Odishatv Bureau

Puri: A lesser known fact of the Puri Rath Yatra is the role of the Railway administration behind the movement and traversing of the Raths (chariots) of the deities. Acknowledged as Rath Seva by the Railways, a team of mechanical staff and supervisors are deputed every year during the festival.

A team of nearly 30 railway artisan staff and supervisors of the coaching Depot, Puri are engaged exclusively during the period of Rath Yatra. Their services are utilized for shifting the chariots and its repair before the festival, movement of chariots during Rath Yatra and Bahuda Yatra. Nearly 25 screw jacks of capacity 25 tons and different carriage and wagon tools are utilized in this work.

The three chariots of Lord Balabhadra, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Jagannath built and placed in front of the Lion Gateway (Singhadwara) of the Jagannatha Temple are to be relocated to proper location one day before start of Rath Yatra. The railway employees start their work in the afternoon and continue till the early hours of next day to traverse chariots to the identified places, keeping the proper gap between the chariots and their alignment.

On the day of Rath Yatra, the entire team of supervisors and staff with jacks and tools in two trucks follow the movement of all the three chariots till these reach the Gundicha temple. In case of any damage, the Railwaymen lift the chariot by supporting jacks so that the carpenters carryout the repair work.

On the day of Bahuda Yatra the railway staff carry out similar works. After reaching the Singhadwara the chariots are relocated to facilitate public Darshan during Suna Vesha. With due permission of the collector and Superintendent of Police, the Rath Sevaks of Railway return to their coaching depot at Puri and make themselves ready for their Rath Seva in the coming year Car Festival.

This service of the Railways started with an accident during one such Rath Yatra when one chariot got entangled with an electric poll resulting damage to its axle. It was a co-incidence that V. T. Patel, a Senior Divisional Mechanical Engineer of South Eastern Railway based at Khurda Road was one among the devotees watching the Rath Yatra. After studying the impasse, Patel came forward and approached the Puri Collector to repair and set right the movement of the chariot with help of screw jack and some Railway Mechanical staff.

He immediately offered the responsibility. Within few hours the entangled chariot was freed from the electric wires and the broken axle and damaged wheels were repaired and the chariot moved forward.

Earlier in 2010 during the Rath Yatra, the Chariot of Goddess Subhadra broke down by breaking its axle near Gundicha Temple. Immediately, the railway staff lifted the chariot wheels by applying screw jacks and wooden planks and the axle was repaired by the carpenters. The experienced railway mechanical staff that lift wagons or bogies by screw jacks during train derailment and accident, apply the same technique in lifting the chariot or chariot wheel during its breakdown.

This year also the axle of the Chariot of Goddess Subhadra had broken not able to withstand the pressure of other parts of the Chariot. It was only after hours of construction work done under the supervision of engineers from the Public Works Department (PWD) and the Railways that the Moharana servitors replaced the axle.

Besides above services, the East Coast Railway (ECoR) is running 186 special trains to the Pilgrim city to ensure smooth transportation of pilgrims. Similarly, benefit of good quality subsidised Janata meal and clean drinking water for passengers has also been provided.