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West Bengal Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival)

June 27, 2012 2 comments

When it comes to Rath (or Ratha) Yatra (Chariot Festival) the first thing that comes into mind is Puri, Orissa (Odissa). The towering raths (chariots) of Puri have almost become synonymous wit Ratha Yatra. But West Bengal, the neighbouring state of Orissa, also houses several Rath Yatra festivals, complete with towering raths.  Some of this rath yatras dates back a couple of centuries and attracts devotees from far and wide.

Mahesh Rath Yatra

Srerampur, Hooghly

Mahesh Rath, Mahesh, Srerampur, Hooghly

Mahesh Rath, Mahesh, Srerampur, Hooghly

The most well known of the West Bengal Rath Yatra, the Mahesh Rath Yatra dates back to the 14th century AD. Started by Dhurbananda Bhramachari in 1300 AD the rath yatra operates to this day.

The present Rath was donated by Krishnaram Basu and was constructed by Martin Burn Co. The iron rath, with nine pinnacles, towers to a height of 50 feet and weighs 125 tons. Running on 12 wheels of diameter 4 feet the rath was made at a cost of Rs 20,000 and have been in operation since 1885.

Today this gigantic rath is pulled in a wild rampage, through crowded Grand Trunk (GT) Road under strict police supervision. Read more…

Approach: Train to Srerampur and auto to Mahesh or take the GT Road to Mahesh.

Time: Mahesh Rath Yatra starts at about 3 pm.

Guptiprar Rath Yatra

Guptipara, Hooghly

Guptipara Rath Yatra, Guptipara, Hooghly

Guptipara Rath Yatra, Guptipara, Hooghly

Although Guptipara has the distinction of housing Bengal’s first Durga Pujo but Durga Pujo is not Guptipara’s primary festival. When it comes to festival in Guptipara the first thing that comes into mind is Guptipara’s towering and colorful chariot. Being a Vaishnav centre Rath Jaytra (Chariot Festival) is major festival and prime attraction.

The gigantic nine pinnacled rath is decorated with coloured festoons and banners and is fitted with wooden horses and several wooden statues. The multi wheeled rath is pulled by four thick ropes, out which one is reserved for women. A rope at the back serves as a brake. The rath is pulled through muddy & slushy ground in a wild rampage and it seems a miracle that the event goes on without a stampede. The event is heavily monitored by the police who clear the crowed to make way for the rath. Read more…

Approach: Take train to Guptipara (Howrah – Katwa line). Rickshaw to temple.

Time: The Guptipara Rath Yatra takes place in two phases. The first starts at about 10 am and second at 3 pm.

Mahishadal Rath Yatra

Mahishadal, East Midinapur

Mahishadal Rath, Mahishadal, East Midnapur

Mahishadal Rath, Mahishadal, East Midnapur

Although lesser known than its counter part of Mahesh & Guptipara Mahishadal, in East Midnapur, has the distinction of having the tallest wooden Rath in the world. The 70 feet (aprox.) high rath is 13 pinnacled and is richly decorated with colourfull wooden horses and statues.  Started by Rani Janaki Devi in 1776 the chariot has undergone several changes but its main structure have remained the same for the last 236 years.

Gun shots announces the start of the rath yatra and the shots continue through out the entire course of the journey. The local raja (king) Haraprasad Garg accompanies the rath in a palki (palanquin). The rath is pulled by 4 thick ropes out of which one is reserved for women. The rath is pulled through muddy & slushy ground in a wild rampage and it seems a miracle that the event goes on without a stampede. Read more…

Approach: Bus to Nurpur. Cross ferry to Geokhali. Bus to Mahishadal. For the return journey it is best to take the Haldia local from Satish Samanta Halt (6:01 pm)

Time: Mahishadal Rath Yatra starts at 3 pm.

Rajbalhat Rath Yatra

Jangipara, Hooghly

Rajbalhat Rath Yatra, Rajbalhat, Hooghly

Rajbalhat Rath Yatra, Rajbalhat, Hooghly

Although not considered as one of the leading Rath Yatras of West Bengal Rajbalhat features a unique rath yatra. Rajbalhat, famous for textile, has a unique rath yatra. The rath does not carry the idols of Jagannath, Balaram & Subhadra but instead carries the idols of Radha – Krishna. Also the rath is not pulled by ropes but by iron chains.

The nine pinnacled rath once had brass pinnacles but sadly they have been stolen and are replaced by cheaper metal. The towering colourfull rath runs on 12 gigantic metal wheels and the rath is pulled in a wild rampage through the slushy ground in front of the Rajbalhat High School.

The distance covered has largely been reduced after an accident in 2011, when one of the devote was crushed to death under the wheels of the rath. Read more …

Approach: Tarakeshwar Local to Haripal. Bus / trekker to Rajbalhat.

Time: The Rath Yatra starts at about 5:30 pm.

Note: The blog entry West Bengal Rath Yatra, presently consisting of entries on Mahesh, Guptipara, Mahishadal and Rajbalhat is a compilation of Rath Yatras of West Bengal. It would be updated from time to time.

Guptipara ~ Chariots & Temple

July 6, 2011 3 comments

In 2006 Pluto, the ninth planet of our solar system lost its status of a planet and was demoted to the status of a minor planet. Although Pluto lost its status as a planet it led to the addition of a new word in the English vocabulary. In January 2007 the new word of “Plutoed” meaning to “to demote or devalue someone or something” was added to the English Dictionary.

