Ashok Ashtami or Ashokastami is one of the important festivals dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti, the Mother Goddess. Ashoka means the one who removes and protects from hurdles, obstacles and sorrow. Ashokashtami is also known as Bhavani Ashtami. On the day of Chaitra Shukla Astami, Goddess Bhavani is worshipped as one of the Goddess of Durga Navratri (Chaitra or Vasant Durga Navratri)
SIGNIFICANCE OF ASHOKASHTAMI
According to the Hindu Puranas,Lord Rama was not able to kill Ravana even after the heavy battle. At that time, Vibhishana (Bibhishan), the younger brother of the demon Ravana, advised Lord Rama to pray and seek the blessings of Godess Shakti. Lord Ram performed pujas and prayed the Goddess Shakti & Lord Shiva at the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar for seven long days and got the blessings on the eighth day (Ashtami). With the blessings of Goddess Shakti and Lord Shiva, Lord Ram easily demolished Ravan with the Brahmastra, the weapon created by Lord Bramha. To celebrate the victory, Lord Ramachandra took out a procession of Shiva and Shakti in a chariot on the Ashtami day. Ashoka Ashtami festival was celebrated from that day to mark the victory of Lord Rama, or the victory of Good over evil.
SIGNIFICANCE OF RUKUNA RATHA
Bhagwan Shiva locally known as “Tribhuvanesvara” which means “the Bhagwan of the Three Worlds”. Popularly Bhagwan Shivji is referred as “Bhubanesvar” and after him the city is known as “Bhubaneswar”. Tribhuvanesvara is also known as Lingaraja. Lingaraja in its real terms means “King of Lingams or Lingas”. Bhubaneswar is also referred as Ekamra Ksetra (as per Ekamra Purana and other scriptures) as Lingaraja Mahaprabhu originated under a Mango tree called Ekamra (Mango in Sanskrit is referred as Amra). Lingaraja Mahaprabhu is also described as “Swamyambhu Linga” (i.e. self-originated). This temple is dedicated to HariHara a form of Bhagwan Vishnu and Bhagwan Shiva
The temple city of Bhubaneswar has many ancient Shiva temples dotting its landscape. The most important and the ancient among them is Lingaraj Temple. In the temple, the festivals of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu are held throughout the year. A festival is called Yatra, meaning ‘journey’ of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu.
Like Shivaratri, Ratha Yatra is considered to be an important festival in the Lingaraj temple. It is celebrated in the month of Chaitra on Shukla Ashtami (eighth day of the bright fortnight). During Tretya Yuga, Bhagwan Rama also visited Ekamra Ksetra during the Vanavasa time (14 years exile). Lingaraj Mahaprabhu also received him as a guest and requested him to spend some time here. The place where Bhagwan Rama stayed is known as Rameswara. Bhagwan Rama’s birthday fell during the period of stay in Ekamra Ksetra. Lingaraja Mahaprabhu went along with Devi Parvati, Ganesha and Kartikeya on his Ratha (Chariot) to Rameswara Temple to wish Bhagwan Rama and this festival is celebrated till day in the name of Ratha Yatra of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu. This Ratha festival lasts for five-seven days
Ratha Yatra is also famous as Rukuna Ratha Yatra or Ashokastami Yatra. This festival is believed to be “Papa Binashakari Yatra” i.e. “Festival which destroys/eradicates all evil and sins”. On this day, the Utsava Vigraha (Chalanti Pratima) of Lingaraja, the Shivalinga, which is believed to have been consecrated by Ramachandra, along with Gopalini (Parvati), Kumara and Nandikesvara including the image of Govinda are taken out in a Ratha from the Lingaraj temple to Rameswara temple. The Ratha festival lasts for five-seven days. The Ratha is drawn by the devotees from the Lingaraj to Rameswara and starts its return journey on 5th day
CONSTRUCTION AND THE DETAILS OF RATHA (CHARIOT)
Before observance of this Yatra, Brahmins are invited for the Banajaga Puja. On the auspicious occasion of Shree Panchami or Basanta Panchami or Saraswati Puja, Chalanti Pratima (i.e. Utsava Vigraha) of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu is taken to Badatota in a procession so as to mark the mango tree which will be used for construction of the Ratha. The selected mango tree is marked by a cut made by small weapon on its trunk. The carpenters are invited by offerings of garlands and new clothes. The very next day the trunk of the tree is brought in procession known as “Banajaga Yatra” to Mahakhala (place near Lingaraj Temple) where construction work happens. As per viddhi, a flag is hoisted on this occasion before actual construction work begins. After this, other woods required for the Ratha is collected from the forest.
