The most significant celebrations of Lord Jagannath- the Lord of the Universe is the Ratha Yatra- the chariot festival. The festival is celebrated on Second day (Dwitiya) of Suklapakshya bright fortnight of Ashada masa (3rd month in Lunar calendar) of the year.
The triad Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra come out from the sanctum of the temple once in a year and travel to Gundicha temple in richly decorated wooden chariots resembling temple structure giving Darshan to devotees irrespective their caste, creed and religion.
Lord Jagannath is the Vishnu incarnate (Avataree) and is manifestation of Lord Krishna. He is worshipped as Daru Brahma. The "Daru means the timber and the Brahma means the all-pervading soul the universal life force. It is reverentially believed that an unburnt portion of Lord Krishna who was killed by Jara Sabar finds place in a casket in body of the Lord Jagannath.
According to legend, the Kurushetra war resulted in the death of all the 100 sons of Gandhari. On the night before Duryodhana's death, Lord Krishna visited Gandhari to offer his condolences. Gandhari felt that Lord Krishna knowingly did not put an end to the war. In a fit of rage and sorrow Gandhari cursed that Krishna along with everyone else from "Yadu" dynasty would perish after 36 years. Krishna himself knew and wanted this to happen as he felt that Yadavas have become "Ã"dharmi" so he ended Gandhari's speech by saying Thathastu.
And that's what happened later. Fight broke out between Yadavas who killed each other. Lord Balaram gave up his body using Yoga. Krishna retired into the forest and started meditating under a tree. The hunter "Jara Sabar" mistook Krishna's partly visible left foot for that of a Deer and shot an arrow wounding and killing him. When Jara realised he wept for the mistake on which Krishna told Jara "O Jara you were Vaali in your previous birth, killed by myself as Rama in Tretayayuga. You are reincarnated as hunter in Dwapara Yuga and had a chance to revenge your killing and since all acts are desired by me you need not worry for this.
On hearing this terrible news the five Pandava brothers quickly arrived on the scene. Lord Krishna gave them some good advices and took away heavenly power of Krishnakala from Arjun the best of Archer when Arjun pulled out the arrow from the wounded Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna left his mortarial body. The Pandavas carried the body to the Bay of Bengal and cremated there. The whole body was destroyed except for the heart which remained intact and indestructic. The body was thrown in to the sea.
Jara was watching the scene of obsequies in agony. He followed this unburnt part thrown in to the sea emanating brilliant luster, but finally able to fetch it. He was surprised that unburnt part had turned into blue stone. This blue stone was worshipped by him in a cave in deep forest secretly as Nilamadhav and thereafter by his family heads in succession and continued till Sabar chief Viswabasu. Even "Devatas" used to come at night and worship Lord Nilamadhav.
In the meanwhile Raja Indradyumna King of Solar dynasty in Satyayuga ruling the city of Avanti in Malaya a great devotee of Lord Vishnu came to know of Nilamadhav and wanted to consecrate the extraordinary deity of Lord Vishnu. He deputed Brahmin Priest Vidyapati who married the daughter of Sabar Chieftain and marked the route to the cave through mustard seeds while being taken blind folded to where Nilamadhav was being worshiped. After locating the route he returned to Avanti and informed the King Indradyumna about Nilamadhav. The King with his army accompanied by "Narada" marched to the secret spot. But to everyone's surprise there was no deity to be found at the spot. Furious King imprisoned "Viswabasu" the tribal chief and began his return disappointed. Crest fallen Indradyumna devotee of Lord Vishnu received a divine message to free the tribal chief and perform Ashwamedha Yagna. Narada assured the King of Lords blessing.
The king went to Nilagiri and performed the Yagnam. Lord Nilamadhav appeared in dream to King Indradyumna and informed Lord will appear in the form of Daru (Log of sacred wood) in the sea.
"I will manifest in the form of a very large fragrant, reddish log and the signs of Shanka, Chakra, Gada, Padma will be seen everywhere on that form. Go and take me out and make four deities and then you will be able to worship me." On the next day the King got information about the floating of Daru with four branches.
The Daru was brought and placed on 'Mahavedi'. When Narada was discussing about crafting of deities a divine voice announced that the God himself will prepare his own image. While the king was thinking about this an old carpenter ( said to be Lord himself in form of Viswakarma) appeared and offered to prepare the idol on condition that the door of the temple should remain shut and no one should enter or disturb for 21 days inside the temple. The king agreed to this condition. After 15 days when no sound of construction of image came from the room, the king and queen being impatient and doubtful opened the door and found the images remains unfinished and the carpenter has disappeared. In the meanwhile a heavenly voice declared "Oh king dress these four deities with silken garments, and establish the images on "Mahavedi". Accordingly the king worshipped the Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan uttering three "Suktas of the Rig Veda" which are symbols of Brahman. From that day the trinity is being worshipped as Lord of the Universe and variously called Purushottam, Madhav, Patitapaban, chakradola, Kala Thakur, Padmalochan, Mahabahu, Jagadish, chakanayan, Rajadhiraj etc.
The Holy Gita says:
Which means as the man discards the old clothes and changes the new clothes, the Jivatma or soul discards the old body and accepts the new body. Even though the Lord is immortal and Param Brahma. He pretends like a simple Jiva and enters another body afresh. "Jathadehetathadebe" the God dies like a Jiva but the only difference is that he dies at a younger age and re-embodiment (the divine rebirth) takes place through ritual called Nabakalebar. The Nabakalebar nitis many of which are secrets observed in a gap of 12 to 19 years. Most of the Nabakalebars were performed after a gap of almost 19 years as in 1912, 1931, 1950, 1969, 1977, 1996 and is being performed in 2015. Nabakalebar Nitis are performed as per the Hindu lunar calendar when there are two Ashada in a year called as Purushottam month.
The Neem trees required for Darus are not ordinary, but need to fulfil the specifications as mentioned in the Nabakalebar Bidhan. The Darus are spotted after following rigorous rituals and divine directions.
Rath Yatra the grandest festival of the Supreme divinity who has manifested in Kaliyuga to emancipate humanity and to relieve them from their suffering is very auspicious. Glimpse of the Lord Jagannath on the chariot triggers Bhakti and gives unspeakable feelings. The sanctity is such that the touch of the chariot, the ropes of the chariot are enough to confer the results of the several pious deeds or penance for ages. God comes out from the sanctum during Rath Yatra only for redeeming the fallen and wipes out all sins of his devotees even if they are unpardonable.
It is believed that the glimpse of the vaman, the dwarf form an incarnation of Jagannath is sure to ensure emancipation and release from cycle of birth and rebirth (Mokshya) and therefore said "Rathe tu vamanam drishtavapurarjanamam na vidyate."
The chariot of Lord Jagannath is wrapped in Red and Yellow colour clothes is known as Nandi Ghosha or Garudadwaja, the chariot of Balabhadra wrapped in Red and Bluish green colour cloth is TALADWAJA and the chariot of Subhadra wrapped in Red and Black colour cloth is Padmadwaja or Dwarpadalana (trumpler of pride). Around each of the chariot are nine Parsva Devatas.
Lakhs of devotees pull the chariot with utmost devotion and experience the divine. The triad after a nine days sojourn at Gundicha temple returns in a majestic procession called "Bahuda Jatra" to enter the sanctum again to be back in the midst of devotees the very next year.