OrissaMatters Bureau

New Delhi:

Thousands of devotees have celebrated Lord Sri Jagannath�s Ratha Yatra, or chariot journey festival, on 8th July in New Delhi.

The Jagannath temple at Hauz Khas, now a centre of cultural conglomeration for Oriyas in Delhi, witnessed a huge gathering from the early hours of the day until late in the evening.

The deities here have only a single chariot of modest size. Unlike Puri, no King comes here to perform chherapahanra, the sacred sweeping ceremony of the chariots. Yet, on the Bhagawan Jagannath Marg in Hauz Khas, the de facto �Bada Danda� here, there was no break in the enthusiasm of the large mass of devotees who had gathered to behold the Lord on the chariot, considered a matter of eternal virtue by Oriyas.

The Lord�s Day out

Devotees gather to pull Lord Jagannath�s chariot on Hauz Khas Road in New Delhi.

There were elephants, though, to carry the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Mr. B. L. Joshi, to perform the chherapahanra. The morning rituals over, the air reverberating in chants of Jai Jagannath, devotees brought the three deities on to the chariot, in what is called pahandi bije. After Mr. Joshi performed the chherapahanra, the three Lords- Sri Jagannath, elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra- started their journey at about 2 p. m. in the afternoon. The chariot went until the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on the Sri Aurobindo Marg and returned after covering a distance of almost eight km.

Even as people in nearby localities had queued up along both sides of the stretch to welcome the Gods on their day out, elaborate security arrangements had been made by Delhi Police in the wake of the attack on the disputed site at Ayodhya. The entire stretch of the Yatra had been kept clean of traffic with police personnel manning regular check points.

�The authorities have to make special arrangements for traffic and security for the Ratha Yatra every year. The Aurobindo Marg being one of the busiest streets in the capital, we complete the Yatra in about three hours,� says Bijay Dash, vice-president of Sri Neelachal Seva Sangha.

This association of Oriyas established the temple in Hauz Khas in 1969 after getting land from the Delhi Development Authority. The then Orissa Government had donated one lakh rupees for the temple would also serve as a centre of cultural, religious and spiritual interests of Oriyas in Delhi. The Lord�s Yatra began first in 1979 after the temple was built.

This is, however, not the only Ratha Yatra in Delhi, or even the first. As many as six Jagannath temples exist in Delhi today. There has been a �Bhagawan Jagannathji�s Yatra� in the Nai Sarak area in Old Delhi from as early as 1940s. Interestingly, the chariot there is drawn by bullocks!

Symbol of identity

So what was the need for another Jagannath temple? And why not a Shiva or any other temple? Mr. Dash explains: �Lord Jagannath is not only our God, but also our friend, philosopher and saviour. Moreover, He is our identity. So an Oriya community needing a cultural space tries to establish it distinctively by building a Jagannath temple.�

The Hauz Khas Jagannath temple, however, was not built by any influential or powerful persons. It came up with the initiative of a working class Oriya population comprising mostly of plumbers and small salaried people, bearing testimony that Sri Jagannath is the �dear Lord of the masses�.

�I come here on every Ratha Yatra to pull His chariot. For us it is no different from the �Nandighosh� (name of Jagannath�s chariot in Puri),� says Arun, a resident of Pattamundai in Orissa who works as a plumber in Delhi.

Another Ratha Yatra was also taken out from the Jagannath temple in Kotla, near INA market, barely five kilometres away from here. Amid much fanfare, a large group of devotees took part in the deities� journey on a bigger and much decorated chariot. Incidentally, this temple was also built by working class Oriyas around the same time.

�The Oriyas seem to share an immensely intimate relationship with Lord Jagannath, a fact that is unique and rare,� says Tripti Bassi, who teaches in Lady Shri Ram College for Women. �More than religious, this bonding appears to be based on cultural, secular and historical terms.�

Orissa�s society and culture are intricately woven around the Jagannath cult. A historic military expedition King Kapilendra Dev undertook against Kanchi in the 16th century was worked out by uniting the military chieftains and common masses around the symbolism of Jagannath. The Jagannath temple and the three deities have remained linked to Orissa�s glory and humiliation in its various times.

Says Deepak Kumar, Professor of History at Jawaharlal Nehru University: �Wherever they go, the Oriyas leave their mark by building temples.� Prof. Kumar has visited ancient Hindu temples in Indonesia built in the Singhadwara style, a typical feature of Orissan architecture. �Over centuries, the vastly diverse Oriya people have developed a common ethnic identity around Lord Jagannath, and that shows in the enthusiasm for building His temple,� adds Prof. Kumar.

The deities at Hauz Khas temple have no Sri Gundicha temple to visit. For nine days they stay in the ground floor before finally returning to the sanctum sanctorum on the Bahuda Yatra (day of return), scheduled this year on the 17th of this month.

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