It’s the Big Day – The Ratha Saptami. Every year, on the day of Asadh Shukla Dwititya (falls in June-July), the spectacular Annual Rath Yatra or the Chariot festival is celebrated at the famous Puri Jagannath Temple. This is a possession of three huge and elaborately-decorated temple chariots bearing the three main temple deities – the Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra from the Jagannath Temple to their Aunt’s Gundicha temple through the Grand Avenue of Puri (Bada Danda). The preparations for this grand Rath Yatra in Puri starts two months before the main festival.
The environment around us transformed into a more lively one with the chant ‘Jai Jagannath’ of the pilgrims. More and more number of people started gathering near the chariots. The chariots are examples of the indigenous craftsmen-ship; they are riot of colors, culture and history. It is this occasion on which millions of people all over the world gather here to witness the magnificent possession! I managed to get into the front row just behind the police personnel to get a better glimpse of the chariots. They are not simply huge – the are magnificent indeed!
These chariots which are built anew every year were placed infront of the temple the day before. Adorned in brightly colored fabrics and mounted on giant two-meter-high wheels painted in festive colors, these three giant chariots will be built by the same family of craftspeople every year. The wood which would be used for making these chariots would be collected from a nearby village called Dasapalla. Over 150 carpenters build these two-storey high wooden chariots entirely by hand, and a team of 20 sculptors creates the woodcarvings decorating them. Important aspect is that these craftsmen still used their indigenous methods like hand spans etc and the tradition of making them is being passed down to the generations orally! 🙂
The Jagannath’s temple is surrounded by a lot of legends which makes it more special among the other temples in India. The deity here is said to be the truest form of Vishnu and called as ‘Neel Madhav’. Everything regarding the Lord Jagannath here is so special – as we know most of the idols in Indian temples are either made of stone or metal, here they are made of wood; the other ritual called the ‘Nabkalebara’ in which the deities shed their old bodies every 12 or 19 years to get into a new ones – proves us the eternal truth that even the creator has to die in this world! This shows that India is perhaps the only place in the world wherein which even the Gods die.
More and more people started gathering on the Bada Avenue. Though the princely states do not exist in India today, the heirs of the Gajapati Dynasty of Khurda still perform the rituals of the temple and the rituals of the Rath Yatra are conducted by Daitapatis, the descendants of the Tribal King Biswabasu, who was the first to safeguard the Lord Neel Madhav in a cave in his village. The rituals started inside the temple, I could hear the drum beatings and mantras emanating from the temple courtyard. Everyone is eagerly waiting to get a glimpse of the gods. Water is being splashed over us as the humidity started to soar up because of the increasing masses of the people. Ambulances and fire-engines were placed in middle of the crowds in case of emergency if any.
Though it was slightly raining, water is being splashed over us and the sky cloudy, we were sweating because of the suffocation. What all one could see there is only humans and humans everywhere – on top of the vehicles, terraces, mobile towers what not – everything was filled up with people! It was around 11.00 hrs, the first deity Balabhadara was brought out from the temple in a step-by-step rythm swaying in midst of priests and artisans beating their drums while singing and dancing. One can clearly distinguish among the deities chariots from their appearance.
The chariot on the extreme left, adorned in green and red cloth is of the Balabhadra is called the Taladhvaja which is 44 feet high and has 14 wheels. After, Lord Balabhadra had been placed in his chariot, his sister, Subhadra was brought out in almost a laid down posture was placed in the middle chariot which is adorned in black and red cloth called the Darpadalan or literally the trampler of pride. It is of 43 feet height and has 12 wheels. Now the crowd went surreal. The place was filled with more and more chants of Jagannath and acquired an aura of faith, tradition and devotion. Everyone’s anticipation is for the Lord Jagannath.
The conch-shells were blown, the dancers started performing the traditional Odishi dance, the drummers began to beat the drums more vigorously and finally our beloved God – the Lord Jagannath was brought out! It’s an incredible moment in my life to witness the Lord. Lord Jagannath was placed in his chariot called the Nandighosa which is 45 feet high and has 16 wheels. It is this grand spectacle that gave the word ‘Juggernaut’ (a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force) to the English lexicon! The rituals began to set off the deities on their journey to their Aunt’s home – the Gundicha temple, which is just 3 kms away from the main temple.
The deities would be placed there for the next seven days and would be brought back to the Jagannath’s Temple on the eighth day in the same manner. It’s believed that touching one of those thick 50-metre-long ropes which are used to pull these chariots during the Rath Yatra washes away our sins and helps in attaining salvation. Am still spell-bound watching this event!