I am sure there are more sarkari holidays in Bhubaneswar than anywhere else in India. Yesterday was a holiday. Yesterday was Ratha Yatra. I went to Puri to witness the religious tamasha. I went pretty early – eightish in the morning. Crowd had only started to build up. There was a wide paved road with hotels and shops on both sides. Between the edges of the road and the permanent structures along the road, lay several vendors – some selling jadibuti, some beads – some selling miniature wooden idols of Jagannath, some water. There was energy in the air. It was hot and sunny and humid but the heat was less than what it had been a day ago – thanks to the faint presence of clouds. As I walked on the road, passing one vendor after another, I saw three red coloured temple-domes on one end. I kept walking in their direction till I was close enough. They were red coloured wooden temples – three in number – built atop a wooden platform. The platform was supported on wooden wheels. This was the Ratha – the chariot. The yatra (journey) would begin only later in the afternoon.
One couldn’t go all the way to the Ratha. I went as far as one could – a mere hundred meters away from the wooden structure. A line of CRPF jawans formed a human chain that ran parallel to a rope-chain. On one side of the chain were the Ratha and the pandas (priests) and the volunteers. On the other side were the devotees and I. I had a camera. I shot pictures. I stood right next the to the barricade. Few volunteers were busy sprinkling thin spray of water over everyone’s head. Everyone who didn’t have a camera liked the sprinkling – it gave a lot of relief to the body being tortured under the sun. I tried my best to keep my camera dry. I more or less succeeded. I got bored and moved away from the Rath. I was still amidst the crowd. The crowd was building up. Every second.
There was a middle-aged red coloured hanuman swaying his cheap golden gada around to get some attention. He got a lot of attention. The hanuman loved it when I took his pictures – he knew how to pose when in front of the camera. Hanuman was not alone. He had a middle-aged friend with a shining paunch over which ran a thin line of hair. His entire body glittered like gold – thanks to the chemical lotion he had applied all over his skin. He wielded a sword now and then and almost always maintained a dumb killer look in his eyes. Mythology was bright and gleaming out there in the open. So were the admirers – both rich and poor.
The poor dressed in bright, gay and flashy clothes ambled around flashing their white teeth over their tanned skins. They looked more happy than excited. They were as happy as children. The not so poor ones, dressed in lighter shades tried to compensate for their lack of child like happiness with that extended bout of excitement that engulfed them. There were losers too. They were the ones sitting in comfort of the hotel balconies, sitting under shades, blowing fans with hands and with their eyes – looking below at the Ratha and the fervent crowd that smelt of sweat and incense. Everything that could be sold was being sold – peacock feathers, cheap chunris, books on religion printed on recycled paper, flutes, plastic whistles and space on hotel balconies that promised eagle views. There were saints and sanyasis – some sitting quietly while others charged up beating dhols and singing bhajans.
All the while I was there, the Ratha never moved. I returned. I returned via Konark because the Bhubaneswar Puri road had been turned one-way yesterday. So I spent some time in Konark – in the Sun temple. It immediately reminded me of Khajuraho. It was a shade smaller. The sculptures were a shade less erotic. But it was good. It was brownish, stony, arty, spacious, enchanting, erotic, attractive and rustic.
Dark clouds hovered all over Bhubaneswar in the evening and later light rains did occur. I lived yet another day.