'' Rukuna Rath Yatra'' of Lingaraja temple of Bhubaneswar, Odisha - a fascinating festival

the Rukuna rath yatra, Bhubaneswar odishabytes.com

Rukuna Rath Yatra is an annual Rath yatra of Lingaraja temple (dedicated to God Shiva) held in Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha. The city is famous for lots of ancient  Hindu temples just like Kanchipuram and Kumbakonam cities of Tamil Nadu. The festival of Rath yatra of Lingaraja temple is an interesting and popular one that every year falls on Ashokashtami. Also known as Ashok Ashtami, it is dedicated to Goddess Shakti and Lord Shiva.  The belief has been that this grand  festival is “Papa Binashakari Yatra” i.e. devotees taking part in the festivity will get rid of  all evils and sins committed  unwittingly by them. 

Rukuna Rath, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. 2022 .telegraphindia.com

The main venue of this festivity is  the famous Lingaraja Temple in Bhubaneswar. and it falls  on the eighth day during the Shukla Paksha (eighth day of the bright fortnight)of Chaitra month. This year, it was held in April.

Rukuna Rath, Bhubaneswar odishabytes.com/

Legend has it the   during Tretya Yuga, Sri Rama during 14 year   vanavasa - exile from Ajodhya visited  Ekamra Ksetra - the present place of Bhubaneswar (as per Ekamra Purana and other scriptures). God Shiva -Lingaraja with great joy hosted him and the place  where  Rama had stayed is known as Rameswara. 

.Location. Bhubaneswar, Odisha. mapsofindia.com

As Sri Rama’s birthday also fell during the period of stay in Ekamra Ksetra,  Lingaraja along with consort  Parvati, Ganesha and Kartikeya journeyed to Rameswara temple (also known as  Rameshwar Deula temple)  on the chariot to wish god Rama. This 5-day Ratha festival has close link with Sri Rama and Shiva linking the Harihara form of Lingaraja Mahaprabhu -  Harihara is a form of Vishnu and Shiva.  
Far before the yatra the temple  priests conduct  Banajaga Puja. On the auspicious day - Panchami or Basanta Panchami or Saraswati Puja, processional deities (i.e. Utsava  idols ) of Lingaraja  are  taken to Badatota in a procession to select the mango tree for the construction of a ratha.  Once selected, after some rituals  the  tree trunk will be brought back in a ceremonial procession called “Banajaga Yatra”  to  Mahakhala (the place of temple) where carpenters  will work on tree  after puja and prayer. As per convention, a flag is hoisted on this occasion before actual construction work begins. After this, other woods required for the Ratha  will be procured from the forest.

Jagannath rath yatra, Puri in.pinterest.com

Just like Jagannath temple tradition, annually a selected mangao tree is cut to make the ratha.  On the day of Magha Saptami (Magha Month, Shukla Pakshya Saptami), Chalanti Pratima of Lingaraja (an image of god) goes to Bhaskaresvara Temple with details of specifications of ratha.  After this  the carpenters take  about two months to complete the 35-foot wooden  Ratha with 16 Karamandalas, 4 Toranas (Gates), Golden colored Kalasa, Scented Flag (on the top i.e. on Dadhinauti (A golden pot)), Trishul (trident), 4 Horses and Dibya Singhasana (where Utsava idols are ceremoniously mounted ) - all as per specifications. 
The next ritual is  “Pratistha” (consecration) after ratha is made.  A make-shift Pratistha Mandapa (some like Yagasala) is constructed on the north side of the Ratha and inside it one kunda is made for rituals.  Four Purna Kumbhas (earthen pots filled with holy water) are then placed in the Mandapa.   Learned pundits  conduct  homa before agni kunda  (fire-pit) and purna-ahuti of yajna (a common procedure in Hindu temples across India). On completion of his ritual, the idols of  various deities such as  Nandi, Mahakala, Ganesha, Karttikeya,  Rudra, Trimurti and others are fixed on top of the ratha again as per convention.  Ratha is decorated with flag, umbrella, colorful  cloth canopy, festoons, flower garlands, etc. The work on the ratha will be over  on the Saptami night itself.  The  tall chariot with four wheels draped in yellow, red, white and blue cloth, moves down the street in the midst of beats of   drums - mardala and ghantua, there is excitement all over

