This festival is observed differently in the temple of Jagannath. As this festival marks the advent of the spring season with winter receding, the warm clothings of the three deities are removed and they are again clad in saffron-colour clothes. A special variety of cake is prepared and offered to the deities which is known as 'Basantapistaka' (cake of the spring). Thereafter, a peculiar festival continues from this day to Dola Purnami in which the representative deity of Lord Jagannath Ramachandra goes out hunting. This part of the festival is known as 'Benta Yatra'. The deity eceives a bow and an arrow made out of split-bamboos from Budha Lenda and goes to Bentapokhari (a pond) situated in the campus of the Jagannath Ballav Math which is very close to the temple. There the deity shoots arrows to a bundle of cocoanuts and Kasturi which represent a deer.
As Lord Jagannath is the presiding deity of Odisha (Formerly Orissa). Many of His festivals are also devotionally followed in Oriya households. Chitalagi or Chitou Amavasya is one such festival which falls on the new-moon day of the sravana (August). On this day, in the temple of Jagannath, the deity bears a golden mark (chita) on the forehead. A special variety of rice-cake known as Chitou pitha is given to the deity as food-offering. This variety is also prepared in every household of the Oriyas of the coastal districts.
In rural areas this is more or less observed as an agricultural festival. On this occasion the farmers worship the paddy-fields. After a purificatory bath in the morning they go to their respective paddy-fields with cake, flowers, milk etc and pray the fields to yield a good crop.
It is in the primitive tradition to appease evil powers through worship; whether they are animals, serpents, inspects or plants. People worship and pray them to avoid their wrath. Pilas breed enormously in the paddy-fields and tanks during the rainy season. Farmers while working bare-footed in the fields often get their feet cut by the sharp edge of their shells. Therefore, during the festival the piles is appeased as a female form of evil power known as 'Gandeisuni' (Genda is pile). The farmer girls go to the fields and while offering cakes pray "Oh, Gandeisuni, be appeased and do not cut the legs of my father or brother".
In Sambalpur areas this festival is known as 'Harali kans'. People of the areas believe it to be a day of the witch, Tandei who moves in the dark to suck the blood of the children. To save children from her wrath mothers draw peculiar designs below the naval zone of the children before the night falls. As they believe that would scare away witch, a common variety of rice-cake Chakuli Pitha is offered to the witch to be appeased and thereafter the cake is taken by all.
Related to the car-festival, an important festival known as 'Nava Kalebara' is held once in every twelve to nineteen years according to the calculation of the year and date. On this occasion the wooden images of the deities are replaced by new ones. The principle adopted to fix the year of renewal is to find a year which has two full-moons in the month of Asadh (June-July). In every three years a lunar month is excluded from the calculation to keep a balance between the lunar and the solar years. This particular month, which is excluded from calculation is known as 'Adhimasa' or 'Mala masa' and is considered most inauspicious for any religious ceremony. But peculiarly enough this is considered most sacred for the renewal festival of the deities. Therefore, it is also called 'Purusottama Masa', as the other name of Lord Jagannath is Purusottama. During the last hundred years such festivals have been held only seven times in 1863, 1893, 1931, 1950, 1969, 1978 and 1996.
For making the new images a number of rituals connected with it are observed. When the date is fixed for the festival the Gajapati Maharajah of Puri issues a proclamation to the Vidyapati, Daitas and Brahmins well-versed in the Vedas to go in search of the trees that would provide logs for making the images. Generaly this proclamation is issued on the 10th day of the full-moon of Chaitra (March-April). After the mid-day rituals of the Lord Jagannath, the Mahapatras receive 'Agnya mala', the garland as a token of permission from the Lord to go in search. Then the Mahapatras carry this garland along with four Daitapatis to the 'Anabasara pindi' (a platform inside the temple) where they are given new garments to wear. From there they go to the Jagannath Math, the place of starting. Accompaned by the Daitapatis, Deulakarana, Tudhan, Lenka and four carpenters they go to the temple of Mangala at Kakatpur which is about forty kilometres in the north. There they sleep in the temple to obtain permission of the Goddess in dream before proceeding in four batches to four directions in search of the trees.
