The chariot festival

Rakibul Azam Rana writes about a nearly 400-year old annual tradition that takes place in Dhamrai and manages to bring together people from different communities

po1The Roth Jatra is a joyous festival among the Hindu community in India and Bangladesh. In the Asian subcontinent, the Sri Sri Joshomadhob Roth Jatra of Dhamrai is one of the most famous and traditional hindu festival. According to historians, it was first celebrated in Bengali year 1079, nearly 340 years back by Joshomadhob.
Razib Saha, chief of the fair committee, says, ‘Our Roth Jatra and the related fair is the oldest in the Indian subcontinent. My father and grandfather had also attended this festival. Thousands of people from different religions of the area and from other parts of the country come to the festival every year. Many families are getting opportunity of employment due to this festival. A month long fair is held every year coinciding with the festival.’
This year, the Roth Jatra began from July 6. The fair in Dhamrai will continue for 26 days.
po2Besides shops, the fair also features the famous ‘Kamol circus team’, Merry go round, Puppet show, Motor bike death race, Daily Ullas raffle draw and more. The shops sell various items including toys, jewelry, wooden furniture, local food and sweets.
Habib Hossain, a resident of Ashulia, says, ‘I have been coming to this fair with my family regularly for the past six to seven years. We anticipate the fair throughout the year as we enjoy the festivities a lot.’
Shopon Kumer, a seller of handicraft toys, says, ‘I can sustain my family for three to four months from the income I make by selling toys during the nearly month-long fair. Thousands of people come here daily.’
Locals share that at first this Jagannath Roth (a chariot) was made with bamboos. The chariot was usually about 60 feet in height, 45 feet wide and around three stories tall. Each of the first and second floors had four chambers while there was only one in the lowest floor. These chambers or rooms were called ‘Noborotno’.
po3Most locals believe that this chariot was made by the God Jagannath who came to Dhamrai about 400 years ago while riding one such chariot. The locals also believe that Jagannath had stayed in the area for a lengthy period of time. Ever since then, the chariot festival has become a part and parcel for the local hindu community.
The recent chariots are made of wood. With 32 giant wooden wheels and decorated with two wooden horses in front as well as carvings and paintings of the Hindu deity, the chariot is pulled with thick ropes made with about 100 kilogrammes of jute fiber. While the chariot is pulled, people, lining up the streets and from rooftops, shower bananas and sugar on the chariot amidst cheers.
Local organisers of the festival share that the majestic and historical chariot was burnt by the Pakistani army during the liberation war of 1971. After Bangladesh gained independence, in order to carry on the tradition of the annual Roth festival, a makeshift Roth was built with bamboos.
A third chariot was built with financial assistance from the Indian government in 2006. Consequently, a three storied Roth was built in 2010. The new Roth is 27 feet long and of the same width. It has 15 wheels and is adorned with statues of different gods and goddesses.

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