There is not an inch to spare on the Grand Road in Puri on Ratha Jatra as people flock to the holy town to witness the annual journey of the Trinity to the outside world. The teeming crowd go wild with ecstasy as the deities step out of the singhadwara to their respective chariots amidst the beats of cymbals, gongs and the sound of conches. The rhythmically swaying floral crowns (tahiyas) fixed at the back of their heads add grace and beauty to the Lord’s Pahandi ritual.
Tahiya is the only jewellery that the sibling deities don during this ritual. These are worn during Snana Purnima, Rath Yatra, Bahuda Yatra and Niladri Bije. Devotees jostle for these magnificent swaying floral crowns and take the pieces home as memorabilia.
Pic Courtesy: harekrsna
The preparations of crafting Tahiya starts on Akshaya Tritiya, coinciding with the construction of the chariots. A lot of labour and dedication goes into the making of these tahiyas. Craftsmen relentlessly work for two months at Raghaba Das Matha, situated near the southern gate of Jagannath temple, putting together all the elements.
Basanta Kumar Rana, the chief craftsman, considers it as a privilege. “In total, 24 floral crowns are put together for Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan. The nitty-gritty makes it a 15-day affair for each tahiya,” he said.
Pic Courtesy: odisha tourism
Bamboo sticks are used to structure the base of the tahiyas, which are in the shape of a betel leaf. Altogether, 37 such sticks are used in the frames meant for Jagannath and 33 for that of Balabhadra. The bamboo sticks are then covered with banana stems, which lend them a smooth finish. All measurements are done using fingers only.
The frames are decorated with fresh flowers like rangani, malti, juhi, mali, champa and lotus. Duba grass and tulsi are stringed atop the crowns. Pieces of thermocol cut out in the shape of kadamba flowers, arrows and squares are placed on the tahiyas. Tantakera village and Gopa are assigned with the task of providing rangani flowers and thermocol respectively.
Pic Courtesy: fullodish
Glitters and colourful laces are used to enhance the beauty of the tahiyas. Only natural substances such as ‘kaitha atha’ (gum) and stone colours are used, hence keeping the old practices alive.
The tahiyas made for the two brothers during Rath Yatra and Niladri Bije are bigger in size. While Jagannath’s crown is more than seven feet in height, the one for Balabhadra is around six feet. Three-foot tahiyas are used while entering and leaving the Gudicha Temple since it has a small doorway. Subhadra and Sudarshan always wear the small tahiyas.
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There are different legends behind this tradition. According to one, a devotee named Raghu Arikita was in meditation under the scorching sun near the Lion’s Gate of the temple. The then king used to provide the devotees shade through Tati (Covering) to prevent them from the heat and thus built the same for Raghu Arikita . However, the saint broke it down as he found no use for it. The king again built a shade for him but when this time the saint tried to pull it down, Lord Jagannath appeared before him. Raghu exclaimed, “Oh Lord, you gave me Tati but I would cover you with Tahiya.” Since then, Raghaba Das Mutt has been providing Tahiyas for the deities.
Jagannath culture expert Naresh Das has a different take on the whole story. “Impressed with the saint’s devotion, Jagannath appeared in the form of Bal Gopal and stood behind him holding an umbrella. It was then that Raghu Arikita promised Him to provide decorative headgears during Pahandi,” he said.
According to former administrator of Jagannath Temple Rabindra Mishra, the tahiyas are decorative pieces that enhance the beauty of the sibling deities. After being brought to the temple, these are kept in the Laxmi Temple. It is like a gift from the goddess to Lord Jagannath as He embarks on his annual sojourn.
Pic Courtesy: dandavats
The craftsmen follow a strict regime during the making of the tahiyas. They are required to shun non-vegetarian foods. The artisans wash their feet every time they return to the sacred place of assembling.