That is the meaning of Ratha-yātrā? Ratha-yātrā is not Jagannātha’s chariot festival; it is Śrīmatī Rādhārānī’s chariot festival. In this celebration, Rādhārānī comes to bring Kṛṣṇa back to Śrī Vṛndāvana.
As Jagannātha proceeds on the path to Vṛndāvana, He is very happy to see the devotees. As He watches, He thinks, “Who has come? Which mañjarīs and gopīs have come to bring me to Vṛndāvana? Which sakhās have come? Which servants have come? Who is waiting to welcome Me? Who is greedy to see Me?”
If we do not attend Ratha-yātrā, then we will not receive the accepting glance of Jagannātha. We will be destitute in this world of suffering.
He blesses everyone around with His eyes. By that blessing, vraja-rasa will appear in our hearts.
Śrīmatī Rādhikā has come to bring back Her prāṇanātha back to Vṛndāvana. When Mahāprabhu danced in front of Jagannātha’s chariot, it would move slowly forward. When Mahāprabhu went behind the chariot to dance, it would stop.
This festival is not Jagannātha’s, but Śrīmatī Rādhārānī’s. This is a special secret, but who can understand?
During Ratha-yātrā, Śrīmatī Rādhārānī is observing, “Who is joining My festival? Who desires vraja-bhakti? Who is following Me?”
sei ta parāṇa-nātha pāinu
yāhā lagi’ madana-dahane jhuri’ genu
Caitanya-caritāmṛta madhya 13.113
Now I have gained the Lord of My life, in the absence of whom I was being burned by Cupid and was withering away.
Śrīmatī Rādhikā says, “I long to meet with My Beloved. I am calling Him and pulling Him back to Vraja-bhumi, but I want to see which mañjarīs and gopīs have come to help me?”
If we don’t go to help in this festival, Śrīmatī will assume we are from Dvārakā and keep us there. She will not give us entrance into Vṛndāvana.
Ratha-yātrā is a special celebration. It is a gathering of Śrīmatī Rādhārānī and all Her followers for the sake of bringing Kṛṣṇa back to Vṛndāvana. If you do not attend that celebration, you will become stones like the brahmavādīs. You may achieve Haridvāra, but you will never gain entrance to Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala. You can come to Hari’s door, dvāra, but you will not be able to enter inside.
Mahāprabhu attended Jagannātha Ratha-yātrā, accompanied by Advaita Ācārya, Gadādhara Paṇḍa, Svarūpa Dāmodara, Rāya Rāmānanda, Sañjaya, Mukunda, Vāsu Ghoṣa, Śikhi Mahiti, Mādhavi-devī, and Haridāsa Ṭhākura. Now, all the Gauḍīyas come for this kīrtana that Mahāprabhu started.
This is not an ordinary kīrtana program. This is not an ordinary line we are in. We are not street beggars.
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu recited this verse in front of Jagannātha at the time of Ratha-yātrā.
yaḥ kaumāra-haraḥ sa eva hi varas tā eva caitra-kṣapās
te conmīlita-mālatī-surabhayaḥ prauḍhāḥ kadambānilāḥ
sā caivāsmi tathāpi tatra surata-vyāpāra-līlā-vidhau
revā-rodhasi vetasī-taru-tale cetaḥ samutkaṇṭhate
That very personality who stole away my heart during my youth is now again my master. These are the same moonlit nights of the month of Caitra. The same fragrance of Mālatī flowers is there, and the same sweet breezes are blowing from the kadamba forest. In our intimate relation, I am also the same lover, yet still my mind is not happy here. I am eager to go back to that place on the bank of the Reva under the Vetasi tree. That is my desire.
Understanding Mahāprabhu’s heart, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī wrote the meaning of this verse in the following way:
priyaḥ so ’yaṁ kṛṣṇaḥ sahacari kuru-kṣetra-militas
tathāhaṁ sā rādhā tad idam ubhayoḥ saṅgama-sukham
mano me kālindī-pulina-vipināya spṛhayati
Śrīmatī Rādhārānī spoke to a sakhī. “My dear friend, now I have met My very old and dear friend Kṛṣṇa on this field of Kurukṣetra. I am the same Rādhārānī, and now We are meeting together. It is very pleasant, but still I would like to go to the bank of the Yamunā beneath the trees of the forest there. I wish to hear the vibration of His sweet flute playing the fifth note within that forest of Vṛndāvana.
