The delightful Chandan Yatra begins on Akshay Tritiya every year. It is a major festival not only of Lord Jagannath in Puri, but also at the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar, Sakhigopal and other ancient temples of Odisha. This year, Chandan Yatra is being celebrated publicly after two years of tight Covid restrictions. The divine boat rides are happening every evening, and will continue till 24th May (21 days after Akshay Tritiya).
In order to escape the sweltering summer heat, during Chandan Yatra, representative idols of the temple deities are taken out in a grand procession every evening to the temple tank. Priests march out of the temple, carrying the deities in palanquins. The gods are offered pujas and devotees come to seek their blessings.
Boats decorated with flowers wait to take the deities for a ride around the tank. As the gentle evening sun fades into twilight followed by darkness, the deities seem to be urging people to enjoy the beauty of this world. It is as though the deities show their infinite love and compassion for humanity, and share their discomfort during the hot summer. They emerge from the temple to encourage devotees. They offer hope to humanity. If summer days are hot, there is also the soothing evening breeze.
These 21 days of holy boat rides (Bahara Chandana) is followed by another 21 days of Chandan Yatra rituals within the temples (Bhitara Chandana). This period is also important since construction of the chariots for Rath Yatra begins on Akshay Tritiya.
This year, devotees returned to Narendra Pokhari in Puri to welcome the deities as they set forth every evening for ritual boat rides.
One would expect extra public enthusiasm after two horrible years of pandemic restrictions. Sadly, the Chandan Yatra in Bhubaneswar’s Bindu Sagar wore a deserted look. When I reached Ananta Basudev Temple at 6:45 pm, the divine boat decked with green lights was sailing gracefully in the darkness. Yet only a handful of people were watching from the banks.
The divine boat excursions will happen for just a few more days. Come out and enjoy the soothing evening breeze on the banks of Narendra Pokhari in Puri or Bindu Sagar in Bhubaneswar as the gods set sail in their beautiful little boats. Also be adventurous and check out the celebrations in other ancient temples such as Sakhigopal. Live cultural performances also get underway in honor of the gods. Reputed artistes sing devotional songs by the banks of Narendra Pokhari in Puri. The Chandan Pokhari near Sakhigopal temple comes alive with Odissi dance performances by small girls. In Bhubaneswar, Goti Puo dance performances can be witnessed at four points on the road from Lingaraj Temple to Mausima Temple (Rameswar Temple). This happens on the Ratha road, as the gods return to the temple after the boat ride.
We cannot help but admire the dedication and enthusiasm of the little children who dance before the gods. I remember how joyfully the small girls performed Odissi dances in Sakhigopal. Trained by their gurus, they were so graceful. When some of us from the audience offered the little ones small tokens of appreciation, their faces lit up with innocent joy.
Goti Puo is a traditional dance form of Odisha, and it is believed that Odissi classical dance has evolved from it. For centuries, Goti Puo has been performed by little boys, who dress as women to praise the gods. The little boys who performed on the Ratha road for Lord Lingaraj's entourage showed remarkable courage and dedication. A huge black bull suddenly ran down the road and charged past the dancers and the deities in their palanquins. Bystanders on the road were frightened. But the children danced on with devoted dedication.
We proudly pay to attend traditional song and dance programmes in posh hotels and resorts. Photo ops for social media make it so worth our time and energy. We think our traditional culture is for unsophisticated hicks. We forget that these artistic traditions began many centuries ago with temple festivals such as Chandan Yatra. Let's participate and encourage these beautiful customs. After all, if we do not nurture the living roots of our culture, how will the new branches grow?
Let's leave our mobile phones and TVs for a while and step out to see real life. Come out and observe with respectful interest and enthusiasm. These rituals are our rich heritage coming alive before our eyes.
Our interest and enthusiasm will help to keep our beautiful traditions alive. Encourage and help spread the love. If we remain indifferent, they may disappear forever under the bulldozers of 'progress'.
For those interested, the starting and end point of Lord Lingaraj Temple boat ride is difficult to find. The procession from the temple stops here. The return journey procession starts from here. This is a nondescript ghat on the opposite side of Ananta Basudev Temple. As you drive by the bank of Bindu Sagar towards Lingaraj Temple, you will reach the end of the motorable road. You will face an arch over a narrow lane leading into a slum area. Just before the arch and slum, you will see rough stone steps leading down towards the water. This will lead to the spot where the divine voyage begins and ends. The day we went, there were no banners or crowds. Just one or two bystanders and some policemen. If someone had not guided us, we would have missed it. Rituals are performed here in two tiny shrines the size of a bathroom. Devotees come here to seek the blessings of the deities. One hopes the authorities will develop this holy spot and bring it up to the level of other beautifications by the lakeside.
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