Ratha Yatra is held in the month of Asardh according to Bengali calendar (June – July), and the world famous Puri Ratha is now preparing to get underway. But nearby, another super-excellent festival is celebrated: the Ratha-yatra of Sri Sri Madan Mohan in Cooch Behar. This Ratha-yatra is quite similar to the Ratha of Sri Sri Jagannath at Puri, in nearby Orissa.
In Cooch Behar, beautifully decorated Rath chariots are taken out, as Sri Sri Madan Mohan rides from His main temple to His maternal aunt’s house at Gunjabari (within the city), where the Lord stays for one week. Again on the day of Ulta-Rath celebrations, held one week later, the Lord is delivered back to the main Madan Mohan temple. All throughout these seven days of His visit, a great fair takes place at the main temple campus and at Gunjabari.
According to existing temple records, the holy dhama of Sri Sri Madan Mohan was established in 1893, after construction of the Madan Mohan temple-house to the north of Bairagi Dighi, in the heart of Cooch Behar city. Since then, Ratha-yatra used to take place besides Bairagi Dighi, up until 1921-22. Afterwards the fair was extended into two parts. At present this fair is also celebrated with pomp and glory at Gunjabari for seven days.
A temple of the royal Deity, Sri Sri Madan Mohan, was built in every sub-divisional town/city during the reign of the Koch Maharajas, and Ratha-yatra is celebrated in all those towns/cities.
During monarchy, the Ratha chariot used to parade out with royal status and grandeur from main temple to Gunjabari. The procession was headed by beautifully decorated elephants, followed by the Royal Army, police teams, marching bands, etc. Then numerous devotees would follow pulling the Ratha-rashi (rope for pulling the chariot).
In the wake of bygone days, the district has lost its monarchy, royal codes and conducts along with the royal enthusiasm for celebrating the fair. Regardless, Sri Sri Madan Mohan visits His aunt’s riding gloriously in a chariot driven by thousands of devotees. The pomp of such celebrations is no less enjoyable. The royal clarity of the fair may have been lost in due course, but still, the presence of gilipi (a much-loved Bengali sweet) and latka fruit in abundance.
The unchanged spirit of the Ratha celebration continues on, and devotees are blessed to get the regular darshan of Sri Sri Madan Mohan.