Having celebrated a host of religious festivals, the pious land of Puri celebrates the Chandan Yatra, a festival that marks the conclusion of the cycle of religious festivals. Starting from Akshyaya Trutiya the festival lasts for twenty-one days. The name of the festival is very symbolic as sandal paste popularly known as chandan and water are its inseparable constituents. That is why the festival is held in the month of Baisakh, a time when the summer heat is at its peak and sandal paste and water are essential to keep the people cool.
Similar to human beings, the Hindu deities, who are modeled on human behavior pattern only, are also treated the same way. During the Chandan Yatra, they are taken out of the temples in procession for a holy patrol in water on floats or boats. It is because of the belief that all the ceremonies of the land must be culminated with an aquatic sojourn for a deity. The floats or boats of the deities are very richly decorated and are called 'Chapa'. In most of the Vishnu and Shiva temples, the 'float' festival marks the conclusion of the prime annual festival and is therefore celebrated with a great pomp and show.
Thousands of pilgrims flock the land of Lord Jagannath for this festival. During the festival, the road from the Lord's shrine till Narendra Sarobar (a sacred tank in Puri town) is decorated very beautifully. Arches or big torans are erected in front of monasteries and at cross-roads, as the idols take casual rest here and receive offerings.
Devotees take decorated representative images of Lord Jagannath, Laxmi and Saraswati to the Narendra Sarobar at night in richly decorated palanquins. They are accompanied by priests, musicians and dancers. A number of devotees wait for the arrival of the Lord. Upon arrival, the idols are placed on the decorated boats. These boats are rowed then for a long time by the sevakas. Temple dancers dance and sing on the boat during the rowing.
The boats are generally red and white in color and are so designed that they resemble huge swans floating on water. The most peculiar thing about this ceremony is that Madanmohana with Laxmi and Saraswati rides on the white colored raft where-as Ramakrishna with pancha Shivas rides the red one. The deities continue taking boat rides till early morning and then retire to their respective shrines. This procedure is followed during the entire festival. Bhaunri is the last day of the festival. Special arrangements are made for this.
This tradition is followed in some other parts of the state as well. Images of gods are taken out in procession on palanquins to the nearby tanks and perambulated in water on boats. After the ceremony which usually takes place at mid-night, people enjoy performances of dance, drama and music specially arranged for this occasion. But in all the temples outside Puri, this fest is observed only for the last three days.
At Bhubaneswar, the Chandan Yatra belongs to Lord Lingaraj and is observed in Bindu Sarobar, a huge tank near the temple. The float here is moved to the Mandapa- an inlet-like structure which is more an elevated platform; in the middle of the tank.