They have no manuals, blueprints or modern machinery, but a group of craftsmen make gigantic and identical chariots every year for Lord Jagannath and his two siblings in Puri, using only traditional knowledge. During the annual Rath Yatra festival in the pilgrim town, three chariots famous for their majestic structure and brilliant craftsmanship depart from the 12th-century Jagannath Temple and reach Gundicha Temple.
“The cars are rebuilt every year. There has been no deviation in height, width and other important parameters for centuries. However, new features have been added to the chariots to make them more colorful and attractive,” Asit Mohanty, a researcher in Jagannath culture, told PTI. The carpenters who build chariots have no formal training. They only have knowledge and techniques that have seeped through from their ancestors, Mohanty emphasized.
The chariots are made from over 4,000 pieces of wood by a few families who have the hereditary rights to make them.” I’ve been making chariots for about four decades. I was trained by my father Lingaraj Mohapatra and he received training from my grandfather Ananta Mohapatra. It is a tradition and we are privileged to have the opportunity to serve the Lord,” said Bijay Mohapatra, the chief ‘Biswakarma’ (carpenter) of Lord Jagannath’s ‘Nandighosh’ 16-wheeled chariot.
Only traditional equipment such as a chisel is used in the construction of the chariots, he said. “Our measurements are in the units ‘hate’ (hand measure) and ‘Anguli’ (finger measure). There are no units like feet or inches,” Mohapatra said. When asked how the “Hate” measure remains the same through the ages, as the lengths of the hands of different carpenters are not equal, Mohapatra said: “My father gave me a stick. This stick is considered one ‘Hate It equates to 20 inches. Twenty-five ‘Angulis’ makes a ‘Hate’. We use these measures to calibrate the height and width of the chariots.” The carpenters start building chariots from the day of Akshaya Tritiya and it takes about 57 days to complete them.
The carpenters’ children accompany their fathers to help them make the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra so that the traditional knowledge is passed on to the future generation. of them come for two months and help their fathers make chariots. It is considered a pious work for all of us,” he said.
Not only carpenters, but also a group of craftsmen and blacksmiths have been involved in the work for generations. While the ‘Bishwakarma Sevaks’ provide the main construction of the chariots, ‘Pahi Maharanas’ fix the wheels of the chariots. There are others like ‘Ojha Maharanas’ (blacksmiths) who make nails, pins, clamps and iron rings. Apart from that, there are several wooden sculptures like ‘Ashta Manjari’ (Eight Women) mounted on the chariots. Blankets, canopies and flags made of fabric are made by tailors.
“As many as 150 traditional craftsmen spend 57 days making chariots,” said a Shree Jagannath Temple Administration official. wood while Lord Balabhdra’s chariot, ‘Tajadwaja’, with 14 wheels, is draped in red and green cloths. Similarly, Devi Subhadra’s 12-wheeled chariot ‘Darpadalan’ is covered in red and black fabric.
The factory department of the Odisha government gives fitness certificates to the chariots before being pulled during the festival which attracts thousands of people from all over the country and beyond. A team of engineers from the factory department and the railways is ready for any repair work in the event of a breakdown of the cars. After the festival, the chariots will be dismantled and large parts of them will be auctioned. The remaining wood is sent to the temple kitchen.