The Raths of Puri are created specifically for the Rath Yatra festival. This festival is celebrated every year on the second (dwitiya) day of shukla pakhya (waxing cycle of moon) of Ashadha Maasa (3rd month in Lunar Calendar).
The presiding deities of the Jagannath Temple, Puri’s main temple, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, with the celestial wheel (Sudarshana Chakra) are removed from the temple in a ceremonial procession to their chariots (raths). The huge, colourfully decorated chariots are drawn by multitude of devotees on the bada danda, the grand avenue to the Gundicha Temple (Gundicha – King Indradyumna’s Queen), two miles away to the North. On the way, the chariot of Lord Jagannatha, ‘Nandighosa’ waits near the crematorium of Bhakta Salabega, a Muslim devout to pay him tribute. The chariot of Balabhadra is called, ‘Taladhwaja’ and the chariot of Subhadra is called, ‘Darpadalana.’ On their way back from the Gundicha Temple, the three deities stop for a while near the Mausi Maa Temple (Aunt’s abode) and have an offering of the Poda Pitha, which is a special type of pancake supposed to be the Lord’s favourite. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode. Every year, these raths are newly created and carried out in the Rath Yatra procession.
The raths of Puri and the Rath Yatra festival itself has a great significance in our history and culture. This festival is known to bring about devotees from all over the country. The three chariots of the deities are surrounded by a sea of people from all four sides, some ahead carrying forward the rath, some witnessing the event from their roofs and balconies and some following in the back. Despite being celebrated for so many years, not even once has the fervor or spirit of the people, who partake in the rath making and celebration activities of the festival, reduced or diminished. In fact, the passion and devotion towards lord Jagannath is as strong as the build of the chariot itself.
It is believed that the significance of these Raths can be understood through the concepts in the holy text of Katha Upanishad. According to this text, the chariot resembles the body of the deity and the icons/figurines of the deity placed inside the chariot resembles the soul of the deity.
Several songs and poems have also been dedicated to Lord Jagannath and his rath. For example, there is a famous Odia song which states that the chariot merges and becomes one with Lord Jagannath during the festival. As a result, simply touching the chariot or rope that pulls it is believed to bring prosperity and abundance. This can be witnessed during the festival as well. Several devotees from all over the world thong to the temple town of Puri during the Rath Yatra in order to pull the ropes of the chariots. This is considered to be an auspicious act. The huge processions accompanying the chariots play devotional songs with drums, sounding plates of bell metal, and cymbals.
What further contributes to the significance of this festival is the wide broadcasting that it receives. Several TV channels in India and abroad broadcast the Rath Yatra of Puri live. Several websites have also begun including the footage and pictures of the raths and the surrounding crown of people. The celebration of this festival is has become a common sight in major cities all across the globe since 1968 due to the Hare Krishna Movement. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada had successfully transplanted the festival which now happens on an annual basis in places all over the world in over 108 cities worldwide. The significance of this festival can also be understood by looking at the 8 million rupees that are spent on its preparations. Due to the widespread appeal and popularity of this festival, the huge chariots of Jagannath pulled during Rath Jatra forms the etymological origin of the English word ‘Juggernaut’ which means ‘an unstoppable force.’
These huge, colourful chariots are drawn by hundreds of devotees, and watched by millions, who believe that seeing the gods in procession expiates them of all sins. When gods travel, the scale is massive and majestic and hence the monumental chariots surrounded by thronging devotees in a magnanimous procession. Whatever may be the legend, even to this day, each year, new chariots are built and lavishly decorated and the procession brought out in its full grandeur.
Without detailed architectural drawings or calibrated automatic machines, the skill of hands can make something so enormous, yet so perfect, that it is used to house the sacred idol, dearest to millions of worshippers. The grand splendor of the chariot assures the devotees that their exalted lord is close to them, cleansing them of their sins.
The making of the Puri raths for the Jagannath Rath Yatra is the responsibility of a separate group of carpenters and artisans who have been undertaking this profession for generations. The main carpenters and artisan group responsible for making the chariots are known as Viswakarma Sevakas. The carpenters and artisans belong to the family of hereditary carpenters and they have been doing the job for centuries. The making of the chariot involves a large number of artisans and workers with a variety of special skills. Each group makes specific parts of the chariots. Each group of workers is known as nijoga. The main groups of carpenters and artisans are as follows-
Badhei Maharanas – The main construction of the chariot is done by this group of carpenters. This main group includes certain subcategories based on their specialized skills and roles. Gunakara – This group provides various measurements and standards for the Rath.
