Rathayatra in Richmond

By Ranjit K. Sahu

Lord Jagannath, the lord of the worlds, may in his physical entity be a wooden entity carved out with stipulated dimensions every 12-16 years, but is perhaps the solitary unifying force that has let the culture of the eastern state of Odisha sustain centuries of foreign invasions in terms of language, social conduct and traditions. Beyond the implications that his journey of nine days  popularly known as Rathayatra has for  the devotees where they get a glimpse of him perhaps lies the truth that this is one occasion where the social divisions persistent from ages is nullified with the loss of every other identity except that of being a devotee of the lord. With this also burgeons tolerance for the existence of other human beings and their attires and habits. In a country (and to some extent the state of Odisha) where social divisions have been used and misused by the political institutions for short term objectives, the presence of the lord and his rituals has cemented brotherhood among otherwise conflict ridden communities. This aspect of the Lord and the rituals during his Rathyatra where the human values are given priority over mortally accorded social recognition of men, perhaps has implications for the whole world which has been seeing increasing sociopolitical and economic turbulence in recent times. Thus, the spread of the Jagannath philosophy around the world  holds a great promise for spreading peace, solidarity and harmony among communities and should not be perceived or projected as a mere religious event.

Among the countries that have seen the emergence of Jagannath culture among the communities in the last few decades the united Sates maybe  the foremost. Several cities around the country now have communities mostly of Indian and Odia origin, celebrating this event, as a part of their religious calendars. The Rath that enshrines the idols of the three deities and the path that it takes may have been scaled down immensely due to the participating  communities but the fervor and devotion among the devotees is no different across the distances from the main site of the event, Puri in Odisha, India.

The City of Richmond in the state of Virginia, USA, houses a temple with several Hindu deities in its various sanctum sanatoriums. The Hindu Center f Virginia  also has a place for the Idols of Lord Jagannath and his accomplishes inside it. the event is celebrated in the city with participation of many families each year.

There are many thoughts and interpretations of the Rathyatra, many folklores and many myths associated with the various trials that are ingrained into the curricula of the event. Yet when thinking in terms of the journey , what strikes is the sequence in which the idols of the lords is brought to the chariot. It is not the supreme lord or his siblings that mount the Path first but is the Sudarshan chakra that is first taken Up. Famous in the Hindu mythology  as the wheel that adorned the little finger of lord Krishna and enabled him to destroy in a manner of minutes any hurdle, perhaps this also symbolizes a new beginning and clearing of all the hurdles.

Other than the conventional acceptance of the idols as those of lord Jagannath and his siblings Balabhadra and subhadra, there exist several interpretations of existence of thee trinity in the Jagannath temple.

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Photos: The Path and the temple in the backdrop, The deities on the path, The rathyatra.

One of the interpretations of the idols is that they are indeed the camouflaged manifestations of the holy trinity of the Hindus, Lord Brahma as Subhadra, Lord Shiva as Balabhadra and Lord Vishnu as lord Jaganaath.  And seen in the context of this interpretation is my own personal interpretation of this journey of the lords. The world is first cleansed of all evil by the wheel of the lord followed by the emergence of Lord Balabhadra, the incarnation of the lord shiva who destroys the  creation for the establishment of a new order. The second stage is the appearance of Subhadra or lord Brahms assigned with the duty of creation in the Hindu mythology. And, finally the Lord who natures the entire creation emerges to take on the reins of the Universe.

Interpretations and analyses not limited to any human imagination, on the ground, the event was marked by the presence of traditional musical instruments and accomplishments along with the chants of devotees. The small loop of the chariot around the temple premise perhaps symbolizes and establishes the persistent desire of all humans for peace and joy during their existence.

About the Author: Dr. Ranjit K. Sahu: is a freelance writer currently located in Virginia, USA. His interests include education, environment, sustainability and health care in the underprivileged regions of the world.


  1. Jayanta Pati says:

    Very informative article with lot of soulful words describing the cultural heritage of Odisha. Congratulations to the author.

  2. Ranjit K. Sahu says:

    Thank you sir.

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