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Jagannath Puri is the place where Jagannath - Lord of the Universe - was first worshipped on earth.
The Puranas describe that back in the Satya Yuga, or The Golden Age, there lived a King Indradyumna, who heard about a mysterious Deity of Nila Madhava that was worshipped in a remote place by the tribal chief Vishvavasu.
Wanting to see and worship Nila Madhava, King Indradyumna sent a brahmana priest by the name of Vidyapati to find the Deity. Although at first unsuccessful, Vidyapati eventually married Vishvavasu’s daughter Lalita, and was accepted into the family.
Finally, he was led to see the Deity, but was blindfolded along the way so that he would not know where Nila Madhava was hidden. The clever Vidyapati, however, dropped mustard seeds along the way, and later led King Indradyumna to the hidden temple, following the trail of sprouted seeds.
But when they got there, the Deity had vanished. Distraught, King Indradyumna began to fast from all food. The Lord took pity on him, and appearing to him in a dream, instructed the king to go to the seashore at Puri, where he would find a sacred log to carve into Deities.
This the king did, and the Deities of Lord Jagannath (Krishna), His brother Baladeva(Krishna’s brother Balaram) , and sister Subhadra (Krishna’s sister) were installed at Jagannath Puri also known as Sri Ksetra in the Indian state of Orissa.
Once a year during the rainy season (June/July) Lord Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra are taken from the temple for a public procession on three huge chariots from Their temple to the Gundicha Temple, in a jubilant festival known as Ratha yatra. The chariot for Jagannath is approximately 45 feet high and 35 feet square and takes about 2 months to construct. The artists and painters of Puri decorate the carts and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood-carved charioteer and horses, and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne.
Millions of pilgrims come from all over India to receive Lord Jagannath's blessings during the 3 kilometre Ratha yatra journey. Kirtan parties dance in front of the Lord while devotees pull the hefty chariots slowly along with help of large ropes. Traditionally, The King of Orissa wears the outfit of a sweeper and cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder with utmost devotion. This ritual signifies that under the lordship of Jagannath, there is no distinction between the powerful sovereign King and the most humble devotee.
The Gaudiya Vaishnavism founder Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu lived and performed many of his pastimes in Jagannath Puri and personally participated in Lord Jagannath's pastimes.
As a small child, Srila Prabhupada was very attracted to the forms of Jagannatha, Baladev and Subhadra, and he had his father build a small ratha cart so that he and his friends could hold their own festival. In 1976, ISKCON held the first Ratha-yatra festival outside India, along the streets of San Francisco. Since, Ratha-yatra is held along the main streets of most major cities of the world. Some cities organize Ratha-yatra with three separate chariots as in Jagannatha Puri, but in other cities, Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra sit together in the same chariot.
In Mauritius, we have a Ratha-yatra at approximately the same time as the original one held in Puri, which is around July. But Ratha-yatras are organized in different areas at least twice more in the year so that Lord Jagannatha’s mercy is distributed in all corners of the island.