is worshiped in a great temple, the massive stone tower of which dominates the city of Puri. The Deity is not a mere statue. By His supreme potency, the Supreme Lord agrees to personally enter the form of Deity, just to accept the loving service of His devotees. In this sense the Deity is non-different from the Lord Himself. And once a year Lord Jagannatha comes forth in all His magnificent splendor to enjoy the Ratha-yatra parade and show Himself to all.

Story of how this particular Deity came to be installed in the great temple of Puri is quite intriguing. Many thousands of years ago, a King name Indradyumna desired to have someone carve special Deity forms of Lord Krsna, His brother Balarama and sister Subhadra. Visvakarma, an architect and artist from the heavenly planets, agreed to make the Deities on the condition that no one would interrupt his work. The King agreed to this proposal, and Visvakarma set about carving the Deities, working in a locked room. Once, however, the King, impatient with the slow pace of the work, entered the room to see how much progress had been made. At that instant Visvakarma vanished, leaving three incompletely carved forms. The King, however, was so pleased that he installed them in a great temple and worshiped them with great opulence. Each year he arranged a grand procession, during which each of the three Deities rode on a large beautifully decorated cart.

Then 500 years ago, the festival became the center of the pastimes of Lord Caitanya, who is Krsna Himself appearing in the guise of a great devotee of the Lord. Each year Lord Caitanya danced and chanted in the Ratha-yatra festival along with His associates. To this day, the followers of Lord Caitanya eagerly participate in the chariot procession in Puri and others like it held throughout India and the world. The Vedic scriptures state that anyone who sees Lord Jagannatha or pulls His chariots achieves immense spiritual benefit.

Appearance of Lord Jagannatha

Q: It will be very kind enough of you if you let me know about the appearance of Lord Jagannath. When did He appear and what was the purpose of His appearing in that form?

A: (Romapada Swami) The manifestation of Lord Jagannath is transcendentally wonderful. His appearance in that form is described by Jaimini Rsi in Skanda Purana to an assembly of sages. The story of King Indradyumna who became the first worshiper of Lord Jagannath, and his life's expression of devotion, is in itself a great delight. In short, the king was exceedingly eager to see the form of Lord Vishnu on this earth, and at the end of a sequence of miraculous events, the Supreme Lord had revealed through His representatives Narada and Lord Siva that He would appear in a `daru', a wooden log, and that Vishvakarma would carve His form from that transcendental log. Vishvakarma had stipulated that he not be intruded upon for 21 days during the carving, but when there was a break in the chiseling sound, the greatly anxious king hastily came into the room where the Deities were being carved, only to find what he thought to be unfinished forms of the Deities. The king was in utter despair, thinking that he had committed a great offense. But Sri Narada Muni pacified him by explaining that it was the Lord's transcendental will to manifest in that particular form.

Then Narada narrated the following pastime of how the Lord had originally manifested this extraordinary form that was now before the king.

Once the residents of Dwaraka became very eager to hear about the childhood pastimes of Krishna in Vrindavana. They knew how attached their Lord was to Vraja and its residents, but they did not know much about His pastimes there.

So they inquired from Rohinidevi, the mother of Balarama and one of the wives of Vasudeva, who happened to stay in Vrindavana with mother Yasoda during the entire childhood of Krishna-Balarama. Rohini was of course very happy to oblige, but there was one concern: if Krishna happened to overhear the glories of the love of the residents of Vrindavana, His feelings and transcendental emotions of separation from them would become attract the attention of Krishna to such a degree that His ecstasies would prevent Rohini from completing her narration of Krishna's Vraja-lila. Therefore Subhadra devi, the sister of Krishna, volunteered to guard the door and keep Krishna from entering the room where Rohini's Vraja-katha was taking place. But as Rohini devi started recounting the wonderful pastimes and the depth of intimacy in the loving exchanges between Krishna and the Vrajavasis, Subhadra devi became stunned. Just then Krishna and Balarama came and stood on either side of her hearing these narration and They too became stunned. Their eyes became wide, and in a mood of indescribable ecstasy, Their hands and feet retracted within Their bodies. This is the form of Lord Jagannath - Krishna in Dwaraka, enraptured and overwhelmed in thinking about the unrepayable and intense selfless love of His Vraja-bhaktas.

Narada who happened to be there also requested the Lord to please manifest this most wonderful form for the benefit of the entire world, and thus Lord Jagannatha unfolded the pastime of manifesting in that form to Indradyumna in Sri Jagannatha Puri. This amazing form of the Lord is said to indicate that even though He does not appear to have hands, the Supreme Lord accepts the offerings of His devotees, and even without feet, He comes at once to protect His devotees. Lord Jagannatha is famous as most merciful even to the most fallen and is very affectionate to His devotees.

Gaura Keshava das:

The offering of coconuts and then smashing them is a ritual called Shubha Dhrshti.

It is done in order to protect the procession. If by fate/karma some incident is bound to happen and some part (wheels?) are going to break on the ratha cart then our hope is that by smashing the coconut anything that is destined to smash will instead be substituted by the coconut.

The idea is also that any subtle beings and influences should be driven away and/or appeased.

You probably can't stop kids eating the broken pieces, but in general the broken pieces aren't to be eaten. They are not prasadam exactly. The offering is made to appease subtle beings like bhutas, pretas, etc. If you want to take the remnants of such beings that is your business. Normally though Vaisnavas don't.

Related:
Ratha yatra, Jagannatha Puri, India
Ratha Yatra (Festival of Chariots)
Detailed info on Sri Jagannatha and Puri Rathayatra historical dates

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