The Gods Roll On

[A man washes his feet before he enters the gates of the Jagannath temple on the day of the Rath Yatra]

Peeking out from the many folds of her peacock green silk sari, Reecha Padhi tilts her head forward, closes her eyes and presses her palms together in prayer to one of the three wooden chariot shaped temples looming above her. Bright Orissan appliqué work canvas covers the great tower of the chariots. Behind her are the jostling souls of some eight hundred thousand or so pilgrims waiting to catch a glimpse of the deities in the giant chariots— Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. This is the last day in the sanctum and tomorrow the deities will begin an 8-day journey with their many worshippers.

[One of the Pujakas makes final preparations on the morning of the Rath Yatra]

The Chariots are ready Sire.
[The three raths(chariots) of - Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra]


sts) shove and pull a six-foot wooden pillar painted with enormous black, lidless eyes and a red slash of a mouth, up a rough log ramp onto the chariot.Rhythmically hammering brass manjiras and dholaks, other priests swirled around the canopied chariot. A wail of ritual singing pulsed over the throng and smoke billowed from silver incense burners.

Soft morning sunshine, illuminates beauty.


The grand spectacle of the chariot festival of the god Jagannath of Orissa has been played out on the streets of this ancient seaside town of Puri for more than six hundred years. Each summer hundreds of thousands of devotees travel here to offer darshan, a ritual gazing, before the three grand chariots, the largest bearing the
timber image of Jagannath, and to labour on the thigh-thick ropes that pull the rodigious vehicles, through the streets of Puri.

Rath Yatra, Puri, Orissa.

As the final stage of the annual festival began, Gajapati Maharaja of Puri,Dibyasingha Deb, came borne in a palanquin covered in red appliqué work, and ritually swept the garishly painted platforms around the three chariots with a golden broom. Gigantic ropes and wooden horses were then attached to each of the three wooden chariots. With a roar of fervor, thousands of devotees rushed to pull the carts and their god Jagannath on his summer outing.

Rath Yatra, Puri, Orissa.

As the great wheels slowly turned, the faithful bent low to daub their foreheads with the crushed dust left by the chariot. Slowly Jagannath and his holy siblings move forward down Puri's Grand Road towards its final destination the Shri Gundicha temple in an awe-inspiring show of faith.

Foaming Tides in Orissa

Boats in Puri, India.
[Wooden Catamarans at Puri, Beach of C.T Road]

I am left counting the stars on my ceiling, the sound of the ocean soaks in, as the sand riddles the sole of my feet. The sky in its burnt dusk slowly burns a light pink till it eventually gives away to an almost neon blue. A full moon night in June on the cleaner side of the beach in Orissa - bliss. A light drizzle and the clumsy trudging of feet wake me from my momentary calmness. This is Puri, for in its dysfunction lies its beauty. A few hours earlier we had arrived here on a crowded bus, the kind that will stop anywhere for anyone as long as they can pay the fare of a few rupees and are willing to ride on the top of the bus if they have to.

The  Bus to Puri, Orissa
[Crowded Bus to Puri from Bhubaneshwar]

Even if Puri was not a temple town steeped in history it would have survived for its stretches of golden sand, crusty waves lashing the shore and an unblemished skyline that greets you warmly. The beach, which is lined with local women selling an array of crystal and shell
jewellery and fishermen displaying their catch of shiny fish and glistening prawns, is a whirl of activity. The conical hatted local young men who double as lifeguards are as much a part of the beach as the surf and the sand and are a safe bet against the treacherous undercurrent.

Walking in to the Bay of Bengal
[An old man greets the Bay of Bengal with as much enthusiasm as the children to his left]

Puri was once the weekend resort of maharajahs and wealthy Bengalis from Calcutta. When the British came to the coast to bathe away some of the dust, they built or rented large beach villas; many retained them after independence some well into the 60's. Today these properties are now owned by not-so-wealthy Bengalis and are leased as company guest houses. I was told that till about five years ago they were the only buildings facing the bay, and it was rare, indeed an
imposition, to share that glorious beach with anyone except the fishermen and occasional shrimp peddlers.

Fishing Village Pentakota, Orissa
[Fisherman hauling in the nets at Pentakota near Puri.]

Anyway, we stayed at an LP recommended, strangely named Z Hotel, which excuse the falsely futuristic name, was once owned by the Raja of Serampore, and had still managed to keep its bougainvillea filled old world charm. Our stay there was pleasant even though our
auto-rickshawallah on arrival at Puri had given us the impression that it was raided and closed down by the police permanently - he quickly backtracked when I proceeded to remove my cell phone and call them.

What else is there to do after a 14 hour journey but to sit back, relax and watch the Bay of Bengal change her tides.

Boy on the beach,Bay of Bengal.