Archive for July, 2013

Rath Yatra: A Unique Journey of the Lord Beyond Places And Cultures

The annual car festival is more than just a festival for the odias. It is an occasion that is consonant with the history, culture and everything that represents odisha. It is thus a grand occasion   when Lord Jagannath comes out of his abode every year to meet His devotees. A tide of human population throngs the abode of the Lord every year on this occasion to get a glimpse of the Lord and worship him with all fervor.

The occasion that has been practiced since yore in the town of Puri has now reached other parts of the globe and  is now being celebrated with equal bash and  gaiety elsewhere in different parts of the world. Though the traditions associated with the original temple remain the same for the Lord in the town of Puri, elsewhere it is the fervor and devotion that  makes  the Lord of  Universe the most adored God for His devotees.

Today the car festival of the Lord is celebrated in different parts of the world including India and outside. And quite a number of places have built a reputation for themselves in conducting the annual car festival with the same zing and enthusiasm that is associated with the festival in Puri.

Dhamrai Rath Yatra ( Bangladesh)

Dhamarai Rath YatraThe Rath yatra at Dhamrai in Bangladesh is important not only for the long history that it carries with itself but also for the number of Hindu devotees it draws in the predominantly Muslim dominated country.

The festival with a history that date backs to 1672 is a major attraction for the Hindu community in Bangladesh and people throng from far and wide to glimpse the Lord in the chariot and pull it’s rope.  What used to be the focal point of the Dhamrai chariot festival was the massive  chariot that used to be 60 ft  in height . It was three tired in structure and it’s colossal size was something that used to inspire awe in the people.

The 3-storied chariot needed 27 maunds of rope to drag it. However the chariot was burnt down by the Pakistani army during the Bangladesh war of Liberation. A makeshift chariot was built with bamboos in the consequent year to continue with the tradition. In 2010, a new 27 ft long chariot with 15 wheels was built . This chariot is being used for the festival ever since.

The Dhamarai chariot festival is a month long event  and in addition to the journey of the Lord, stalls are  set up for sale of varieties of products. Circus and puppet shows also come to provide entertainment to people that come from all walks of life and across religious faiths.

Rath Yatra of Mahesh ( West Bengal)

Mahesh Rath YatraThe second oldest chariot in the country  after the Puri Rath Yatra, the Rathyatra of Mahesh in West Bengal is a week  long affair that is celebrated by the people in the small town of Srerampore of Hoogly district. The famed car festival of Mahesh is enjoyed by over 2-3 lakh devotees every year.

There is an interesting story behind  the  Rathyatra of Mahesh. It is said that Dhrubananda Brahmachari, a great Bengali sage visited Puri  on the 14th Century. He was however prevented by the temple authorities of Puri from getting inside the temple and having a proper darshan. The broken hearted sage then decided to lay in front of the temple and fast until his death.  On the third day of his fasting, he had a vision of the Lord Jagannath directing him to get back to his native place and wait for a  Daru-Brahma( neem trunk) on the banks of Hoogly in a place called Mahesh. He was instructed by the Lord to make the idols of the trinity out of the trunk thus received and worship it ceremoniously.

The devotee then left for Mahesh  and continued with his austerities there. On one rainy night , he had the  dream of the arrival of the Neem Trunk. He jumped into the Hoogly river to bring the trunk home  and then got the deities carved and established the temple.

The temple was visited by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu a couple of years later and he appointed Kamlakar Piplai as the mahant of the temple. It was Piplai who was responsible for starting the car festival at Mahesh. And more than  700 years on, the tradition is still followed in Mahesh.

