Like last year, this year too devotees were kept out of the car festival in Puri. We saw a replay of the Covid-19 restrictions with the authorities clamping down curfew in the holy town a day in advance. The wheels of the Raths, arguably the biggest of the rituals of the Lord, are all set to roll down on the Grand Road. However, the quintessential objective of the yatra– allowing devotees to have a direct glimpse of the Trinity, would be watered down for the second year running courtesy the pandemic.
THE BACKROOM BOYS
Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath and His siblings Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra is the most important ritual of Srimandir in Puri. The deities ride three majestic wooden chariots to reach Srigundicha temple on a nine-day sojourn on the occasion of Rath Yatra. As per the tradition, the temple administration constructs new chariots for the annual mega festival every year. These wooden structures are admired by all and sundry for their huge size and grandeur. There are certain categories of servitors of the 12th century shrine who diligently work for over a month to build the three wooden chariots.
As per service no 90 of the shrine RoR, Tamara Bisoyi servitors help in the making of Bahuta and Senapata for Pahandi procession of the deities during Rath Yatra and Bahuda Yatra (Return Car Festival).
Badhei Maharana (carpenter) servitors find a mention in the service no 105 of the Srimandir Record of Rights (RoR). The primary task of this category servitors is to shape the wooden logs into various sizes and build the three chariots—Nandighosa, Taladhwaja and Darpadalan—by using the simple and traditional tools at the Rath Yard in the Holy Town. Three senior Badhei Maharana servitors are designated as the chief carpenters for the construction of the chariots. They supervise the entire process and ensure that the chariots are ready on time.
Traditionally, Karatia servitors saw logs into hubsand other parts of the chariots. They help the carpenters to slash the wooden logs into various shapes. Service no 91 of the temple RoR describes the duties and responsibilities of the Karatia servitors.
Badhei Maharana (carpenter) servitors find a mention in the service no 105 of the Srimandir Record of Rights (RoR). The primary task of this category servitors is to shape the wooden logs into various sizes and build the three chariots—Nandighosa, Taladhwaja and Darpadalan—by using the simple and traditional
tools at the Rath Yard in the Holy Town. Three senior Badhei Maharana servitors are designated as the chief carpenters for the construction of the chariots. They supervise the entire process and ensure that the
chariots are ready on time.
The service no 101 of the Srimandir RoR describes the responsibilities of Ojha Maharana (blacksmith)
servitors. They mould iron into nails, clamps and rings of various sizes for construction of the chariots. Ojha Maharana servitors usually work at a special foundry near the Dolabedi for providing the hardware materials for the chariot work. They also help the carpenters to fix the nails, clamps and rings into the wheels, axles and other structures of the chariots.
The duties and responsibilities of Roopakar servitors are mentioned in service no 88 of the temple RoR. Roopakar servitors engrave figures on various parts of the chariots. They shape wooden idols of the subsidiary deities and figures of charioteers, horses and birds for the chariots during the Nabakalebara ritual of the presiding deities. They repair the wooden idols and figurines ahead of the Rath Yatra.
Rath Bhoi servitors are the main laobur force in the chariot construction. They assist the carpenters. Service no. 97 of the Srimandir RoR describes the duties of this category of servitors. Rath Bhoi servitors put up a shed at Rath Yard for chariot work and help in the transportation of logs from one place to another. They also actively participate in chariot pulling during Rath Yatra.
Chitrakara servitors usually paint the wheels, pillars and other chariot parts with their deft hands. They also draw images on the chariots and paint the idols of subsidiary deities and other figurines ahead of the mega festival. Details regarding the Chitrakara servitors find a mention in the service no 87 of the shrine’s Record of Rights.
The duties of Darji (tailor) servitors are described in service no 95 of the temple RoR. Darji servitors stitch colourful canopies for the chariots. These canopies, enriched with appliqué work, add to the beauty of the chariots.
