Rath yatra is on.
On Jyestha Purnima or Snan purnima, Lord Jagannath, along with Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra are brought out on the snan mandap and there, they take a good, long bath.
Before that, for 21 days, they have indulged in various water sports and other activities in the Narendra pokhari/pond, including an evening cruise, every evening.
On Snan purnima, one hundred and eight pots of water, which is brought from the sacred well of Goddess Shitala, and has sandalwood paste mixed in, is poured on them. After that they don the Ganesha vesha and are offered bhog. Then they return to the sanctum sanctorum.
And promptly fall ill.
No wonder here ... anybody would ... if 108 potsful of water were poured on them.
So the gods fall ill and retire into the confines of the mandir for a good fifteen days. They are looked after by the Daitas/sevakas and fed plain, boiled food during this time.
After fifteen days, they feel better but not too great. So they decide to take a small vacation and go visit their Mausi/Aunt at Gundicha mandir.
This travel, or yatra, from the holy abode to the mausi mandir, in which the vehicle is a rath, is called the Rath yatra.
There are numerous stories associated with Rath yatra, each one more interesting than the other.
The fear part first.
This festival falls during the monsoons. While the wind howled and it rained cats and dogs and elephants outside, we kids suffered from a deep fear, that started much before the monsoons started.
Since it was the perfect time for infections to spread ... and stay ... the whole adult world would deem it upon themselves to protect us ... the young. Our small town would be teeming with uncounted number of people coming from far and near ... bringing with them as many viruses and diseases.
So ... the children needed to be kept safe. And how?
The only answer was vaccination.
Every single day at school was a nightmare ... yes, in broad daylight.
Every kid was haunted by that known fear ... every moment spent in agony ... dreading that single circular that the office help would bring to the class. And the Sister present would read it out.
"Vaccinations will be done tomorrow. The Doctor will be present in the infirmary from 9:00 am. Class teachers are requested to see that the children get the shots and maintain discipline while standing in the waiting line."
Or something like that.
To us, it sounded more like a death knell.
On the day of the vaccinations, there would be a mad scramble for red pens. Somehow, we believed that that one single dot of red on our shirt sleeves will convince our Sisters that we have already got the shot.
And should be sent home immediately. Which was unlikely as the gate keepers, on that single day, would assume that they are mightier than all asuras put together. Nobody could pass through the gates until the school bus leaves.
For me, it was doubly painful.
Since Ranga kaku/uncle is a doctor, it was his job of vaccinating the whole family. Posted elsewhere, he would come down for a few days every year during Rath yatra.
And it was this visit that we dreaded. Every morning the whole brood would sit down for breakfast with our small hearts going pit pat, pit pat. And quietly eat, almost holding our breath ... stealing glances at Dadu from under quiet, bent heads. If he finishes breakfast and gets up, we all heave a sigh of relief.
No news! Saved for one more day!
Till the day Dadu declares kaku's homecoming news.
On day one, the children get the shots.
Day two and three ... gap. The children would fall ill, fever, cranky, etc.
The adults, especially the moms would be needed around them.
So the women ... not all but half the number, got vaccinated on day four. And some of the male members too. Again a gap of two days. And then the rest of the lot.
Finally the helping hands, the cook, the gardener, etc.
What miserable days they used to be!
But a week later, all would be forgotten and the fun part started.
Mela hopping, visiting the mandirs, climbing up on the raths to offer puja ... everything was so much fun.
Every evening we children would get loaded into the family cars ... Dadu seriously objected to letting loose the cars amongst the uncouth crowds, but had no option ... and with a couple of adults accompanying us, would walk down the big road where the mela/fair is held.
Stalls upon stalls would be set up in rows. All kinds of noises filled the air ... a child beating a just bought, new drum ... whistles, songs playing on the loud speaker somewhere, announcements in between ... of a child lost, a purse found.
The sound of bells, drums , knaasor and chanting from the main mandir along with kirtans and a whoop of "Hari Bol!!!" once in a while.
A balloon bursts somewhere. A group of giggling girls. A bunch of young boys, dapper in their new clothes, walking around with an air of confidence ... they are no less good looking that the prevalent hindi movie's hero.
All kinds of Oriya pitha preparations ... especially those favourite to Lord Jagannath, would be prepared by our cook. On some days, prasad would be ordered from the mandir and that would be our lunch.
Jagannath's prasad means a whole range of dishes.
Arisa pitha is common.
So is the Poda pitha, the Lord's favourite, a must ... and is usually prepared on the first day of Rath yatra.
The Lord's Mausi prepares it and awaits his arrival.
Among other dishes is another favourite of Jagannath ... the Ramrochak tarkari/curry. Just like all other dishes of the Lord's prasad, this too is very simple, with almost no masalas. Jagannath's prasad is always made of pure ingredients ... ghee and jaggery are main.
No sugar is used. No onion, garlic, tomatoes or potatoes too.
I made this Ramrochak Tarkari to celebrate Rath yatra ... and some childhood memories.
For the vadas :
Spilt green Moong dal - 1 cup (washed and soaked overnight)
Whole jeera/cumin - 1/2 tsp
Fresh green chillies - 2 ( more if you like it spicy)
Salt - to taste
Oil to deep fry
For the tarkari/curry :
Ghee - 1 tbsp, 1 tbsp for adding fresh
Whole jeera/cumin - 1 tsp
Whole red chillies - 2
Ginger paste - 1 tsp
Salt - to taste
Roasted jeera powder - 1 tbsp
Potato - 1, peeled and cubed
Brinjal - 1, cubed
How to :
The moong dal vadas/ boras :
Heat oil. Sccop out small vadas and deep fry.
Remove and keep aside.
The tarkari :
Heat ghee in a kadahi. Add jeera + whole red chillies + ginger paste.
Stir a little and add the potatoes and brinjals.
Add haldi, salt and water.
Cover and cook till the vegetables are done.
(They should be overdone, actually, and the curry should be slightly mushy ... I was in a hurry, so my curry stayed soupy and the vegetables, just done. )
After the vegetables are done, add the vadas and cover and simmer for 5 more minutes.
Check water ... the vadas will soak up a lot of water ... so add accordingly.
Remove cover and add ghee and roasted jeera powder.
Cover and simmer for some more time.
Remove from heat, cover and let it stand for some time. The vadas will soak up the flavours meanwhile.
Enjoy this simple dish on the side with this dryish khichdi.
Paired with some papad, makes for a wonderfully perfect monsoon meal!
And ... in case you are wondering ... no ... I'm not from Puri. :-)
May Lord Jagannath bless you with peace, happiness and goodwill!