Pahi Maharanas – This group fixes the wheels of the chariots.
Kamara Kanta Nayakas (Ojha Maharanas) – This group is of the ironsmiths who prepare nails, pins, clamps, iron rings fixed inside axles used as the outer covering of the wooden wheels.
Chandakaras – This group carries components of major parts and helps in assembling and fixing them.
Rupakaras – This group carves images and shapes in wood for decorating the chariots.
Murtikaras – These are sculptors and they create various sculptures in the wood on the chariot. Ashta Manjari or eight female companions fitted on the parapet of each chariot is prepared by them.
Chitrakaras (Painters and artists) – This group makes lines, drawings, and paints the hariots.. They also paint the body parts of the sculptors and images.
Suchikaras (Daraji Sevakas) – This is a group of tailors who prepare covers, cloth mantles, small canopies, flags, and pennants. This group also beautifies the clothes with appliqué work and other designs.
Ratha Bhois – This group is led by the Bhoi Sardar and they consist of hardworking laborers who help the skilled artisans in their work. Apart from this, numerous other artisans are engaged in making the chariots.
Owing to the popularity and significance of Lord Jagannath and the Rath Yatra festival, there are a plethora of myths and legends surrounding this topic. The sheer amount of origin myths depict how loved and idolized lord Jagannath is in Hinduism. It is believed that Jagannath is an incarnation of Lord Krishna. The Jagannath Mandir in Jagannath Puri is one of the four most sacred mandirs in the four directions of the Indian sub – continent. The other three are: Rameshwar in South, Dwarka in West and Badrinath in the Himalayas. Probably the mandir in Jagannath Puri is the only mandir in the world housing murtis of three deities who are siblings – Lord Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra.
Pertaining to the Rath Yatra, the following origin stories are found-
1. Kamsa, the maternal uncle of Lord Krishna, invited Krishna and Balram to Mathura with the malicious intention of killing them. The evil Kamsa sent Akrur with a chariot to Gokul. Lord Krishna and Balram climbed onto the chariot with Akrur, taking leave of the Gopis to proceed to Mathura. This day of departure is celebrated by the devotees as Rath Yatra.
2. Jubilant devotees celebrated the day when Lord Krishna, having vanquished the evil Kamsa, gave them darshan in Mathura in a chariot with his brother, Balaram.
3. Devotees in Dwarika celebrated the day when Lord Krishna, accompanied by Balaram, took Subhadra for a ride on a chariot to show the city’s beauty.
4. Once in Dwarka, Lord Krishna’s eight queens requested mother Rohini to narrate the divine episodes of Lord Krishna with the Gopis while he was in Vraj. For a while Rohini dithered. Finally, after a lot of insistence she relented. However, considering it unbecoming of Subhadra to hear such episodes, she was sent her to guard the palace doorway..Soon, Lord Shri Krishna and Balaram arrived at the doorway. With arms wide apart, she stood between the two, preventing them from entering. However, from here they stood, Rohini’s katha soon engrossed them all. Just then sage Narad arrived. Seeing the siblings standing together like murtis, he humbly prayed, “May the three of you grant darshan in this manner forever.” The Lord granted the boon and thus, the three eternally reside in the Jagannath Mandir in Puri.
5. There is another interesting story of Lord Krishna becoming the Sarathi (driver of Arjuna’s chariot) during the eighteen-day battle of the Mahabharat.
6. When Shri Krishna was being cremated in Dwarika, Balaram, overcome with grief, dashed into the ocean with Shri Krishna’s partially cremated body. Subhadra too behind. At the same time, on the eastern shore of India, King Indradyumna of Jagannath Puri had a dream that the Lord’s body would float up to the shores of Puri. In his dream, the king was told that he should build a huge mandir in the city and consecrate the wooden murtis of Shri Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra. The bones (asthi) of Lord Krishna’s body should be placed in the hollow in the back of the murti.
