The esoteric meaning of “Ratha Yatra”


Understanding “Ratha”

In my previous article related to “Jagannath”, I mentioned that His worship is predominant in Orissa. During “Ratha Yatra” His three storied chariot (Ratha) or three separate chariots are hand pulled with a procession of thousands of devotees. Small replicas of the chariots are made for children to take part in this festival as well as to enjoy.

Numerous fetes are organized throughout India and people basically spend a nice evening with their family and friends. Food is also an important part of this festival. Lots of colors, shopping, functions and more ornate this day.

In these multifaceted occasions, the underlying meaning of this beautiful festival is lost. It is a call, a reminder. Just like we set an alarm in our clocks and if we fail to hear that, the clock snoozes. Our ancient sages understood well that just by telling the truth straight to the mass will never work. They studied the psychology of a common man deeply and framed these festivals to repeat every year. This is a spiritual snooze, a nudge is given every time the festival returns periodically and a call is made with a hope that someday someone will ask a very basic question; who is “Jagannath” and why should we pull his chariot every year?

This article is an honest try to answer this question. I have discussed “Jagannath” in my previous article. (Please refer the article – The Incomplete Deity).

In this article, I shall try explain the esoteric meaning of “Ratha Yatra”.

 The obvious question

What is a “Ratha”? According to Sanskrit, it is a chariot with spoked-wheel. “Ra” signifies to go and when “Tha” is added it becomes a “Goer” or a “Mover”. So with a three storied chariot which moves is actually a human body. In ancient scriptures, it has been recorded that a human physique is basically segmented into three parts. They are the head, chest and abdomen. Legs are the spoked-wheel. There is also an esoteric meaning of the three chariots of “Jagannatha“, “Subhadra” and “Balabhadra“.

I shall discuss on this in my upcoming article, “The garden of “Maya“.

During the festival, the “Ratha” having the idol of “Jagannath” inside is pulled from His holy abode (here it is the temple) to His aunt’s house. After seven days, the “Ratha” is turned back and returns to the temple (the source from where the journey was begun). The whole part of this festival is allegorical.

We humans move with a three storied chariot (our body). When a chariot is there, there must be a passenger inside because the mind is the driver and the five senses are the horses. The passenger is our soul but wait; in Vedantic context, there is only a single soul which is synonymous with the “Brahman”. So we have a single “Brahman” reflected into multiple bodies (chariots).

The conclusion

Hence the corollary derived from this understanding is saying that, we humans who are basically “Brahman” come to this world from Our divine abode. The seven days implies the seven stages of bodily existence starting from a new born to old age. Aunt’s house signifies a temporary shelter where we stay for a while; learn about all the transitory relationships, experience momentary pleasures and pains and after the expiry date of this body is over; the “Brahman” leaves this material subsistence and return to the source.

This is the ultimate verse enunciated by Vedanta but this applies only to the realized soul. That is why this concept snoozes us in the form of festivals every year so that we understand the reality of life; we realize this world as our aunt’s house and strive to return to our definitive truth.

“Jagannath” is black in complexion because He is still unknown to us. He is incessantly giving a silent call in our hearts. It will be the moment when we suddenly become aware of the call inside and recognize our true self, the endless journey of the chariot will end and thus will end the continuous journey of our birth and death.

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