The chariot at the Mahesh temple is made of iron. The Ratha is made in traditional Bengali Nabaratna style, e.g. it has nine churas/pinnacles.  The iron rath, with it’s nine pinnacles, towers to a height of 50 feet and weighs 125 tons. Running on 12 wheels of diameter 4 feet the rath was made at a cost of Rs 20,000 and have been in operation since 1885. The four storied Rath is fitted with two wooden horses and a chariot driver.  Apart from that the first stage contains wooden figures of Chaitanyalila, second and third stage contains Krishnalila and Ramlila respectively. The top stage houses the gigantic wooden idol of Jagannath

Not only this festival is the oldest but also the biggest Rathayatra in Bengal. Nearly 2-3 lakh people come to see the month-long fair. Lord Jagannath is pilled in His chariot to  goes to Serampur Gundicha Temple and then remains there till Punarjatra, or Ultorath, as it is popularly known in Bengal.

Ahmedabad Rathyatra

Ahmedabad RathyatraThe Rath Yatra of Ahmedabad is  celebrated on the same date as that of the Puri Rathyatra and it stands next to Puri Rathyatra in terms of grandeur and popularity. The annual chariot festival of  Ahmedabad is attended by 6-8 lakh devotees every year.

The city of Ahmedabad in Gujrat is known as the hub of cultural activities and the Jagannath temple at Jamalpur in the city is one of the oldest Jagannath temple in the country that dates back to the 14 the century. The tradition of the Rath Yatra though a recent one in comparison, still is over a century old!   The history of the temple from where the yatra starts goes back 450 years, when Hanumandasji, a sadhu, cleared the foliage around Jamalpur Darwaja on the banks of Sabarmati river and established a Hanuman temple. The statue of Hanuman is still in the basement of the temple. His successor Sarangdasji visited the famed Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa, where he had a vision of the Lord asking him to install idols of the trinity – Lord Jagannath, Balram and Subhadra.

Narsinhdasji in 1877 started the Rath Yatra on the Puri model but on a smaller scale to mark Ashadhi Bij. Saraspur, with a temple managed by his gurubhai became the maternal home of the Lords corresponding to the Gundicha temple of Puri.

The  Rath Yatra at Ahmedabad has been observed ever since with much pomp and splendor. It is also a symbol of religious sanctity and unity and has been braced by dignitaries like Khan Abdul Gafar Khan repeatedly.

The glistening highlight of the Ahmedabad Rath Yatra is the procession of caparisoned elephants. Decorated elephants participate in almost all the important rituals associated with the festival. Another important feature is the participation of Akhada Sadhus and Mahants and the numerous floats with different themes. The day-long procession ends with the chariots returning to the Jamalpur Jagannath Temple, covering a 22km distance.

Rath Yatra of Manipur

Manipur Rath Yatra

Manipur Rath Yatra

Also known as kangchingba among the natives, the raty yatra of Manipur has slowly gained reputation as being a cultural festival that is celebrated in the region with unmatched passion.  The significance of the festival to the Manipuris can be gauged from the fact that it is the greatest festival of the Hindus in Manipur.

The First Ratha Yatra Festival in Manipur begun during the reign of Maharaja Gambhir Singh in 1832 A.D. Ever since, it has been celebrated with  ever increasing doses of enthusiasm by the local populace with each pasing year. Popularly, known as Jagobandhu in this hilly state, Lord Jagannath goes out in his annual stroll accompanied by his siblings in His chariot that  is 20 ft in  height and has six iron wheels attached to it.

The Rath is decorated beautifully with nice paintings and flowers of the three sides. The fashion and the procession are almost the same with that of Rath Yatra of Puri though in a miniature form. Flowers and fruits are offered to the Lord at every gate of the house from where the chariot of the Lord passes. In the night, a sankirtana is performed by both group of men and women separately, the men first, and then women follow. Such sankirtana is performed by standing in a circle with a pungyeiba (drumer) in the middle. The song is sung with the rhythm of the Pung (a kind of mirdanga used by Manipuri).

After the sankirtana , some group of young women and girls perform dances at the rhythm of the Pung. This is  followed with the distribution of prasadam the “Kshechiri” (cooked rice with dal, turmeric, chilly and salt and ghee), Uthi (peas, pieces of bamboo shoot with salt and soda), “Ironba ” of “Laphu” (plaintain trunk) and some other items can be added.


