Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Hindu temple Chariot (Ratha) - 36 engaging facts

Thanjavur Big temple chariot near the shed.thehindu.com
Srirangam temple chariot wooden base. Pintere
At  countless important Hindu temples of South India chariot / car festival (Rathoutsava; in Tamil Ther Thiruvizha) is an  annual grand event normally held in the month of Chithrai, the very first Tamil month. It is an auspicious  temple event conducted with devotion and fanfare. This yearly festival has an inherent social purpose. 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. 
 Devotees, irrespective of their social obligation and  caste get a chance to worship the deity in the chariot  in the comforts of their place without having to visit the temple. As various communities are involved in the festival, it  promotes social integration and unity. It is  an amazing sight to see a huge chariot weighing as much as 50 to more than 300 tons trundling along the streets being pulled by hundreds of devotees. In the month of Chithrai- March -April, countless temples conduct chariot festivals with religious fervor and bhakti.

Though every year we have heard or seen the temple car / chariots, we are not aware of many  facts related to them- it's concept and it's making. Since divinity is associated with temple chariots, special care is taken to make them by the learned Sthapathis.  The concept of chariot has been explained in the Kathopanishad in the following words:


"Atmanam rathinam viddhi sareeram rathamevatu
Buddhim tu saarathim viddhi marah pragrahameva cha". 
(Meaning: The body is the chariot and the soul is the deity installed in the chariot. The wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and thoughts).


Tamil Nadu has the credit being home to more than 500 temple  wooden chariots (as of 2004), out of which 79 needed repairs. Among them, the most famous one is Thiruvarur Ther (Azhi Ther) associated with Thiagarajar temple. The biggest in India (96 feet /29 m tall) weighing as much as 300 tons.  This Azhi Ther festival has been around for centuries and is mentioned in devotional songs of the Nayanmars, Tamil saivite saints. The annual festival being a big one,  lasts for 25 days in March- April.  The second biggest chariot is Srivilliputhur Ther associated with Andal temple.  Some popular temples like  Arunachaleswarar Temple., Thiruvannamalai, Chidambaram Natarajar Temple are among the temples that possess  huge wooden chariots for regular processions.  In many temples car festival takes place twice a year. ex. The Natarajar Temple, Chidambaram - in the summer (Aani Thirumanjanam - June and July) and  in winter (Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai- December and January).  
Thiruvarur Chariot Thiyagarajaswamytemple.tnhrce.in
The following are the gripping facts:

01. The concept of chariot has been around since the time of the Vedas and the  references made  in them point out their  presence in India in the 2nd millennium BCE. 

02. In the  Indus Valley civilization site, at Harappa (now in Pakistan), there are terracotta models of carts that date back to BC.

03. According to the Rigveda there are two types - the Ratha (chariot) and the Anas ("cart"). The former is made of  wood of particular trees and  the number of wheels  may vary depending on the size.  

04. In the Vedas, chariots are identified with all gods. 
According to Vishnu Tattva Samhita and the Pancharatra Agama, temple chariots are sarvadevamaya- embodiment of all gods, and sarvayajnamaya- embodiment of all sacrifices.

05. In the Ramayana and Mahabharata, there are references  to the use of chariots  for various purposes including war. 

06. Many of the deities in the Hindu Mythology are portrayed as riding the chariot.  As to Vedic deities, mention may be made of Ushas - the dawn riding the chariot, so is Agni who rides the chariot.

07. Famous ruler King Bhoja (10th century C.E.) preferred broad streets to allow easy passage of military chariots.

08. In Tamil Sangam works – Aganaanooru and Pattinappalai -  we find references describing Surya’s one wheel chariot. There is  also a reference to the Puri Jagannath Ratha in the Skanda Puranam

09. In the inscriptions in the Srirangam temple mention is made about  the golden chariot gifted by Sundara Pandya (of Madurai) in the 13th century C.E. 

10. In some literary work in Sangam period, the parts of the Ther (chariot) such as  therkudam  (wheel hub), therkodungai (roof), therkoombu (spire), etc., are mentioned

11. Besides above,  an inscription (1670 C.E.) at the Venkataswamin temple in Ellanuru, Andhra reveals collection of a part of land tax that meant  to meet the expenses of the ratha yatra. 

12. The world famous Puri Jaganath Rathyatra is pretty old. Brahma Purana, Skanda Purana and Padma Purana mention about Puri  Rathyatra.

 Skanda Purana says:

"Gundicha mandapam namam yatrahamajanam pura
Ashwamedha sahasrasya mahabedi tadadvabat".
(Meaning: Those who are fortunate to see the procession of the deities from Sri Mandira to the Gundicha Temple, derive the benefits of a thousand horse sacrifices, an immensely pious deed).


13. The above-mentioned information suggests that chariot run or Therottam is a temple festival event of great antiquity  going back to several centuries.

14. When it comes to making temple chariots / rathas, certain principles laid down in the Sastras are meticulously followed.  This is done because they carry the god's images and sanctity needs to be maintained as in a temple.

