What is the story behind Jagannath Rath Yatra which draws lakhs of devotees every year to Jagannath Puri? Why once in a year Lord Jagannath with his brother Baladeva and little sister Subhadra come out of the temple and ride on the massive chariots?
HH Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaj has beautifully explained the story behind the world-famous Rath Yatra festival in one of his lectures. Below is what he said:
HH Bhakti Charu Swami Maharaj tells Rath Yatra Story
For hundred years, Krishna was away from Vrindavan. Krishna gave the assurance; I will come back quickly. Don’t worry. The gopis were trying to stop him from leaving Vrindavan.
They were desperate to stop. Some gopis were holding the reins of the chariot’s horses and some gopis were pulling the chariot, “we won’t let you go.”
Some gopis laid down in front of the wheels of the chariot and some gopis were beating up Akrura, “You want to take Krishna, we will never let you do that.” So, the gopis were in desperate situation.
So, Krishna assured them, “Don’t worry., I am just going there with a mission. The king has invited me, so I have do go. So, don’t worry I will come back.”
Krishna breaks his promise
Krishna that way has many wonderful qualities. One of his qualities is he breaks his vows. His words sometimes don’t have any values. That’s why when Krishna wants to make some promise and reassure fully, he makes the commitment through his devotees because his words may fail but his devotees’ words will never fail.
Therefore, he says, “kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati, Bhagavad Gita 9.31. Arjuna you declare, I won’t say it. If I say it, then people may think it’s just another bluff. So, you say it that my devotees will never vanquish.”
Gopis & Krishna come to Kurukshetra
So, for hundred years Krishna didn’t go back. On the occasion of Solar eclipse, Surya Grahan, it’s a custom that seekers of piety go to Samanta panchak in Kurukshetra to take bath. So, many people went to Kurukshetra on the occasion of solar eclipse to take bath and the gopis also went.
The residents of Vrindavan also went to take bath and Krishna also went. They took bath. Next day they were about to leave and then the residents of Vrindavan got the news that Krishna and Balarama were there. They immediately ran to meet Krishna and Balarama.
Radharani is unhappy to see Krishna
By the time Krishna was already on his chariot. He was also about to leave. So, they arrived there. And everyone was naturally very excited, very happy. But Radharani was not. Radharani’s mood was, this is not Nandalala.
Nandalala, my Krishna, wears a peacock feather on his head, but this person is wearing a crown. My Krishna wears a yellow garment, and this person is wearing royal robes, royal dress.
My Krishna wears flower garland made of forest flowers. And this personality is wearing necklaces made of most precious gems and jewels. My Krishna carries a flute and this one is carrying a bow and arrow and sword.
I meet him in the solitary place on the bank of Yamuna but this place is full of so many people, so much noise, so many horses, so many elephants. The elephants are trumpeting, horses are whining, people are clamoring, so much noise.
This is not where I wanted to see him and this is not the way I wanted to see my Krishna.
Vrajbasis begin to pull Krishna’s chariot
So, residence of Vrindavan, Radharani’s devotees, could understand Radharani’s mood. So, what did they do? They caught hold of Krishna’s chariot. The horses were already harnessed, so along with the horses they started to pull Krishna’s chariot.
Balarama was also there; he was also their friend. Balarama’s chariot was also being dragged and the sister cannot be left alone, so take her also. But where? To Vrindavan. So that is the Rath Yatra festival.
From Kurukshetra, Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra are being dragged towards Vrindavan where he will meet Srimati Radharani. So Gundicha temple is actually Vrindavan. So that is the Rath Yatra festival.”
HH Bhakti Charu Swamu Maharaj has very beautifully explained the story behind the Rath Yatra festival and its great significance.
Assisting Radharani in pulling the chariot of Krishna
So, during the Rath Yatra festival when we are pulling the ropes of Lord Jagannath then it means that we are assisting Srimati Radharani in pulling the chariot of Krishna to Vrindavan. We are participating in the pastime of helping Radharani meet his beloved Krishna.
Lord Krishna as Lord Jagannath is very excited to go to Vrindavan and meet Radharani. Radharani is excited too. So, if we are participating in the Rath Yatra festival and pulling the ropes of Lord Jagannath then we are actually assisting in uniting Krishna with his beloved Radharani.
When Krishna and Radharani meets then the bliss is unlimited. Seeing the divine couple together gives great bliss to the devotees. And this is the ultimate perfection of our life.
Significance of Rath Yatra for Gaudiya Vaishnavism
For the followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Rath Yatra holds a special significance. Gaudiya Vaishnavism was founded by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, so it is also called Chaitanya Vaishnavism.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu after taking sannyasa resided in Jagannath Puri and every day he visited the temple to took darshan of Lord Jagannath. Mahaprabhu would participate in Rath Yatra festival with great enthusiasm.
Hundreds of prominent followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would come to Jagannath Puri during the Rath Yatra festival. Śrī Caitanya-Caritāmṛta elaborately explains how Mahaprabhu along with several of his disciples took part in the Rath Yatra festival.
Rath Yatra festival has spread all over the world
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is extremely merciful, he wanted everyone to get mercy of Lord Jagannath.
Srila Prabhupada, a great Vaisnava saint and scholar, knew the heart of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, so he introduced Rath Yatra festival all over the world. Srila Prabhupada also wanted that everyone should get mercy of Lord Jagannath.
So, today by the grace of Srila Prabhupada, Rath Yatra festival is not just celebrated in Jagannath Puri but also in different cities of India and of the world. Tens and thousands of people participate in Rath Yatra procession and come to pull the ropes of the chariots.
Just by seeing Lord Jagannath on the chariot people’s life become auspicious. And if with joy they participate in the Rath Yatra procession and pull the chariots then their life become successful.