In the Hindu month of Aashadha, the Jagannath Rath Yatra 2021 generally begins on the Dwitiya Tithi (second day), Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of the Moon). According to the Gregorian calendar, the event is presently held in June or July. This year, the Dwitiya Tithi begins on July 11, 2021, at 07:47 hrs, and concludes on July 12, 2021 at 08:19 hrs.
The biggest festivals in India, the Rath Yatra at Puri celebrates Lord Jagannath, and his siblings’ (Balabhadra and Subhadra) journey to the Gundicha temple some 3 kilometres away from Shrimandira (main temple) of Lord Jagannath.
Gundicha temple that plays a major role during the Rath Yatra, interestingly, remains vacant for most of the year. It is only during the Shukla Paksha of Ashada month every year that the deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra spend seven days at the temple and it becomes the hub of all activities.
Here are a few legends and lesser known facts surrounding the Gundicha temple:
1. The Gundicha temple is believed to have been named after the wife of Indradyumna, who was a Malava king, and according to the Mahabharata, was the son of Bharat and Sunanda.
Legends say that when the celestial architect was building the Jagannath temple, the queen Gundicha chanced upon the magnificent site and was so awed by it that she requested her husband Indradyumna to build another similar temple in honour of the deity.
2. Local lore says that the temple is dedicated to the goddess Gundicha, who is Durga herself. According to folklore, she was the maternal aunt of Jagannath, who visited her annually, accompanied by his siblings. Gundicha is thought to possess the ability to cure small pox and other diseases. Interestingly, Gundi translates from Odia to mean small pox.
3. Another legend speaks of Jagannath and his consort Lakshmi and how he locks Lakshmi in the store room of the Jagannath temple and goes to reside in the Gundicha temple for a week. This resonates with the legends of Lord Krishna since it is believed that Jagannath was rumoured to have been attended to by devadasis, symbolic of Krishna’s gopis, led by Radha at the Gundicha temple.
4. Another myth speaks of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who is thought to have walked towards the Gundicha temple unnoticed by his servants and followers and disappeared forever.
Interestingly, the temple has two gates. The western gate is the main temple gate, through which the deities enter the temple during Rath Yatra. The eastern gate, known as Nakachana gate, is used for the departure of the deities. Except for the 9-day Rath Yatra when Jagannath is worshipped in Gundicha temple, the temple remains empty the rest of the year.
5. A particular feature in the worship of the deities at Gundicha Temple is that Brahmin temple servants, instead of daitas offer the puja. Daitas are the traditional non-Brahmin servitors of Jagannath.
6. Another unusual feature is that the images are smeared with larger quantities of sandalwood paste, twice a day, as a “cooling agent" (as is commonly done to the goddess Gundicha).
7. A major ceremony celebrated in the Gundicha Temple during the Rath Yatra is on the Panchami. On Hera Panchami, the furious goddess Lakshmi arrives, in the form of the image of Subarna Mahalakshmi, at the Gundicha Temple to meet with her husband and inquire after him.
8. Another ritual is the ceremony of Dakshina Moda (turning south) which is observed on the day after Hera Panchami. In preparation for the return journey, the chariots are turned to face towards the main temple in the southern direction and are parked near the Nakachana gate (eastern gate) of the Gundicha Temple.
9. Dakshina Moda also marks the beginning of the three-day Rasa Lila of Jagannath. The return journey of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra to the main temple, after spending seven days in the Gundicha temple, is known as the Bahuda Yatra.