The construction of the chariots starts on Akshaya Trutiya, the third day of the bright fortnight of Vaisakha, with ritual fire worship. This takes place in front of the palace of the King of Puri and opposite the main office of the Puri temple. On this day, the new agricultural season starts and farmers start ploughing their fields. This day also marks the beginning of the summer festival of the deities, also known as the sandalwood festival or Chandan Yatra, which lasts for three weeks. In this festival, the representative images of the presiding deities are taken out in colourful processions and given a ceremonial boat ride in the Narendra pokhari/tank(ନରେନ୍ଦ୍ର ପୋଖରୀ) every day. In an interesting demonstration of the assimilative character of the Jagannatha cult, Madanmohana(ମଦନମୋହନ) and Rama Krushna, representing Jagannatha & Balarama partake in the festival with the representatives’ images of the presiding deities of five main Shiva temples of Puri. These are curiously known as Pancha Pandava(ପାଞ୍ଚ ପାଣ୍ଡବ), the five brothers of the Mahabharata story. Later the deities have a ritual bath in a small temple in the middle of the tank, in stone tubs filled with water, sandalwood paste, scents and flowers. This sandalwood festival culminates in the Snana Yatra(ସ୍ନାନ ଯାତ୍ରା ), the Bathing Festival on the full moon day of the month of Jestha. On this day, the presiding deities descend from their seats on an elevated platform in the sanctum sanctorum, the bejewelled throne. They are bathed in 108 pots of water brought from the suna kua, the golden well and assume the elephant form on the special bathing platform, close to the Eastern boundary wall of the temple. From that day the deities remain in symbolic and ritual convalescence for about two weeks. They are barred from view of the ordinary devotees. Only three special patta chitras, traditional Oriya paintings of natural colours on cloth stiffened with starch, known as Anasara Pattis, are strung on a bamboo screen hiding the deities from public view, can be seen by the public. During this period, the deities are given only roots, leaves, berries and fruits to cure them from their indisposition. This ritual is a reminder of the strong tribal elements in the genesis and evolution of the Jagannatha cult. The progeny of Lalita, daughter of the original tribal worshipper Biswabasu, chieftain of hunters, and the Brahmin priest Vidyapati, are known as daitapatis or daitas. They have almost exclusive privilege of serving the Lord during the convalescence and through the entire period of Ratha Jatra or the Festival of Chariots.
The chariot of Subhadra named as Darpadalana or Devadalana or Padmadhwaja(ପଦ୍ମଧ୍ଵଜ). The Goddess is accompanied by Sudarshana(ସୁଦର୍ଶନ).
Number of wheels: 12Total Number of wooden pieces used: 593Height: 42′ 3″Length and breadth: 31’6″ x 31’6″Wrappings: Red, Black colour clothsGuarded by: JayadurgaName of the charioteer: ArjunaThe flag: NadambikaThe horses: Rochika(ରୋଚିକା), Mochika(ମୋଚିକା), Jita(ଜିତା), Aparajita(ଅପରାଜିତା)The rope: Swarnachuda NaguniPresiding Nine Deities: (i) Chandi(ଚଣ୍ଡି) (ii) Chamunda(ଚାମୁଣ୍ଡା ) (iii) Ugratara(ଉଗ୍ରତର) (iv) Banadurga(ବନଦୁର୍ଗା ) (v) Shulidurga (vi) Varahi(ବରାହୀ) (vii) Shyamakali (viii) Mangala (ix) Vimala
The Chariot of Balabhadra named as Taladhwaja or Langaladhwaja. The Lord is accompanied by Ramakrishna.
Number of wheels: 14Total Number of wooden pieces used: 763Height: 43′ 3″Length and breadth: 33′ x 33’Wrappings: Red, Bluish green colour clothsGuarded by: BasudevName of the charioteer: MataliThe flag: UnnaniThe horses: Tribra(ତ୍ରୀବ୍ର), Ghora(ଘୋର), Dirghasharma(ଦିର୍ଘଶର୍ମା), Swornanava(ସ୍ଵର୍ଣ୍ଣନାଭ)The rope: Basuki NagaPresiding Nine Deities: (i) Ganesh(ଗଣେଶ) (ii) Kartikeya(କାର୍ତ୍ତିକେୟ) (iii) Sarvamangala(ସର୍ବମଙ୍ଗଳା) (iv) Pralambari(ପ୍ରଳମ୍ବରୀ) (v) Hatayudha(ହଟାୟୁଧ) (vi) Mrutyunjaya(ମୃତ୍ୟୁଞ୍ଜୟ) (vii) Natamvara(ନତାମ୍ବର) (viii) Mukteswar(ମୁକ୍ତେଶ୍ଵର) (ix) Sheshadeva(ଶେଷାଦେବ)
The chariot of Lord Jagannath is named as Nandighosha or Garudadhwaja or Kapiladhwaja. The Lord is accompanied by Madanmohan.
