A group of craftsmen make humongous and gigantic identical chariots for Lord Jagannath and his two siblings – Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra - in Puri, Odisha every year during the famous Rath Yatra Festival. These craftsmen do not have formal education in art and culture or even have modern machinery and other types of equipment. They practise the art of making chariots passed down in their tradition and family.
These chariots begin their journey from Jagannath Temple which is built in the 12th century and reach the Gundicha Temple. These chariots are built by only a few families who have been practising this art for centuries and have the hereditary rights to construct.
In a report, Bijay Mohapatra, the chief Biswakarma (carpenter) of Lord Jagannath’s Nandigosh chariot said that they only use traditional equipment like a chisel and other tools for the construction of chariots. The makers use the units of haat (hand size) and anguli (finger size) for measurement and do not use other units like feet or inches.
Explaining further in a report, he said,” My father has given me a stick. This stick is considered as one haat. It is equivalent to 20 inches. Twenty-five angulis make a haat. We use these measures to calibrate the height and width of the chariots.”
The children learn the craft from their fathers and help in building the chariots. They start building the chariots on the Akshaya Tritiya and take approximately 57 days to finish them.
Not just carpenters, even artisans and blacksmiths participate in the making of the chariots. Pahi Maharanas fix the wheels of the chariots, Ojha Maharanas (blacksmiths) prepare nails, pins, clamps and iron rings.
Once the festivity ends, the major portion of the chariots is auctioned. The remaining woods are used in the temple.