We must try to understand these moods. The Gauḍīyas follow Śrīmatī Rādhārānī’s footsteps and they call out to Her, “O Rādhe, Vṛṣabhānu-nandini! I cannot tolerate the separation You are feeling.”
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura sings:
śrī kṛṣṇa-virahe, rādhikāra daśā, ami to’ sahite nari
yugala-milana, sukhera kāraṇa, jīvana chadite pari
I am absolutely unable to tolerate Śrī Rādhikā’s pitiable condition when She is suffering in separation from Śrī Kṛṣṇa, but I am fully prepared to immediately give up my life for the sake of Their happy reunion.
Śrīmatī Rādhārānī runs to find Kṛṣṇa. “Where is My beloved?” She says, “How can I bring Him to Vṛndāvana?”
The mañjarīs and sakhīs run with Her to assist Her in this task. They pull Him to Vṛndāvana and hide Him there, saying, “We will not allow Him to ever go back to Dvārakā.” This is the philosophy of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. This is the mood of those in His line. This is Ratha-yātrā.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja spread this chariot festival all over the world. It is Śrīmatī Rādhikā’s festival. Whoever participates in it can attain vraja-prema and residence in Vraja Bhūmi. By no other process does this become possible.
The Vrajavāsīs were waiting so long for Kṛṣṇa to return. Kṛṣṇa sent Uddhava and Baladeva Prabhu to Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala with the message that He would soon return, but He never did.
Then Śrīmatī Rādhikā said, “I will bring Kṛṣṇa back Myself!”
She went to Kurukṣetra at the time of the solar eclipse and when she saw Kṛṣṇa She said, “We are meeting here, but You are not happy, and we are not happy. If You want to be happy, come to Vṛndāvana.”
The Dayitas are Rādhārānī’s party. They come to take over the service of Jagannātha at the time of Snāna-yātrā. They bathe Jagannātha saying, “You have not been properly bathed for an entire year. Mahā Lakṣmī is very lazy. She just pours one pot of water over Your head. Come with us! We will bathe You with over a hundred pots. The demigods will also come and bathe You.”
After Jagannātha’s bath, the Vraja-devīs (Dayitas) take Him inside. Jagannātha tells Lakṣmī-devī, “Now I am sick and need treatment.” Jagannātha goes in a solitary room and is given special medicines by the Vraja-devīs. A sample of bitter medicine is given to Lakṣmī-devī so she remains unsuspecting, but really Jagannātha is being fed many sweets and delicacies of Vraja. This goes on for fifteen days.
After fifteen days, Jagannātha tricks Lakṣmī-devī, saying, “Now I need some fresh air. I will go to a nice garden area for a little while.” The Vraja-devīs carefully act in secrecy to take Jagannātha to Śrī Vṛndāvana. They call the Dayitā-patis. They are very strong and externally appear to have bullet proof bodies, but inside they are very soft and sweet. They say, “If Lakṣmī-devī doesn’t give us permission to take Jagannātha, we will take Him by force, making our hearts into chariots. Then how will Lakṣmī hold us back?”
There are three chariots. Each chariot is made of sixteen wheels. Comfortably situated on their chariots, Jagannātha, Baladeva and Subhadrā proceed to Vṛndāvana (Guṇḍīcā-mandira). Sudarśana rides on Subhadrā’s chariot.
Subhadrā is Yogamāyā. She is in the middle arranging everything. Subhadrā, Yogamāyā, gives us relation with God. Baladeva Prabhu is in the front. He wishes to offer everyone to Jagannātha. He makes them qualified and sends them to Subhadrā, Yogamāyā, and she gives qualification for kṛṣṇa-sevā. Therefore, there are three chariots. If a person follows the Vraja-devīs and celebrates Ratha-yātrā, understanding all its inner truths, then his life will be successful.
While dancing in kīrtana before Jagannātha’s chariot, Mahāprabhu sang:
sei ta parāṇa-nātha pāinu,
yāhā lagi’ madana-dahane jhuri’ genu
Now I have gained the Lord of My life, in the absence of whom I was being burned by Cupid and was withering away.
“We are returning to Vṛndāvana with our Prāṇanātha, the Lord of our life, Śrī Kṛṣṇa.” This was Mahāprabhu’s mood. Sometimes He could only repeat, “Jaja, Gaga.” Sometimes He would fall senseless. He perspired and when He danced, He showered everyone with His tears.
This Ratha-yātrā is not so easy to understand. For millions of lives we have carried others in our hearts. When will we clean our hearts and carry only Jagannātha inside?