Number of wheels: 16Total Number of wooden pieces used: 832Height: 44′ 2″Length and breadth: 34’6″ x 34’6″Wrappings: Red, Yellow colour clothsGuarded by: Garuda(ଗରୁଡ)Name of the charioteer: DarukaThe flag: Trailokyamohini(ତ୍ରୈଲୋକ୍ୟମୋହିନୀ)The horses: Shankha, Balahaka, Suweta, HaridashwaThe rope: Sankhachuda NaguniPresiding Nine Deities: (i) Varaha(ବରାହ) (ii) Gobardhan(ଗୋବର୍ଦ୍ଧନ) (iii) Krishna, Gopi Krishna (iv) Nursingha(ନୃସିଂହ) (v) Rama (vi) Narayan (Vii) Trivikrama(ତ୍ରିବିକ୍ରମ) (viii) Hanuman (ix) Rudra
The chariot of Lord Balarama, called the Taladhwaja, is the one with the Palm Tree on its flag. It has fourteen wheels, each of seven-foot diameter and is covered with red and blue cloth. Its height is forty-four feet. The chariot of Subhadra, known as Dwarpadalana, literally “trampler of pride,” is forty-three feet high with twelve wheels, each of seven-foot diameter. This chariot is decked with a covering of red and black cloth – black being traditionally associated with Shakti and the Mother Goddess. Around each of the chariots are nine Parsva devatas, painted wooden images representing different deities on the chariots’ sides. Each of the chariots is attached to four horses. These are of different colours – dark ones for Balarama, white ones for Jagannatha, and red ones for Subhadra. Each chariot has a charioteer called Sarathi. The three charioteers attached to the chariots of Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra respectively are Daruka, Matali and Arjuna.
The three chariots of Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannatha are newly constructed every year with wood of specified trees like phassi, dhausa, etc. They are customarily brought from the ex-princely state of Dasapalla by a specialist team of carpenters who have hereditary rights and privileges for the same. The logs are traditionally set afloat as rafts in the river Mahanadi. These are collected near Puri and then transported by road. The three chariots are decorated as per the unique scheme prescribed and followed for centuries stand on the Bada Danda, the Grand Avenue. Covered with bright canopies made of stripes of red cloth and combined with those of black, yellow and blue colours, the huge chariots are lined across the wide avenue in front of the majestic temple close to its eastern entrance, which is also known as the Sinhadwara or the Lion’s Gate. Lord Jagannatha’s chariot is called Nandighosa. It is forty-five feet high and forty-five feet square at the wheel level. It has sixteen wheels, each of seven-foot diameter, and is decked with a cover made of red and yellow cloth. Lord Jagannatha is identified with Krushna, who is also known as Pitambara, the one attired in golden yellow robes and hence the distinguishing yellow stripes on the canopy of this chariot.
Ratha Jatra, the Festival of Chariot: Chariots of Shri Jagannath is celebrated every year at Puri, the temple town in Odisha, on the second (dwitiya) day of shukla pakshya (waxing cycle of moon) of Ashadh Maas (3rd month in Lunar Calendar). The presiding deities of the Jagannath Temple, Puri’s main temple, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, with the celestial wheel (Sudarshana Chakra/ସୁଦର୍ଶନ ଚକ୍ର ) are removed from the temple in a ceremonial procession to their chariots. The huge, colourfully decorated chariots are drawn by multitude of devotees on the bada danda, the grand avenue to the Gundicha Temple (Gundicha – King Indradyumna’s Queen), two miles away to the North. On the way the chariot of Lord Jagannatha, Nandighosa (ନନ୍ଦିଘୋଷ) waits near the crematorium of Bhakta Salabega (ଭକ୍ତ ସାଲବେଗ) a Muslim devout to pay him tribute. On their way back from the Gundicha Temple, the three deities stop for a while near the Mausi Maa Temple (Aunt’s abode) and have an offering of the Poda Pitha, which is a special type of pancake supposed to be the Lord’s favourite. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode.