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Selection of Trees and Puja of Trees before Cut for Puri Rath Yatra Chariots – Beginning of Chariot Construction

Three new wooden chariots are made every year during the Puri Jagannath Ratha Yatra.

Trees preferred for chariot making are Phasi, Kadamba, Dharua, Devadaru, Simili, Asana, Mahalima, Moi, Kalachua, Paldhua etc. The Dasapalla and Nayagarh forest division and the Khurda forest division provides the trees needed for chariot making. 

Journey to Find Ideal Tree and Puja

Temple administrators (caretaker and representative of technical committee), group of carpenters headed by Maharana, other artisans and laborers go the forest for the selection of the trees for making the chariots. This happens a month before Basant Panchami (January – February).

When the group reaches the Dasapalla area, they first offer prayers to Bada Raula Thakurani – a powerful manifestation of Mother Goddess. Her permission is taken before venturing into her domain.

Each year nearly 1000 trees are felled for building the three chariots. The chariot construction requires about 1,135 big logs of about 400 cubic meters.

The group going to cut trees carry with them agyan mala (holy garland offered to Jagannath). Once the main tree is selected, the garland is put on the tree and this symbolically signifies divine authority to cut the tree. The tree is now holy and has the sanction of the deities in the Puri Jagannath temple. Mahaprasada and other rituals are offered in front of the tree. A simple puja is performed.

Transportation of Logs to Bada Danda

The trees are then cut and the logs are then transported on trucks to Bada Danda. They are stored at the designated area between the main temple office and the palace of Gajapati (Srinahara). Some logs are now taken to the sawmill for sizing. 

Ratha Khala

The entire area designated for making the chariots are known as Ratha Khala or Maha Khala. Temporary sheds using bamboo and coconut leaves are made for storing the logs which arrive as early as Basant Panchami (February). Various parts of the Ratha are constructed here and finally, the chariots are assembled here.

All woods required for making the chariots reach the venue before Akshaya Tritiya (April – May). The ritual beginning of the construction of Rathas begins on the Akshaya Tritiya with the ritual known as Ratha Anukula.

Three logs are selected and placed near the temple office.

Beginning of Chariot Construction and Rituals on Akshaya Tritiya

On the Akshaya Tritiya day, Jagannath Temple priests wash the logs and then they carry three garlands already offered to the three presiding deities in the Srimandira. The garlands known as 'agyan mala' is handed over to the carpenters. They place them on a red color silk cloth and it is then put them on the three logs. This symbolizes divine permission to start the construction.

A special sacrifice known as Bana Yaga is performed on the site by Shrotriya Brahmins. This is thanking the forests and the ritual includes the offering of ghee and chanting of sacred mantras.

The three chief carpenters offer unbroken coconuts and uncooked rice grains with husk and offer prayers to their ancestors.

The main carpenters known as Ratha Nayakas or Maharanas are honored in the barana ceremony. They are offered lagi khandua (silk tie-dye cloth).

The priests of the temple symbolically touch the logs with a silver axe.

The tools for the construction of the chariots are cleaned and pujas are performed. The main carpenters then touch the three logs with axes. This marks the beginning of the construction of the chariots.

Garlands used by the three deities – Jagannath, Subhadra, and Balabhadra – are taken thrice to the construction place. First on Akshaya Tritiya day, next on the day of Bhaunari the day, when wheels are fixed to the axles, and finally on the Netrotsava day.

Did You Know?
Before cutting the tree in ancient times, a temple priest and sutradhara used to go for cutting the trees. They were honored by the Gajapati king in a ceremony called barana. But this ritual is now not followed. The journey was then known as Aranya Yatra or the forest journey.

In ancient times, the pujas before cutting tree was elaborate. A yajna was conducted before felling the trees.

In ancient times, logs were transported from the forests through the river on raft. The logs were unloaded at the Huluhulia Ghat. From the ghat, the logs were transported to the Bada Danda on bullock carts. The carts were provided by the monasteries in Puri.

As per Hindu scriptures, before cutting a tree permission has to be taken from the tree, the birds and other animals residing on the tree and from the animals that resided below the tree.