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Jagannath chariot’s Phasi wood this year was entirely sourced from private lands.

Jagannath chariot’s Phasi wood this year was entirely sourced from private lands.

Wood for Jagannath Temple. Credit: Shree Jagannatha Temple, Puri

Phasi, Dhaura and Dhaura trees mature 50-100 years; this presents a challenge for the annual constructions of chariots in Puri Jagannath Yatra

Wood for Jagannath Temple. Credit: Shree Jagannatha Temple, Puri
Wood for Jagannath Temple. Credit: Shree Jagannatha temple, Puri

Odisha marked Basant Panchami’s day February 5, 2022 with a prayer ceremony to consecrate logs used in Jagannath’s chariot. But this year, most of the Phasi (Anogeissus acuminataAccording to the state forest division, a greater proportion of () wood came from private land than from forests.

This is significant because recent years have seen a decline of the growth of trees such as Phasi, whose wood is used to make the chariot. This is due to excessive forest loss and lack of regeneration, as well as climate changes.

Later in the year, Puri’s Jagannath Yatra uses the chariot.

Read: Lord! Where will the wood for Jagannath’s chariot come from?

Sisir Kumar Ratho, the principal chief conservator of forests, tweeted February 4: “Forest Department is privileged to serve Lord Jagannath since immemorial. However, logs were once all from forest. Now, a good portion is offered by people from their private land.”

Around 99 per cent of Phasi logs came from private land owners this year, Manoj Kr Mohapatra IFS, regional chief conservator of forest, Bhubaneswar circle, told Down to Earth. These trees were harvested in Odisha’s Nayagarh-Khordha districts.

“Around 72 logs of Phasi, 14 feet in length and 6 feet in girth are used for making the wheels of the chariots. These logs were mostly donated by private land owners. They donated the logs to the temple committee for the chariot,” he said.

Around 865 logs (Phasi, Dhaura)Anogeissus latifolia), Asan (Terminalia ellipticaSimal (Bombax CeibaTogether with a few other tree species,, are the majorly used for the construction chariots at Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra each year.

Climate change and Yatra

According to forest department officials, the Phasi tree, used in the chariots has been decreasing due to climate change and loss forests in recent years.

The Mahanadi alluvial floodplain is where Phasi trees are found.

“Phasi trees take 50-60 years to mature. The trees used for the chariot should be straight and pencil straight. They must have a six-foot girth and a height of 12-14 feet. They can’t be used if the girth of the trees is less than 6 feet. The Jagannath Temple Committee sends its members to earmark such trees from forest and private land that can be used for the chariot,” Mohapatra added.

“Since the trees are being felled for decades now, their regeneration has been affected. There were a few Phasi plants in the forest, but these were not selected for this year’s chariot because they were not suitable. There were also younger trees that could not be harvested. We also left a few adult trees as mother trees to generate more saplings,” he added.

The forest department is also concerned about rapid climate change resulting in erratic rainfall and cyclones within the region interfering the growth of trees used for the construction the chariots.

“We need around 426 logs of Dhaura trees, of three-four feet girth for the axels and the body of the chariot. It takes Dhaura trees 80 years to reach a height of six feet. We have noticed that Dhaura trees are sloweding down in the last 20 years as climate change has impacted their growth. Dhaura trees may take 100 years to reach six feet in height. Phasi also matures in 50 year. It may also take longer to attain the six feet girth in future, so we need to start planning from now,” Mohapatra said.

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According to the forest department in Odisha, the tree species that will be used to build the chariot are only found in 14 districts. They will however, be focusing on planting these species immediately to ensure that there is no future crisis.

“As part of the Green Mahanadi Mission, we are spreading awareness among the masses and requesting them to start growing Dhaura trees on their land along with fruit trees,” he said.

Mohapatra told DTEThey were part of the Jagannath Bana Prakalpa which was launched in 2000. However, they had never been successful in growing Dhaura trees.

“The Phasi trees planted as part of the Jagannath Bana Prakalp have attained a height of 25 feet, Neem (Azadirachta indicaAsan and the trees have reached a height of two to three feet. But we have not been able to grow Dhaura,” he said.

“As it mostly plays a load-bearing role in the chariot, it is indispensable and irreplaceable. CAR timber workers circle and forest department have enjoined its conservation on private property. The species is also being planted consciously in block plantations and as part of the Green Mahanadi Mission,” Mohapatra said.

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