Rathyatra is a major festival and it is celebrated in many areas of West Bengal. They are also celebrated in many bonedi households and in many temples, some of which are pretty old. In many houses, this festival also marks the beginning of kathamo puja of Goddess Durga.
Choto Rashbari of 93, Tollygunge Road, Kolkata, is celebrating Rathyatra for more than a century. Here the principal deity is Gopalji. When the temple was inaugurated in the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a big chariot about 30-40 feet in height. Later with the introduction of Sealdah-Budge Budge railway line over Adi Ganga, the height of the chariot was reduced considerably.
Accordingly, a new wooden chariot was made. The present chariot, looking like a nabaratna temple has nine domes (churas) with rare pictures of Kalighat paintings on cloth and pasted on the rath. The chariot has three decks and the domes or churas are of ridged rekha type. The paintings which adorned the chariot at a time included the battle of Ram and Ravana, samundra manthan, Krishnalila, Baraha and Narasingha avatar, Shiva and Durga, pictures of sages and many more. Many of those paintings have remained intact. It was made by some Santra about a century ago.
The Rathyatra is celebrated here in a somewhat different way. In the morning of Rathyatra special puja is held in the temple and after that Gopalji is taken out from the main temple and placed on a silver throne inside the chariot. Then hymns are chanted and people, mostly those who are invited and the locals drag the chariot three times outside the temple compound in the open space. It is known as Gopaler taan. I have been lucky to witness the same last year as I have been invited on the occasion. The entire area is filled with a puja-like atmosphere. This is the most important part of the Rathyatra of Choto Rashbari. Later in the evening, the rath is dragged by people of different age groups – mostly locals and, this time, instead of Gopalji, Sreedhar (narayan sila) is placed on a silver throne inside the rath. Here I would like to mention that from 2018 onwards, Rathyatra in Choto Rashbari started again in a new way after a gap of more than a decade.
Previously, during the time when zamindari custom was in practice, I have been told by Shri Pankaj Chakraborty, priest of Choto Rashbari that during those time the rathyatra was even more colourful. According to him, there was a long procession at the beginning of which there were people holding flags, followed by three men carrying three umbrellas made of silver. They were followed by a group of people chanting hari naam. The sound of Kirtaniyas, shehnai players and dhakis added a new dimension. One thing to mention here is that the kirtaniyas and shehnai players are playing here for generations and they also play during the days of Rashyatra which happens to be the principal festival here. Then comes the beautifully decorated chariot followed by the local people.
The custom of throwing batasha (a sweet preparation) is still continued throughout the journey of the chariot. In the late evening, when the rath returns again to the temple there is a custom of dala bhog. A big wooden plate consisting of pineapple, watermelon, nuts, sweet curd, sweets, rabri, etc are offered to the deity and then they are offered to the people. Both Gopalji and narayan sila are taken to a room just by the side of temple facing Adi Ganga known as Mashir Ghar. Here they are worshipped till the return journey of the chariot eight days later. At present Mashir Ghar is no more but the custom continues reminding us of the glorious days of Rathyatra of Choto Rashbari.
I am thankful to Sri Pankaj Chakraborty and Tapan Kumar Mondal for providing me the necessary information about the Rathyatra.
Date of Posting: 22nd June, 2020.