While doing kīrtana in front of Jagannātha we should not pray, “Come Jagannātha! Come Mahāprabhu!” We should pray, “When will that day come, when I became a follower of the Vraja-devīs, who carry Jagannātha to Vṛndāvana? When will I have realization of these moods?”
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has described:
kṛti-sādhyā bhavet sādhya-bhāvā sā sādhanābhidhā
nitya-siddhasya bhāvasya prākaṭyaṁ hṛdi sādhyatā
Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Pūrva-vibhāga 2.2
Sādhana-bhakti is the engagement of the mind and senses in the limbs of bhakti for the purpose of attaining bhāva-bhakti. This bhāva is a potentiality which eternally exists within the jīva and is manifested in the purified heart by sādhana that is properly performed under the guidence of a bona fide spiritual master.
nitya-siddha kṛṣṇa-prema sādhya kabhu naya
śravanādi śuddha-citte karaye udaya
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 22.107
Kṛṣṇa-prema is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. It is not gained from another source. This love naturally awakens within the heart that is purified by the performence of limbs of bhakti such as śravaṇa and kīrtana.
The soul has all these moods inherently, but without sādhana and sat-saṅga, they will not manifest. In the association of mahā-bhāgavata Vaiṣṇavas, these moods can come. This chariot festival comes yearly, but only by sat-saṅga can all of the moods involved be easily understood.
The Vrajavāsīs love is unparalleled. Before Kṛṣṇa returned to Vraja, Yaśodā Mātā tied up Kṛṣṇa’s old clothes in a large bundle, and with this, began to walk out of Nanda-bhavana. When asked where she was going, she said, “I will go to Devakī and become her maidservant and will ask only to be able, morning or evening, to once see Kṛṣṇa for only a few minutes. I am your dāsī, I will say, please accept me as your servant.”
Thus saying, Yaśodā Mātā proceeded forward with this bundle of cloth, but once on the road outside of Nanda-bhavana, she fell down senseless in grief. Nanda Bābā went and gently raised her and tried to help her regain consciousness. Kṛṣṇa, being Paramātmā, witnessed everything. He could no longer tolerate seeing their condition. Whether in Mathurā, Dvārakā, Hastināpura, or anywhere outside of Vraja, Kṛṣṇa feels all the moods of the Vrajavāsīs. But He thinks, “How can I go? I promised to take care of them, the Vṛṣṇis and Bhojas; how can I go?”
During the day, somehow Kṛṣṇa would control His emotions, but come night, He became restless in grief and wept for many hours before finally entering an agitated sleep.
Mahāprabhu would remember these pastimes in Ksetra-dhama while looking at Jagannātha and would weep there, experiencing the pain of Jagannātha in that melted form of loving separation, as well as feeling the moods of Śrīmatī Rādhārānī in separation at Uddhava-kyāri.
“What should I do?” Kṛṣṇa thought.
During the month of Puruṣottama, Kṛṣṇa received a good chance. Nārada Ṛṣi came to Dvārakā and said, “Prabhu, I called You to Dvārakā. I realize now how much sadness I have brought You and the Vrajavāsīs; now please come back to Vṛndāvana.”
After taking advantage of her in the form of Śaṅkhacūḍa, Kṛṣṇa had received a curse from Tulasī that He would be separated from His beloveds for one hundred years. Kṛṣṇa accepted this. When the time of the curse was finished, Kṛṣṇa returned from Dvārakā to Vraja.
The brāhmaṇas performed a yajña on the bank of the Yamunā and promised Nanda Bābā that Kṛṣṇa would shortly return. Nanda Bābā told Yaśodā, “Kṛṣṇa will come. He will certainly come.”
Now, the three chariots with Kṛṣṇa, Baladeva, and Subhadrā arrived. Seeing Subhadrā, Yaśodā Mātā thought, “Who is this? She is golden and beautiful, like Rādhārānī.”
Subhadrā ran forward and addressing Yaśodā Mātā, “Māiyā,” she embraced her and wept in her arms. She then went to Nanda Bābā and called him father. She was born along with Kṛṣṇa, but Vasudeva had taken her away to Mathurā and Kaṁsa had tried to kill her. But how could she be killed? She is Viṣṇu Anuja, the younger sister of Viṣṇu. She flew out of the hands of Kaṁsa and appeared in an eight-armed form. Kicking Kaṁsa in the head, she abused him, and then said, “I will not kill you. Your killer has taken birth elsewhere. He will come when He is ready and He will kill you.”
