Braving the scorching sun, thousands of devotees turned up at the 11th century Lingaraj temple on 29th March 2023 (Wednesday) to attend the annual Rukuna rath yatra held to mark the Ashokastami festival in Odisha. Every year, on the auspicious day of Ashokastami, lord Lingaraj sets out on his journey to Mausima temple for a four-day retreat.
The preparation for the Lingaraj rath yatra 2023 started last evening with the Neta Utsav (flag ceremony) when the chariot was ceremonially purified by the priests and a flag was fixed on the top of it. The chariot was washed with water from the Marichi Kunda.
It is believed that if barren women take bath with the water they would be blessed with children. Water from this well was auctioned with the first pot of water being sold at Rs 1,05,000.
The rituals started at 4 am after the Lingaraj temple gates were opened. Devotees were allowed to have a darshan of the deities, called Sahana Mela, after 4.30 am. Other rituals were performed accordingly, said Srinivas Kabi, executive officer of the temple administration.
After a set of elaborate rituals, bronze images of three deities – Chandrasekhar (the representative of lord Lingaraj), Rukmini and Basudeva – were brought to the 35-foot chariot parked outside the shrine amidst loud beating of gongs, blowing of conchs and chanting of hymns.
‘Pahandi’ was completed by 1.30 pm and pulling of the chariot started more than an hour late at 5.15 pm. Standing on buildings on either side of the road, devotees cheered as the chariot, draped in yellow, red, white and blue colour clothes, rolled down the two-km road called ‘Rath Danda’.
Delayed by rituals, the Rukuna Rath had to be stationed at Badheibanka Chhak at about 6.15 pm. The chariot will be pulled to Rameshwar temple on Saturday.
The Rukuna Rath never takes a turn like the chariots in Puri. When this chariot returns after a four-day sojourn at Mausima temple, the chariot is drawn from behind.
This festival precedes the world famous car festival of Lord Jagannath at Puri observed in June or July every year. Priests at the Lingaraj temple said the Rukuna Rath Yatra is older than the Puri car festival.