Where The Divine Travels: Rath Yatra Puri
The map only showed that Puri is on the sea shore of Bay of Bengal, there was no mention of the ocean of humanity that submerges the city of Lord Jagannath every year. As per legend every year Lord Jagannath and his siblings Balbhadra and Subhadra visit their aunts’ home. The journey happens on three temples chariots pulled by devotees.
When I reached the main square where Raths were getting final touches, more than the size of the Chariots I am overwhelmed by humanity around me. It seems the world has congregated on the path the Lord takes for his journey to his aunt. For most of us Indians, the first trip is to our relatives and the second is a pilgrimage to see our gods. Rath Yatra is both. The pilgrims are visiting the Lord, and he is leaving his abode to give a darshan to mortals, outside the haloed chambers.
The temple square is full, but people keep pouring in from every tributary to merge in the ocean in front of the chariots. Personal space is reduced to inches. My city-bred nose tries to revolt only to be snubbed by desi heart that wants to merge with millions to be ONE with the divine.
I try to capture the colors of chariots against the azure sky and rural India in their finery to get a glimpse of the Lord and get a chance to pull the chariots. Before I could reach chariots my head starts spinning, after all how long a couple of Idlis can stand for you in the blazing sun? A volunteer sprinkles water on me and guides me to the pavement, I settle on a small patch vacant by some miracle. An old woman gestures me to cover my head and settles next to me.
A Panda appears with a pot of Prasad & drowns in waves of “Hari Bol, Hari Bol”, in seconds his pot is empty, and his fist is stuffed with soiled notes. Another man looks at my camera and offers me a roof top seat for a few thousand rupees.
“ Sir come to the roof, that is the place for people like you”, I wonder what is people like me, the urban middle class perched on rooftops looking down on the very Lord they are praying to.
As I walk to my hotel I meet some boys conducting their own Ratha Yatra in a narrow alley.
I return in the evening to join chants of “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” with devotees lighting lamps and offering prayers to Lord Jagannath.
Next morning as I walk past the Raths, the idols have moved to the Gundicha Temple and a lone officer is trying to protect himself from the drizzle. The devotees are gone and so is the frown on his face.
But just like thousands of years, the Ocean will return next year, and hopefully me too, for who does not want to be part of an Ocean?
Let us see when I get a chance to revisit the abode of Lord Jagannath to watch his annual spectacle that is like nothing else on this planet. Jai Jagannath.
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