The dream then proved to be true. He found the splinters of bone (asthi) and took them. But the question was who would carve the murtis. It is said that the architect of the gods – Vishwakarma – arrived as an old carpenter. He stipulated that while carving the murtis nobody should disturb him and if anybody did, he would stop work and leave. A few months passed, driven with impatience, Indradyumna opened the door of Vishwakarma’s room, who vanished instantly as he had stipulated. Despite the incomplete murtis, the king consecrated them, placing the holy cinders of Lord Krishna in the hollow of the murti and installed them in the mandir. Every year a grand procession is carried out with the murtis of Lord Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra in three gigantic floats. The floats are pulled by devotees from Janakpur to the mandir in Jagannath Puri. The murtis are changed every twelve years, the new ones being incomplete too.
7. There is a myth regarding Snanayatra of the three deities. It is believed that after the deities are washed and bathed, they fall sick and catch a cold. During this period, they are treated with ayurvedic medicines so that their health is restored. The common notion surrounding this is that devotees of Krishna treat him like a fellow human being and loved one. Therefore, there are various other rituals as well wherein Lord Krishna is placed on a ‘jhula’ and swung back and forth just like we swing our children. The Snana Yatra is one ritual where Jagannath (form of Krishna) is treated with medicines after he falls sick just like human beings are.
Several mentions of Raths have also been found in Hindu scriptures-
Katha Upanishad (1/3/3-4) – the Body Rath Yama, the Lord of Hell reveals to young Natchiketa the Rath with which one can attain
Brahma-vidya – knowledge of Brahman.
“Atmanam rathinam viddhi shareeram rathameva tu,
Buddhim tu sarathim viddhi manaha pragrahameva tu.
Indriyani hayanyahur vishayansteshu gocharan,”
Ramayana – The Samsara Rath
Lord Ramachandra describes his chariot to Vibhishan, with which he is always victorious.
Courage and tenacity are its wheels,
Immutable truth and character are its flags,
Strength, discrimination, self-control and charity are its horses,
Forgiveness, mercy and equanimity are the reins, and
Devotion to the Lord is its Sarathi.
With such a chariot one can surely traverse Samsara.
Mahabharat- The Life Rath
Shri Krishna says in the Gita (18/78) that, where there is Krishna and Arjuna, there’s wealth, victory, power and immutable morality. This was borne out during the battle when the mighty warrior Bhishma vowed to kill Arjuna on the tenth day. Lord Krishna anxiously searched for Arjuna and found him asleep. Bewildered, Lord Krishna asked him how he could sleep with such a pledge looming over his life. To his astonishment Arjuna answered, “Because you are awake!”
The ultimate essence of the myths and stories surrounding the raths is that the ‘Jiva’ should
unwarrantedly surrender to the supreme Sarathi, that is God or the God-realised Sadhu, if he/she wishes to successfully traverse the yatra of life, ‘Samsara.’
The word ‘Ratha yatra’ is derived from two Sanskrit words namely- ‘Ratha’ meaning chariot or carriage, and ‘j?tr?’ meaning journey or pilgrimage. Other names for the festival are ratha jatra or chariot festival.
The observance of the Rath Yatra of Jagannath dates back to the period of the Puranas. Vivid descriptions of this festival are found in Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, and Skanda Purana. Kapila Samhita also refers to Rath Yatra. In Mughal period also, King Ramsingh of Jaipur, Rajasthan has been described as organizing the Rath Jatra in the 18th Century. In Odisha, Kings of Mayurbhanj and Parlakhemundi organized the Rath Jatra which was the grandest festival in terms of scale and popularity that took place at Puri.
Moreover, Starza notes that the ruling Ganga dynasty instituted the Rath Jatra at the completion of the great temple around 1150 AD. This festival was one of those Hindu festivals that was reported to the Western world very early. Friar Odoric of Pordenone visited India in 1316–1318, some 20 years after Marco Polo had dictated the account of his travels while in a Genoese prison. In his own account of 1321, Odoric reported how the people put
the “idols” on chariots, and the king, queen and people drew them from the ‘church’ with song and music. In its essence, the festival commemorates Jagannath’s annual visit to Gundicha Temple via Mausi Maa Temple (maternal aunt’s home) near Saradha Bali, Puri.
