The three multi-colored wooden chariots are constructed newly every year for the Car Festival. 1072 pieces of logs of about 400 cubic meters are brought from different forests of Odisha for the construction of Chariots. Trees preferred for Chariot making are Phasi, Kadamba, Dharua, Devadaru, Simili, Asana, Mahalima, Moi, Kalachua, Paldhua etc. The Dasapalla and Nayagarh forest division and the Khurda forest division provides the trees needed for Chariot making.
Journey to find trees for Chariot making
Temple administrators (caretaker and representative of technical committee), group of carpenters headed by Maharana, other artisans and laborers go the forest for the selection of the trees for making the chariots. This happens a month before on the Basant Panchami day (January – February). When the group reaches the Dasapalla area, they first offer prayers to Bada Raula Thakurani – a powerful manifestation of Mother Goddess. Her permission is taken before venturing into her area.
The group going to cut trees carry with them Angya Malas (divine permission from the Deities in form of garlands). Once the main tree is selected, the garland is put on the tree and this symbolically signifies divine authority to cut the tree. The tree is now holy and has the sanction of the Deities in the Puri Jagannath temple. Mahaprasada and other rituals are offered in front of the tree. A simple puja is performed.
Transportation of Logs to Puri
The trees are then cut and the logs are then transported on trucks to Bada Danda (Grand Road) of Puri. They are placed at the designated area between the main temple office and the palace (Srinahara) of Gajapati King.
Ratha Khala / Maha Khala
The entire area designated for making the chariots are known as Ratha Khala or Maha Khala. Temporary sheds using bamboo and coconut leaves are made for storing the logs which arrive as early as Basant Panchami (February). Various parts of the Ratha are constructed here and finally, the chariots are assembled here.
Ratha Anukula (beginning of Chariot construction) on Akshaya Tritiya
All woods required for making the chariots reach the venue before Akshaya Tritiya (April – May). On the auspicious occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, 'Ratha Anukula' or 'Ratha Katha Anukula' ritual was performed at Ratha Khala in Puri, marking the beginning of the construction of chariots for the pious Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath, Goddess Subhadra & Lord Balabhadra. Three logs are selected, washed and placed near the temple office. As per tradition, a special fire sacrifice known as Bana Yaga is performed at the Ratha Khala or Maha Khala (chariot construction yard) by Shrotriya Brahmins. This is thanking the forests and the ritual includes the offering of ghee and chanting of sacred mantras.
Following which servitors brought Angya Malas (divine permission from the Deities in form of garlands) of the three Deities in a procession from Jagannath Temple and handed them over to three Biswakarmas (chief carpenters). They place them on a red colour silk cloth and it is then put them on the three logs. This symbolizes handing over of responsibility for the construction of three chariots.
The main carpenters known as Ratha Nayakas or Maharanas are honored in the Barana ceremony. They are offered khandua lagi (silk tie cloth). The three chief carpenters offer unbroken coconuts and uncooked rice grains with husk and offer prayers to their ancestors. The Biswakarmas of the temple symbolically touch the logs with a silver axe. This marks the beginning of the construction of the chariots.