Indian cultural ethos and its link with temple Chariots and divinity

Airavatesvara Temple sanctum in a chariot form, Darasuram,TN, wikipedia

Stone chariot,

In the Indian subcontinent in the present day the chariot commonly implies the one owned by a Hindu temple. The same temple may have more than one chariot. Unlike India where Chariot is associated with divinity and enjoys a special status and reverence,  world over it is either relegated  to the  dusty pages of history or a show piece on display in a museum as relics of the past. The Rathotsava or Rathayatra, the unique tradition of procession of Ratha has been here for centuries and its antiquity dates back to the vedic period. The concept of  Ratha  is stimulated from countless myths, epics, legends, folklore etc and it shows how imaginative our forefathers were and  how there exists a striking relevance between logic and associated myth.  The concept of ratha embodies  religious connotation bringing out divine perceptions, its philosophical, religious and socio-cultural significance. 
Thiruvarur Ther chariot,the largest Ratha /car. Tamil Nadu.
Big Ther/ chariot   of Sri Thyagaraja Swami, Tiruvarur

The Rath yatra, Jagannath Temple, Puri,

Ratha or Rath means a chariot or car invariably made from wood with wheels. It may be a moving temple tower with divinity in it. It is a form of   temple architecture called   chala-alaya with intricately carved wooden images mostly taken from the Hindu epics The Ratha may be driven manually by rope, pulled by horses or elephants. They are  being used mostly by the Hindu temples of South India for Rathotsava (Car festival). During the festival, the temple deities (utchavars)  are driven through the streets, accompanied by musical troupes, etc. The Ratha or chariot is a temple on the wheel, on the move from one place to another.
It does have  an adisthanam and Vedis  like a temple and is a personification of divinity coming to your place to bless you  and your family. The moving chariot eliminates the evil on its 
path and cleanses it.  The most famous ratha is the Azhi ther, one of  the tallest and heaviest one,  belonging  to the Thiyagaraja temple of Tiruvarur, Tamil Nadu  (please see: 

As for the rathyatra, Jagannath temple, Puri in the state of  Odisha is quite famous. The long-drawn festival is an interesting one and is held in the month of  June or July (please see:

According to the authentic text on ratha called Vishvakarmiya Rathalakshanam, available  in Sarasvati Mahal library at Thanjavur, TN,  there are three  types of chariots, namely, Patrakalpa – the chariots for Gods, Chitrakalpa – the chariots for kings and the Ratnakalpas – the chariots for upper class.  The monuments at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu  and  Hampi (Vijayanagar stone chariot), Karnataka exhibit the growth and evolution of temple architecture and their representations in the forms of ratha-shaped shines made of stone. Here we are mainly concerned with  God's vehicle - Patrakalpa - chariots that carry divinity on them. 
KrishnaArjuna at Kurukshetra, 18th to 19thCE painting.en.wikipedia.

The puranic stories, epics and legends are replete with stories of great warriors who displayed their skill and courage in destroying and annihilating demons and evil forces by being chariot-borne. In the Hindu mythology, it is to be borne in mind, the chariot represents the entire cosmos. Surya, the Sun god using his special chariot drawn by seven horses  covers the entire earth within 24 hours  with one wheel emitting light and life. During the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna uses the chariot driven by Partha (Sri Krishna himself) with the flag in the mast carrying Hanuman's image. Gifted by Agni during Khandava vana episode, the maker of the chariot, it is believed was  Bhoumana Vishvakarma, (Rigveda 10:81 and 82); he was a great sculptor coronated by Prajapati. On Indira's advice the flag-staff was made by Visvakarma.  Both Shiva and Devi are also associated with rathas. God Shiva when fought with three demons, known as Tripurantaka used a well-made  chariot  with good manoeuvrability, according to Shiva purana. 

Ratha is closely associated with Indian culture art and tradition, Besides temple chariots, the ones owned by the puranic rulers have had some influence on the Indian arts. If you take the case of many deities in the Hindu pantheon, they are nicely  portrayed as riding the ratha. Ushas (the dawn; a Rigvedic goddess of dawn driving away oppressive darkness, chasing away evil demons, rousing all life, setting all things in motion)  rides in a chariot, as well as Agni in his function as a messenger between gods and men. This is the reason  why pious Hindus pay obeisance to the rising Sun in the morning (Suryothayam). In Rigveda - 6.61.13  (2nd millennium BCE ) the Sarasvati river is described as being wide and speedy, like a (Rigvedic) chariot. Rigvedic chariots are commonly made of wood of Salmali  tree (cotton tree/ Bombax Seiba) and also Simsapa. The number of wheels and configuration are described in the Rathasastra. Sri Krishna, Arjuna's charioteer during the Kurukshetra war, gave Geethopadesam to him, delivering the eternal truth  and the transient nature of the universe and our life on earth. Lord Rama with Sita and Lakshmana went to forest on exile in a ratha.  

Invariably most of the Indian rulers in the past several centuries had to depend on the chariots for wars and transportation, etc. A case in  point is the legend of Manuneethi Chozan of Tamil Desam
in which the  chariot's wheel was the cause of  death of a calf. The chariot was driven by the ruler's son.  The gist of the legend is how the just ruler dispenses the case,  responding to the mother cow's appeal by way of striking the  Bell of Justice and  drawing the attention of the king to rectify the injustice done to her. Please see 

Konark Sun Temple Ratha wheel, en wikipedia org.
 As for Patrakalpa,  in some Hindu temples, the shrine or garbhagriha is in the shape of a chariot. So are the buildings on the temples premises that have the shape of a huge chariot or because they contain a divinity as does a temple chariot. A good example is the Pancha Rathas (=5 rathas) in Mahabalipuram, although not with the shape of a chariot. Yet another  example is the Jaga Mohan of the Konark Sun Temple in Konar√Ęk. The striking feature is it is  built on a platform with twelve sculptures of wheels, as a symbol of the chariot of the Sun.  The inference we can make from many examples  mentioned above is that the concept of chariot and its wheels has hoary past.
Nataraja temple, chidambaram, TN
Today, chariots, in particular those associated with the Hindu temples represent the ethos of Indian culture and their close affinity with the divinity.  At many museums such as Manjusha Museum at Dharmasthala, Calico Museum at Ahmadabad, Janapada Loka at Ramnagar, Government Museum at Kanyakumari and at the National Museum in New Delhi, you can see nicely carved chariots. The display of chariots made of wood, metal, etc  in public place has gained currency because our legacy and culture have close link with the temples. In south India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, almost all famous temples have a chariot or two. The damaged and very old chariots are not in use and private collectors or Museums buy them, spend money on their restoration and repair and put them on displace in a vantage place as a symbol of their pride possession.  The  big wooden base of a chariot contains countless beautifully carved small wooden deities, etc on all four sides drawn mostly from the Hindu epics - the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The intricate work and workmanship of the artisans  will leave you  speechless with ecstasy.  Chariot is a moving temple tower with a divinity in it and our cultural ethos will never die as long as the rathyathras or chariot festivals go on.,_Puri
Jagannath Temple Odisha, Jagannath Temple Orissa". 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2012.