There are strict injunctions for selection of the trees. The trees must be of Neemba. It should have four branches and must be in near vicinity of a buried ground or river. It shouldn't have cut marks. Snakes below the tree is an auspicious sign. Taking all these specifications into account the selection is made and the Daitapatis immediately place the garland on the trees. Then the area is cleaned. A platform is erected for Bana-yaga ceremony. Four Brahmins conduct the ritual. Then the Daitapatis sit in meditation for three days. After this the Vidyapati marks the tree with a golden axe and then the carpenters begin to cut the tree into huge logs. Thereafter the holy logs are carried in four wheeled-carts newly built for the purpose. The carts are not pulled by animals but by the Sevakas and the people. The sacred logs are taken into the temple compound through the northern gate and are placed in the Koili Baikuntha. On the day of Snana Purmina, the logs are bathed along with the aid of deities. Then the logs are carried to Darughara or the stack, and eight Brahmins perform the ritual after which the carving of the images begins by a group of carpenters. During this period nobody is allowed to visit the place. After completion of the carving, the images are painted bright in their respective colours by the traditional chitrakars. The new idols are then circumbulated for three times and brought to the Anabasarapindi for transfer of Brahma from the old deities into their new forms. The senior most among the Pal Mahapatras performs this rite at the dead hour of the night. He takes away the Brahmas from the naval zones and places them in the same position in the new forms. But, he does it blind-folded and with hands covered with clothes as he is not to see or feel the mysterious Brahmas. Then the old images are carried and buried in the wells of Koili Baikuntha by the Daitapatis. For this act they observe mourning for eleven days as is commonly done at the death of a man in a Hindu family.
Chandan Yatra marks the conclusion of the cycle of religious festivals observed in the famous shrine of Lord Jagannth at Puri followed by similar other shrines of Odisha (Formerly Orissa). The festival, starting from Akshyaya Trutiya, lasts for twenty-one days and is held in the month of Baisakh at the height of the summer heat when Chandan (sandle-paste) and water are essential to keep people cool. As the Hindu deities are modelled on the behaviour of human beings, they are also given the same treatment. During this festival they are taken out of the temples in procession for perambulation in water on floats or boats. The richly decorated boats are called 'Chapa'. 'Chapa' is the Oriya equivalent of 'float'. In most of the Vishnu as well as Shiva temples the festival of the 'float' marks the conclusion of the prime annual festival and it is celebrated with much pomp and eclat. The belief probably is that the deity having concluded his ceremonial perambulation with all attendant paraphernalia on land, must have his aquatic sojourn before He returns to the sanctum of the temple to come out only for the next festival.
This festival is most elaborate in Puri and attracts thousands of pilgrims from far and near. On all the twenty-one days the entire road from the shrine of Lord Jagannath leading up to the Narendra Sarobar (a sacred tank in Puri town) along with the houses on both sides is decorated. At some places, especially in front of Maths (monasteries) or at cross-roads big toranas (arches) are erected where the idols take casual rest and receive offerings The representative images of the deities installed in temples such as Madanmohan (representing Lord Jagannath), Laxmi and Saraswati are taken in a richly decorated palanquin by the sevakas accompanied by priests, musicians and dancers to the Narendra Sarobar at night. The tank is profusely lighted with thousands of spectators milling and jostling all around in expectation of the arrival of the procession. The principal deities are also followed by different deities from different shrines of the town. After reaching the Narendra Sarobar, the images are then placed on different well decorated boats and they are rowed for a long time by the Sevakas. During the rowing ceremony Devadasis (temple-dancers) dance and sing on the boat.
Generally, the colours chosen for the boats are red and white and they are so designed to look like huge swans floating on water. The peculiarity of the ceremony is that Madanmohana with Laxmi and Saraswati rides on the white coloured raft where-as Ramakrishna with pancha Shivas rides the red one. All the deities on the boat take several rounds in the water which continue till early hours of the morning and then retire to the respective shrines.The last day of the festival is called Bhaunri (Bhramari or circle) when special elaborate arrangements are made.
Most of the important festivals of Lord Jagannath at Puri are also followed in all other important shrines of Odisha (Formerly Orissa). Following tradition of the Puri the images are taken out in procession on planquins to the nearby tanks and perambulated in water on boats. In all such temples it is observed only for the last three days. After the ceremony which usually takes place at mid-night, people enjoy performances of dance, drama and music specially arranged for this occasion.