As part of Ratha Yatra, the deities Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and younger sister Devi Subhadra, along with Sudarshan, are taken out in a procession out of the main shrine of Jagannath Temple and placed in the Ratha (Chariot) which are ready in front of the Temple. This process is called as ‘Pahandi’. The procession starts with ‘Madan Mohan’ then ‘Sudarshana’ Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Jagannath Deva. After that, Gajapati Maharaja, the king of Puri, who is also known as the first servitor of the Lords, does ‘Chhera Pahanra’ (the holy cleaning of the chariots). Finally, the devotees pull the chariots up to the Gundicha Temple, which is also known as the birthplace of the Lord.
There are three chariots made for Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subadhra each. Each of these three chariots have distinct designs, colours and qualities.
Lord Jagannath’s: chariot is called as Nandighosha. This chariot is one of the tallest and grandest. It has a a height of 44′ 2″ and length and breadth of 34’6″ x 34’6″. There are 16 wheels attached to this Rath and it utilizes 832 wooden pieces. Bright red and yellow canopies are attached to the chariot featuring the famous applique work of Pipli. Garuda is the guardian of the chariot and Daruka is the charioteer. There are 4 white horses attached to the Rath, these are- Shankha, Balahaka, Suweta and Haridashwa.
Lord Balabhadra’s: chariot is known as, ‘Taladhwaja.’ This chariot has a height of 43′ 3″ and length and breadth of 33′ x 33′. It has a total of 14 wheels and 763 wooden pieces used in its creation. Red and blueish-green canopies are attached to the chariot featuring the famous applique work of Pipli. Vasudev is the guardian and Matali is the charioteer. A palm tree is also placed onto the chariot. There are 4 black horses attached to the rath, these are- Tribra, Ghora, Dirghasharma and Swornanava.
Goddess Subhadra’s: chariot is known as, ‘Darpadalana.’ This chariot has a height of 42′ 3″ and length and breadth of 31’6″ x 31’6″. It has a total of 12 wheels and 593 wooden pieces are used in its construction. Red and black canopies are attached to the chariot featuring the famous applique work of Pipli. There are 4 red horses attached to the rath, these are – Rochika, Mochika, Jita and Aparajita.
Every Rath has 2 gatekeepers, one accompanying deity and 9 parshvadevata or subsidiary deities. What leaves the devotees awestruck and mesmerised at first glance is the decoration of the Rath. Every single part of the Rath is splashed with strokes of colour and patterns. The cloths with the applique work feature various patterns and motifs. These motifs feature floral patterns, greenery and other mythical designs like Rahu and Chandra. The wood is carved with designs inspired by Odisha temple architecture. The frames and wheels of the chariots are also colourfully painted with traditional designs. Moreover, several flower garlands are also placed at the front of the Raths. The two brothers,Balabhadra and Jagannatha are decorated with large, elaborate floral decorations called ‘tahia’. These are like huge crowns or tiaras fixed at the back of their heads. These are made of various white, orange and lotus flowers, leaves and pieces of cork that are then fixed to a semi-circular heart shaped bamboo frame. Chumki flowers are also added to the chariots in order to enhance their beauty and magnificence.
Each chariot also has a crest banner and is tied with 4 ropes made of coconut fibres at the front part of the chariot.The intricacies in the designs of all three chariots showcase how socially and culturally significant these Raths are. It also displays the diligence of the craftsmen and their attention to the smallest of details. Every single portion of these Raths is designed and created with utmost love, devotion and precision.
Despite being widely acclaimed and supported through the government initiatives, there are still a few challenges that are faced during the production of the Raths of Puri.The main challenge is the availability of raw materials. Since wood is the basic raw materialthat is used for constructing the chariots, every year approximately 1000 trees are cut from 12 different species to derive the wood for the chariots. Though several programs have been launched for the replenishment of these trees, it is believed that the supplies are still falling short. Moreover, specific varieties of trees take about 20 years to replenish. This creates a huge problem for the craftsmen of the chariots and the Jagannath temple authorities. It is believed that wood will not be a major problem since it can be derived from 14 other forest areas, however the increasing urbanization, mining and deforestation raises several questions about the depleting forest cover.
The multi-coloured raths of Puri are newly constructed every single year. It is quite surprising note that these raths, despite having an enormous extent of grandeur and magnanimity require only a few basic raw materials.