Rising Incidence of rapes in Odisha – It’s Time For Action Now

Stop Rape

A helper of moving bus climbs to the sleeper section and frightens and then gags the woman on the compartment to rape her ! A minor blind girl was raped brutally on the outskirts of her house and then killed. While another woman gang raped in front of her husband who was tied and beaten inside the hospital premise!

Seem like plots airlifted from some daily soaps! No, these are incidents of violence on women those have hit Odisha in the past couple of months. And as investigations continue and arrests made allegations and counter allegations continue to fly high on the media rendering one to think whether the statistics being thrown on your face about the rising rape cases in the state, are merely numbers or it is just the play of media that seeks to enthuse the audience with potpourri of  facts spiced up with right doses of emotions or is there something that is slipping out of our hands and  disturbing the cultural fabric of our society.( As if rape is a term and action completely alien to the god fearing people of Odisha)

While on the wake of the infamous Delhi rape case, culture was taken as pretext and observations made by the RSS chief duly endorsed later on by the Puri Sankracharya that “rapes happen in India and not in Bharat”  shook the entire nation and drew acidic remarks from many quarters  in the society, it is also a just pretext to do a proper evaluation of the rising number of rapes with context to the geographical /cultural background!

In a report released by Dr. Mrinal Satish  of the Delhi’s National Law University, it has been demonstrated that  rape is a crime that does not identify contours or cultures. It is predominantly an instinct that is devoid of any such reasoning.  Based on his conclusion from data collected  from  high courts and supreme court on the  number of rape cases, covering a period of 25 years from 1983 to 2009, one can safely assume that to say “rapes do not happen in Bharat” is completely nonsensical.

The distinction between “Bharat” and “India” being that of culture ( as accentuated by the revered Sankracharya) and nothing better epitomizes the culture of the country than that of the rural population. So it comes to a cropper as one scuttles through the pages of the report. It cites that over 80% of rape cases in the High Courts and close to 75% of rape cases in the Supreme Court came from rural areas. Close to 75% of gang rape cases in HCs and 63% of gang rape cases in the SC came from rural areas. Over 65% of cases involving the rape of a child (less than 12 years old) came from rural areas. On average, 75% of all rape cases in higher courts that had led to at least one conviction came from rural areas”.

Well, the study is clearly an eye opener to the fact that nothing called culture or dominion comes to fore while a girl is being raped. It is simply a clear case of physical violation by a person of sick mentality. It exists because of a patriarchal, misogynistic mentality that condones it, whether tacitly or explicitly, and because of widespread lawlessness that encourages it.

In order to completely stop the rising incidence of  violation on woman,  a two pronged strategy needs to be adopted. First a gradual social change through education and a rapid reform in law.

Students need to be educated  starting at the school level, about respect for women, for personal spaces and for the rule of law. Showing children early on that people of other gender are equal, needs to become the  central point  to our education system. Girl child should be taught that they are equal, and they are more likely to be treated that way. Self defence classes should be introduced in the school level itself . Similarly the boy child should be conditioned to respect his female counterparts. They should be taught  that girls are equal. Boys should also be given empathy training to show them what it’s like to be a girl. Courses on anger management may be introduced.

We need to introspect, all of us, on how we contribute to the objectification of women, from the popular culture we consume to the way we bring up our children — from where it’s a slippery slope to a twisted and unjust understanding of sexual assault in legal terms.

In terms of the law, we urgently need a more comprehensive and inclusive definition of sexual violence, critical amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure that will reduce the time taken for trials, fast track courts for sexual assault cases, harsher punishments and a serious programme of police reform and sensitization.  More importantly, we need a police that is more sympathetic to the female victims of violence. All of these are doable, and all are equally crucial — not just for better implementation but also to signal the seriousness with which such crimes will be viewed.