Rath Yatra: Chief carpenter of Nandighosha waits to serve next year

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Puri: The Rath Yatra festival will come to a close in a couple of days as the chariots of Lord Balabhadra, Lord Jagannath and Goddess Subhadra are heading towards Srimandir after their nine day sojourn at Gundicha temple.  While devotees will wait to see the Lord come out of the abode next year, an unsung hero among devotees, Bijay Kumar Mohapatra, the chief carpenter who heads the carpenters’ team of the Nandighosha Rath of Lord Jagannath, awaits for the annual occasion to serve the deity during Rath Yatra next year.

“Constructing the chariot of the Lord is neither a responsibility nor a task but an opportunity to embrace the holy service and express my boundless love for Lord Jagannath,” Mohapatra says.

Most revered in his profession, Mohapatra is also an ace singer, trained in Hindustani and Odissi genres and performs every evening at the temple, except during the period of Rath construction.

Hailing from the Biswakarma sebayat family, Mohapatra was trained since childhood by his forefathers in the nuances of construction of chariots.

When he was given the charge of heading the team about a decade ago, Mohapatra recalls he used to be nervous. “I would wonder if my team could complete the work on time and if the chariot would be technically perfect. Though I was a part of the carpenters’ team earlier, I had initially taken it as a responsibility when I became chief. But over the years I have found out that the work goes on perfectly as it is destined to. Believe it or not, but the divine circle of energy is always present among us when we work day and night. We do not feel like it is a job. We just do it like we are on earth to do this, like we breathe, eat or sleep,” says the Nandighosha carpenter head.

Usually at the time of chariot pulling ceremony, he and his team along with chief carpenters of the other two raths, accompany the Lords to ensure they can provide instant help if there is a break down in the chariot.

Taking the carpenter’s voice into account, Mohapatra can be regarded as god gifted. He is an approved artiste of All India Radio, Cuttack.

Disclosing more about his life, Mohapatra said that he started singing and even performing since the age of seven. But it was only in his late teens that he got the chance to learn music. He loves performing Chhanda, Champu on ancient compositions in praise of lord Jagannath at the ‘Marjana mandap’ outside the sanctum in the temple that is something he has been doing since 1991.

“My favourite composers are Salabega, Banamali, Dinakrushna bhajans. I ensure that the language is pronounced purely. The Jagannath bhajan albums today are spoiling the meaning of words by mis-pronouncing them,” he laments.

Going with his passion, when he is not performing at the temple or constructing the chariots once a year, Mohapatra teaches music in a private school in the city and records radio serials.

Fascinatingly, Mohapatra said that he is glad to be blessed with two daughters even though that means there will be no successors from his family to construct the Nandighosha.

“My brothers’ children are learning the craft. I am glad that my two daughters are very good at academics and are sure to do well in life. They are the lord’s blessings for me,” he added.

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