Take Lord to elderly, disabled
As a child, I was very attracted to the forms of Lord Jagannath, Bal-adev and Subhadra, and we travelled to Puri every year to witness the mesmerising procession of three deities. I have vivid memories of three huge chariots decorated in multicolour fabrics, paints, and thick, long ropes being pulled by hundreds of devotees through the streets of Puri.
My mother and father rushed to touch and pull the ropes briefly as we were left in the safe custody of some relatives or friends. As we grew up, I remember being taken by my father once to touch and pull the ropes, as those who take part in this festival are known to "earn their passage to heaven", but thereafter we were left in the house of one or other relatives while they went ahead to be part of the devout crowd. Amidst the roaring kirtan, the beatings of the drums, tambourines, trumpets; and the many dancers, the gaiety and colour, every year rath yatra left me mesmerised.
As the chariots roll out of the temple compound, a mass hysteria seizes the accompanying multitudes which always give me goosebumps.
The other vivid memory of the special day is of making our own chariots, decorating it with coloured papers, diyas, and ropes. In those days, we came onto road in a group, and everyone flaunted their chariots. We offered prasad (banana, jaggery, chuda ghasa etc.) to people on the road and they gave put some money in the chariots. We loved receiving the coins.
The day after the rath yatra, in early hours of the morning, many a times we have climbed the chariots and embraced the Gods. The deities spend a night or two nights on the carts outside the Gundicha temple. During this time, pilgrims can climb up on the carts and see the deities very closely and even embrace.
Ever since my accident and being on the wheel chair, darshan of the dieties in Puri temple has become a rarity for me. So it is always the Gundicha temple, with its accessible entrance, that I have my annual darshan and chit-chat with the lord.
Few years ago, we started an initiative during rath yatra to assist differently-abled persons to have a tour of the Gundicha Temple and have a glimpse of the lord and his siblings. One needs to climb a lot of stairs to visit the Jagannath temple, so it is impossible for the differently-abled persons to reach the sanctum sanctorum of the lord. As the Gundicha Temple does not have a staircase, we could take them to visit the lord.
But elderly persons and differently-abled tourists visiting cannot enter the Jagannath temple during the other times of the year. So, there has to be a permanent solution. The situation has not changed much because accessible tourism has not been the point of focus.
The writer is a disability rights activist