Biraja Ratha Jatra-A Unique Festival Of Odisha

By Srinibash Samal

Aa krushnen rajasa bartamane
Nibesayanamruta martaiya cha
Hiranayena sabita rathena
Debo jati bhubanani pashyan
-Rig Veda- 1. 35.2

Ratha tradition is too old in our civilization. Even we can find in the Rig Veda about the Ratha Jatra. Ratha is the only medium to travel. God sun travels in the morning and makes everyone active. The famous two epics of India, The Ramayana and the Mahabharata give vivid accounts of the uses of Ratha by Raja, Maharaja, Deva, Danaba. In the Indian literature descriptions about Atma Ratha, Yoga Ratha, Vishnu Ratha, Sakti Ratha, Surya Ratha, Kandarpa Ratha, Nrupa Ratha have been beautifully described.

Ratha Jatra celebrated in the Srikshetra, Puri is popularly known as Ghosha Jatra or Gunddicha Jatra. This festival happens in the Asadhashukla 2nd paksha every year in where lord Jagannatha travels from the Srimandira to Mausimaa temple for nine days. It is not only celebrated in Puri but other cultural regions of Odisha. Many different shrines across Odisha have their own chariot-pulling festivals. Bhubaneswar’s famous Lingaraja Temple’s Rukuna Ratha Jatra on Ashokastami, Konarka’s Surya Ratha Jatra on Magha Saptami and Jajpur’s Biraja Temple’s Bijaya Ratha Jatra.

Odisha is said to be the place from which the Tantra culture started. So it is clear that it has many Shakti peethas. But the Goddess Biraja has a special significance. Even there is a greater similarity found between Jagannatha mandala and Biraja mandala. Like Jagannatha-panjika, Biraja-panjika also regulates auspicious, inauspicious date & rules for its region. We can trace her presence in various Puranas and also in the two epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Unique to the core, this festival (Ratha Jatra) of Goddess Biraja is iconic in itself, as she is the only Goddess in Odisha to have her own chariot festival. It was in 13th century that this amazing temple of Biraja got established by Somavamsi king Chandihar Jajati-II at present Jajpur. According to the temple lore, when Shiva performed Tandavanrutya by carrying the corpse of Devi Sati, her remains got scattered in different places due to the strike of Sudarshan Chakra by Vishnu, which later came to be known as Shakti Peethas. And interestingly, Biraja is also one such divine peetha (according to the Tantra Chudamani, Sati’s navel fell in the Utkala Kingdom). However, as per another legend, Lord Brahma performed a yajna on the bank of the river Baitarani from which Goddess Parvati emerged. The Goddess then instructed Lord Brahma to name her as Biraja, after which she occupied her position at the circumcenter of the triangular region in Jajpur. So it is a great Shakti Peetha in Odisha. Here the Dwibhuja-Durga idol spearing the chest of Mahishasura with one hand and pulling his tail with the other. One of her feet is on a lion, and the other is on Mahishasura’s chest. Mahishasura is depicted as a water buffalo. The idol’s crown features Ganesha, a crescent moon and a Shiva linga. Here She is worshiped daily in accordance with Tantra and Agama traditions as Mahishasuramardini.

The Somavamsis added Ratha Jatra with the Biraja tradition like that of the Goddess Vindhyabasini and Sthambheswari of mid-India. It is during the Aswina month that Goddess Biraja sets out for her nine day sojourn around the Mandira bedha (boundary wall of the shrine) on her chariot known as Singhadwaja (flag bearing a lion) or Bijaya Ratha. People from different communities and castes gather to partake in this exclusive festival and catch a glimpse of this Goddess!

And on Bhadrab Shukla Dwadashi (sunia), starts the Banajaga Jatra or the onset of procession to find trees for building the chariot and the procession called ‘Bilwa Barana’. After the wood is collected and the chariot is built, a consecration ceremony is undertaken on the Pratistha Mandap during Mulashtami.

It is impossible for main idol of Goddess Biraja to come out from the temple sanctum for Ratha Jatra. So a metal idol of her acts as her representative (Chalanti-Pratima) and the representative deity is then carried out onto the chariot, parked in front of the Lion Gate. On the ninth day of her sojourn, Aparajitapooja is performed and thereafter the Goddess kills the buffalo demon, Mahisasura. It is then that Goddess Biraja returns to her abode, hence marking the end of her sacred journey.

Twelve wheels based Singadwhajaratha is designed by the carpenters. Ratha is decorated with Black, red and white cotton. Pitamah Brahma rides as Sarathi in the Singhadwhaja. Maa travels nine times around the bedha during this RathaJatra which starts from Ashwina Shukla Pakshapratipada to Navami. On the last day goddess visits to the Lakhabindha ground.

