Mahanidhi Madan Gopal Das

The Skanda Purana states that Ratha-yatra began a few billion years ago in Satya-yuga during the reign of Svarocisa Manu, the second of the fourteen Manus. Every year Lord Jagannatha enacts the Ratha-yatra (Mahavedi Yatra) in order to see His appearance place at the Yajna Vedi in the Gundica Mandira. (Skanda Purana 29.25-44)
In Orissa, the Ratha-yatra festival is known as Jagannatha’s journey to Gundica. Although outsiders call it Ratha-yatra, the residents of Orissa call it the Gundica Yatra in honor of Gundica Devi, King Indradyumna’s queen, who purportedly initiated this festival. The songs of many Oriyan poets state that Ratha-yatra started with the request of King Indradyumna’s wife named Gundica.
Ratha-yatra is also known as the Patita Pavana Mahotsava because non-Hindus get the opportunity to see Lord Jagannatha. This auspicious darshana cleanses all sins and grants liberation.
(An excerpt from Jagannatha Puri Guide Book)
Mahanidhi Madan Gopal Das
In a purport of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada gives a wonderful illumination about the esoteric meaning of Lord Jagannatha’s Ratha-yātrā.
After giving up the company of the Vraja-gopis, Vrajendranandana performed His pastimes in Dvaraka. When Sri Kṛṣṇa visited Kurukshetra during a solar eclipse, He was accompanied by Baladeva, Subhadra, and other Dvarakavasis. At Kurukshetra, Kṛṣṇa again met the Vrajavasis, especially Srimati Rādhikā and His beloved sakhis.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Sri Kṛṣṇa Himself assuming the part of Sri Rādhā in order to understand Kṛṣṇa. Lord Jagannatha is Kṛṣṇa and Sri Caitanya is Rādhā. Lord Gauranga’s leading Jagannatha Swami toward the Gundica Temple corresponded to Srimati Rādhikā’s leading Kṛṣṇa toward Vrndavana from Kuruksetra.
Sri Ksetra, Jagannatha Puri, was taken as the kingdom of Dvaraka, the place where Sri Kṛṣṇa enjoys supreme opulence. However, Kṛṣṇa was being led by Mahaprabhu to Vrndavana (represented by Gundica Temple), the simple village where all Vrajavasis are filled with ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa. Sri Ksetra, Jagannatha Puri, is a place of richly opulent pastimes (aisvarya-lila) just as Vrndavana is the place of intimate conjugal pastimes (madhurya-lila).
Lord Gauranga’s following at the rear of Lord Jagannatha’s car indicated that Lord Jagannatha, Kṛṣṇa, was forgetting the Vrajavasis. Although Sri Kṛṣṇa neglected the Vrajavasis, He never forgot them.
Thus in His opulent Ratha-yātrā, Sri Kṛṣṇa was returning to Vrndavana. In the role of Srimati Rādhikā, Sri Caitanyadeva was examining whether Sri Kṛṣṇa still remembered the Vrajavasis. When Lord Gauranga fell behind the Ratha car, Jagannatha-deva, Kṛṣṇa Himself, understood the mind of Srimati Rādhikā.
Therefore, Jagannatha sometimes fell behind the dancing of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to indicate to Srimati Rādhikā; He had not forgotten.
Thus Lord Jagannatha waited on His cart for their forward march. In this way, Lord Jagannatha showed that He could not feel satisfied without the ecstasy of Srimati Rādhikā. While Jagannatha thus waited, Gaurasundara, in His ecstasy of Rādhā, immediately rushed foward to Kṛṣṇa. At such times Lord Jagannatha proceeded very slowly.
These competitive exchanges were all part of the love affairs between Sri Kṛṣṇa and Srimati Rādhikā. In that competition between Mahaprabhu’s ecstasy for Jagannatha and Jagannatha’s ecstasy for Srimati Rādhikā, Mahaprabhu emerged successful. This is the purport of the Ratha-yātrā cars going from the Jagannatha Temple to the Gundica Temple. (Caitanya Caritamrita 2.13.119 p.)
Sri Jagannatha Swami’s Ratha-yātrā festival ki jai!
