Ratha Yatra literally means Chariot Festival. Ratha Yatra originated 5,000 years ago in India, on the East Coast state of Orrisa, in a city called Jagannatha Puri. The Festival celebrates Lord Krishna’s return to Vrindaban and is held annually in the months of June-July to honor Lord Jagannatha. Millions of people from around the world descend upon of Jagannath Puri (India) to celebrate this unbelievable festival.
Usually the deities of Lord Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra are worshipped within the temple, but on the day of the Rath Yatra festival they are taken through the streets so that everyone can have the fortune of seeing them. Richly decorated chariots, resembling temple structures, are pulled through the streets of Jagannath Puri. This commemorates the annual journey of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balarama, and Their sister Subhadra to the Gundicha Temple, situated 2 km from their temple. During the festival, devotees from all over the world go to Jagannath Puri with an earnest desire to help pull the chariot with the ropes. The huge processions accompanying the chariots play songs with drums, tambourines, trumpets etc. Children line the streets through which the chariot will pass and add to the mass chorus. It is also telecasted live on many Indian channels and International channels.
The Festival of Chariots was first performed outside of India on July 9, 1967 in San Francisco , under the supervision of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada, as he is more affectionately known, is the Founder-Acarya of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. Srila Prabhupada first got the idea for performing the festival in San Francisco , while looking out the window of his room above Frederick Street . Today, the Festival of the Chariots is performed around the world, including down 5th Avenue in Manhattan, along Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach and through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Detroit held its first Festival of Chariots in 1985 and has become one of the largest celebrations outside of India.