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The Opet Festival of Ancient Egypt: Has it been derived from the Jagannatha Rathyatra of Puri, India? (cont.)
By Bibhu Dev Misra (IIT, IIM)

Amazingly enough, an exactly similar festival is still celebrated every year in the tiny coastal town of Puri, in the state of Orissa in eastern India, after the onset of monsoon in the month of July. Here, in the yearly Rathayatra festival, the idols of Krishna (or Jagannath), his brother Balaram and his sister Subhadra are carried in three magnificent chariots pulled by thousands of devotees along the 2 km (1.5 mile) road that connects the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple. I had the good fortune of being able to witness this grand spectacle last year. An immense collection of humanity had descended on Puri on this day from all over India. The actual festival, of course, had started nearly two weeks earlier when the idols of Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra were given a ritual bath and redecorated. On the day of the Rathayatra, the idols were installed on the three massive chariots, nearly 45 feet high, which had been constructed for the three deities. The chariots were kept outside the Jagannath Temple walls and the endless stream of devotees blew conch-shells and played trumpets as soon as the idols were brought out of the temple and placed in the chariots. Then the King of Puri paid his obeisance to each of the chariots. He sprinkled sacred water on the chariots, and swept the chariots clean with his golden broom. The chariots then started making their way along the Grand Avenue one by one, pulled by ropes by the thousands of devotees. Needless to say a considerable din ensured. There was loud chanting and singing, beating of drums and blaring of trumpets, as the procession slowly made its way to the Gundicha Temple. The chariots stopped at many points along the way, in order to provide an opportunity to the devotees to catch a glimpse of the idols inside the chariot and offer their prayers. It is said that one who observes the face of Jagannath during the Rathyatra festival gets absolved of all past sins. I did not accompany the procession the entire way to the Gundicha Temple. But what happens is that, after the procession reaches the Gundicha Temple, the idols rest there for a period of 7 days. After this they return back to the Temple of Jagannath, in another joyous, noisy procession known as the Ulta-Rath. The entire celebration, starting from day of Jagannath’s bathing ceremony, till his return from the Gundicha Temple, lasts for 25-26 days, nearly the same as the Opet festival of Karnak and Luxor.


Fig 2: The chariot of Subhadra being pulled along the Grand Road by the devotees at the Rathayatra Festival, Puri. Image Credit: Bibhu Dev Misra.

The similarities between these two ancient festivals are obvious and striking. There was no doubt in my mind that the Opet festival of Karnak is identical in form and spirit to the Rathayatra festival of Puri.

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