Regeneration Through Illness: Ratha Yåtrå in Puri

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Frëdërique Apffel-Marglin. (2022). Regeneration Through Illness: Ratha Yåtrå in Puri: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 17(1), 61–81. Retrieved from


The great festival of state of the temple of Jagannath in Puri, Orissa, known as Ratha Yatra (“the festival of the chariots”), is the occasion when the three main deities, namely Jagannath, considered by many (but by no means all) to be a form of Vishnu, Subhadra, his sister, and Balabhadra, his elder brother, are taken out of the inner sanctum of the great temple and placed in three huge specially constructed wooden chariots. Those chariots are then pulled by the assembled pilgrims numbering usually from half a million to one million, to another temple about three ki­lometers down the road. The deities then stay in that temple for seven days before they are returned in the same manner to the main temple. This journey undertaken by the deities follows a fortnight of “illness” during which
time the public is not allowed in the temple to view the deities. This illness is contracted by the deities being bathed with the water of the well of Goddess Sitala, situated near the Northeast gate of the outer boundary of the great temple. Goddess Sitala is the goddess of smallpox and other pox diseases. During the first fortnight of the month of ashadha, the deities’ outer covering of cloth and resin is removed and replaced with new cloth. Then the images are freshly painted. All these activities are carried out by a special group of temple servants known as daitas, considered to be Jagannath’s blood relatives and the descendants of the daughter of a tribal chief and a Brahmin.

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