Jhulana Yatra is one of the most important festivals observed in Sri Jagannath Temple, Puri. The origin of Jhulana Yatra lies in what is known as Rasa Lila – an elaboration of the divine love between Radha-Krishna depicted in Vaishnava Literature.
The Rasa Lila was first known as Basanta Rasa [Spring Rasa] and then as Sharata Rasa [Autumn Rasa]. The festival has its roots in the very act of swinging of Krishna in Vrindavan. The Gopis in Vrindavan put Rasika Sekhara Lord Krishna [Rasika Sekhara is an epithet used for Lord Krishna for his amorous association with Gopis] on a swing in the bowers of the woods of Vrindavan.
The swing during Dola and the one under the bower seem to be identical when viewed from a philosophical perspective. But both the festivals carry the essence and the subtleties of Rasa Lila. It became a practice to observe these festivals in mathas, temples and among Vaishnava communities to commemorate the monsoon love of Radha and Krishna.
The inception of this festival, according to some, took place around 1550 A.D. while others believe it to have started in the 18th century during the time of the King Divyasimhadeva.
The festival was first observed in the open on Devasabha Mandapa [an open platform where gods are believed to have meetings] on which were built Jhulana Kunja [an artificial decoration representing garden bower with a swing hanging from it]. Later on, the festival venue was shifted to Mukti Mandapa keeping in mind the heavy monsoon rains.
This festival starts from the 10th day of the bright fortnight of the month of Shravana and continues up to the 1st day of the dark fortnight of the month of Bhadrava. After certain rituals, the representative deities of Laxmi, Saraswati & Madan Mohan are taken to Jhulana Mandapa. [It is the platform on which the festival is held. Now-a-days the Mukti Mandapa is used as the Jhulana Mandapa for this festival.] The bowers and swings built for the festival are splendidly decorated.
Once the deities are taken to the swing, an interesting ritual called “Bidia Monohi” is performed [It is a ritual in which the deities are offered scented betel leaves smeared with sandal wood paste instead of lime and cloves, cardamom and some other herbs replace betel nuts]. Thereafter they are swung on the Jhula [swing]. In front of the Jhulana Mandapa, devotional songs are sung to lift the spirit of the festival.
The activities continue until the Sandhya Dhupa [light evening meal offered to the deities] is done for the main deities. Thereafter, water is sprinkled on the bowers and the area is screened to provide a bit of privacy for the deities on the Mandapa, so that they can enjoy a light meal which consists of fruits and other uncooked eatables.
Once this is over, rituals like Panchopachara Puja and Vandapana are performed. The representative deities continue to be on the Mandapa until the main deities are smeared with sandal wood paste. Then they return to their respective places after a ritual called Mailama [the decorative dresses are taken off]. These activities are performed for seven consecutive days.
On the right side of the Jhulana Kunja, the idols depicting the various activities like Janma Lila and Gopa Lila of Shri Krishna’s life as well as the idols of Bhakta Dhruva add to the beauty of the festival. The statues of Bhima and Duhshasana in fighting posture are on either sides of the Jhulana Mandapa.
This festival is also observed in various Vaishnava Mathas in Puri. The devotees derive divine satisfaction by witnessing this festival.