Rajapur Ratha Yatra!

“What are the characteristics of Śrī Jagannātha, Śrī Baladev, and Śrī Subhadra? Jagannāthaa, the emblem of God, has no other form than eyes and hands, which show that God sees, knows, and creates. Balarām is the source of jīva-śakti, Subhadra is māyā-śakti, and Sudarśana is the energy of will”. (Pg. 128, Śrī Bhaktivinoda Vāṇī Vaibhava)

The rhythmic clank of the cymbals, the sweet sound of the mṛdaṅga and the clashing of whompers is being heard at a distance on Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Mārg. It is a joyous occasion as after being sick for fifteen days, Lord Jagannātha along with his brother Lord Baladev and Sister Subhadra has finally come out of the temple to give darshan to everyone. The cart is heading towards ISKCON Mayapur campus from ISKCON Rajāpur. But where is Rajāpur? What is so special about this place?
In the Navadvīpa Dhām Mahātmya (6.94-96) it is stated that when Lord Nityānanda arrived here with Śrīla Jiva Gosvāmī he commented that this place [then called Çaraòäìgä] is the very place where Lord Jagannātha resides with the Śabara caste. He also said that this place is non-different from Puri.
Çaraòäìgä is recent times called Rajāpur (the place of the kings). Here, the Lord sometimes manifests and sometimes un-manifests himself in front of the devotees.
So, how did Lord Jagannātha manifest himself in Rajapur? The manifestation of the Lord dates back to a time five hundred years back. Once, a devotee of the Lord – Jagadīsh Gangulī – resided in a village close to Mayapur. Every year he would travel to Jagannātha Purī to attend the annual cart festival. One day, a month before the festival, he got struck by a disease and it left him blind. But that didn’t hamper his desire. He persisted to go but no one wanted to accompany him as the journey was too long. Somehow or other he passed his days thinking of Lord Jagannātha and praying for his mercy. One night, Lord Jagannātha appeared in his dreams and told him that when he goes to take his daily bath the next day a log of wood will touch him and restore his vision. The Lord then asked him to take this log to a carpenter living in a nearby village and carve his deity. The Lord then said that the carpenter will refuse his request at first but you have to convince him and get this task done.
The next morning when he woke up he was shocked as he couldn’t believe Lord Jagannātha had come into his dream. He then hurried to the Ganges to take a bath and in no time a log of wood touched his head and vision go restored. He then quickly took the log of wood to the nearby village where after some searching he found leper carpenter. He then requested the carpenter to carve the deity of Lord Jagannātha but he flatly refused on the first instance. He kept requesting again and again and finally the carpenter got convinced.
The service was tough. The carpenter was suffering as blood was coming out of his hand but Jagadīsh was convincing him to do this service by reciting the pastimes of the Lord. In due course of time, Lord Jagannātha was carved and the carpenter got cured of his leprosy. Lord Jagannātha’s worship was established again. A few nights later Jagadīsh had another dream. This time Lord Jagannātha instructed him to take some nearby neem wood and request the same carpenter to make the deities of Lady Subhadra and Lord Baladev. The devotee carpenter was delighted to offer his service again and very soon Their Lordships were installed with great love and attention by the devotees.
Years later, one day, Jagadīsh left this mortal world and in due course of time the attention provided to worshipping the deities of Lord Jagannātha, Baladev and Subhadra came to a halt and the temple started deteriorating.
Less than a century ago, the temple was rediscovered by a local villager. He saw a blue color flower emerging from a termite hill. He was shocked to see that and so went near to the flower for closer inspection. Suddenly he heard a call “Please give me some water” coming from the inside of the hill. He quickly started digging to see whose voice it was and to his surprise he saw the wonderful wooden deities of Lord Jagannātha, Baladev and Subhadra as they were unharmed even around the termite hill. Again, the worship of the Lordships was reestablished.
In the year 1978, the temple pujari’s health started to become weak. To save the temple from deterioration, he handed over the temple property to ISKCON. Since then the worship of the Lordships is being undertaken by Iskcon Mayapur.
In 1997, the first ever (6 Km long) Ratha-yātrā was conducted from Rajapur to Mayapur and the tradition is effectively conducted up to this day. In recent years, the festival is conducted in much grandeur manner. The festival starts off in the morning just before noon. At times, it starts off with bike riders doing a motor parade. This is then followed by various cultural performances performed by devotees hailing from North-East India, Orissa, local devotees etc. The festival is also joined by various VIP’s hailing from government authorities. In afternoon, the cart procession begins from the Rajapur temple. The moment everyone is waiting for has finally come live. Three tall carts are now on the street. Everyone is rushing towards it as devotees can’t wait a moment longer to take the darshan of the Lordships and also to pull the ropes connecting the rath. Even the Muslim community joins this festival as they have a lot of affection towards Lord Jagannātha.
Once Śrīla Prabhupāda was asked what happens if one takes part in Ratha-yātrā and his response was:
Devotee: Prabhupāda, can you explain a little more about Ratha-yātrā. Anyone who takes part in Rathayātrā, are they liberated?
Prabhupāda: Certainly.
Devotee: Does that mean they will not take birth again?
Prabhupāda: Yes, provided they take it seriously. Otherwise, if they keep their mentality differently, then according to their mind they have to get a body….

— From a lecture in Los Angeles. 1 July 1971

Thus, after close to 6 hours of long procession the three carts finally enters the ISKCON Māyāpur campus and ready to be seated at the altar in the temporarily constructed Gundica Mandir. Their Lordships reside over there for 9 days before returning back to Rajapur temple.

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