Bahubalis or body-builder servitors from the temple town of Puri provided the muscle power required to pull the gigantic chariots of the Gods this time, as Covid regulations kept crowds away from being part of the process which coined the word Juggernaut or unstoppable force.
Usually about 1,000 people line up to pull each of the three chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra.
However Covid regulations forced the authorities to think afresh and it was decided that only servitors would be allowed to take part in the pulling ceremony. Policemen who helped out last year were also asked to stay away.
Instead of 3,000 human pullers, a 1,000-odd servitors were tasked with the job of pulling the three mammoth chariots.
Traditional `Jagahars or body-building centres asked its members, mostly from servitor families, to attend regular work-outs so that they would be fit enough to do the job of three men each.
Anil Gochikar, a well known bodybuilder who has participated in about 100 national competitions, helped arrange the training ahead of the Ratha Jatra. Yes, most of the servitors who pulled the chariots are body builders. All of them have good bodies and muscles to pull these gigantic chariots, he said.
Usually many devotees join in the process including at times even the chief minister of the state as the task is considered an auspicious one.
The crowds pulling the chariots and the unstoppable motion of the chariots which at times has crushed members of the crowd pulling it had led to the coining of the word `Juggernaut’ which is used to refer to any massive, unstoppable force.
Said Gochikar We were initially not sure whether a smaller number of people could pull the huge chariots.
However, with the blessings of the Lord, the chariots started rolling as we gave a tug. It is His wishes and not our strength.
Gochikar, a vegetarian and a devout believer in Lord Jagannath, said the servitors worked out daily for at least two hours at Jagaghars. It is anyway part of our tradition to do body building and physical exercises every day, he said.
His brother, Damodar, was also part of the body- builder servitors who pulled the chariots.
Meanwhile, Gochikar, who has won titles like Mr Odisha a number of times and also won Mr India title in 2012, has now become an internet sensation and his picture pulling the fat rope of the chariot has gone viral.
According to Jagannath culture researcher Bhaskar Mishra, Jagaghars became popular as Puri with its rich temples had become the target for invaders in the medieval period.
They were established around the temple of Lord Jagannath to safeguard the temple and also if needed protect the Kingdom.
It is said that many of the kings of Puri were patrons of physical culture including wrestling with competitions being held inside their palaces where outstanding wrestlers were honored.