As the fervour of Rath Yatra festivities gathers pace in Puri, the world-famous abode of Lord Jagannath, the most important aspect that sets the tone of the mass festival is the carving of the alluring chariots.
One each for the three prime deities comprising the Holy Trinity, the chariots are indeed pieces of engineering marvel. History and centuries of religiously followed tradition have helped maintain the sanctity in the design of these divine wood cars. It is surprising how even now the chariots take shape with extraordinary precision by means of just simple hand tools despite the availability of modern tech and other know-how,
But what makes these juggernauts so special, is the matchless experience of their architects who make painstaking efforts in infusing life into them. It appears extraordinary how many of them who have seen over seven to eight decades of life continue to take forward the Jagannath culture with such grace and power akin to youths.
Bhagirathi Maharana who is now 77 is a perfect example of this special connection between the Lord and the Servant. In the dusk of his life, Bhagirathi claims that he has seen four Nabakalebara (rebirth rituals of Lord Jagannath) in his half-a-century experience in carving chariots for the Holy Trinity.
Unwavering passion and dedication to serve the Supreme Lord instills confidence with which he still flawlessly takes charge of construction of crucial parts of the chariots like Potala, Parabhadi, Kainchi and Sualaga.
So is Bhobani Maharana. At 77, he has engraved magic with his hammer and chisel in as many as 50 Rath Yatras so far but fatigue has never overpowered him.
The chariot construction is, even more, a daunting task without the keen advice of Narasingha Mohapatra. The septuagenarian sevayat who still oversees the entire construction of Taladhwaja, the chariot of Lord Balabhadra is the chief Maharana is but now gradually lighting the way for the new generation of the architects.
It is most important to note here that the construction of chariots for Rath Yatra has been a hereditary service and so a few families of sevayats still continue to take the tradition forward with a sense of commitment be it the Maharanas, Bhoi, Kamara and Rupakar sevaks. Whatever be the honorarium, after seniors, the youngsters have always ran in to dedicate their lives in the service of the Lords.
The Shree Jagannath Temple Administration has also planned some special initiatives to take forward the young generations of these families of chariot architects. "They are learning from their predecessors and the Srimandir administration will take whatever measure required for their skill development,” said SJTA administrator (development) Ajay Jena.