Wood: Wood is the fundamental raw material that is used in the construction process. All three chariots are made out of approximately 12 different species of wood. The Jagannathan temple authorities (who are in charge of this construction) require about 1100 big logs and 865 logs of 8 feet each of three species- Phasi, Bhaurna, and Asana. Other wood varieties like Dhausa and Sal wood are also used. These wooden logs are brought from the forests of Daspalla and Ranapur and then supplied by the Odisha government entirely free of cost to the area outside the Jagannath temple on the occasion of Vasant Panchami or Saraswathi Puja in January/February. These logs are then converted into 4000 pieces with distinct shapes and sizes to construct and assemble different parts of the raths. The cutting of the logs to get the required shapes begins on the occasion of Ram Navami in March/April.
Fabric: 1090 meters of cloth is required for the purpose of covering the chariots. Every year, new cloths of vibrant and radiant colours are used to adorn the chariots. These cloths feature the traditional applique work of Pipli in Odisha and contain varying motifs and patterns. These motifs are mainly inspired from greenery, flowers and mythical designs like Chandra and Rahu. The chariot of Jagannath is covered in applique work of bright red and yellow, that of Balabhadra is in bright green and red, and that of Subhadra is in bright red and black.
Ropes: Ropes made out of coconut fibers are also used in the raths of these deities. These ropes are attached to the front of the chariots and held by the devotees in the festival to pull the chariots ahead. The ropes are provided by Kerala Coir Corporation.
Bamboo: Bamboo is required for the creation of a semi-circular heart shaped frame that acts as a acrown or tiara for the deities. This bamboo is decorated with large and elaborate floral decorations known as ‘Tahia.’ These are made out of a variety of white, orange and lotus flowers and pieces of cork. Only Lord Jagannath and Balabhadra are decorated with these crowns. Bur or Kadam flowers made of thermocol are also used for decoration of the raths. Chumki is added onto these flowers to make them more attractive. These flowers are created and supplied by the Bhoi family of Khurda and have been approved by the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA). This family has been decorating the raths since 2004. Several flower garlands are also used to decorate the front portion of the chariots.
Colors: Different shades of paint is also used for the painting of the raths. This mainly includes bright red, yellow, green and black. Other colours such as white, pink and blue are used for painting of flowers, deities, body parts of the sculptors and images.
The blacksmiths also prepare iron nails, clamps, brackets and other miscellaneous items that are used in the making of the raths.
A remarkable feature of the Rath Yatra festival is that after the festival is over, the chariots are dismantled and wood from the chariots is then used in the kitchen of the Jagannath Temple. This kitchen is considered to be one of the largest in the world. This wood from the chariots is used as firewood for cooking. 56 different types of Mahaprasad are prepared in earthen pots of fire and offered to Lord Jagannath. This is used to feed approximately 30,000
devotees daily. Moreover, since each year nearly 1000 trees are felled for the making of the chariots, an equal number of trees are also planted each year under the Sri Jagannath Bana Sankalpa Program to ensure the environmental revival and protection from the large scale felling and deforestation.
The craftsmen who create the Raths of Puri utilize several indigenous tools in the process. Some of these are-
Mugdara- This is a traditional tool. It is a type of a wooden mallet or a wooden hammer with a single base. This is used by carpenters.
Koramunda– This is another type of small hammer that is used.
Chisels- These are used by the carpenters for chiselling of the wood.
Indigenous drills– These are used for making holes.
Puarna- This is a rounder.
Barishi- This is a special type of axe.
Hata Kathi- This is a flat piece of wood.
Kala Suta- This is an indigenous scale used for measuring and marking. It consists ofa roll of strings of black thread that are tied onto a stick.
Takera Bata- This is used for making axels. It is a fixed length flat scale.
Paint brushes- Different sizes of paint brushes are used for drawing lines and imageryon the chariots by the painters for decoration purposes.
Sewing equipment- The applique work done by the tailors requires sewing equipment.
Each and every single bit of the chariot is cut and put together by the sheer power of basic tools and perseverant hands, with basic yet strong wood joinery techniques.
The reason why the Rath Yatra is one of the biggest and most celebrated festivals in India is due to the sheer magnanimity of the event and the plethora of rituals that surround this entire festival. Not only does the Rath Yatra have plenty rituals but the process of making the Raths itself is associated with several rituals. This adds to the cultural and social value of the festival making it popular amongst the masses. These rituals call for great excitement and festival fervour amongst a large number of devotees who come from all over India to witness this event.