(An excerpt from Jagannatha Puri Guide Book)
Mahanidhi Madan Gopal Das
Pilgrims in Puri often ask the question, “Why does the Deity of Jagannatha Deva have such an unusual form?” The answer is simple—God wants to appear like this, in this most unusual form, to establish religion in this most unusual age of Kali.
The Vamadeva Samhita and the Skanda Purana (Utkala Khanda 18.3, 37) state that Bhagavan Sri Kṛṣṇa appears in this covered wooden form out of His independent will and due to the prayer of Lord Brahma. Ultimately, Jagannatha Deva exhibits whatever form His devotee wants to see as stated in Skanda Purana (Utkala Khanda 23.49-50).
The following story is a slightly different version of the third story told above about the appearance of the Jagannatha Deity. I personally like this pastime, and as they say, anything good is worth repeating.
Kahnai Khuntia, a 16th century Oriya Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava, gives an amazing explanation for Jagannatha Deva’s form in his classic drama entitled Mahābhāva Prakāśa. He states that Lord Jagannatha’s form is actually the form Bhagavan Sri Kṛṣṇa once manifested while experiencing intense separation from Srimati Rādhārani.
Jagannatha is the mahābhāva-prakāśa rupa of Sri Kṛṣṇa—with fully dilated, blooming lotus eyes, a big round face and shrunken hands, arms and legs. A summary of Mahābhāva Prakāśa follows:
In Dvaraka, Bhagavan Sri Kṛṣṇa resided simultaneously in the palaces of each and every one of His 16,108 wives. Yet in the stillness of midnight, Sri Kṛṣṇa often wept and cried out piteously in His sleep, Rādhe! Rādhe!! Rādhe!!!
Even though His queens served Him with so much love and care, still Sri Kṛṣṇa was not happy. Something was missing. The fact is that after His departure from Vrndavana, Syama’s pangs of separation from Srimati and the damsels of Vraja were as acute as their feelings were for Him. Kṛṣṇa was dreaming of Vrajabhumi and crying, Gopi! Gopi!! Gopi!!! Rādhe! Rādhe!! Rādhe!!!
Perplexed, Kṛṣṇa’s queens once asked mother Rohini to explain their husband’s strange behavior. Rohini Ma replied, “You cannot understand the sweet, intoxicating nature of Sri Kṛṣṇa’s Vraja madhurya-lila because you are all royal people absorbed in grandeur and opulence. Nevertheless, I will describe it just to satisfy your curiosity. I am afraid, however, that if Kṛṣṇa or Balarama happen to pass by and hear the narration, They will totally forget themselves and go mad in ecstasy.”
After collecting all the queens in a big hall, Rohini suggested, “Let Subhadra-devi stand outside the door to prevent Kṛṣṇa and Balarama from entering. If They come, Subhadra will warn me and I will stop speaking.”
While standing by the door, Subhadra became absorbed in the Vraja lila-katha and completely forgot herself. She became stunned and manifested a uniquely ecstatic form with dilated eyes and arms and legs retracted into her body.
Meanwhile, Kṛṣṇa and Balarama came there and saw Subhadra’s bizarre form. Curious, the two brothers listened to Rohini’s narration. Within a few minutes, They lost themselves in the sweet memories of Vraja and swooned in ecstasy. The lotus eyes of Kṛṣṇa and Balarama fully blossomed and Their arms, hands, legs and feet withdrew into Their divine bodies like a tortoise.
Devarsi Narada suddenly appeared and from a distance gazed upon these three beautiful, ecstatic forms manifesting the symptoms of the topmost Vraja madhurya-prema in Their mahābhāva-prakāśa forms. As Narada neared, Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra concealed that bhāva and assumed Their original forms. It was too late!
Narada joyfully exclaimed, “I have seen it! I have seen it! O my Lord! Please hear my prayer. May that mahābhāva-prakāśa form of Yours be manifest in some place on the earth. Let all the people in the world see that beautiful form and worship You in that form!”
Sri Kṛṣṇa, who always fulfills the desires of His pure devotees, replied, “Let it be” (tathāstu). In this way, Sri Jagannatha Deva, Sri Baladeva and Srimati Subhadra manifested the unique forms visible today in Sri Purusottama Dhama. (Embankment of Separation, adapted)
(An excerpt from Jagannatha Puri Guide Book)