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Wagon wheels can be found on the entire sun temple of Konarak - the temple building is therefore to be seen in its entirety as a huge carriage ( ratha ).

Ratha ( Sanskrit : रथ ratha [ ˈrʌtʰʌ ], Avestisch raθa, "chariot") is the name for the Indian temple chariot , for early south Indian monolith temples in Mahabalipuram and for a form of the north Indian temple tower, which depending on the number of its protrusions as a triratha (three), Pancharatha (five), etc.

Vedic origin

The old Indo-Iranian term ratha means "carriage". It occurs in the Yashts , a section of texts contained in the ancient Iranian religious text collection Avesta . In the tenth yasht ( pahlavi Mihr-yasht ) the originally highest sky god Mithra is described as the sun and war god, who drives on a chariot drawn by four horses ( raθa ). When Zarathustra assumed the role of a prophet in Zoroastrianism , he became the first priest ( āθravan ) and the first chariot fighter ( raθaēštar ). That was the name of the warrior class at that time, which stood out from the peasants marching on foot. He corresponded to the Indian charioteers, the rathesta .

In Vedic times, Ratha was understood to be a light, fast, two-wheeled vehicle with spoked wood, which was usually drawn by horses and used in war as a chariot , for hunting, for racing events and for ceremonial purposes. The Avestic raθa , the Latin rota and the German wheel also come from the word * rot-o of the Indo-European original language .

A broad topic for historical studies is the origin and distribution area of ​​the early horse-drawn carts in Asia; the working methods have recently shifted from archaeological research to the analysis of the traditional Indo-Iranian texts. The oldest archaeological evidence was horse carts as grave goods in Central Asia around 2000 BC. BC, carts with spoked wheels from Mesopotamia are known from the same time . An old Syrian seal depicts a chariot with two horses, a charioteer and another man standing behind him. Rock carvings with narrative depictions of horse-drawn carts found in central India are dated to the 1st millennium BC. Dated.

How the Indo-Aryans immigrated to the Indian region is not directly mentioned in the Vedic texts. They came in the 2nd millennium BC. BC from the north as warriors and nomadic cattle herders and had as their main weapon fast horse-drawn chariots, which are mentioned in numerous places in the Vedas as Rathas. The older industrial culture , into whose territory the Aryans immigrated, must, as finds from toy wagons show, have owned horse carts. From the time of the Maurya dynasty from 320 BC. In northern India various models of transport carts were also excavated. The earliest realistic car representations can be found on the gates ( toranas ) of the stone fences at the Sanchi stupa and on the Buddhist cave temples ( chaitya ) of Bhaja from the 2nd century BC. There are no written sources from this period, the Jatakas used by Buddhist sculptors as a source of inspiration do not give any detailed descriptions of the Rathas. Rock carvings in Chilas on the upper Indus in northern Pakistan from the 1st century AD exceptionally show only a few horse-drawn wagons, appropriate to the road conditions in the mountains. Horses and riders were often depicted there, to which there are few references in the Vedas.

The great battle of
Kurukshetra between the warring dynasties of the Pandavas and Kauravas, described in the Mahabharata . The charioteer Krishna small in the middle with the horses, behind with Arjuna with bow and arrow . Manuscript probably from the 18th century

When it was in 326 BC When the great battle between Alexander's army and the Indian troops came about in the 3rd century BC , the army of King Poros traditionally consisted of four divisions ( caturanga ): cavalry, infantry, elephants and horse-drawn carts, manned by a charioteer and a rifleman, both standing were. The elephants were effective in the beginning, but the horse-drawn carts soon got stuck in the mud. Nevertheless, they continued to be used, at least in part, in the armies of the Maurya kings.

The Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana depict Rathas as precious vehicles with which the heroes fought their battles. While the illustrations from Mesopotamia generally showed two horses harnessed to the cart, here four horses and three charioteers on carts with enormous proportions and fantastic designs are described in exuberance. The two horses in the middle were led by a man, the other horses were tied to the outer ends of the axle and each required a further handlebar. Possibly it was just the largest of the cars used. The Arthashastra , a textbook of the ancient Indian art of war, which was written shortly after Alexander's Indian campaign, gives precise information about the size of the vehicles and describes their terrifying effect on the battle. The construction of the chariots consisted, practically speaking, of a wooden frame, which was tied together with cowhide straps, on which there was a flat platform, completely or partially surrounded by a railing. Rathas used by the military had disappeared around the 8th century.

