Posts Tagged ‘Rath Yatra’

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.


Rath Yatra – Lord Jagannath’s Journey Out

Jagannath Rath yatra

Jagannath Rath yatra

Today is the world famous Chairot Festival of Lord Jagannath of Puri. The festival is one of the most awaited festivals of Odisha and see mass congregation of people in the sleepy town of Puri  for the divine visualization of the Lord Jagannath. The practice which for a eons have been effected out in Puri turns it into a cauldron of human sea with over 10-15 lakh visitor on one single day.

The Lord who leaves his temple to vist His aunt’s place once a year is carried to a chariot which is then drawn to the neighboring Mausi maa temple. This practice provides an opportunity to people to have a vision of the Lord in full glory and without any hindrance. This practice in itself is significant in many ways.

In the Hindu philosophy, the Upanishads use the metaphor of a chariot  to explain the importance of the human body and intellect. While the human body is  believed to be chariot the spirit is compared to Lord Jagannath. The spirit dawns the body chariot for  a short duration. While in the body, all efforts should be made to realize the self.

Apart from philosophical significance, the practice has religious historical importance too. The chariot had an immense significance in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Arjuna as a passenger was seated at the back of the chariot driven  by the charioteer Lord Krishna. The same practice is repeated here. Many  believe that the custom of placing the idols on the grand chariots and pulling them has a Buddhist origin. Fa Hien, the Chinese historian , who visited India in the fifth century AD , had written about the chariot of  the Buddha being pulled along the public roads.

Among other, the chariot constructed for Lord Jagannath ,Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra for the Rath yatra is unique and quite significant in many ways. The construction of chariots is an ancient practice which in itself is as unique as the festival of the Rath yatra. Per traditions the chariots of Lord  Jagannath are created every year  at “Rathakhala” at the Bada Danda ( Grand Road) in Puri. Since the last few years, the responsibility of the construction of the three chariots in Puri has been taken over by the state government, which earlier was the sole prerogative of the Gajapati of Puri.

The construction of the chariots has always been a natural process and has been done  in the same way throughout but with time certain changes have taken place. If one analyses the nitty-gritty  of the construction of the chariots, one will readily understand that it is not an easy task. Round the clock work of many people are needed to give shape to the chariot of the lord.

Earlier, the workers engaged in the construction of the chariots used to begin their work on the days of “Dola Purnima” and it used to end on the day when the chariots were dismantled. However these days the construction of the chariots is done on the day of “Akshay tritya”.

Many changes have taken place down the line in the nature and tradition of the work of the chariot-makers, servitors and the architects associated with construction. Earlier there were seven main architects who were responsible for the construction of the chariots and they were known as the  “ Saptarathkar” ( Seven carpenters/architects). They created seven section (“nijog”) under them and each of them used to play a distinct role. They were

1.Gunakar – The architects responsible for everything related to construction like  measurement

2. Mukhyarathakar – The main carpenter who constructed the vital portion of the chariots

3. Lohakar -Black smiths who used to prepare and arrange all equipments and weapons like irons, nails, clamps needed for the chariots

4.  Chekkar – The workers who arranged the wood and provided it during the construction

5. Rupakar  – Sculptors who made the statues of the deites and decorated the chariots

6. Chitrakar  – The painter who painted the chariots and other designs on the chariots

7. Sutikars –  The tailors who made dresses and decorated the chariots.

But with time, the “Saptakar” have been replaced with 36 servitors who are concerned with the construction of the chariots. Apart from these 36 servitors the total number of servitors who perform various services on the chariots has gone up to 64. These include the work and services of person responsible for arranging the wood, cutting the wood, carting it off to Puri, arranging the rope for the chariot, the gongs and many other services. Today the services of the Chief architect, sculptor, painter and tailor are the most important.

Breaking away from tradition, Girl Sweeps the Chariot of Lord Jagannath to set a new trend

Rath Yatra - The Festival of Chariot Pulling

Rath Yatra - The Festival of Chariot Pulling

For the first time in the history of Orissa and of Rath Yatra, the chhera pahara, a symbolic ritual cleaning of the chariots, was performed by a female king’. The path breaker is a 15-year-old girl named Sulakhyana Devi, a scion of the royal family of Dharakote in Ganjam district.

Sulakhyana, who was crowned as the king’ of Dharakote estate (the estate was abolished by the government) after the death of her father, the late King Kishor Chandra Singhdeo, became the first female ever to perform chhera pahara on occasion of Rath Yatra on Sunday.

The royal teenager also performed some rituals during Bahuda Yatra, the return journey of the sibling deities, last year. She, however, did not perform the chhera pahara then due to some personal problem.

Sulakhyana defied tradition to take charge of the cleaning ritual, hitherto performed by her male forefathers and then her late father. The young woman performed the religious ritual in accordance with the instructions of the Badapanda, the main priest of the 150-year-old Jagannath temple at Dharakote, about 55 km from here.

Clad in a royal dress with a turban on her head to mark her position as the king’, Sulakhyana swept the chariots with a broom as part of the chhera pahara. Several thousands of people in and around the area thronged to the block headquarters town to witness the never-before scene of the girl scion of a royal family performing the ritual cleaning.

Sulakhyana said she’s proud she got a chance to perform the service to Lord Jagannath and his siblings. “My father and forefathers have performed these services during Rath Yatra for hundreds of years. I merely made an effort to keep up the tradition. Even though I am a girl, I didn’t feel shy cleaning the chariots of the Lord Jagannath before the huge crowd of people gathered at the temple,” she said.

She added she would perform other rituals required of her royal family as well during Rath Yatra. Sulakhyana, who studies in Class X at Raja Kumar College, Raipur, has come home for the festival and would return to Raipur after Rath is over to pursue her studies.