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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.

Mahesh Rath Yatra

When it comes to Rathayartra the first name that comes to mind is Puri. But closer home Mahesh, near Srerampore in Hooghly district, hosts a magnificent Rathyayatra festival complete with a towering rath.

Mahesh Rath

Mahesh Rath

Legend has it that in the 14th century Dhurbananda Bramhachari, a Bengali sage went to Puri for a pilgrimage, with the desire to offer Bhog to Lord Jagannath. Sadly the temple authorities at Puri prevented him from doing so. Dejected Dhurabnanda decided to fast till death. On the third day of his fast he heard Lord Jagannath’s voice, advising him to head back to Bengal, to a place called Mahesh on the banks of Hooghly. The lord also advised him that at Mahesh he will find a huge neem trunk, which he will use to make the idols of Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra.

Devotee at Mahesh Rath Jatra

Devotee at Mahesh Rath Jatra

Dhurabnanda retraced his steps back to Bengal and on a scary night the long sort after neem trunk arrived. Dhurabananda carried out the lords order and established the temple at Mahesh. Today the temple has been replaced by a new structure but the Rathayatra dating back to 1397 operates to this day.

Like the temple the Rath has been replaced several times. 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.

Police force at Mahesh Rath Jatra

Police force at Mahesh Rath Jatra

The four storied Rath is fitted with two wooden horses and a chariot driver.  Apart from that the first stage contains wooden figures of Chaitanyalila, second and third stage contains Krishnalila and Ramlila respectively. The top stage houses the gigantic wooden idol of Jagannath.

Today this gigantic rath is pulled in a wild rampage, through crowded streets under strict police supervision. The eight day period between rath a ulto – rath is marked by a mela (fair), complete with mary go rounds and circus shows. Makeshift stalls selling household items and artifacts. Last but not least are the food stalls selling papad bhaja and hot jilibis. But the age old melas are also going through the mode of evolution with chowmeins and egg rolls being the most sort after food items and stunt bike rides are the new source of entertainment.

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