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.
Tools & Technology
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 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.