On the auspicious occasion of Magha Saptami (Magha Month, Shukla Pakshya Saptami), Chalanti Pratima of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu goes to Bhaskaresvara Temple to bring the specifications of the Ratha and after that construction starts as per specifications received and the carpenters take almost two months to complete the 35-foot Ratha. It is essential to have 16 Karamandalas, 4 Toranas (Gates), Golden coloured Kalasa, Scented Flag (on the top i.e. on Dadhinauti (A golden pot)), Trishul, 4 Horses and Dibya Singhasana (where Utsava Vigrahas of the Deva Devis are made to sit)
PUJA OF THE RATHA
After the construction of the Ratha, the “Pratistha” (consecration) is done in the same viddhi as it done for Devi Subhadra’s Darpadalana (Devadalana) Ratha of Puri. One Pratistha Mandapa is constructed on the north side of the Ratha and inside it one kunda is created. Four Purna Kumbhas (earthen pots filled with water) are then placed on the four doors of the Mandapa. The whole Partistha work needs to be completed by learned Pujari on Saptami Tithi with all viddhi’s. This is followed by homa. After completion of homa and purna-ahuti of yajna, the Murtis or Vigrahas of Nandi, Mahakala, Ekadanta (Ganesh), Karttikeya, Ananta, Rudra having one eye, Trimurti, Shreekantha and Shikhandi are established on the top of the Ratha. And Ratha is decorated with flag, umbrella, flower garlands, etc. on the Saptami night itself
The Ratha is called Devadalan like the Ratha of Subhadra at Puri. According to Shiva Purana,the cosmic Ratha of Shiva was built by Viswakarma. It was golden in colour and was known as Rukma Ratha (made of gold). Locally, the Ratha of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu is known as Rukuna Ratha derived from Rukma Ratha. The Shiva Purana has mentioned symbolically that the Ratha’s right wheel was Surya Dev and the left wheel was Chandrama. The right wheel had twelve spokes. The twelve Adityas presided over there. The left wheel had sixteen spokes, symbolic of the sixteen digits of the Moon. The four wooden horses represent the four Vedas and Brahma Dev serves as the Sarathi.
The Ratha of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu has four wheels, the wheels of the right side represent the Surya Dev and the wheels of the left side represent the Chandrama. Also for better movement of wheels during Ratha Yatra and for moving on rough roads Kharada mat prepared from Tamarind or Bel tree is used. It has a circumference of about 2 feet and is nearly 5 ft in length. This is used mostly on the 2 front wheels
VIDDHIS ON THE DAY OF ASHOKASTAMI
In the early morning of Astami Tithi, chakras (wheels) are worshipped in Panchopachara viddhi followed by puja of the four horses which represent the Four Vedas to get their blessings. Horse’s representing Rig Veda will move the Ratha with the force of wind, Yajur Veda will bestow fruits of Bhakti, Sam Veda will try to accomplish the duties of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu at a speed proportional to our devotion and bhakti and Atharva Veda will punish the culprits. And a request is made to the four horses to move the Ratha quickly as they have been motivated by Brahma Dev. After this Sarathi who is no other than Brahma is worshipped along with Maa Gayatri Devi
The Ratha is also described as Pruthivi Devi or Mother Earth. After completion of all viddhi’s as mentioned above Pruthivi Devi is worshipped with scented flowers and mantras for moving in winds speed. This Ratha looks like the Ratha of Jagannatha Mahaprabhu. Chalanti Pratima’s of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu known as Chandrashekhara, Gopalini and Karttikeya are taken in a procession known as “Pahandi Bije” to the Ratha amidst beats of gongs, blowing of conch shells and chanting of hymns. The Chalanti Pratimas move 3 times around the Ratha before ascending into the DibyaSinghasana of the Ratha. Vigraha of Shuladhari Nandi is kept at the lower portion of the Ratha
As per scriptures like Ekamra Chandrika, during ancient times Lingaraja Mahaprabhu went along with Devi Parvati, Ganesha and Kartikeya (Chalanti Pratima’s) on his Ratha “Ratha” to Ramasvara to wish Bhagwan Rama. But after the influence of Vaishnava traditions*, currently Chalanti Pratima’s of Lingaraja Mahaprabhu known as Chandrashekhara, Rukmini and Vasudeva are taken in “Pahandi Bije” to the Ratha. Then Brahma as Sarathi is worshipped for driving the Ratha. After that Brahmin (Pujari) sprinkles water mixed with scent and karpura (camphor) over and on the 4 sides of the Ratha and pulling of Ratha begins. It is locally believed that anybody who is able to have a Darshan of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu attains mokshya i.e. doesn’t take rebirth again
The Ratha moves nearly 2 kms on “Ratha-Danda”road up to Rameswara Temple, which is also known as Mausi Maa Mandira. The Chalanti Pratima’s stay on the Ratha that day. And next day on auspicious occasion of Ram Navami Chalanti Pratima’s of Lingaraja Mahaprabhu, Rukmini and Vasudeva are taken into Rameswara Temple “Mausi Maa Mandira” in Pahandi Bije, where Chandrasekhara wishes Bhagwan Rama on his birthday.
