By Bidita Sen
For most people, the famous chariot festival Rath Yatra, celebrated predominately in Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal, is synonymous with Lord Jagannath. Idols of the Lord, Balabhadra (his brother) and Subhadra (his sister) sit atop the rath, attracting millions of devotees, who follow the holy convoy.
What many must be unaware is that Odisha stands a step above the rest of its eastern peers in its celebration of another Rath Yatra of a special kind. This is dedicated to Lingaraja, the deity of the Lingaraja temple in Bhubaneswar. It is celebrated in the month of Chaitra on Shukla Ashtami (March-end). Considered as significant as Shivaratri in the state and observed with equal fervour, the five to seven-day event is steeped in the state’s ritualistic traditions.
Legend has it that Ram payed a visit to Ekamra Ksetra during his exile. Lingaraja Mahaprabhu received him as a guest and requested him to spend some time with him. Ram’s birthday fell during the period of stay in Ekamra Ksetra. So Lingaraja Mahaprabhu, along with Devi Parvati, Ganesha and Kartikeya, went on his rath (chariot) to Rameswara Temple, where Rama was staying, to wish him. This journey is celebrated to date as the Rath Yatra of Lingaraja Mahaprabhu. It is also famous as Rukuna Rath Yatra or Ashokastami Yatra.
This distinct and unique piece of information was among the several nuggets of immense historical importance that emanated from Siddhartha Das, an artist who has an exhibition going on in the national capital showcasing models of the Lingaraj and Jagannath temples of Puri.
Das is on a mission — to create national-level awareness on the architecture of the ancient temples. In his own words: “The Jagannath and Lingaraj temples in Odisha, built about a thousand years ago, are iconic examples of Kalinga temple architecture. They have withstood the vagaries of time and nature. A narrative has been created to appreciate the temples in their context through the exhibition that brings to life the sacred architecture, while making apparent the living traditions connected to the temples.”
This exhibition is part of a greater project that Siddhartha Das studio is doing for the Odisha government — of setting up two interpretation centres in collaboration with the government. The one on Jagannath temple is being set up in Puri and another will come up Bhubaneswar.
Siddhartha banked heavily on selected verses of the Skanda Purana, considered the largest Mahapurana (a genre of 18 Hindu religious texts) in his attempt to present a narrative through visuals. “We went to a Sanskrit expert to seek explanation. The chosen verses were then translated into English. We wanted to present a narrative through visuals,” says Das.
The temple architecture is very similar to the Nagara style prevalent in north India, but with a strong regional variation — it has a step-like built structure. But unlike the north Indian temples, the Jagannatha Puri temple followed the Rekha Deula architectural style — the deula or sanctum sanctorum, the Mukhashalam, Nata mandir and Bhoga Mandapa.
The main Lingaraja temple is an incredible play of recesses and protrusions, says Das, adding, “We wanted to study and depict each plinth and plank, and create tangible and ductile models.”
The samples in the exhibition have beautifully manifested even the most intricate of carvings, upholding the smallest aspects of design and construction in great detail. “The Lingaraja temple sees a perfect blend of culture and architecture — a facet that we have tried to showcase in the exhibition and the museums. We have worked with local craftsmen communities who are best skilled in their art forms. Each model involves a lot of back and forth work. After constructing a block, artisans revisit the temples to compare and scrutinise,” Das highlights.
As one is transported to the age of majestic architectural glory moving from one model specimen to the other, short films play through projectors on wide screens showing skilled artisans engrossed in their work, giving tangible shape to the concept. “I have a special attachment towards the project as I am half-Gujrati, half-Oriya,” confesses Das. The studio has been working for one-and-a-half years on the projects. The centre for Lingaraja Temple will come up April next year, and the one on Jagannath Temple will take another year.