A very special and sacred festival of Lord Jagannath is held on the full-moon day in the month of Jyestha. This festival is known as 'Devasnan Purnima' or 'Snana Yatra' (the Bathing Festival). There is a general belief that the devotee washes away all his sins if he gets a vision of the Lord on this day. Therefore, it attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. According to the Skanda Purana when King Indradyumna installed the wooden deities he arranged this bathing ceremony. Hence, this festival is celebrated to commemorate the Appearance of Lord Jagannath – the Lord of the Universe.
On the previous day of Snana Yatra the Deities of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra along with Sudarshana are ceremonially brought out from the inner sanctum of the main temple in a procession to the Snana Mandapa (the Bathing pandal). This bathing platform is situated to the north-east of Ananda Bazar and besides the outer wall of the temple (called Meghanada Pacheri in local language).The length and breadth of this bathing platform is 76 feet.
It is at such a height that visitors standing outside the temple also get a clear view of the Deities. On this auspicious day a ceremonial procession ensues to fetch 108 pots of water from the Golden well (called 'Suna Kua' in local language). The holy water is drawn from this well once a year. During the entire process all of them cover their mouths with a piece of cloth so as not to contaminate it even with their breath. Then all the pots filled with water are preserved in the Bhoga Mandap. Later the priests purify the water with Haladi (turmeric), Java (whole rice), Chandan (Sandal), flowers and perfumes. The filled and purified water pots are then carried from the Bhoga Mandap to the Snan Vedi (the bathing platform). All the idols are covered in silk cloth and smeared with red powder, after which they are bathed with water of these108 gold vessels. This ritual is called 'Jalabhisheka'. In Sanskrit, 'Jala' means water and 'Abhishek' means Bath. This Abhiseka is performed amidst the chanting of vedic mantras, ecstatic kirtana and blowing of conch shells
In the evening, after the bath ritual, the Deities assume the special elephant form which is otherwise known as 'Hati Vesha' or 'Gaja Vesha'. Lord Jagannatha and Lord Balaram dress up like elephants, and Goddess Subhadra wears a lotus flower vesha. It is popularly known known as Hati snan (elephant bath) or Ganesh abhishek. Lord to wear this elephant vesh for His devotee: It is said that once upon a time, a staunch devotee of Lord Ganesh and himself a profound scholar visited Puri during Snana Yatra. He was amply rewarded by the king of Orissa for his scholarship. The king asked the scholar to accompany him to see Lord Jagannath which he refused under the pretext that he wouldn't worship any "God" other than his Ishthadevata Ganesh. Somehow he was persuaded and brought before the Snana vedi. To the utter surprise of all, Lord Jagannath appeared in an elephantine form that resembled Lord Ganesh. Since then during Snana Yatra when the sacred bath is performed, the Deities are dressed like elephants - resembling Lord Ganesh.
After Snana Yatra, the deities are believed to fall ill with fever and do not return to their pedestal. The Deities are kept in a special room called the 'Ratan bedi' inside the temple. During this period the dieties stay away from public view. They are offered only fruits and water mixed with cheese and medicines to cure them from fever. The Deities are treated by the Raj Vaidya (the King's physician) with specific medicines (Dasamulas). They stay away from the public view for a period of 15 days. This period is known as 'Anasara'. During Anasara the Deities offered only fruits and water mixed with cheese and Dasamula medicines to cure from fever. During all these days the daily rites of the temple remain suspended. Due to the sacred bath with 108 pitchers of water, the colours painted on the images fade out. The Daitas repaint the images with new colors On the 16th day, the Deities after complete recuperation become ready for the public view. The festival of this first appearance of the Lord Jagannath for his devotees is called 'Netrotsava' (festival for the eyes) or 'Nava Yauvanotsava' (festival of the ever-fresh and always youthful Lord).
It is explained in the Chaitanya Charitamrta that being absolute in all circumstances, Lord Jagannatha’s person, form, picture, and kirtana are all identical. The conclusion is that whenever kirtana of pure devotees takes place, the Lord is always present. By chanting the holy names of the Lord, we associate with the Lord personally.
Wish you all a very Happy Snana Yatra!