-Asmita Srivastava (continued…)
Though we happened to visit the holy shrine more than a month before the commencement of the RathYatra, my mother felt lucky to have witnessed the preparations for the elaborate festival, which had started in full swing and enthusiasm. Almost 30 wood cutters were working on a log of wood. Upon talking to one of the wood cutters, we got to know that the main chariot is 14 metres high and 10 metres square, with 16 wheels. More than 600 trees are taken from the local forests, along the banks of the Mahanadi River. Every year, the construction of the carts begins two months prior to the day of the festival.
From what I could gather from the punda’s bullet train-like speed of throwing information at us, the Rathyatra is celebrated in the month of Asadha, on the second day of the lunar fortnight, somewhere in June-July. It is said to have started during the time of Svarochisha Manu, of the second manvantara, and is supposed to continue until the end of the second half of Lord Brahma’s lifetime, according to a certain calendar. This finds a mention in Valmiki’s Ramayana as well, wherein when Lord Rama was preparing to embark on his vanvaas, he had instructed Vibhishan, Ravana’s younger brother, to worship Lord Jagannatha, in His absence.
On the day of the festival, the wooden idols of Krishna, Balrama and Subhadra are taken out in three chariots. Since Sri Jagannath is considered to be one of the forms of Vishnu and Sri Krishna, many rituals practised in the temple are associated with events that have happened in the life of Sri Krishna. Thus, it is said that the RathYatra represents Sri Krishna’s Journey from Gokul to Mathura.
Millions of devotees struggle to even touch the ropes of the huge chariots, considering it to be sacred. And the ones who manage to pull the chariot, consider themselves to be very lucky and believe that they have secured a place in heaven. In the ancient times, devotees would throw themselves in front of the chariot of Sri Jagananath, to be crushed by it. They are believed to have landed straight in heaven in afterlife.
This trip to the eastern coastal state of Odisha opened my eyes to a completely new perspective. It made me realise the uniqueness of culture that India holds, the undaunting faith in a higher power, clinging to one’s roots and awakened me to appreciate the rich heritage we have inherited.
A summer vacation well spent!