INTERESTING FACTS & INFORMATION ABOUT BIRAJA RATHA (Singhadwhaja):

● Ratha’s name: Singhadwhaja/Vijaya/Maya Ratha
● Charioteer (Sarathi): Pitamah Chaturmukha Brahma
● Woods have been required to make Vijayaratha are 1017 pieces. And those are of various types like: Padma, Palasa, Agaru, Chandan, Sweta Chandan, Rakta Chandana. But nowadays Sal, Puchia, Mango, Kuruma have been used for making this ratha.
● Height of ratha: 45 hands.
● Twelve wheels’ name of ratha:
1-Ghosani, 2-Bidyunnala, 3-Patangini, 4-Vayuvegini, 5-Namadhyeya, 6-Aindri, 7-Vaishnavi, 8- Shankari, 9-Mahabhara, 10- Dhruva, 11-Mauni, 12- Brahmi.
● Diameter of each wheel is 252 finger measurements. It is equal with the words of Gayatri mantra while Spokes (ara) on wheels is 8 in numbers for each.

● Colour of the clothes use in Ratha: 1- black (which refers to Maha-Kali), 2-red (which refers to Maha-Lakshmi), 3-white (which refers to Maha-Saraswati).
● Ratha is protected by Saraswati
● Dwarapalika: Bruddha, Kushavadra, Mandakini, Yamuna, Ganga
● Brahmacharini is the power of this ratha
● Horses used in the ratha: Asti, Bhaanti, Priya, Nama, Rupa. (these are white in colour)
● Two Snakes seen in the ratha named Swarnachuda And Sankhachuda

● Parswadevatas are: Aagnidevata, Prajapatidevata, Chandradevata, Eshana, Aditya, Garhyapatya, Mantra, Bhaga, Aaryama, Sabitadhi, Twasta, Pusa, Endrangni, Yama, Kamadeva, Maitravaruna, Bhatrubya, Vishnu, Bamana, Vishwadeva, Rudradevataa, Kuberadevata, Aswinidwata, BrahmadiDevata.

● Parswadevis are: Aditi, Sarama, Sinibali, Anumati, Raka, Kuhu, Yami, Urvashi, Swasti.

● Ratharakshak: Mahavishnu, Narasingha

● Other Devatas in the ratha: Varuna, Rudra, Indra, Parjana, Bruhaspati, Ksetrasyapati, Bastospati, Bachaspati, Aphanpaata, Yama, Mitra, Viswakarma, Takhaya, Manyu, Dadhikra, Sabita, Trusta, Bhaga, Bata, Agni, Bena, Asuniti, Endu, Arhibudhna, Ahi, Suparna, Swena, Soma,Chandrama, Mryutu, Baiswanara, Dhata, Bidhata, Aryama.

● Mahatripurasundari lives on the flag.
● Chauri bearers are: Bhubaneswari, Matangi, Ambika, Bagalamukhi, Swayambarakarini, Chamunda, Chanda, Barahi, Tiraskarini, Rajamatangi, Sukasyamala, Lakshusamala, Aswarudha, Pratyangira, Dhuabati, Sabitri, Saraswati, Brahmanandakala.

● Devis of this ratha are: Bhudevi, Sridevi
● Gandharba of the ratha: Chitrasena
● Head of the ratha is Brahmabarta
● Name of the Pitha where ratha stands: Aparajitapitha
● Kalasa kept on the gate: Prajapati and Indra
● Dhwajakalasa are: Jagrata, Swapna, Sushusti, Turia
● Name of the Dwhajachakra is Parama-Vaishnavi
● Vidyas of the ratha are: Sambhabi Vidya, Hati Vidya, Kadi Vidya, Sadi Vidya and Rahasya Vidya
● Pigeons’ names: Parana, Apana, Samana, Udana, Byana

War equipments (weapons) are carried for goddess: Dunduvi, Trunira, Dhanu (bow), Tira (arrow), Aswajani (hunter), Druhana, Pharsha, Katari, Khanda (sword) and medicines etc.

People believe that whoever sees the goddess Biraja on the ratha, their 7th past generation could get salvation. Ratha Jatra in a tantric Biraja-kshetra is a unique tradition and devotees come in large numbers to witness and get auspicious blessings from the goddess Biraja.

(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

Srinibash is a freelance author and can be reached via
E-mail: srinibash.samal3@gmail.com
Twitter: @srinibash_samal
Blog address: thesrinibash.wordpress.com