Tribals are an important part of Rath Yatra in districts like Kalahandi, Keonjhar and Koraput while, different traditions mark the festivities at Balasore and Sambalpur
RATH Yatra has many shades in Odisha. Although the celebration at Puri is famous worldwide, the nine-day festival elsewhere in the State is an equally grand affair. Celebrations at Keonjhar, Nilagiri and Balasore are the highlights in North Odisha. In fact, the State’s tallest chariot rolls out in Keonjhar. Rath Yatra here is celebrated at the Baldevjew temple and the single chariot stands at 72 feet, taller than the Nandighosh of Lord Jagannath at Puri which stands at 45.6 feet. Celebrations here have a tribal touch as members of the Bhuyan tribe contribute three large ropes made of Siali fibre that is available aplenty in local forests, for pulling of the chariot.
Its a three-day affair at Nilagiri in Balasore district and Baripada in Mayurbhanj district. Devotees pull chariots on the next day of Rath Yatra and it continues for two consecutive days as the chariots reach Mausi Maa temple the third day. The deities are taken out of the temples after traditional rituals at both the places and placed on the chariots on the first day. Similar are the rituals for Bahuda Yatra. In Nilagiri, three chariots of different sizes are constructed every year and the tallest one is pulled by men. The smallest chariot is for the children while the medium one is pulled by women. All the three chariots have three idols each. Nilagiri King Jayanta Chandra Harichandan Mardaraj says Rath Yatra is celebrated as per the rituals in Puri except for the ‘Chhera Pahanra’, which is not done on the chariot unlike that in Puri. “Dhadi Pahandi is performed here from the Jagannath temple to the chariot in which, the deities are placed on pillows and brought to the chariot. Chhera Pahanra is done on the route to the chariot and not on it,” he adds.
At Ananta Gopal temple at Chhatia in Jajpur district, regarded as the second abode of Lord Jagannath after Puri, the chariot covers the longest distance of 11 kms from Chhatia to Badaghumuri in the district to reach Mausi Maa temple. The chariot rolls for eight kms on National Highway-5. Tulasikhetra in coastal Kendrapara has the second tallest chariot in the State. At the temple of Lord Baladevjew, idols of Lord Jagannath and his Siblings are placed on the 63-ft-long ‘Brahmataladhwaja’ chariot to the Mausi Maa temple. It is said that while Puri is the abode of younger brother Jagannath, Kendrapara is the abode of elder brother Balabhadra which is also why the height of ‘Brahmataladhwaja’ is higher than the three chariots of Puri.
Jagannath temples in Southern Odisha have interesting traditions as well. Marada in Ganjam district is, apparently, the only place in the State where no Rath Yatra takes place. The Jagannath temple here is over 300 years old and was once, the place where the Trinity’s idols from Puri were kept hidden from a Muslim invader, Mohammad Taqui Khan. When things settled down, the deities returned to Puri. Since there were no idols in the temple, no Rath Yatra is organised here.
At Jeypore town, the celebrations start a day after that in Puri. Till 1942, one chariot housing the three deities was pulled by elephants in Jeypore Kingdom. Later on, tribals of undivided Koraput participated and the celebration was held under the leadership of Jeypore King in a grand manner. Here, two chariots are constructed – a smaller one housing only the idol of Lord Jagannath and a bigger one that houses all the three idols. While the bigger chariot is pulled by men, the smaller one is pulled by women devotees. Sources say in the late 40s, there was a delay in receipt of ‘Agyan Mala’ from Puri Gajapati on the day of Rath Yatra and the Jeypore King had to perform ‘Chhera Pahanra’ a day later. Since then, Jeypore celebrates Rath Yatra a day after all the three chariots are pulled in Puri. Similarly in neighbouring Koraput, known as Sabara Srikhetra, tribals have an important role to play in the celebrations, beginning from the ‘Chhera Pahanra’, to offering of ‘bhog’ and pulling of chariots. Here, a tribal villager is crowned king for the day and he sweeps the lone chariot of Lord Jagannath, who is worshipped as ‘Daru Brahma’. Legend has it that a ‘Saura’ tribal chief Biswabasu, who served Lord Jagannath, worshipped Him in a wooden form.
In Western Odisha, Sambalpur district alone is home 220 Jagannath temples including 27 in Sambalpur city. Of these 27, Rath Yatra is celebrated in 25 temples where all the three deities are seated in one chariot. The chariots are pulled only after those in Puri roll out and hence, the journey begins usually in the late afternoon and continues till night unlike in Puri where the chariots are not pulled after sunset. Rath Yatra is also an important occasion for newborns. Parents take the babies to the chariot where they are made to touch the Trinity. The tradition is locally known as ‘Rath Chhuan’ and it is believed that by observing this ritual, the body of the baby gets purified. In Kalahandi district, hundreds of tribals celebrate the Rath Yatra at Subhadra Pitha in Jugasai Patna, 20 kms from Bhawanipatna. Another interesting celebration is witnessed in Gotamunda village under Dharamagarh block that is located 70 kms away from Bhawanipatna. Locals say it is believed that Lord Jagannath is unwilling to return to His temple from Mausi Maa temple on the day of Bahuda. This is when, tribal deities in the form of symbolic lathis are brought to the Mausi Maa temple from 20 nearby villages to persuade the Lord to return to His temple. Then, amid beating of folk musical instruments, the symbolic lathis are also taken to the Jagannath temple along with the Trinity and they return after the three deities are placed in the sanctum sanctorum.