Ratha yatra is one of the greatest festivals of the bishnupriya manipuris. We Manipuris celebrate the occasion in the same manner as it is celebrated at Jagannath temple in Puri. It is here that the great saint of Bishnupriya manipuris shree shree Bhubaneswar Sadhubaba was blessed with darshan of Lord Vishnu. His ultimate desire of nandan darshan was fulfilled in the temple of Lord Jagannath of Puri, and so this temple is very dear to our people.
It is one of the most spectacular and colourful festivals on earth. Everything is on a scale befitting the great lord. The occasion is full of spectacle, drama and colour. This festival is a typical Indian fair of huge proportions. It is also the living embodiment of the synthesis of the tribal, the folk and the autochthonous with the classical, the elaborately formal and the sophisticated elements of the socio-cultural religious ethos of the Indian civilization. The festival is also known as Gudicha yatra, Ghosa yatra (in Puri), Dasabatara yatra and by a variety of other names. For the devotees and believers, it is considered the most auspicious occasion.
‘Rathe tu vamanam drishtwa punarjanama na vidyate’,
“A glimse of the Vamana the dwarf form, an incarnation of Lord Jagannatha is sure to ensure emancipation, to release from cycle of birth and death”.
Yatra is an essential part of the ritual of the Hindu system of worship. Yatra literally means travel or journey. Normally it is the representative deities of temples popularly known as Utsava murty, who pertake these journeys. The yatra for the ritual journey takes two forms—one involving the short circumbulation around the temple and the other involving a longer journey from the temple to some other destination. The yatra is considered as an important part of festivities and ceremonies of each temple and is considered as a special and sacred occasion.
Ratha yatra being unique among all yatras is the grandest festival of the supreme divinity, who has manifested in the Kaliyoga to emancipate humanity and to relieve them from their sufferings. Lord Jagannatha is identified fully with Vishnus and Krishna. A glimpse of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious and saints, poets and scriptures have repeatedly glorified the sanctity of this special festival. The sanctity of the festival is such that even a touch of the chariot or even the ropes with which these are pulled is considered enough to confer the results of several pious deeds or penance for ages.
The concept of the chariot has been explained in the Kathopanishada in the following words:
Atmanam rathinam vidhi sareeram rathamevatu, Buddhimtu saarathim viddhi marah pragrahmava cha.
“The body is the chariot and the soul is the deity carried in the chariot. The wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and its thoughts”.