15. Silpa texts are available for making rathas. Quite well-known are  as Mahaviswakarmeeyam, Rathalakshanam and Aparajitapruccha.  These text books lay down certain norms and principles with respect to ratha-making for the exclusive purpose of carrying the idols of the lord. 

16. Making rathas for the Vishnu temples requires time, skill and knowledge of Silpa Sastras. In the case of rathas  for Vishnu temples,  well-versed Sthapathis follow Purushottama Samhita, and  Pancharatra agama.

17. If metal is used, the ratha should be gold plated   - swarnagata and studded with precious gems -Navaratnakacita.   

18. The Vishnu Tilak Samhita mentions about  invocation of  Vayu on the wheel and Garuda on the entire chariot.

19. The Vishnu Tilak Samhita recommends ”elaborate sculpturing of the ratha (the wooden base), showing  various incarnations of Vishnu.  

20. In some rathas for the Vishnu temples , there will be a rich  representation of various aspects  of Narashmha  - from Skambha Narasimha to  Lakshmi Narasimha. Example: Sarangapani temple chariot, Kumbakonam.

21. As for the rathas for the Shiva temples, one can see wooden  sculpturing of some episodes of the Ramayana and Mahabarata and some aspects of Shiva and Parvati. Also commonly included is the form of Narasimha in many  Shiva temple chariots. 

22. In the case of Shiva temples, irrespective of the wooden base, the top - pinnacle and other parts are covered with decorative clothes carrying the images of Nandi, Lingam, ganapathy, etc.

23. As to the size of the chariot, it depends on the size of garbagraha / sanctum of the temple.

24. Yet another interesting fact is a particular vedic mantra has to be chanted when cutting the selected wood for the purpose of making rathas. 

25. At most of the Hindu temples, the chariot is kept for a long period of time in running conditions by doing period repairs, decorations, etc. 

26. They will be kept in a specially made shed  near the temple, In Tamil such a place is called Thermutti.

27.  In the case of Puri Jaganath rathas, all the three of them are made afresh every year from selected neem wood. Once the Rathyatra festival is over, they will be  reverentially dismantled and the discorded wood will be used for making divine toys., etc.

28. The word Ratha or Rath  refers to a chariot or car made from wood with wheels. It  may be pulled manually using specially-made rope, or by horses or elephants. Nowadays bulldozers or heavy tractors are used from behind to give extra push to the giant chariot. 

29. During the festival, the temple  procession deities (Utchavars)  are  reverentially kept inside the chariots and driven through the streets around the temple, accompanied by  chanting of mantra, divine hymns  and also traditional music and  folk dances. 

30. At predetermined places, pujas are conducted to the deities. The word Rath yatra is synonymous with the annual car festival of  Lord Jagannath held at Puri in the state of Orissa, India during the months of June or July. Personifying Puri yatra, some temples across India.

31. Prior to the major events, lot of preparations need to to taken care of for the success of the chariot run.The condition of the chariot has to be checked first. It takes a few days to do the decoration above the wooden base.

32. Tradition has been that temple car is to be pulled along the four streets clock-wise around the temple. These streets are called car street (in Tamil 'Ratha Veethi'; East Car street meaning in Tamil Kezha ratha veethi, etc)). Prior to the yatra, these streets need to be kept  clean for the smooth run of the ratha.

33. The idols are kept at the center of the  Chariots. These idols  (Urchavar) are  representation or replica of the deities in the garbagraha (sanctum) of the associated temple. 

34. Special Pujas are performed on the temple premises when the  'procession deities'  are taken out of the temple and when they are brought back to the temple. Additional pujas will be performed while installing the idol on the chariot  and at the start of the chariot procession. 

35. It is believed that participating in the pulling of the chariot that is connected to the big rope is considered auspicious and is good for the welfare and prosperity of the devotees, besides it will help them get salvation (no rebirth and reundergoing all the troubles and tribulation in the next Jenma (next birth)!!. 

36. The chariot run or ther ootum (rathyatra)  implies that the  temple chariot carrying divinity  will crush all negative  and evil elements, thus removing the impediments on the path so that we can stride forward armed  with confidence and trust in the almighty.

 (The Hindu article mentioned here under is quite useful and is well researched)

Below  are posted the images of chariots (rathas) of some of the important Hindu temples:
Srivilliputhur, Andal temple  chariot festival.thehindu.com
Above image: Sri Aandal Temple, Srivilliputhur, Tamil Nadu.  This temple is dedicated to Sri Andal (Lakshmi), consort of Vishnu. Sri Andal wrote famous devotional hymns Thirupavai in chaste Tamil. Margazhi festival is a great event here. The Aadi Poorum (July-August) car festival is equally important. The car festival had been taking place for more than 162 years; consecutively for the past 29 years since 1985.  As for the main festival, on the ninth day celebrations “ekantha thirumanchanam” will begin at the temple at 2 a.m., when priests will perform special pujas and aradhanas. After the rituals at around 4 a.m., the urchavars of the presiding deity Andal and Rengamannar will be taken on the specially decked-up car amidst chanting of “Govinda…Gopala…” by the devotees.  As the  chariot, donated by Madurai ruler Thirumalai Naicker, was damaged,  at the initiative of  Sri Ranganarayana Jeer, the 19th head of Vanamamalai Math,  new chariot was made. The chariot had  its maiden run in 1849 C.E. This is the ratha that is being used now. It is 75 ft in height and is as tall as a nine - storey building. The panels and woodwork from the old chariot can be seen in the Gopala Vilasa mandapam in the temple.....................