At Bhubaneswar the Chandan festival of Lord Lingaraj is observed in Bindu Sarobar, a huge tank near the temple. Here, the float is moved to the Mandapa in the middle of the tank. The mandap is an inlet-like structure which is more an elevated platform.
Devasnana Purnima or Snana Yatra is exclusively a festival of Lord Jagannath and is said to be one of the oldest. According to Skanda Purana when Raja Indradyumna installed the wooden deities he arranged this bathing ceremony. This day is considered to be the birth-day of Lord Jagannath. Held in the full-moon day of the month of Jyestha this festival is also simultaneously held in all other imprortant shrines of Odisha (Formerly Orissa). However, the festival being most elaborate and important at Puri, it attracts thousands of visitors and piligrims from all over the country.
'Niladri Mohadaya', a religious text written in Odisha (Formerly Orissa) records the rituals of the festival. Sriharsa in his 'naisadhiya Charita' (XV. 89) also refers to this festival of Purusottama. This bathing ceremony has a speciality. As this festival does not find mention in the early religious texts, it is believed to be a tribal ceremony which later crept into the Hindu rites. Jagannath in its early form was being worshipped as Nilamadhaba by a Savara chief called Viswabasu. Till now it is the Daitas and Savaras (tribals) who have the exclusive right to conduct the festival. The tribals called Saoras (of southern Odisha (Formerly Orissa)) still perform a rite to bath their deities ceremonially on the last day of the month of Jyestha. For this they collect water from remote jungles where it remains untouched even by the shadow of the animals. Most probably when Jagannath was a Savara God, this festival of the Savaras who tended Him was accepted by the Hindus.
On the previous day of Snana Yatra the images of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra along with the image of Sudarshana are ceremonially brought out from the sanctum in a procession to the Snana-vedi (Bathing pandal). This special pandal in the temple precinct of Puri is celled Snana Mandap. It is at such a height that visitors standing outside the temple also get a glimpse of the deities. After Mangala Alati, the Suaras and Mahasuaras go in a ceremonial peocession to fetch water from Suna Kua (Golden well) in one hundred and thirty, vessels of copper. All of them cover their mouths with a piece of cloth. Then all the vessels filled with water are preserved in the Bhoga Mandapa. The Palla pandas (a class of Brahms priests) then purify the water with Haridra, Jaba, Benachera, Chandan, Aguru, flowers, perfumes and medicinal herbs.
On the fourteenth day (Chaturdashi) when the idols are taken out in procession, the whole process is called Pahandi or Pahandi vijay. Scholars have given different interpretations of the term ('Pahandi'). Some opine that it has been derived from the term 'Praspanda' meaning movement. Some others are inclined to interpret it as a derivation from Pandya vijaya. For the festival the Snana Vedi is well decorated with traditional paintings of trees and gardens. Flags and toranas (arches) are also put up. The images are profusely decorated with flowers. All kinds of perfumes such as Dhupa, Aguru etc. are then offered. As the 'Pahandi' of the deities takes place to the accompaniment of music and beating of various indigenous drums. Thousands of devotees jostle and crave for a look at the deities in procession.
The bathing festival takes place during the morning hours of the Purnima. The filled vessels are carried from Bhoga Mandap to the Snana Vedi by the Suaras in a long single-line procession. This ritual is called 'Jaladhibasa'. Prior to the bathing ceremony the images are covered with silken clothes and then smeared with red powder. Then water is poured, the rituals performed and 'Pavamana' hymns chanted. After the bath the deities are so dressed that together they appear like the image of Ganesha. This is called Ganeshabesa. It is said that a staunch devotee of Lord Ganesha and himself a profound scholar visited Puri during Snana Yatra, he was amply rewarded by the king of Odisha (Formerly Orissa) for his scholarship. The king asked the scholar to accompany him to see Lord Jagannath which he refused under the pretext that he wouldn't worship any God other than Ganesha. Somehow he was persuaded and brought before the Snana vedi. To the utter surprise of all, Lord Jagannath appeared as Ganesha. Since then during Snana Yatra when the sacred bath is performed, the deities are dressed like Ganesha. Various other legends are also told and reasons assigned explaining the Ganesha besa.
