• Lord Jagannath with his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra (AAP)Source: AAP
The celebrations follow three Hindu deities as they visit their relative in a neighbouring temple on a journey adorned with plenty of colour and fanfare.
Bianca Soldani

5 Jul 2016 - 2:56 PM  UPDATED 5 Jul 2016 - 2:56 PM

In less than 24 hours, hundreds of thousands of people will descend on the streets of Puri, on India’s east coast.

The Ratha Yatra, or Chariot Festival, is taking place and devotees from across the country and the globe are flocking to the beach-side town to celebrate.

Three monolithic 14 metre structures will be pulled through the city’s main avenue, known as Bada Danda, in an elaborate procession as part of the festival that retraces the visit of three deities to their aunt’s neighbouring temple.

On the first of the nine-day long celebration, Lord Jagannath, a form of Vishnu or his avatar Krishna, is taken from his namesake temple in Puri along with his brother Balbhadra and sister Subhadra.

In their three separate chariots, each with slightly different proportions, they are pulled by devotees for two kilometres to Shri Gundicha temple where their aunt resides. 

The procession is recreated throughout India with other cities parading elephants and decorated trucks and floats down the street, but in Puri it's the chariots themselves that are a sight of awe.

Carefully hand-painted in vibrant colours, their preparations begin months in advance as each vessel is constructed anew each year. 



The procession, which is now in its 139th year, is a chance for those who aren't normally allowed into the temples to see the deities and seek blessings.

In this way the festival is symbolic of equality, a theme that is further demonstrated by the historic ritual of having the King sweep the road around the deities.

At the end of the deities' stay with their aunt, they are returned home with a short stop at the Mausi Maa Temple which will this year take place on July 15.

In anticipation, artisan sand sculptor Sudarsan Pattnaik has recreated the chariots, and 97 others, on the shores of Puri beach. He creates a commemorative sculpture each year, with his latest creation using 800 bags of sand and taking a team of 26 people 20 hours to construct.



The procession is a sight to be seen, but for those who can’t make it in person, all the action can be live streamed on a number of sites online including this one.