Struggle for timber for Rath Yatra

Environmental change, exploitation is making supply difficult for making of chariots

February 17, 2022 08:39 pm | Updated 10:16 pm IST

Rath Yatra festival in Puri.

Rath Yatra festival in Puri. | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Timber for the construction of chariots for the annual Rath Yatra in Puri has come into focus again, with Odisha’s Nayagarh forest division struggling to find suitable trees for the purpose. 

After selecting 308 trees in forests falling under its jurisdiction, sources said the Nayagarh Forest Division, which usually supplies the timber for the chariots, is said to have suggested neighbouring forest divisions of Boudh and Angul to pitch in.

Environmentalists have also raised concerns that climate change has adversely impacted the tree species used in making of idols and chariots for the Yatra. 

From last week, logs have started to arrive in Puri for this year’s Rath Yatra. As many as 865 logs of Phasi (Anogeissus acuminate), Dhaura (Anogeissus latifolia), Asan (Terminalia elliptica) and Simal (Bombax ceiba) are required for construction of chariots every year. 

The State forest department is entrusted with the responsibility to supply required number of logs. However, people volunteer to donate Phasi trees grown in their backyards for the chariots as it is considered auspicious. The Phasi trees grow well on alluvial soil in the districts such as Nayagarh, Angul and Boudh, on both sides of the Mahanadi River. 

“Forest department is privileged to serve Lord Jagannath. Earlier all logs used to be from the forests. Now a good portion of it is offered by people from their land,” says Sisir Ratho, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Odisha. 

Of late, arranging Dhaura trees for making of the chariots is facing a challenge. “Out of total 865 logs, as many as 426 Dhaura logs of length varying from 3 feet to 20 feet are required. 200 to 300 trees are required to be felled. The girth of the logs has to be minimum of 3 feet,” says Manoj Mohapatra, Regional Chief Conservator Forest, Bhubaneswar. 

80 years for maturity

Timber from Dhaura trees are strong and known for their load bearing strength. They are used for axles in chariots. The trees usually take more than 80 years to attain the required girth. A forest department official, on condition of anonymity, said all the mother Dhaura trees are felled for chariots, which impacts future regeneration of the species. 

Keeping in mind the graduation depletion of Dhaura and other species of trees, the State government had come up with Jagannath Bana Prakalpa, a special afforestation programme for ensuring sustained timber supply in 2001. But the survival of tree species planted then has not been encouraging. The forest department will have to wait for another three decades, keeping the long maturity period, to start harvesting of trees from that lot. 

Environmentalists say it is high time that the government start a dialogue for making an alternative arrangement, instead of cutting down hundreds of matured trees annually for the festival.

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