During the sacred bath the colours painted on the images generally fade. Seeing the wooden deities in discolour devotees may not have the appropriate devotional attitude and in fact may feel sinful repugnance. For this reason the images are immediately dressed as Ganesha in which they remain mostly covered.
After the Snana Yatra, the images are kept away from public view for fifteen days and during all these days the daily rites of the temple remain suspended. The images are kept on the Ratna vedi inside the temple. This period is called 'Anabasara' meaning improper time for worship. It has been said earlier that the images are discoloured as a result of the sacred bath. During these fifteen days the Daitas (descendants of Viswavasu, the Savara) repaint the images and make decorations. The period of colouring and decorating the images is divided into seven short periods, each of two days duration, and a short period of one day set apart to give finishing touches. Thus the period covers the whole fortnight. On the 16th day the images in their new forms after renovation become ready for the public view. The festival of the first appearance of the Lord Jagannath to his devotees is called Netrotsaba or Nava Yaubana (new youth). According to popular belief the devotee washes away all his sins if he gets a vision of the Lord on this day. On this occasion, therefore, great rush of people occurs in the temple.
The Shilpa Sastras and Agamas testify that the images become suitable for worship only after the performance of the rite of 'Chakshyu Unmilana' (Opening of the eyes). During 'Anabasara', the Daitas offer to the deities only fruits and water mixed with cheese. According to them during this time the deities don't keep well and therefore, take rest. Like human beings they are considered to have fallen ill and are treated by the Raj Vaidya or the king's physician with specific medicines.
The temple-festivals wich are held in a bigger and elaborate scale in the important shrines of Puri and Bhubaneswar are also held simultaneously in all other small shrines of the respective deities, though in modest scales. Likewise the Snana Yatra is held in many other temples of Odisha (Formerly Orissa).
RATH YATRA (CHARIOT FESTIVAL):
Each year, (open to all) in mid-summer, the proxy images of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, the deities enshrined in the Jagannath Temple at Puri, are carried in colourful processions every evening for 21 days to the Narendra Tank where they cruise in a bright decorated boat. In gaiety and colour this festival stands next only to the Car Festival. On the full moon day of Jyestha (June), the Snanajatra or the bathing festival is observed when the images in worship are actually brought out for public viewing. After the bathing festival, the deities spend 15 days in seclusion during which period they are repainted and prepared for the Car Festival. The Car Festival is celebrated on the second day of the bright fortnight of Ashadha (June-July) and the deities are taken on a journey of around 3 kms in stupendous and decorated chariots for sojourn in the Gundicha Ghar till the return Car Festival which is held 9 days later. The chariot of Lord Jagannath, known as 'Nandighose' is 23 cubits high and has 18 wheels. The chariot of Balabhadra which is 22 cubits in height and has 16 wheels is named 'Taladwaja'. 'Devadalan', the chariot of Subhadra is 21 cubits in height and has 14 wheels. The chariots are constructed anew every year in accordance with strict and ancient specifications and are pulled by several thousand devotees at a time. In terms of splendor and fervent devotion, the Car Festival is one of the world's most incredible spectacles.
The concept of temple procession, of which the Rath Yatra is probably the most famous illustration, is an important one in Hinduism. The term ratha (chariot) is itself often used as a word meaning 'temple', as both the palace and the vehicle of the God. The chariots in which the images of the deities in the Jagannath temple are pulled through the streets actually resemble moveable temples. In fact, these are designed keeping in view the features of the Bhaskaresvara Temple in Bhubaneswar which resembles a chariot. The relation between temple and chariot form is fascinating. Some scholars feel that the temple form may have developed, in part, from early wooden processional carts. And in Odisha (Formerly Orissa), of course, we have the supreme example of influence in the other direction: the Konark Sun Temple, clearly and beautifully replicating a huge chariot.
When the Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival) was first observed by European spectators in the eighteenth century, the stunned reports they sent home gave rise to the European term 'juggernaut' (corrupted from Jagannath). The occasional accidental fall of a devotee in front of a rolling chariot gave rise to the grossly erroneous misperception of humans sacrificing themselves under the wheels. The misperceptions have long been cleared, but the festival remains one of the most amazing and exhilarating events most of us are ever likely to witness.