Rath job rolls on in Puri - Craftsmen follow ancient Odishan engineering tradition with precision

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By NAMITA PANDA
  • Published 29.05.13
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Bhubaneswar, May 28: A rare sight of ancient Odishan engineering comes alive every year at Ratha Khala in Puri, just as it has now, during the construction of the chariots for rath yatra.

Hundreds of carpenters, artisans and craftsmen with specific duties are busy executing their forte with precision. Interestingly, creation of the three lofty chariots does not include any modern machinery even today.

The construction began on the auspicious occasion of Akshay Tritiya (May 13) when the logs meant for the chariots that were lying at Ratha Khala were first peeled and cut into required sizes to be transformed into various parts of the rath. The craftsmen first assemble the spokes, rim, axle, various gears and shafts of the six wheels of the three chariots for Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra.

For the traditional carpenters, their tool kit may not have drilling machines or nail guns, but their conventional chisels, saw, hammer and knife are good enough for the intricate task. The most astonishing fact behind the construction is that the craftsmen do not even use measuring tapes or scales but follow the age-old tradition of using haatha anguli maapa (measurement with arms and fingers).

Bijay Kumar Mohapatra hailing from the Biswakarma sebayat or carpenter servitor family is heading the carpenters’ team working on the Nandighosha rath of Lord Jagannath. He said they had been trained since childhood by their forefathers in the construction of chariots and this was the best way to do the job.

“We do not ever feel the need of using modern tools or electronic machinery to create the chariots. Wherever in the world these tools are used, the chariots never have any resemblance with our Lords’ chariots. There is a fixed pattern devised by our forefathers for the construction of the tiniest part of the raths and that is the also the most convenient and best way we believe,” he said.

At present, the carpenters are carving out various portions of the wheels that will be assembled on the occasion of Bhaunri on June 1.

This process includes the expertise of 55 moharanas or carpenters, 50 bhois or providers of wood and logs, four karatis or experts with the saw, 10 kamars or ironsmiths and 15 wood sculptors or rupakars.

“Once the carpenters get the parts of the wheels ready, it will be our duty to join the metal and wood and fit each wheel entirely,” said Ravi Bhoi, chief of the Bhois.

Construction of pillars, door jambs and other parts of the upper portion of the chariot will begin after the wheels are ready. About 300 more artisans of various responsibilities will join in, said Ramachandra Das Mohapatra, a leading servitor at the Puri temple and a co-ordinator of the Rath Construction Committee.

The chariots will be ready by July for rath yatra.