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)
The 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)
The 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.
The 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
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.