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This year, Phasi wood was sourced entirely from private lands.

This year, Phasi wood was sourced entirely 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 Jagantha Temple, Puri

Odisha marked Basant Panchami Day on February 5, 2022 by performing a prayer ceremony in which the logs used to build the chariot of Jagannath were consecrated. But this year, most of the Phasi (Anogeissus acuminataAccording to the state forest department, a lot of wood was sourced from private land and not 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, the chariot is used in Puri’s Jagannath Yatra.

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. All logs in the past were from forests. 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 this year from the Nayagarh & Khordha districts in Odisha.

“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 came mostly from private landowners. 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

Officials from the forest department stated that the Phasi trees, which were used in the chariots’ construction, are declining due to climate change and loss of forests in recent decades.

Most Phasi trees can be found in the Mahanadi’s alluvial floodplain.

“Phasi trees take 50-60 years to mature. The trees for the chariot must be straight and six feet tall. They also need to measure between 12-14 feet in height. 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 which could not yet be harvested. We also left a few adult trees as mother trees to generate more saplings,” he added.

The forest department is also concerned that rapid climate change could lead to erratic precipitation and cyclones in the area, interfering with the growth trees used in the construction of 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. Their growth has been slowing since the last two decades as climate has set in. Dhaura trees could take up to 100 years to reach six-foot girth. 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, the tree species used in the chariot can be found in 14 Odisha districts. They will, however, focus on planting these trees immediately so that there is not a 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 has grown to two-three feet while Asan has grown to 12-14 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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