The Ratha Jatra (Car Festival as the English media calls it) is going on. Many of us who watched the live telecast or seen it in person, would have noticed the various rituals performed before the main event. One of them is Chhera Pahnara (“ଛେରା ପହଁରା” in Odia) which is an interesting ritual involving the King (descendants of the royal family of Odisha) sweeping the floors of the chariots with a broom with a golden handle and sprinkling sandalwood water. There is a beautiful story behind this ritual which goes as follows.
King Purushottam Dev of Odisha (erstwhile Utkala) during a visit to South India, fell in love with the beautiful princess of Kanchi, called Padmavati. King of Kanchi was happy to give the consent for the marriage. However one of the ministers from Kanchi who paid a visit to Puri during Ratha Jatra time, saw King Purushottam Dev sweeping the floors of the chariot and informed this to his master. Hearing this the king of Kanchi declined for the marriage and organised a Swayamvar. He didn’t want to give his daughter’s hands in the hands of a sweeper, so King Purushottam Dev was not invited. This annoyed the King of Odisha and he launched attack on Kanchi.
In the battle, Purushottam Dev lost badly and retreated back to Odisha. He then went to the Jagannatha temple in Puri and expressed his grievances of having a humiliating defeat in spite of being an ardent worshipper of the lords. The Lord himself asked him to raise the war again and assured him victory. The king conceded to the divine voice and planned for the war again.
One day before the king left with his troops, Lord Jagannatha and Balabhadra in the guise of two horse-borne soldiers set out for Kanchi. On the way the younger sibling was thirsty, so they stopped an old women selling milk and drank some butter milk from her. In return they gave a ring to the lady called Manika and asked her to hand it over the same to the king who would pass by the route and get her dues in exchange. The lady agreed. Next day while Purushottam Dev was passing by, Manika showed the ring to him and asked for her dues. The king recognised the ring which belonged to Lord Jagannatha. He was overwhelmed with the kindness of the lord, gifted a village to the old lady and declared it to be named after her as Manikapatana.
After a fierce battle, Kanchi was defeated. Both the king and the princess Padmavati were held captive and brought to Puri. As a vengeance, the Odia king decided to get Padmavati married to a sweeper in presence of her father and asked his minister to find one.
In the meantime Ratha Jatra came and as per tradition, the king was sweeping the floor of the chariots with a broom. The clever minister immediately offered the king to marry Padmavati as there could be no better sweeper than the king himself. The king was impressed and married the princess of Kanchi right in front of the deities.