Deification of the Ratha

The Vedic war chariots were only available to kings and noble warriors with their companions of archers. A younger warrior was positioned as “guardian of the chariot” on either side, but who had the same rank. The social status of the charioteers was also high, but one step below. According to the epics, the wagons were in the middle of the army, surrounded by several elephants and closely guarded. The vehicles themselves were considered valuable and sacred and were a symbol of royalty. With the war chariots, their cult also spread. The sun wheel swastika is a symbol of luck.

Right: Surya on the sun chariot with seven horses, in two of his four hands he carries the attributes club ( gada ) and conch shell ( shankha ). Left: The wind god Vayu as the handlebar on his aircraft ( vayu-ratha ), which is pulled by two antelopes, symbols for air and
breath of life. Vayu holds two flags in his hands as a sign of wind. Behind it usually Agni , the Vedic fire god and chief sacrificial priest. - Pandita Vamadhara: Indrajalakala. Meerut, UP 1884

From the oldest ritual texts in the Vedas, there are the Ashvins as divine twins, demigods depicted with horse heads or sons of heaven, whose name and cult are associated with horses and healing powers, especially the sacred drink Soma . The soma-pressing ritual was performed early in the morning so that the two Ashvins would be summoned on their horse-drawn cart. Before the rising sun they travel across the sky. It is the worship of the dawn, the Ashvins were also seen in the morning star and evening star. The two are more important as the idolized two-man crew of the car, because they were always quickly on the spot in their car, as the hymns sung about in the hymns. As deified twin kings, they form an analogy to the king standing on the chariot and his royal priest who drives this chariot. In numerous myths in Europe and Asia there are relatives of the Ashvins: divine twins, two horses and a sun chariot that rolls across the sky have their origins in Sumer . According to the Rig Veda, the Ashvins orbit heaven and earth in one day, just like Surya on his sun chariot, only the latter is pulled by seven horses. Surya can also be the Ashvins' charioteer. Or Surya in the female form as the daughter of the sun falls in love with the two of them and they move across the sky.

In the early Vedic period there were other sun or sky gods in addition to Surya: Mitra had an Achaemenid counterpart and gave its name to the Roman sun god Mithras . The Vedic miter, like the guardian of the western world, Varuna, guarded the cosmic order and the divine oath. Both are also considered to be the equivalent of the Ashvins and then embody light and dark, sun and moon. One sun can alternate between light and darkness. The Rigveda uses arjuna (“light”) for day and krishna (“dark”) for night . These are the names of the divine charioteer of the most famous Indian battle and the bravest fighter, Krishna and Arjuna .

Sacrificial ceremonies

At the center of Vedic sacrificial ceremonies was the altar, usually as a fire altar. In the Shulbasutras, an appendix to the Vedas, the construction plan for the altar ( mahavedi ) is given based on the length of individual parts of the wagon. The chariot of the gods had to be understood as a metaphor for sacrifices in general, so that, conversely, the east-facing altar could represent the chariot. A chariot race, a sacred ceremony, was part of the ritual of the Vajapeya sacrifice, during which the sun was asked every autumn for strength and food for the new season. Before that, the horses were bathed, holy scriptures were recited or sung, and finally the priest was given a pot of honey, the Ashvins' favorite food, and the charioteers consumed a lot of the alcoholic sura, a drink that is also related to the Ashvins (a kind of sura was milk fermented by honey).

Repetition and travel

The composer of a religious hymn is like the craftsman who builds the car. Numerous passages in the Rigveda describe the creativity of one of the activities with the poetic image of the other. All the gods of Rigveda have their own chariot according to their characteristics. Indra uses a chariot when he kills his adversary, the three-headed demon Vritri with his thunderbolt. It is the dominant theme of Vedic mythology and, as a result, creates a new world. His car involved in the fighting is equated with the instrument of aggression.

