Rathayatra or chariot journey is an important Hindu
festival, referring primarily to the journey of the god jagannath
to the sea. The puranas,
however, refer to several chariot journeys by different gods and goddesses.
For instance, the Bhavisyapurana describes the journey of the sun
god, the Devipurana describes the journey of Mahadevi, and the
Padma, Skanda, and Bhavisyottara Puranas describe
the journey of Vishnu. While the rathayatra was celebrated at different
times in different places, at present, it is observed on the second day
of the new moon in Asadha following the tradition set in Puri, Orissa.
The return journey takes place on the 11th day of the moon. The chariot
is thus brought back to its starting point after eight days.
Hindus worship Jagannath as the lord of the world (jagat,
world + natha, lord) and believe that their salvation lies in his
blessings. They believe that seeing Jagannath on his chariot will release
them from the cycle of rebirth. Hindu devotees accordingly arrange this
chariot journey annually in the hope of attaining salvation.
Rathayatra has been celebrated in Bangladesh for several centuries.
The festivals held in Dhaka, Dhamrai, Khulna, Barisal, Gopalganj,
Comilla, Chittagong, Sylhet, Mymensingh and Rangpur are particularly
noteworthy. The festival in old Dhaka is quite colourful, and
the fair held on the occasion attracts large crowds. The rathayatra
at Dhamrai was very famous because of a towering 60-foot chariot
built by the zamindars of Saturia Baliyati towards the middle
of the 19th century.
The 3-storied chariot needed 27 maunds of rope to drag
it. During the war
of liberation, the chariot was burned down by the Pakistan
army. A newly built chariot has now replaced the old one. A month-long
fair is held at Dhamrai on the occasion of the rathayatra. Devotees come
from India and Nepal to pull the chariot.
Other well-known rathayatras are those of Manikya Sadhak
in Gazipur, Bhogh Betal in Kishoreganj, Maharaj Bahadur in Comilla. The
villages of Baraikhali and Baliadanga in Jessore, Aditmari Kamarpara in
Rangpur and Tulshidham in Chittagong are also famous for their rathayatra
festivals. In the past, western visitors viewed the huge chariot, which
moved slowly through crowds, as an object of terror. This misconception
led to the coining of the word 'juggernaut'-a corruption of Jagannath-to
refer to something monstrous and ruthless.
Several superstitions are associated with the rathayatra.
For example, Hindus believe that banana saplings planted at this time
will bear more fruit than those planted at other times. They also believe
that if clouds rumble during the forenoon of the day, the monsoon will
be early. If, however, clouds rumble during the afternoon, the monsoon
will be delayed. [Paresh Chandra Mandal]