Puri Rath Yatra: Wonder that is chariot making

12:28 PM Jun 20, 2023 | Team Udayavani |

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘Maan Ki Baat’ programme on June 18 said that Puri Rath Yatra is a ”wonder in itself”, the making of the chariots of three sibling deities for the world-famous festival is one such wonder.


Though three gigantic chariots are constructed every year afresh for the annual rath yatra, they are made by traditional carpenters with no formal training. Many of them have not even attended school.

”They have no manuals, architectural drawings or modern machines, but a group of craftsmen make gigantic and identical chariots for Lord Jagannath and his two siblings in Puri every year, using only traditional knowledge,” says Sudarshan Mekap, the caretaker of the chariots.

Mekap said they do not use any modern instruments or take the help of any engineer. However, the fitness certificates for the chariots are given by government engineers after verifying that they are suitable to roll on the roads, he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra in Odisha’s Puri is a ”wonder in itself” as it reflects the true spirit of ‘Ek Bharat-Shreshtha Bharat.’ While Lord Jagannath’s ‘Nandighosh’ chariot of 44 feet 2 inches, Lord Balabhadra’s ‘Taladhawaja’ chariot is 43 feet 3 inches and Devi Subhadra’s ‘Darpadalana’ chariot is 42 feet 3 inches. However, the makers of these chariots have no such measurements like feet and inch.


”The chariots are constructed afresh every year. There is no deviation in their heights, widths and other key parameters for centuries. However, new features are added to the chariots to make them more colourful and attractive,” Asit Mohanty, a researcher on the Jagannath culture, told PTI.

The three chariots are built from over 4,000 pieces of wood by a few families who have the hereditary rights to make them, he said, adding that the carpenters engaged in chariot construction do not have any formal training. They only have knowledge and techniques that have been trickled down from their forefathers.

Bijay Mohapatra, the chief ‘Biswakarma’ (carpenter) of Lord Jagannath’s ‘Nandighosh’ chariot having 16 wheels, said: ”I have been engaged in chariot making for about four decades. I was trained by my father Lingaraj Mohapatra and he received training from my grandfather Ananta Mohapatra.” Only traditional equipment like chisels are used in the construction of the chariots, he said.

”It is a tradition and we are privileged to get the opportunity to serve the Lord,” Mohapatra said, adding that now his teenage nephew Rudra Mohapatara, a college student is under training.

”The senior carpenters make the younger ones learn the technique of chariot making and remember the measurements made through hand,” he said.

Rudra said he has been in the Ratha Khala (yard) for 57 days during the college summer vacation. He will join studies a day after the rath yatra this year, ”Though our children live outside Puri for a living, all of them come for two months and help their fathers in chariot making. It is considered to be a pious work for all of us,” Mohapatra said.

”Our measurements are in the units of ‘haat’ (hand size) and ‘anguli’ (finger size). There are no such units like feet or inches,” Mohapatra said.

Asked how the ‘haat’ size remains the same over centuries as the lengths of the hands of different persons are not similar, Mohapatra said: ”My father has given me a stick. This stick is considered as one ‘haat’. It is equivalent to 20 inches. Twenty-five ‘angulis’ make a ‘haat’. We use these measures to calibrate the height and width of the chariots.” Not only carpenters but also a group of artisans and blacksmiths are involved in the chariot-making work for generations.

While the ‘Bishwakarma Sevaks’ look after the main construction of chariots, ‘Pahi Maharanas’ fix the wheels of the chariots. There are others like ‘Ojha Maharanas’ (blacksmiths) who prepare nails, pins, clamps, and iron rings.

This apart, various wooden sculptures such as ‘Ashta Manjari’ (eight women) are fitted on the chariots. Covers, canopies, and flags made of cloth are prepared by tailors.

”As many as 220 traditional craftsmen are engaged in chariot making for 57 days,” said Mekap.

Another researcher Bhaskar Mishra said that Lord Jagannath’s chariot is covered by red and yellow cloth and is constructed with 832 pieces of wood while Lord Balabhdra’s chariot, ‘Taladhawaja’, having 14 wheels, is draped in red and green cloth.

Similarly, Devi Subhadra’s chariot ‘Darpadalana’ having 12 wheels is covered with red and black cloth.

A team of engineers from the state government’s works department and the railways are kept ready for any repair work in the event of a breakdown of the chariots, Mekap said.

After the completion of the festival, the chariots are dismantled and major portions of them are auctioned. The remaining wood is sent to the temple kitchen.


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