Bangla Rathayatra


Damraj Ratha Cart Illuminated at Night

Oct 10, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — Rathayatra or the chariot journey is an important festival in Vaisnava Bangladesh. As in Orissa, it generally refers to the journey of Lord Jagannath, although the Puranas refer to several chariot journeys taken by different incarnations of the Lord and his divine associates. For instance, the Bhavisya Purana describes the journey of Lord Surya, the sun god, and the Devi Purana describes the journey of Mahadevi (Laksmi). The Padma, Skanda and Bhavisyottara Puranas describe the journey of Lord Vishnu.

While Rathayatra is celebrated at different times in different places, at present in Bangladesh it is observed on the second day of the new moon in Asadha, following the tradition set in Puri Dham. The return journey takes place on the 11th day of the moon, when the chariot returns home eight days after its starting date.

Front face of Damraj Chariot

Rathayatra has been celebrated in Bangladesh for several centuries. The festivals held in Dhaka, Dhamrai (Damraj), Khulna, Barisal, Gopalganj, Comilla, Chittagong, Sylhet, Mymensingh and Rangpur are particularly noteworthy. The festival in old Dhaka is quite colourful, and the fair held on the occasion attracts large crowds each year. The Rathayatra at Dhamrai was very famous for the towering 60-foot chariot built by the zamindars of Saturia Baliyati towards the middle of the 19th Century.

The 3-storied chariot needed 27 maunds of rope to drag it. During the War of Liberation, the chariot was burned down by the Pakistan army. A newly built chariot has now replaced the old one. A month-long fair is held at Dhamrai on the occasion of the Rathayatra, when devotees come from India and Nepal to pull the Lord's chariot.

Other well-known Bangla Rathayatras are those of Manikya Sadhak in Gazipur, Bhogh Betal in Kishoreganj, and Maharaj Bahadur in Comilla. The villages of Baraikhali and Baliadanga in Jessore, Aditmari Kamarpara in Rangpur and Tulshidham in Chittagong are also famous for their car festivals.

Front face of Damraj Chariot

In the past, western visitors (e.g., during the Raj) viewed the huge chariot as it moved slowly through crowds as an object of terror. Their bigoted misconceptions led to the coining of the word 'juggernaut' -- a corruption of 'Jagannath', which instead had a derogatory meaning.

In Bangladesh, devotees believe that banana saplings planted at the time of year when the Ratha is held will bear more fruit than those planted at other times. They also believe that if clouds rumble during the forenoon of the day, the monsoon will be early if that. If clouds rumble during the afternoon, however, it's taken as a sign that the monsoon will be delayed.

Sources: Paresh Chandra Mandal, Banglapedia


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