There are several rituals that are associated with the wood that is brought in for making the Raths. On the occasion of Vasant Panchami or Saraswathi Puja in January/February, the wooden logs are first brought in to the area outside the Jagannath Temple. Then on the occasion of Ram Navami in March/April, this wood is cut into different sizes and shapes for assembling different parts of the chariot.The logs are brought into the Temple at Puri and kept at the Nirman Gruha (“the house of creation”), hidden from public view for one month. Only the senior priests are allowed to partake in sculpting the new body of the Lord. It is the prerogative of the eldest priest to perform the Ghata Paribartan (“the transfer of the Bramha”). The former idol and parts of the rath from the previous year are buried after a suddikriya (a purifying ritual) is performed.These rituals mark the beginning of the construction of the chariots.
The process of making the chariots commences on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya. This is considered to be an auspicious day for beginning a new project and the craftsmen are considered to be blessed. The chariot making begins on the Grand Road of the Jagannath Temple in Puri on the 3 rd day of the Baisakh month.
There are 6 events which are considered as the key activities of this annual spectacular event.
1. On the occasion of ‘Snana Yatra‘ the deities are made to take bath. It is believed that the deties then fall sick for almost 2 weeks and are thus, treated with ayurvedic medicines and a set of traditional practices. This period is called Anavasara. The Netroutsav is performed by painting the eyes onto the freshly bathed bodies of the Lords. The next day marks the beginning of the Rath Yatra.
2. On ‘Sri Gundicha‘, the deities are taken in the onward car festival from the main shrine to the Gundicha Temple.
3. On the Bahuda Yatra, the return car festival, the Lords are brought back to the main Temple.
4. Suna Besha (Golden Attire) is the event when the Deities wear golden ornaments and give darshan from the chariots, to the devotees.
5. ‘Adhara Pana’ is an important event during Ratha Yatra. On this day, a sweet drink is offered to the invisible spirits and souls, who would have visited the celestial event of the Lords, as believed by the Hindu tradition.
6. Finally, the deities are taken back inside the main shrine i.e. the Jagannath Temple and installed on the Ratna Simhasan, on the last day of the Ratha Yatra activity which is called as ‘Niladri Bije’. The most significant ritual associated with the Rath Yatra is the ‘chhera pahara.’ During the festival, the Gajapati King wears the outfit of a sweeper and sweeps all around the deities and chariots in the Chera Pahara (sweeping with water) ritual. The Gajapati King cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder with utmost devotion. As per the custom, although the Gajapati King has been considered the most exalted person in the Kalingan kingdom, he still renders the menial service to Jagannath. This ritual signified that under the lordship of Jagannath, there is no distinction between the powerful sovereign Gajapati King and the most humble devotee. Chera pahara is held on two days, on the first day of the Ratha Jatra, when the deities are taken to garden house at Mausi Maa Temple and again on the last day of the festival, when the deities are ceremoniously brought back to the Shri Mandir. On the way back, the three chariots halt at the Mausi Maa Temple and the deities are offered Poda Pitha, a kind of baked cake which are generally consumed by the people of Odisha.
The Bhois of Khura who are known to supply the flowers for the decoration of the Rath also follow specific rituals. This family collects natural material from water bodies in Astarang, Kanas, Banki, Nimapara and Kakatpur during winter for the purpose. The family members also follow all the rules of Sirmandir and stick to a special diet to maintain sanctity till the completion of the task. On the day of ‘Netra Utsav’, the brothers leave the flowers at SJTA office.
The process of making the raths in Puri is an extensive and elaborate process. This process unfolds in various stages wherein each day coincides with an auspicious festival in the Hindu calendar. The occasion of Akshaya Tritiya marks the beginning of this process. These raths are successfully created through the culminated efforts and dedication of several craftsmen such as carpenters, blacksmiths, helpers, painters and tailors who work on a strict 58 day schedule. These craftsmen toil and work tirelessly to create the three most majestic and breathtaking chariots for Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and his sister Subhadra. Each of these 3 chariots have 34 parts and, distinct features and colours which are emblematic of the deities’ identities.
