Wednesday, 14 July, 2010


After two weeks of continuous sunshine and summer heat, it rained  today, bringing the temperature down considerably. The day dawned cloudy, with big dark grey clouds crowding the sky, reminding me of monsoon back home.  It started pouring buckets, the parched soil of Oxford soaked up the water gratefully and the trees are back in their green glory. They no longer look tired and yellow, wilting  under the relentless heat of the sun.

A message in my inbox informed me that it is Ratha Jatra today. Ratha Jatra is the Hindu celebration when the three deity siblings Jaganath, Balaram and Subhadra get up on a magnificent chariot and go off for their annual visit to their aunt's house. The celebration originated in the Jaganath temple of Puri but spread in the rest of India as well. If you want to know more, you could check this out.

To come back to the weather, one of the folklores that I grew up with is that it always rains on the day of rath. I remember as a kid cuddling upto my mother as she read me poems from Rabindranath Tagore's Sishu. There were many a poem on rath and the rain associated with rath.

Today  in this far away land, watching the rains those far away memories floated back.

I remember childhood days when we never had any school holidays for rath. So throughout the day in school there was heavy anticipation. We would all be busy planning how to decorate the rath we would be pulling in the evening. Yes each child in Kolkata during my childhood days were given a  small chariot to decorate and pull. And if we were really lucky we would even get to buy a brand new one, specially if the old one had disintegrated. I remember more than the pujo it was the chariot pulling which generated all the excitement.

These chariots were made of plywood, loosely nailed together and brightly coloured. They disintegrated really easily too. They came in various sizes, with first, second and third and sometimes fourth levels. So there used to be an inherent competition about the length of our chariots. The most magnificent ones were the three storied ones.

So after school we would decorate the chariots with colourful papers, glitters, flowers and leaves, put in  Jaganath, Balaram and Subhadra idols, a small plate with a sweet (prasad), an incense stand with a couple of incense sticks burning (much to the horror of elders and the incessant warnings) and after a round of the house [sometimes a pround grandma would put in an one rupee coin as dakhina (offering to the God)].  I remember my father coming home early to help me with my rath. As a youngster memories of me jumping up and down with joy and not being much help in decorating the rath is still there.  After a round of the house, it was time to make a round of the neighbourhood lane and the serious business of showing off the rath to the neighbourhood children and inspecting theirs. In my case it was our compound.  Kids from other houses would also come out with their chariots and after a couple of rounds of dragging the chariots with strings (which because of its lightweight would keep tripping/falling, or the idols would fall face down or the incense stand would stumble) we would offer the prasad to each other and then return home in glory. Next day in school we would all be agog with stories of how magnificent our raths were.

The rath with all the decorations would stay for 7 days, because that is the number of days these Gods would spend in their aunt's house. Then on the 8th day it was the ulto rath (return journey). Ulto rath was not that exciting, so we would do one quick round and then dismantle the rath and keep it safe for next year.

Apart from this, another attraction of rath was the food. Papar bhaja (poppadam) and suji ir halua (suji ka halwa) were must for rath. Also in Rashbehari there used to be a rath er mela (fair in celebration of rath). Among other things I remember the huge papor bhajas (they used to have huge speciality popadams) and also the nurseries. Since July is serious monsoon time in India with a lot of planting happening, these fairs would have huge nurseries selling all kinds of plants. How green and vibrant those plants looked to my young eyes.

I do not remember when I stopped getting excited about rath. Somewhere around teenage I guess.  But the younger memories are vibrant enough to last forever.

1 comment:

  1. Eita bhalo likhechish. Amader rather race hoto chotoder modhye. R barir kachei ekta mathe rather mela hoto, ekhono hoi. Mather ek koneh prai do tola uchu ek rath acchey. setai ekdik thekeh arekdik teneh niye jawa hoto.


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