Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

Ho Bhagate ! Ho ! Ratha tale asi sua…

As the grand chariots rolled down the crowded roads in the holy town of Puri on Ratha Jatra, many melodious tracks were heard being rendered by the servitors atop the chariots. This ritual singing was, in fact, one of the various rituals no longer performed in its complete form during Ratha Jatra in Puri, although it is common in other parts of the State. The ‘Dahuka Boli’ ritual involves a charioteer, known as the ‘Dahuka’, who is the singer. There are, of course divine charioteers riding every chariot, but the wooden charioteers draw sustenance from the human charioteers.

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Dahuka boli or Dahuka gita are poetic recitations that Dahukas (charioteers) recited during Ratha Jatra in Puri. Ratha Jatra being a symbolic expression of fertility and the creative life cycle, the bolis or songs, sung by the Dahukas contained bawdy elements. It was believed that unless the Dahula bolis were song, the chariots wouldn’t budge an inch. The songs were sung in public sans any moral scruple and the Dahuka controlled the movement of the chariot. This tradition happens to be a remnant of Vajrayana Buddhism in Odisha and the lyrics bear the signature of Vajrayana Buddhist poetry. The Dahukas are believed to have descended from the famous Mahasiddhas.

Dahuka bolis have several derivations from the ‘Charyapada’. One of the earliest bolis by Kanhapa runs as follows…
Mari Sasu Nananda Ghare Sali…Maa Maria Kanhu Bhalia Kapali.

Meaning literally that after killing his mother and mother-in-law, Kanhu kept his wife’s sister in his sister’s home, thereby becoming a ‘Kapali’, skull-bearing, ascetic. The inner meaning of the lyrics is that a Kapalika ascetic abandons his home and the material world. Kanhu has killed ‘Maya’, illusion by controlling his breathing and senses.

In the ‘Satwalipi’ or ‘Adhikara Abhilekha’ service no 104 there is a description of the Dahukas and their service on the chariots. There, is however, no such description in the ‘Purusottama Mahatmya’ in the Sanskrit Purana, although there are descriptions of Dahukas in the ‘Purusottama Karmangi’.

These recitations may seem to be bawdy, but they have deep spiritual meanings. Regionally derived from the Charyapadas, they are one of the most ancient forms of literature composed by Tantric teachers known as the Mahasiddhas. The songs date to the eighth century and contain erotic teachings captured through colloquial language and loaded with meaning.

They usually have an outer meaning, which appears to be vulgar, and an inner meaning which seeks to convey strict teachings that can’t be directly disseminated. The intelligent one and the ‘Sadhakas’ can thus decode the secret and progress on the spiritual path of enlightenment. These ancient songs contain explicit symbols that are shocking and often offend norms of polite behavior since love or hatred towards an object comes from attachment and attachment must be severed.

According to a western scholar Grame, Dahuka boli has social, psychological and spiritual significance. With commonsense, one can comprehend the logic behind Grame’s statement. The tradition was prevalent since time immemorial. In the ancient times communication facilities were scarce and devotees had to travel to Puri on foot, chariots, horses, elephants and camels. They left behind their wives, children and relatives for a long time. So, they must have had suppressed sexual feelings in their unconsciousness. In this context, the recitation of Dahuka bolis had significance.
Many devotees experience a feeling of exaltation at the sight of the Lord on the chariot. They get into a state of trance due to the flow of the ‘Kundalini’ force while pulling the chariots. So, to keep them in a state of earthly consciousness, the Dahuka bolis are sung.

The ritual, however, kicked up a huge controversy and the Jagannath temple authorities had to finally ban the recitation in 1997. Now, it is carried out only in symbolic form. The polite group taking part in the festival had decided it had had too much of obscene and vulgar language used during the festival. The Dahukas distorted the songs and began to slyly pass teasing comments aimed at women. This had to be stopped and so it ultimately was.

All said and done, it is important to appreciate the spiritual significance of this rare ritual which is a reflection of pure, undistorted and original faith.