The idea of so  many idols/images on the ratha is  basically  a ratha is   a  ''moving temple carrying divinity''. The assumption is along with primary deities, sub deities in the temple,  as their  retinue, also accompany them on the ratha.  All along the path of the ratha,  evil forces, spirits, etc.,  will be driven out;  hence devotees participate in the  ratha yatra in large number. 

According to Shiva purana:  Ratha’s right wheel symbolizes Surya and the left wheel moon/ Chandra. The right wheel with twelve spokes presided by Adityas  The left wheel with sixteen spokes, represent the sixteen digits of the Moon. As for the four wooden horses, they  represent  four Vedas and Brahma  serves as the Sarathi. The center of the ratha is sanctuary  the holy inner space where deities ride. 
On the rath yatra day the deities are  taken in a chariot to Rameshwar Deula temple  (Mausi Maa Mandira).  It is about 2 km  journey on “Ratha-Danda”  The Chalanti Pratima’  stays on the Ratha that day.   Following day ( on the auspicious Rama Navami day) Lingaraja, Rukmini and Vasudeva are taken in to Rameswara Temple in Pahandi Bije, (procession of deities) where Chandrasekhara wishes God  Rama on his birthday. It is quite interesting that  Ram Navami marks the beginning of the process to cut the logs  from which three chariots of Lords Jagannath and Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra.

Subadra, balarama & Jagannatha. painting, Puri.in.pinterest.com

Thousands of devotees follow and pull brightly decorated chariots containing the idols of Lingaraj and his sister Rukmani during the yatra.  This year celebrations began on 9th April.  As it has been a custom in all south Indian temples,  preparations for the annual rath yatra would normally begin with flag-hoisting ceremony  neta uchhaba (flag ceremony).  To begin with, the chariot will be reverentially purified by the priests and a flag will  fixed on the top of the chariot. The holy water from  a well called Marichi Kunda. is used to wash the chariot before mounting the deities.    

This year  the first pot of holy water was auctioned and sold at  Rs 1,05,000. The belief has been that infertile woman  can conceive after bathing with this water on this auspicious day.

This rath yatra differs from Puri rath yatra, the unusual feature of this yatra is it does not "take a turn." After a five-day brief stop over  the deities on the chariot return to their abode. Quite fascinating is  chariot is pulled from behind (not from the front), therefore  the  chariot  does not take a turn). it is called called analeuta (the chariot that does not take a turn). I have not head such a strange tradition in  in the  therottam or ratha yatra  of South India as far as I know. 

 This year pulling of the chariot to the Gundicha Ghar in Rameswara temple took place on 12th April  at 3.30 pm and ended by 6.30 pm on the day.  Bahuda Yatra of Lord Lingaraj was held on April 13. 
This rath yatra was not held in the last two years due to Covid-19 threats and restrictions on crowds and large gatherings. In 2021 the rath yatra did take place, but the ratha was pulled by the police and others  selected for this purpose. This year 2022 the yatra was a joyous occasion and there was fair held near the Mausima temple.  This year the the chariot reached the destination on the following day as the start got delayed previous day. 

Prior to that at the lingaraj temple after completion of  certain temple rituals by the priests the bronze idols - the three  processional deities  Chandrasekhar (the representative of Lord Lingaraj), Rukmini and Basudeva - were ceremoniously mounted on the decorated chariot outside the shrine. The state government employed a large pose of police at vantage points for security reasons. Fifteen platoons of police were deployed at various places to control the crowd;   closed-circuit television cameras were installed to watch the trouble makers.