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.
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.
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 Today the temple has been replaced by a new structure but the Rathayatra dating back to 1397 operates to this day.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.
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.