Believed to be as old as the Jagannath Temple, Puri – the Ratha Jatra or the Chariot Festival as its popularly called outside India is a unique festival in more ways than one. This is the only festival in India, where the deities are taken out of the temple premises. People of all religion, caste and creed join in and revel in the sea of humanity that Puri transforms into.
Last year during the festival Ten Lakh people had descended to Puri to witness the spectacle. Apart from numerous Indian cities, the festival is observed with great fanfare right from New Zealand to South Africa and New York to London.
Devdutt Patnaik who writes on relevance of mythology in modern times aptly sums up the reason behind the popularity of Lord Jagannath Cult and the Chariot Festival -"Locally Jagannath is called Kaliya, for its black colour, with great affection, although modern colour prejudice makes many insist that Krishna is actually blue. He is God, of course, spelt with a capital G, but more than that he is your friend, as the dominant mood in the temple is of sakha-bhaav, devotion through the emotion of friendship."
Though many think it’s a nine day festival – the onward journey of the Holy Trinity to their maternal aunt Goddess Gundicha Devi’s Temple and culminates with the Return Journey after eight days. In reality the festival stretches from the day of AkhayaTrutiya (in April) and culminates with the Return Journey of the Holy Trinity to the Shree Mandir premises.