Rejoicing Devotees Pull the Chariot of the Gods

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Pandit Jasraj and King of the ceremony

HOUSTON:  In what has become an annual event, the Orissa Culture Center, along with the Shri SitaRam Foundation, in collaboration with other local organizations, celebrated the 8th Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival) of Lord Jagannath of Puri Dham this past Saturday, July 18, at the VPSS Haveli. Devotees and curious on-lookers crowded the procession that took the deities from the front entrance of the temple complex, around the corner to the other entrance, marking the symbolic journey of the Gods to their destination.

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Chhapan bhog

The inspiration comes from the famous Jagannath Rath Yatra festival held each year in Puri, Orissa during the second bright fortnight of the month of Ashad.  Hundreds of thousands flock to Puri to get a chance to be part of the procession and pull the chariots that contain the Ratnavedi (jeweled platform) in which Lord Jagannath (considered a form of Lord Vishnu), his brother Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra travel a distance of 2 km from their temple to their aunt’s temple, the Gundicha Temple. They remain there for nine days before returning to their own temple in a procession called the Bahuda Yatra.

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Lord jagannatha being carried by devotees

This tradition has been fostered locally in the Bayou City by the tiny Orissi community here, which has garnered much appreciated support from the Shri SitaRam Foundation which is responsible for one of the largest festivals – Dussehra and Diwali – in the region. Both Gopal Mohapatra of the OCC and Arun Verma of SSRF were ecstatic at the turnout at the day-long event that featured several functions.

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Devotees Pulling the Chariot

The morning started with the Havan or fire worship, rooted in ancient Vedic tradition that signifies that divinity is all pervading and is manifested in nature in all its forms. The havan was conducted by the head priest of the Hindu Worship Society, assisted by members of OCC, SSRF and Sri Govinda Ji Gaudiya Matha.

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Devotees doing kirtna

Following this, and all day long, the annual free health fair run by cardiologists and family practitioners provided free health check including blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure and other laboratory tests.

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Ladies carrying devi subhadra

Meanwhile, the deities of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Baladev, Devi Subhdra and the Sudarshana Chakra were presented in their newly decorated and beautified form to shouts of Jai Jagannath in a ritual called Netrotsava or the festival for the eyes of the devotees. A special puja called the Jagannatha Paribara Puja or the worship for the entire Jagannatha Family followed for all assembled devotees seeking the blessings of Lord Jagannath,  the Lord of the Universe, concluding at noon with Arati or lighting of lamps.

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In the afternoon, in the Chapan Bhoga the female members of the OCC offered fifty-six types of delicious food items to the deities, which they had prepared in accordance with the guidelines followed in the Puri Jagannatha Temple. These were then were distributed as prasadam. The rest of the afternoon was marked by devotional singing of bhajans, chanting of names of the Lords and reciting of the Bhagvat Gita by the Namadwara, Gayatri Paribara, OCC, and Sri Gauddiya Matha organizations.

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The latter half of the afternoon was focused on a vocal devotional concert presented to a packed hall by internationally renowned artist Pandit Jasraj accompanied by his disciples and local artists. The concert started with a beautiful rendition of the famous Jayadev sloka Jagannatha Swami Nayana Patha Gami, Bhaba Tu Me. This was the second visit to Houston in a month by the octogenarian Jasraj, who was accompanied by Suman Ghosh, Tripti Mukherjee and Ratan Mohan Sharma, with Shantilal Shah on table and Jay Gandhi on flute, for a two-hour concert that concluded with a crescendo of chanting of the Lord’s names.

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As the concert ended, free copies of Nandighosh, a souvenir OCC published yearly by the OCC, which describes different aspects of the philosophy, facts, mythology, historical events, arts and literature surrounding Lord Jaganatha of Puri.

The day-long festival narrowed down to the main and most attractive segment with the pahandi ritual in which devotees carry their beloved deities to the beautifully decorated chariot in different steps. After the deities were placed in the chariot, priests of different religious organizations offered prayers to the Lord. Then came the spectacle of the chariot being pulled by hundreds of devotees, showing inclusiveness and the universal brotherhood of Jagannath philosophy where all people, irrespective of caste, creed and belief, are immersed in the devotion of the supreme being we call God. The nama sankirtana and ecstatic dancing of the devotees from ISKON headed up the procession along the route till the final destination in front of the VPSS temple.

After the chariot was brought back, all devotees are allowed to offer fruits and sweets to the deities on the chariot and a Maha Arati was performed by priests and a Maha Prasadm  dinner was served. The day long festival concluded by 11pm.

Edited by Jawahar Malhotra, who contributed to the story

For more information on the festival contact the Orissa Culture Center at or Sri SitaRam Foundation at