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puri jagannatha rathaThe temple of Lord Jagannatha in Puri, (Orissa) is an important holly place for the Hindus, particularly for Vaisnavaits because it was here that Sri Chitanya Mahaprabhu lived as a sanyasi. The full name of the place is Jagannathapuri (Town of the Lord of the Universe) Chitanya Mahaprabhu was highly intelligent person, an expert in Vedic knowledge yet he preached bhakti marga. The temple of Jagannatha has been in existence for thousands of years. According to the Mahabharata, it was built 200 years after kurukshetra war. Archeological versions date temple as 800 to 1,000 years old. The temple in the present form was renovated by King Ananga Bhimadeva in the 12th Century. Rathayatra (car festival) is held during on set of rainy season every year. Lord Jagannatha, along with His brother Balarama and His sister Subhadra devi and Sudarshana are carried from the temple in great procession and placed on huge wooden chariots. Deities Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan are carved out of wood only once in twelve years while the chariots for these Deities are made every year. The main chariot for Jagannatha is called Nandighosha. It is 60 feet tall, 35 feet square, rides on 16 wheels and requires at least 4,200 devotees to pull it. The other two chariots are not quite as large. Balarma’s car is called Taladhwaja. It is 55 feet tall with 14 wheels. The smallest one, Deviratha, belongs to Subhadra, although it also carries Sudarshana. It is 50 feet tall and has 12 wheels. The chariots are pulled from the Jagannatha temple along the entire length to Gundika temple. The Deities remain there for nine days, and then return to the main temple on the tenth day. This festival reminds Sri Krishna's return from Dwaraka to Vrindavana. Orissa government has proclaimed the Yatra a "state festival". Ratha yatra is state-pride and so ratha yatra one of the great religious festivals continues year after year, despite dwindling forest resources to make the cars. 

The Deities are unusual in their appearance. For a South Indian, they look like the dolls from Channapatna, Mysore. They have no feet, their hands are but stubs and have round saucer like eyes that stare. They have been worshiped in this fashion for hundreds of years. Some may think Hindus here worship some crude idols; but hands, hair and tooth are also being worshipped in other religions! Priests of Jagannatha temple venture into grove and assess the competency of the trees. They must be of the neem variety, should have certain symbols inscribed on them, there should be a cobra nearby and no birds should be living in the trees. Such trees are cut with a golden axe. The carts are built by hereditary artists. Jesus said,” when two people gather in my name, I will be there”.  When one sees thousands of devotees gathered in the name of God, tears roll down with joy.  One wonders how people are worship my Father in various ways! 

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