When, as religious tradition, devotees flock to different pilgrim centers seeking God, in an apparently contrasting tradition, God comes out once in a year, parading Himself in public, granting open darshan to devotees en mass. Here, God (Deity) choose to mount on the Chariot or Palanquin, moving along out in the open. This traditional annual spiritual extravaganza is called Rathotsavam or Chariot Festival in Indian parlance. The famous Chariot Festival at Jagannath Puri in Odisha stands testimony to this big religious fanfare.
In line with this sacred tradition with religious fervor and spiritual import, Puttaparthi witnesses 'It's Own' Chariot Festival on the 18th of November, every year, initiated by Bhagawan Himself.
Rathotsavam at Prasanthi Nilayam is a tradition that serves as a forerunner to the grand Birthday celebrations of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Ever since its inception decades ago, this festivity has been a fixed schedule for the 18th day of November. For many years, this day had been marked with en mass Narayana Seva, serving the villagers in and around Puttaparthi. Bhagawan used to bless and sanctify the occasion with His blessed personal presence, along with hundreds of 'White Army’ members (students and sevadals) at the Vidyagiri Stadium.
On the morning, Lord Rama and Mother Sita go in a procession along with Venugopala Swami, from the Mandir in Prasanthi Nilayam to the Peddavenkama Raju Kalyana Mandapam, near Hanuman Temple. This symbolic procession has been in practice, ever since the commencement of the Rathotsavam 4-5 decades ago. Puttaparthi often goes berserk on this morning, with enthusiastic local participation, often with ‘beating drums’ coupled with ‘dancing ecstasy’.
The students lead the procession with Vedic chanting followed by Bhajan singing, escorting the ‘Gods’ from the Prasanthi Mandir to the old Mandir, Pedda Venkamaraju Kalayana Mantapam in Puttaparthi. After the worship, the idols of Rama, Lakshmana and Mother Sita return to the Mandir. Later, in the evening, the idols are again taken out in a procession in the village of Puttaparthi, amidst joyous celebration by the locals.
An elaborate Sita Rama Kalyanam, Celestial Marriage Of The Divine Couple, Lord Sri Ramachandra with Mother Sita, is performed at the Sanctum Sanctorum, preceding the Rathotsavam, every year. Earlier, for decades, this traditional Marriage ceremony used to be conducted inside the Bhajan Hall and from 2010 onwards, at the instance of Bhagawan, the Marriage venue has been shifted to the Sai Kulwant Hall.
Prasanthi Nilayam is all set for the week-long Birthday extravaganza.