Kaṁsa was then very scared, but he did not fully believe it would happen. But he tried very hard from that time to search out Kṛṣṇa and have his demons destroy Him. Demons are like this. Sometimes they have faith and sometimes they don’t.
Subhadrā hugged Nanda Mahārāja and said, weeping, “I am your daughter, but I was taken away from you at birth.”
She next went to Rohiṇī Mātā and embraced her. She went and met with all the Vrajavāsīs. She then appeared as Yogamāyā. She is the expansion of Yogamāyā. So she entered into Yogamāyā Paurṇamāsī. She told the Vrajavāsīs, “Kṛṣṇa is coming! He will be here any moment from now.”
The Vrajavāsīs became overwhelmed with happiness and began running towards the pathway where Kṛṣṇa would arrive and where Subhadrā’s chariot was standing. Dāruka was driving Kṛṣṇa’s chariot. Seeing all the Vrajavāsīs running in his direction, he slowed and stopped the chariot next to Subhadrā’s. The sakhās surrounded the chariot.
Kṛṣṇa was very shy. He thought, “How can I face them after dealing with them so cruelly?”
The sakhās, however, climbed up on the chariot and started pulling Kṛṣṇa, saying, “Come! Why are You shy and hiding from us?”
The sakhās said, “Where did Your eyes go? Who stole Your arms and legs? Why do You look like You’ve melted? Why did You leave us?”
The sakhās embraced Kṛṣṇa. Jayadeva Gosvāmī writes how Kṛṣṇa assumed this form of Jagannātha. He was very shy before the Vrajavāsīs. He was very shy to come before Rādhārānī and the Vraja-devīs. And when He saw Śrīmatī, His position became more serious and He melted. Seeing Kṛṣṇa like this, Baladeva Prabhu also melted, and Subhadrā, Yogamāyā, also melted.
Nārada Ṛṣi and the brāhmaṇas performing yajñas by the Yamunā all began to do kīrtana. They sang about Kṛṣṇa’s and the Vrajavāsīs’ pure love. And then gradually, Kṛṣṇa, Baladeva, and Subhadrā again appeared in their original forms. But Nārada Ṛṣi asked them to keep those Nava-kalevaras, new forms, they had appeared in the world, as Deities, for the benefit of the whole world. And so they became present forever in one form as Jagannātha, Baladeva, and Subhadrā.
When Kṛṣṇa came before Rādhārānī after this hundred year absence from Vraja, He melted in the intensity of His moods of love for Her and She also melted and entered His heart. Then together they were present as Rasarāja-Mahābhāva, and were named by Nārada Ṛṣi as Jagannātha. We hear Caitanya Mahāprabhu glorified in the beginning of Caitanya-caritāmṛta: śrī-rādhāyāḥ praṇaya-mahimā kīdṛśo vānayaivā. Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa appeared in one body, and the sakhīs, young and elderly gopīs, entered the form of Subhadrā, Yogamāyā-Paurṇamāsī. Nanda Bābā and all the sakhās and gopas entered the form of Baladeva. These three chariots then departed to eternal Goloka-Vrndavana, aprākṛta-līlā.
On the first part of the Ratha-yātrā journey, Jagannātha and His siblings are returning to Vṛndāvana from their long stay away, and then, during the next part of the Ratha-yātrā, after nine-days, Jagannātha, Baladeva, Subhadrā, along with all the Vrajavāsīs, went by these chariots to Goloka-Vrndavana. They didn’t go to Dvārakā. Don’t think that when Jagannātha and His siblings’ chariots return from Guṇḍicā to the Śrī Mandira, this is them returning to Dvārakā-purī. This returning journey symbolizes them returning to aprākṛta-līlā in Goloka Vṛndāvana.
Śrīla Gurudeva explained many deep truths. Realization of these topics will come when you seriously follow Puruṣottama-vrata, in Puruṣottama-dhāma, near Puruṣottama-deva. Jagannātha is very kind.
Mahā Lakṣmī thought, “I am very far away. I am only watching the structure, figure, or uniform, but I can’t touch Kṛṣṇa in truth.
I cannot meet with Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa gave me Dvārakā-purī; wealth, children, property, this and that. He cheated us, but did not give prema-bhakti, vraja-bhakti.
Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (Excerpted from the Bhakta Bandhav Publication, “Sri Guru Darshan”. Available from; email@example.com )