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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

chariots galore

The Chambers Twentieth Dictionary defines the chariot as: ‘a pleasure or state vehicle’, ‘a god’s car’, ‘a car used in ancient warfare or racing’ and ‘a light four wheel carriage with back seats and box’.
The magnificent chariot of Lord Jagannath is really ‘God’s car’. Taken out once a year, tourists from far and near converge on Puri to catch a glimpse of the royal chariot and, if luck permits, touch the rope! TV crews in OBVs located at strategic locations give live coverage of the complete proceedings starting with the sweeping of the floor of the chariot with a golden broom by the King!
The chariot, otherwise, is normally associated with warfare and aggression.
We were fascinated by scenes form the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as depicted by Ramananda Sagar and B R Chopra respectively. The chariot races, fights and ‘vishwaroop darshan’ by Arjun on the chariot piloted by Sri Krishna are forever etched in our memories. Like the scenes showing Ravana forcibly taking away Sita in his Pushpak rath – the forerunner of our present day airplanes! We have seen the chariot races in that all time great cinema Ben Hur. With such a glorious tradition behind it, interest in the chariot was rekindled, if our memory serves us right, by the TDP Supremo N T Rama Rao. The basic intention was to mobilize public opinion because it is easy to influence those who are illiterate, live below the poverty line and reside in rural areas. We are used to idiosyncrasies of Politicians who nurture visions of holding the highest office in the land. Therefore, there emerged on the scene modern variations of the chariot replete with the latest hi-tech gadgets. These chariots carried with them the VVIP along with his retinue of mobile wielding chamchas dressed in designer outfits - for the benefit of millions of hapless TV viewers.
In villages, even today, one can see the replicas of chariots (made out of old broken down automobile bodies) with plywood cutouts of horses. These are painted, decorated and given out on hire during the marriage seasons to convey the bridegroom to the mandap for tying the nuptial knot.
When a political bigwig announces a rath yatra today, for whatever reason, the complete administration has to swing into action. Since the days of single party rule is now a thing of the past, the route of the yatra often has to pass through opposition strongholds. Utmost caution has to be exercised in such situations to ensure that sensitive locations are avoided. In order to maintain peace and harmony, flag marches are conducted apart from enforcing section 144, if needed.
When the world is going supersonic, we still patronize the ancient.
The mind set of our leaders appear to be rooted in the Ramayana era because, ignorance of the masses pays rich dividends! Unless there comes a drastic change in this outlook, the taxpayers’ money will continue to be squandered on vulgar shows of exhibitionism. Such actions serve no purpose except to divert attention of people from serious matters which need to be addressed, whip up tension and generate opportunities for vandalism.

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