Puri king seeps the paths of Jagannath s chariots in an egalitarian ritual dating centuries

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By Arabinda Mishra Puri, Jul 20 (PTI) As the chariots of the gods pulled by a thousand servitors returned to the 12th century Jagannath temple here, Dibyasingha Deb, the Gajapati Maharaja or titular king of Puri, swept the `gods paths' clean in an egalitarian ritual datng several centuries.

For 68-year-old Deb, the job of keeping the path clean for the Gods -- Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath is a hereditary duty which he has been performing for 50 long years.

The Gajapati Maharaja, who is also referred to as the first servitor of Lord Jagannath, has been performing the ritual - 'Chhera Pahanra' - considered sacred by many Hindus since he was anointed `king in 1971.

Though princely titles were abolished in India in 1969 by an act of Parliament, people in Odisha and elsewhere affectionately still refer to him as King or Gajapati Maharaja or simply `Thakur Raja.

The only year Deb could not perform the ritual was in 1976 when he was in Chicago studying for his masters in law.

An alumnus of Rajkumar College, Raipur and of St.

Stephens College, Delhi, the former royal is a lawyer by training.

'I always accord a special place to the Rath Jatra as it is the main festival of Odisha,' Deb told reporters.

On Tuesday, clad in spotless white, Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb arrived at the Gundicha Temple in 'Tamjan', a palanquin with a hood, in a procession from his royal palace.

He first offered prayers to the sibling deities and then conducted the ritual using a broom with a gold-plated handle after sprinkling water on the chariots. Thereafter, the gods began their homeward journey after a nine-day sojourn at the place of their birth.

Debs real name is Kamarnaba Deb and he is the eldest son of late Maharaja Birakishor Deb and Maharani Suryamani Pata Mahadei.

In case he absents himself from any ritual, the royal familys representative called mudirasta, a designated servitor, performs the kings `seva or service to the Gods.

On June 24, when the `Snan Yatra or bathing rituals were performed, a `mudirasta stepped in to perform his rituals as the Thakur Raja had to absent himself because of other pre-occupations.

According to a former temple administrator and a researcher, Rabinarayan Mishra the `Chhera Pahanra ritual has a clear social message 'that all are equal before the Lord' as even the ruler of Puri has to sweep the pathways that the Gods take.

He said the ritual is being performed during the Rath Jatra for centuries to give a clear message to society that there should be no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or occupation, before the almighty.

'Chhera Pahanra' is the second phase of the colourful festival of Rath Jatra.

The rulers of Odissa, beginning with the valiant Anantvarman Chodagangadeva in the 12th century, had declared themselves to be the 'Rauta' (servant) of Lord Jagannath and ruled the land as his representative, according to historical records with the temple administration. PTI AAM JRC JRC

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