Question: For what purpose and with what mood do the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas observe Śrī Jagannātha Ratha-yātrā?
Śrīla Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja: During Ratha-yātrā, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His many eternal associates would dance in front of Śrī Jagannāthadeva’s chariot. They never thought to themselves “I have to pull the cart,” “I have to touch the rope,” or “I have to shout ‘Jaya Jagannātha,’ just as everyone else is doing.”
These days, those who attend Ratha-yātrā bring with them many emotions and sentiments. They say things like, “I pulled the chariot for a whole minute,” and, “I was able to see Jagannātha very clearly.” In reality, acts such as pulling the ratha rope will never change the hearts of those who are sincere in their attempts to follow the path of bhakti, even if they could somehow maintain their grip on it for hundreds of thousands of lifetimes. Granted, these types of activities may yield some type of sukṛti for common persons, but for serious sādhakas, sentimental activities of this nature yield no practical results. Such empty gestures have been completely rejected by Śrīman Mahāprabhu and His associates, who observed Śrī Jagannāthadeva’s Ratha-yātrā with only one mood: “kṛṣṇa laña vraje yāi e-bhāva antara—complete internal absorption in the idea that ‘I am taking Kṛṣṇa to Vraja.’ ”
Unless during our observance of Ratha-yātrā we meet with sādhus, hear from them and stay under their guidance, we will derive no benefit by attending this festival; we will be unable to understand its deep meanings and truths.