I fondly remember my childhood days when I used to eagerly wait for the month of “ASHAR” , a month in the Bengali calendar starting from mid June to mid July. The heavy showers of monsoon accompanied with the sweet fragrance of mother earth would be enough for bringing a smile to the faces of young and the old. Further with the school remaining closed, playing in the muddy puddles of water is an experience worth remembering. However this month is also home to one of the biggest festivals celebrated in India, the Rath Yatra. Although, the beginning of the Rath Yatra for me meant enjoying the “mela” all through the seven days of the festival, it has left an everlasting impression on my life as I am about to enter into my adult phase.
Rath Yatra is a widely celebrated hindu festival worshipping Lord Jagannath held at Puri in the state of Orissa. The festival commemorates Lord Jagannath’s (an avatar of lord Krishna) annual visit to his aunt’s home. The idols of lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra are richly decorated and then placed on a huge chariot. The chariot is then taken to Gundichcha temple, situated about 2 kms from jagannath temple. The chariot is pulled through the streets by thousands of devotees who have come from all parts of the world. This is the only time when people from all religions are allowed to touch the chariot and get a glimpse of the deities. Millions of devotees and worshippers gather in the city of Puri during the time of the festival. The entire chariot pulling is telecasted live on Indian as well as international channels.
Although I have never been to Puri during the time of the festival, I have had the experience of Rath Yatra every year. Due to a large number of Oriya people residing in our locality, Rath Yatra would always bring a festive outlook in the faces and the minds of the people. The deities used to be brought from a nearby Jagannath temple on a chariot to the “maidan” where a mela of gigantic proportions was organized and which lasted for 7 days. Every evening people from all age groups would gather at the mela and enjoy the fun rides or the different delicacies served out. A circus was always organized which used to be the star attraction of the mela. The circus was home to the weirdest and the most bizarre magic ever made from the two headed baby to the snake couple. The joy rides would always be buzzing with young people desperate to enjoy the excitement and the thrill of the helicopter ride or the merry -go -round.
The Rath festival would culminate in the return journey of Lord Jagannath to its temple. All of us would accompany the chariot with a heavy heart that the festival of oneness, togetherness and merry making has finally come to an end. Kids used to cry at not being able to do all the fantasies which they had planned to do during the festival. Whatever it may be, we were rest assured that the mela would be back after a year. We were assured that Lord Jagannath would again come to bless all of us. It is a promise which has never been broken.
image courtesy: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rath_Yatra_Puri_2007_11028.jpg