The ancient tradition

Ratha Yatra is a festival that has stood the test of time and is celebrated as widely today as the time of its advent.

The ancient tradition

(Photo: Statesman News Service)

The oldest celebration

One of the most anticipated and illustrious festivals in Odisha, and the world, is Ratha Yatra, popularly known as the chariot festival. In Puri, lakhs of devotees from all around the country comes together as a procession to celebrate the nine-day-journey of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra to Gundicha Temple, and back to their abode.

Celebrated since 1396, the oldest and largest celebration in Bengal is the Ratha Yatra in Mahesh, a historical locality in Serampore of Hooghly District. Dhrubanada Brahmachari, a great Bengali sage heard the voice of the divine Lord, instructing him to construct a shrine of the Holy Trinity at the then village near the Bhagirathi River. Accordingly, with Daru Brahma (Neem Trunk) he made the idols and established a temple. Sri Chaitanya coined Mahesh as Naba-Nilachal, and on his request he made Kamalakar Piplai, the fifth of his 12 Gopalas – take charge of the temple and started the famous chariot festival.


The present rath of Mahesh with steel-frame work and wooden scaffolding, measuring 50 feet in height and 125 tonnes in weight, was constructed under the sponsorship of Krishnaram Basu, the grandfather of Sri Ramakrishna’s famous disciple Balarama Basu in 1885. Contrasting the idols in Puri temple, which are changed every 12 years, the same idols prepared by the founder are used till date.

After the Snanyatra – the holy dip, the deities are varnished, following a ceremony called Nabajauban Utsav and the idols are placed on the highest storey of the rath. The first storey represents the Bhakti Cult of Sri Chaitanya; the second storey deals with the life of Sri Krishna; and the third storey is about Sri Rama. With the flight of a Neelkantha bird (Indian roller) the procession begins. Since the era of Sri Chaitanya, people throng to pull the ropes of the chariots to the house of companion Pournomasi i.e. Masirbari or home of one’s aunt.

As for Mahesh, Rathyatra fair vendors line up along G.T. Road with saplings, fruits and cane artifacts from as far as Andaman and Tripura. Sri Ramakrishna had also marked his sacred footprints in this Rath Yatra. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s famous novel Radharani consists of a wonderful description of the Mahesh Ratha Yatra. It is the meditation where the Lord resides in our hearts, unraveling the path to taste the sweetness of life, just like jalebis without, which the Rathayatra celebration remains incomplete.

(Inputs given by Aryika Ghosal, Coordinator, Class X, St. Josephs Convent, Chandernagore)

The true lessons derived

Rath Yatra literally means a journey by a vehicle. Walking enables people reach a small distance at a rather slow pace. Therefore, we have always strived to develop methods of transportation, which will reduce human effort and take us faster and further. Apart from planes, trains and cars, we have developed mediums like the internet: the place which contains all human knowledge and video calling, which connects people throughout the globe.

However, Rath Yatra is about the journey; the journey of God on a chariot. As per the stories, which have been passed down through numerous generations, Lord Jagannath visits his aunt on this day. He makes the journey on his chariot, whose wheels travel the path, cleansed of all that is impure. But the ritual is not complete with Lord Jagannath visiting his aunt. It is truly completed seven days later when he returns home.

Rath Yatra is not just about following the myth. It is also about our journey as well; a journey which takes us to new places, unknown to us, yet ever so familiar, as if we always knew where we were going or could always see what was about to happen. But just like every other life-form, we all think that we are actually walking away from our home. But, the truth of the matter is that we are always going home; no matter which journey we choose or how the ropes are pulled. No matter who pulls those ropes or where we go, we are always going home.

The stories, which have embedded themselves into our myths have ensured their survival till the end of time itself, because these stories are passed down from one generation to the next. There are songs and legends, which are sung and told throughout our history.

These are stories of monsters, demons, Gods and angels, which are conveyed to younger generations, who then subsequently convey them to their children when the time comes. Rath Yatra is the remembrance of an idea, which we will celebrate every year till all the stars in the universe die out.

Among the significant features of this event lies the auspiciousness of the rope. Pulling the rope of the chariot of God is said to bless the individual with good fortune. Maybe it is a way of telling us that selflessness is a good thing; helping others on their journey is a good thing to do.

Because what is significant is not the number of medals you win or how fast you go to get where you are. After one’s death, only those memories related to the people who walked with you and the people you helped are remembered. They see how your contributions brought about a change in the world, because no matter how small that change is, it matters.

And doing good for others inspire others to do the same for you. Maybe that is what the festival of Rath Yatra has been trying to teach us all these centuries: to keep walking down the roads journeying far and wide; but always driving towards your home, helping others and prospering forever.

(Inputs given by Tisyagupta Pyne, Ex- St Thomas Boys School, Kidderpore)

The flipside of the traditional coin

Puri’s Ratha Yatra: glorious, isn’t it? Marvellous! Absolutely charming! It is supposed to infuse people with new life; supposedly it gives them hope and rejuvenates them.

People throng the holy shrine of Jagannath during this time every year just to touch the rope dragging the huge chariot. The crowd is overwhelming, the decorations incandescent and the feeling exquisite. People from all walks of life come there for a glimpse of the celebrations.

While doing my research for the same, I came over an article on the internet, which reported the deaths of two women on the pilgrimage. Shockingly, a lot of deaths go unreported. The government has taken steps to prevent such deaths obviously; they have promised to assist people in need, medically. But what about the lives already lost?

Does it have any meaning to go where you want to be filled with newness and peace, just to end up dying in a stampede, miserably? The rush is so intense and security measures so meek that some people are crushed under the feet of others. They want to pay their homage to the Lord, and end up losing their lives due to adverse circumstances, which are avoidable. The people under whose feet the aforementioned women were crushed had not murdered them (obviously). And I am not saying that they were entirely at fault; but have you noticed that it is because of the mad rush to touch the chariot that two human beings -who are supposed to be a part of the Almighty-died.

And I believed that religion was based on the fundamental principles of humanity.

(Inputs given by Rwitacheta Sinha, Coordinator, Class X, St Jospehs Convent, Chandernagore)