The skills of the traditional craftsmen who build the three chariots are incomparable. They work in unison and present three faultless chariots that are pulled for more than two miles by thousands of people and which is witnessed by nearly a million people. The process for making these 3 chariots begins and ends on the same day. The process commences on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, a particularly auspicious day. It is believed that any activity started on this day will be fruitful. This day also marks the beginning of the 42- day Chandan Yatra, that is, a sandalwood festival at the Jagannath Temple.
Prior to the commencement of construction, the temple priests gather to perform a holy fire ritual. The priests, dressed in bright attire, sing and carry garlands that are delivered to the chief carpenters.
The first part of making the raths starts with the wheels which resemble the large, round eyes of Lord Jagannath. A total of 42 wheels are required for the three chariots. The wheels are affixed to the principal axles on the last day of Chandan Yatra. Devotees come in droves to pay homage. 16 wheels are used for Lord Jagannath’s chariot (Nandighosha), 14 wheels are used for Lord Balabhadra’s chariot (Taladhwaja) and 12 wheels are used for goddess Subadhra’s chariot (Darpadalana). Each of these chariots require 832, 763 and 593 wooden pieces respectively.
After the wheels are constructed, the craftsmen then move onto the main platform and finally finishes with the top structure. Lord Jagannath’s chariot is the biggest with a height of 44′ 2″ and length and breadth of 34’6″ x 34’6″. This is followed by Lord Balabhadra’s chariot with a height of 43′ 3″ and length and breadth of 33′ x 33′. Last comes the chariot of Devi Subhadra with a height of 42′ 3″ and length and breadth of 31’6″ x 31’6″. Each rath has a total of 34 parts, these are- Chaka or wheels, Dandia, Ara, Banki, Hansa Pata, Kani, Sankha Dwara, Jali, Gaipata, Singhasana, Kanak Mundai, Bhumi, Sola Nahaka, Makara Danda, Basanta, Duar Ghoda, Sarathi Pida, Khumba Pati, Rahu Pati, Athanahaka, Banki, Pida, Rusi Pata, Danda, Para Bhadi, Khapuri, Pada, Olata Sua, Dadhi Nauti, Kalasa,
Kasthi, Danda, Chakra, and Copi Ketanga (flag).
The craftsmen who are engaged in the process of making the raths take the process very seriously and religiously. These craftsmen adorn specific clothes such as dhotis and ghamchas during the construction of the raths. Before the process of the rath construction begins, these craftsmen are employed in other activities to sustain their livelihoods.
The style of the construction is extremely simple. The wooden planks are interlocked or joined together in a lego-like style. The base is the first to get prepared, after which other parts of the rath are designed and crafted. The wheels of the Rath are often covered with metal plates so that they do not break easily and can endure long journeys.
Remarkably, for such a massive piece of construction, no sketches are made and no rulers or scales are used. It is all in the master craftsman’s mind, which is brought to reality by his years of experience and skills, when he uses arms and feet to mark dimensions on the wood, which are amazingly given shape by the army of craftsmen. The measurements of the chariots as per ancient texts are in cubit. It is based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. It is equal to around one and half feet. Another measurement used jaba – the width of the mid-segment of the middle finger. Kala Suta and Takera Bata are some indigenous scales made by the artisans for measuring and marking. Great care and attention is given to the decoration of the chariots, highlighting the superb craftsmanship of the artisans of Odisha.
The wood is carved with designs inspired by Odisha temple architecture. the frames and wheels of the chariots are also colourfully painted with traditional designs. The canopies of the chariots are covered in approximately 1,250 meters of intricately embroidered green, black, yellow, and red cloth. This dressing of the chariots is carried out by a team of tailors who make cushions for the gods to rest on as well. This cloth displays the famous applique work of Odisha. Flower garlands are used to adorn the front parts of the raths and several flowers made by the Bhois of Khurda are used to decorate the raths.
Each chariot also has a crest banner and is tied with 4 ropes made of coconut fibres at the front part of the chariot.On the day before the festival starts, in the afternoon, the chariots are dragged to the Lions Gate entrance of the Jagannath Temple. The next morning, on the first day of the festival
(known as Sri Gundicha), the deities are taken out of the temple and installed in the chariots. This process employs about 150 carpenters, 20 sculptors and several other craftsmen such as painters, tailors, blacksmiths and helpers. This process is so elaborative and extensive that a whopping 8 million rupees is spent on the preparations.
List of craftsmen.