Guptipara Sweets

The stories of new words being added to the vocabulary of different languages in the world have always been interesting, but probably none of this can match the addition of the word “Borowari” in the Bengali vocabulary. “Barowari” means community, and is often used as “Borowari Durga Pujo” to signify a community Durga Pujo organized by collecting subscriptions from the members.

The word Borowari originated from Guptipara, in present day Hooghly. In 1761 (1790 by some other sources) some men were stopped from taking part in a household Durga Puja. Twelve of them formed a committee and organized the first Barowari (baro = twelve and yaar = friend) Durga Pujo. It was reported by the May 1820 issue of The Friends of India magazine, which was published from Srerampore. But sadly there are no concrete evidences of when the word “Barowari” made its entry into the Bengali dictionary.

Guptipara is a great place for Bengal sweet lovers. The most famous of these is the Gupo Sandesh, considered by many to be Bangal’s first branded sweet – meat. It is made of channa extracted from cow’s milk. Guptipara is also the birthplace of sweet maker Bhola Moira, who was famous not for sweet making skills but for his Kabi gaan (Folk Songs). The famous musical duel of Bhola Moira and the Anglo – Indian Antony Firingi, has been made immortal by Uttam Kumar’s movie Antony Firingi.

But today the primary attraction of Guptipara are its temples. Located in a single temple complex the four Vaishnava Temples.

Ramchandra Temple, Guptipara

  • Chaitanya
  • Brindabanchandra
  • Ramchandra
  • Krishnachandra Temples

offer an interesting mixture of Bengal temple architecture.

The temples were constructed in different periods with Chitanya temple being the oldest one. It was built by Bishwar Roy during mid sixteen century. Built in Jora – Bangla style the temple consists of two thatched hut shaped adjoining structure. The temple is said to contain some of Bengal’s earliest terracotta carvings but sadly they didn’t survive the test of time.

Brindabanchandra Temple, Guptipara

The 60 feet high Brindabanchandra Temple, built in 1810, dominates the temple complex. Although the aat – chala (eight sloped roof) temple lacks the terracotta work it is largely compensated by coloured fresco on both outer and inner the walls. The Brindabanchandra Temple is flanked on the right by Ramchandra Temple and on the left by Krishnachandra Temple.

The ek-ratna (one – pinnacled) Ramchandra Temple, was constructed in late eighteenth century by the king of Sheraphuli Harishchandra Roy, is the definitely the most elegant temple of the complex. The one storied temple crowned with an octagonal turret contains rich terracotta works on the front and southern walls of the ground floor and also on the walls of the turret. The temple contains rich teracotta works depicting war scene from Ramayana, royal processions, marine voyages and scenes from day to day life.

The Krishnachandra Temple was constructed in 1745 during the rule of Nawab Ali Vardi Khan and follows the aat – chala from of architecture. All four temples stand on elevated platforms and are inter – connected by narrow arched passageways.

Terracotta Panel of Royal Procession

Although Guptipara has the distinction of housing Bengal’s first Durga Pujo but Durga Pujo is not Guptipara’s primary festival. When it comes to festival in Guptipara the first thing that comes into mind is Guptipara’s towering and colorful chariot. Being a Vaishnav centre Rath Jaytra (Chariot Festival) is major festival and prime attraction.

Guptipara Rath

The Bridabamchandra Temple hoses the idol of Jaganath, Balaram & Subhadra. On the day of the Rath Jatra the idols are carried out by the towering rath (chariot) to another temple known as Masir Bari where it is kept for 7 days. After which the journey is retraced by the rath, known as ulto rath, and the idols are brought back to the Brindabanchandra Temple.

The gigantic nine pinnacled rath is decorated with coloured festoons and banners and is fitted with wooden horses and several wooden statues. The multi wheeled rath is pulled by four thick ropes, out which one is reserved for women. A rope at the back serves as a brake. The rath is pulled through muddy & slushy ground in a wild rampage and it seems a miracle that the event goes on with a stampede. The event is heavily monitored by the police who clear the crowed to make way for the rath.

Guptipara Rath

The seven day period between the rath and ulto rath is marked with a mela (fair). The mela is complete with marry go rounds and magic & circus shows, makeshift stalls sells household wares to decorative showpiece. Even today Vishnav singers perform reminding one of the glourious days of Bhola Moira & Antony Firingi. Last but not the least is the food stalls selling papad bhaja to hot jilipis. But the age old fairs is also going through the process of evolutions with egg rolls and chowmein being the most preferred food items while stunt bike rides are the new source of entertainment.

Today Guptipara is a town in the district of Hooghly in West Bengal. Located about 75 km from Calcutta, Guptipara has its own railway station on Bandel – Katwa rail line and is well connected from Howrah. A visit to Guptipara will definitely provide an insight into Bengal’s rich cultural and social life and also provide the opportunity to admire some of Bengal’s richest terracotta work.

Reference:

    • Hooghly Jelar Purakirti by Naredrnath Bhattacharya
    • Next Weekend you can be at … Guptipara, The Telegraph March 26, 2006.
    • Next Weekend you can be at … Guptipara, The Telegraph Sept. 6, 2009.
    • Of Chariots, Temples and Folk Songs, Hindustan Times July 3, 2011.
    • Links from my Personal Web Page. Guptipara Travel, Guptipaara Rath, Guptipara Photo.

List of my Blog entry on West Bengal

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