Ratha = Chariot. Yatra = Journey. So Ratha Yatra means journey of a chariot. A public procession. Originated from Jagannath Puri (located in Indian state of Odisha), it is a festival of worshiping Lord Vishnu not with his wife, but with his brother and sister. Jagannath (Jagan = World and Nath = Lord) is worshipped as the Lord of the World along with his brother, Balbhadra (Balram) and sister, Subhadra. Lord Vishnu’s weapon, Sudarshan Chakra, is also part of the chariot. Although they are worshipped inside the temple for the entire year, once a year, they are brought out in the open to tour the city, as they are traveling from their home to their aunt’s (Mausi = Mother’s sister) home. Chariot is made of wood every year and pulled by devotees. Road in front of the chariot is cleansed by the “king” as a form of repentance and desire to seek absolution for is mistake.
Every year before the Rathyatra, Lord Jagannathji falls ill. They get cold and fever. In this state of illness they are quarantined which is called “Anasar”. God is kept in isolation for 14 days. You have read correctly - only 14 days. During this period of isolation, devotees cannot see God’s idol. God is given herbal water, i.e. Liquid diet. And this tradition has been going on for thousands of years. This is the time to reflect on the old traditions and how relevant they are even in today’s “modern” times.
Today, in the twentieth century, modern scientists are teaching us that the time period of Isolation & quarantine should be up to 15 days. In the meantime, if the patient comes in contact with someone else, the infected person may become a victim of the infection. For the same reason, our wise forefathers sent God, brother Balram and sister Subhadraji, who were in close contact, to Mosal (mother’s family) and kept them in solitude.
For the same reason, no one is allowed to go to the homes that have smallpox, chickenpox and measles patients, keeping the patient in the house quarantine. A neem leaf pylon was placed outside the house acting as a deterrent for people to come inside. What a wonderful and simple way to inform people and still treat the patient.
What is being taught to us today was known to our ancestors thousands of years ago.
This is one of the very few festivals that celebrate brothers and sisters. (Others being Rakshabandhan and Bhai-Duj.) Hindu mythology and festivals pay equal importance to relationship among siblings as any other. No matter how old they get, when they take that journey to their aunt’s place, they are bound to cherish their childhood in the most pleasant way. The festival reminds us to keep those relationships intact through ages. There are also special food and fruits associated with this festival.