Vrindavan’s centuries old tradition of Jagannath Rath Yatra
by Jagannath Poddar
Govind Dev Rath Yatra
Rath Yatra, the Festival of Chariots, is celebrated in Puri with grandeur, enthusiasm, fanfare, elaboration and religious fervour. In Vrindavan, simple amazement sets the tone for this auspicious day.
If you are in Vrindavan during Rath Yatra, you can be a part of a wonderful experience when the beautiful chariots come out in the streets in a lavish procession, from the many temples here. The experience when these chariots circumambulate Gyan Gudri is delightful. The major attractions are the chariots from the three ancient temples Gopinath, Govinda and Madan Mohan and also the temples at Jagannath Ghat, Vishram Vat and Sadhu Mai Ka Ashram.
In Vrindavan, it’s not simply about a Rath Yatra celebration -there’s more to the story than meets the eyes. Many people are unaware of the meaning of Rath Yatra and its special significance in Vrindavan. Do you know why all the chariots meet at Gyan Gudri? Let us tell you this beautiful story.
We spoke to many scholars and Acharyas who narrated the story behind Rath Yatra in Braj: After the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb raided Vrindavan, the deities of Gopinath, Madan Mohan and Govinda were moved to Jaipur, India’s Pink City, and so, as a result, the original temples had no Deity. Gopinath Lal Dev Goswami of Gopinath temple explains that the Acharyas of that period decided to place a Jagannath Deity in each of the empty temples.
Once the new temples of Gopinath, Madan Mohan and Govinda were built and the ‘pratibhu’ Deities installed, Lord Jagannath’s Deity was also set up in the new temples. Since the Deity of Jagannath was in the temple, it was necessary to take the Lord out on Rath Yatra. According to Sanatan Kishore Goswami of Madan Mohan temple, the ideal place for Rath Yatra was Gyan Gudri, where Shri Uddhava, one of Shri Krishna’s disciples, heard about divine love directly from the Braj gopis.
Shri Krishna and Balaram travel to Mathura
Lord Krishna’s Rath Yatra is also held in Vrindavan along with Jagannath. This festival is related to the gopis’ divine love for Devkinandan Krishna. Shri Krishna rode a chariot for the very first time in the holy land of Vrindavan. This chariot was sent by Krishna’s uncle King Kamsa to bring Devkinandan and Balaram to Mathura.
The separation from Vrindavan made Krishna take Jagannath’s form. The Utkala Khanda of the Skanda Purana tells the story of Krishna’s manifestation as Jagannath. During a solar eclipse, Devkinandan, Balaram, Subhadra and Dwarka’s other residents went to take a holy dip in a pond at Kurukshetra. Lord Krishna’s parents, Nanda and Yashoda, Radha and the other residents of Vrindavan were burning due to the separation from Hari. Knowing about Shri Krishna’s whereabouts, they all went to meet Him.
Balaram’s mother Rohini Ma spoke to Krishna’s wives in Dwarka about His favourite pastimes in Vrindavan and the Gopi’s divine love for Him. Rohini’s narrative was kept exceedingly confidential. That’s why she posted Subhadra near the door, so that no one could enter the premises. Realising that Rohini Ma was talking about Him, Devakinandan came close to the door with Balaram, and they stood on Subhadra’s left and right sides.
Hearing these stories, Devakinandan was overcome with strong feelings of separation from the holy land of Vrindavan. Shri Krishna was so fascinated with hearing about His pastimes in Vrindavan that His heart started melting. Both Devakinandan and Balaram were so overjoyed that Their inner feelings manifested outwardly. Their eyes dilated, heads pressed into their bodies and their limbs drew back. Witnessing these physical transformations in Krishna and Balaram, Subhadra too felt euphoric and took the same form. After hearing about Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavan, Devakinandan and Balaram with Subhadra in the middle unveiled their ecstatic form and it is this form that is worshipped as Lord Jagannath, Balaram, and Subhadra in Puri.
After Shri Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra returned to their normal forms, and Devakinandan had recovered completely, he realised that it was Narada’s trick because he planted the idea in Rohini’s mind to narrate the story of Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavan.
Narada Muni thought that his activities would make Krishna angry, but to Narada’s relief, Shri Krishna was pleased with him. In fact, the Lord wanted to shower His blessings on Narada Muni. So Narada prayed to Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra to appear in those forms at some place in the world to give Darshan to their devotees. The special form is also called ‘Patita Pavana’, the rescuer of the fallen and liberator of the universe. This is why Shri Krishna welcomed Narada’s wish to give Darshan to His devotees as ‘Jagannath’ in Puri.
The separation of Shri Krishna from Vrindavan made Him take the form known as Lord Jagannath. Though we associate Rath Yatra with Puri, the holy festival has its roots deeply seated in Vrindavan, where Shri Krishna has His favourite pastimes.