Sarangapani temple Kumbakonam chariot. thehindu.com
 Above image: Sarangapani Temple (Vishnu), Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu.  The temple has twin temple chariots weighing 300 (660,000 lb) each . They were  renovated in 2007. The chariots were not drawn for some years during the preceding period. In terms of size the chariots are next only  to the ones in Thygaraja temple in Thiruvarur and Andal Temple in Srivilliputhur. The chariots are pulled by hundreds of devotees across the streets around the temple twice a year, once during the Brahmmotsavam during April–May and other during Ratasaptami in January–February. The wooden part of the chariot has nice carvings from the Hindu Mythology. The attributes of Narashimha are well represented on the wood...........................
Thanjavur Big temple chariot, near the ther shed. hindu.com
Above imageBragadishwarer Temple, Thanjavur, a UNESCO Heritage Site, more than 1000 years old built by Raja Raja Chola I. Lord's consort is Bragannayaki. The  last chariot festival of the Big Temple was held in 1818. Later it was not held due to paucity of funds during the early colonial period.. The  new chariot is 50 foot tall (when decked-up)  and  weighs  40  tonnes with 231 wooden  icons  and  245 bells. After a lapse of 100 years it first ran  on  29th April 2015. The credit goes to the Late CM J.  Jayalalithaji and her team of ministers.................... 

Kalpathy,Palakad, Sree Vishwanathaswami templehehindu.com

Above image:  Sree Vishalakshi Sametha Sree Vishwanathaswami Temple (1425 AD), Kalpathy Agraharam, near Palakad, Kerala. Devaratha Sangamom, is quite famous here marking the culmination of the annual car festival of the Sree Sree Vishwanathaswami temple. Devotees in large number throng the village. The Devaratha Sagamom is normally  preceded by Upanishad recitation, Vedic discourses, and Sree Visalakshi Sametha Viswanatha Swamy Kalyana Ulsavam. The celebrations will end with Ezhunnellippu and Dhwajavarohanam in the early hours of the day.  Car festival is part of this temple  tradition and there will be more than one chariot of different sizes. The decoration of the pinnacle -spire differs from cars of Tamil Nadu. This festival is 700 years old and falls in the month of November and the last three day events attract people in thousands.. ....................................
Temple car (decorated), Udupi, Karnataka,wikipedia.org
Above image: Sri Krishna Temple. Udipi, Karnataka. Temple chariot. Look at the shape of the chariot. The car has a normal decorative wooden base, but the decoration of vimana, etc is different. It is unusually dome-shaped. The chariots of states other than Tamil Nadu have a different shape and decorations. The color, shape and size of canopy may vary..........................
Nellaiappar (Shiva) car festival,Tn thehindu.com
Inside Nellaiappar temple, Sangili mandapam. en.wikipedia.org
Above images: Nellaiappar Temple dedicated to lord Shiva, Tirunelveli, TN. His consort is Kanthimathi Amman (Parvati). The temple chariot is the 3rd largest one in Tamil Nadu and the  car festival attracts huge crowd. More than 600 police officers will be on duty on the festival day and special cameras are fixed at vantage points for crowd management, security, etc. This is a huge and artistic temple and the life-size stone sculptures are quite impressive.  the temple built by various rulers is pretty old 700 AD. Following independence, the temple car here sported Shiva's bull flag as well as India's national flag in 1948..........................

Thiruvarur Chariot Thiyagarajaswamytemple.tnhrce.in
Above'image: Thiagarajaswami (Lord Shiva) Temple chariot, Tiruvarur, TN. Her his consort is Parvati. Perhaps, the largest and heaviest chariot in India as tall as 10 story building and weighing 300 plus tons. The height of the base (made in 1930) is 35feet (35 feet H X 31feet W).  Specially made hydraulic break system is in place to stop the car. Also heavy duty bulldozers are used to push the Chariot forward. The festival falls in the Chithirai month - March - April and will be for 25 days. This temple is a huge temple complex and has the largest temple tank in India covering 15 acres. Besides, there are 4 large thers - chariots for various deities - lord's consort, Ganapathi, Subramanya snd Sandikeswerer. In 1922, the huge chariot was accidentally burnt by the  agitating Justice party members and later, it was replaced. It is pulled by four huge ropes, each measuring 144 feet long.......................
Temple chariot, wooden base,www.alamy.com
Chdambaram Nataraja temple, TN chariot Shutterstock
Above image:
Sri Chidambaram Nataraja temple. Wooden Chariot base decorated with beautifully carved sculptures depicting Lord Shiva's incarnation and related episodes.........................

Tamil Nadu, intricate wood carvings.Temple chariot,alamy.com
 http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/watching-temple-chariot-is-an-aweinspiring-experience/article6245119.ece

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_car

http://navrangindia.blogspot.in/2015/02/largest-towering-temple-chariot-rath-of.html