DANA CHORI VIDDHI
This viddhi is performed by Devi Maa Parvati. Devi Maa Parvati gets upset over the fact that she wasn’t accompanying Lingaraj Mahaprabhu in the Ratha. Because of this reason she comes in a Palinki near the Ratha (one day before Bahuda Yatra or on the 3rd day) and then breaks a portion of the Ratha and returns back to the temple. When Lingaraj Mahaprabhu reaches Singhadwara, he finds himself obstructed by Devi Maa Parvati not allowing him to enter the temple and has closed the doors. Devi Maa Parvati is pacified after Lingaraj Mahaprabhu gives words to her that she will accompany him during Chandan Yatra for 22 days and she opens the door. This viddhi is very similar to Niladri Bije of Jagannatha Mahaprabhu Ratha Yatra.
On the Dwadashi Tithi, 5th day for Bahuda Yatra (return journey), Chalanti Pratimas of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu, Rukmini and Vasudeva are taken back to Ratha in Pahandi Bije after completing other viddhi’s. As per local traditions the Ratha is known as “Analeuta” i.e. it doesn’t take an about turn during the return journey. This is because of the fact that the Ratha has four portals on four sides and, therefore, on the return journey the Ratha has no necessity to make a tum. So, on Bahuda Yatra instead of turning the face of the Ratha to opposite side, the ropes, the horses and the Singhasana of the Vigraha’s are placed on the opposite side of the Ratha. The ropes used in this Ratha are the ropes of Devi Subhadra of Puri Shree Mandira and this is used to be brought every year from Puri Temple administration office earlier to Ratha Yatra and again these are returned to that office after the festival
After the viddhi’s, Ratha returns towards Swarna Parpati (Lingaraj Temple) on this Dwadashi Tithi. In ancient period, the Chalanti Pratima of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu and others used to return to the temple on Dwadashi Tithi. But now-a-days, the Ratha is pulled after Pahandi Bije and halts mid-way in the evening. On the next day i.e. Trayodashi Tithi, Ratha comes near to Lingaraj Temple. Trayodashi Tithi being 6th day of the Ratha Yatra, the Chalanti Pratima doesn’t return to the temple on this day. On Chaturdashi tithi Lingaraj Mahaprabhu finally returns to the temple. Return ceremony of the Chalanti Pratimas to Lingaraj temple.
ADHARA PANA NITI
When the Ratha reaches near Badu NijogaChhakaduring Bahuda Yatra, Nabata Pana is offered to the Vigraha’s by the Niyoga Administration. This drink is prepared from Nabata, Plantain, Coconut, Bel Fruit, Cheese and is served in large earthen pots at Lingaraj Temple after completion of Bahuda Yatra in a procession is known as “Swar Nadri Bije”. If in any year, the Chaturdashi Tithi and Purnami (Purnima) Tithi are on the same day, Chalanti Pratima stay over the Ratha upto Purnima tithi and returns to the temple on Pratipada Tithi of Krishna Paksha.
NB: Please note many rituals have been changed after influence of Vaishnava traditions.