KAPILENDRA DEV STARTED SUNA BESHA
The Raja Besha or the Rajarajeswara Besha ritual of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and
Devi Subhadra is held on the occasions of Kartik Purnima, Kumar Purnima, Dola Purnima, Vijaya Dashami when the deities are adorned with gold ornaments. However, words will fall short to describe the vibes and the
ambiance in which the Suna Besha is performed on the three chariots standing near Singhadwar (Lions’
Gate) on ‘Ashadha Sukla Ekadashi’ (11th full moon day of the Hindu months of Ashadha). The spectacular view of lakhs of devotees congregating near the Singhadwar to witness the alluring beauty of the deities adorned with gold and diamond ornaments is really matchless. Odisha has the very tradition that the rulers act as
the prime servitors (adya sevaks) to Lord Jagannath and this is evident from the annals of history. Inscriptions
reveal that the kings of this state admired Lord Jagannath as the state’s ‘Supreme Deity’ and they themselves acted as ‘Routas’ or His orderlies. Researcher on Jagannath Culture Bhaskar Mishra, in his book ‘Srijagannatha Gyanakosha’, says, “Anangabhima Dev-III (1211-1238) was the first ruler to declare Lord Jagannath as the real king of Odisha and him (the king) as a mere servitor. Later, his son Langula Narasingha Dev (1238-1266) declared himself as the son of Purushottama.”
The book mentions that Bhanu Dev-III (1308-1328) accepted Lord Jagannath as the ‘Rajadhiraja’. Similarly, Suryavanshi King Kapilendra Dev (1435-1466) admired Lord Jagannath as the ‘State Deity’ and himself as His servitor. Moreover, Anangabhima Dev and Purushottama Dev withheld their coronation ceremonies for two years as they admired Lord Jagannath as the king of the state.
According to researcher Pankaj Sahu, “It is believed that Anangabhima Dev performed the Suna Besha ritual of the deities on the auspicious occasion of Ashadha Shukla Ekadashi.” Some other scholars are of the opinion that Suna Besha on chariots is otherwise known as ‘Bada Tadhau Besha’.
Inscriptions at the Jaya-Vijaya Gate of Srimandir reveal that King Kapilendra Dev, after winning the entire south India in 1460 AD, returned to the state with 16 elephant loads of gold and other precious metals, which he offered to Lord Jagannath. Kapilendra Dev consulted the Tadhau Karana servitor, in-charge of the ornaments of the deities, and the royal priest (Rajguru) regarding a plan to adorn the Trinity with the ornaments obtained from the victory over the south. Observing the eagerness of the king to decorate the deities with ornaments, Bada Tadhau informed Kapilendra Dev that it was not possible on the part of the devotees of the Lord to have glimpses of all the beshas performed on ‘Ratna Singhasan’ throughout the year. Therefore, the servitor made a request before the king to decorate the Trinity with precious ornaments on the auspicious occasion of ‘Bada Ekadashi’ when the chariots reach the Singhadwar after returning from Srigundicha temple which is of course the valedictory phase of Rath Yatra.
With due regard for Bada Tadhau’s request, Kapilendra Dev, who agreed to the proposal, named a gold garland after the former and devoted it to the Lord. It is learnt that the king prepared 138 ornaments including hands,
legs, pendants, armlets, earrings, crowns, rings, bracelets, waist chains, necklaces and other ornaments to adorn the Trinity atop the chariots for the first time. Since then, the Lord’s Suna Besha is being performed on the chariots with much fanfare. This golden adornment of the deities is also traditionally known as ‘Bada Tadhau Besha’, which is a befitting tribute to Bada Tadhau who proposed the idea of Suna Besha on the chariots. This Besha is observed after completion of Madhyanha Dhupa ritual on Ashadha Sukla Ekadashi (the 11th full moon day) as per the Hindu calendar every year.
There are specified servitor groups like Palia, Mekap and Khuntia who bring the ornaments from Ratna
Bhandar to the chariots in the presence of the District Magistrate and temple administration officials. The
servitors are also guarded by the police. Finally, the deities on the chariots are adorned with the ornaments by servitors like Pushpalaka, Daitapati, Khuntia Mekap, Talucchha and Bhitaracchha.
PHOTO COURTESY: YAGNESWAR MOHANTY