The most important metaphor for the Ratha is its easy mobility, the lightest is the wind-driven Vayu-Ratha of the wind god Vayu, he embodies the noisy, eternally moving air. The image of driving a car becomes the idea of ​​a journey beyond time. The individual self ( Atman ) finds its redemption in the realization that Atman is the owner of the chariot and one's own body is the chariot, with the cause of everything personified in the charioteer ( Vishnu ). Whose thoughts are the reins.

Rathas as temple chariots

Ratha of a Tamil temple in Sri Lanka

New Year celebrations are the most important sacrificial rituals. Ratha Saptami is a Vedic fire offering for the worship of the sun in today's form . Believers bathe with a lamp on their heads before sunrise. Then the image of the sun chariot with seven horses in the form of a rangoli is drawn on the ground for Surya in the courtyard in front of the house. In the middle, cow dung is burned, the steamed milk should reach the sun. When Surya continues his journey in the car, the new season has begun.

The Vedic vehicles of the gods are increased to immeasurable size when they suddenly begin to roll, faithfully reproduced in wood in the style of stone temples. In these rathas, the figure of the god brought from the temple is pulled through the city once in an annual carriage festival - the god confirms the creation of his world - and finally returns. Such processions are mainly held in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala , in Orissa and also in the Kathmandu Valley.

The “pilgrimage of the chariot” translates as a Ratha Yatra . One of the largest of these pilgrimage festivals is the temple festival, which takes place every year in June-July in front of the Jagannath Temple in Puri . Jagannath is "Lord of the Universe" and also a form of Krishna, from whose mythology one of the occasions for the festival comes. The cult images of Jagannath, his brother Balbhadra and his sister Subhadra are dragged in three procession floats by several thousand people to Gundicha Mandir , three kilometers away , where they remain in a kind of summer residence for seven days until they are brought back again. The temple wagons in Puri are rebuilt every year in a two-month process, at the end of the 15-day event they are dismantled into their individual parts and taken away as relics by the believers. Elsewhere in the country, only the cloth clothing is removed from the Rathas at the end, they are given shelter in a hall or remain in the open.

Design and meaning of the temple chariots

Heavy, massive ratha made of artistically carved and joined wooden beams
Small procession. This temple wagon is pulled on two ropes. Several thousand people pull four ropes at the wagon festivals in Tamil Nadu and Puri, Orissa.

A wooden ratha in Tamil Nadu can weigh over 20 tons, some of which have 8 axles. The height of the carriages in Puri is around 13 meters, the floor structure is similar to a temple tower. The superstructures in Puri are hung with colorful fabrics one kilometer long and form the outer shell. The decisive factor for the effect of the vehicles is the wooden construction, which was created as a block or truss frame without diagonal struts and therefore moves and twists to the sides during transport and gives the impression of a threatening giant animal. This effect is reinforced by the wooden disc wheels sliding and buckling on their rigid axles, which lead to jerky movements.

The procession takes place at a time of transition; as long as the god figure is outside its temple, the world is as disordered as the Ratha is in imbalance. It is the periodically necessary repetition of the primal chaos, after which order is restored by returning the figure to the temple and life can go on. The state of emergency is inevitably exacerbated at large festivals by the crowds and loud music bands. The sight of the wandering temple monsters leads back to the mythical prehistoric times when the elephants and even the mountains still had wings until they were cut off by Indra in his first world-ordering act. (Even the horses once wandered aimlessly across the sky with their wings. At Indra's order, their wings were shot off with an arrow, otherwise they would never have been suitable for pulling chariots.)

Even outside the Indian cultural area, chariot processions are part of the rituals in which order is temporarily suspended in order to renew the world. The Daoist fishing goddess Mazu ( Tin Hau ) is brought out of her temples every year for her birthday, especially in Taiwan, and driven through the streets in colorful temple wagons and litters. Fireworks also create chaos here.

Stone rathas without wheels

In an analogy opposite to that of the processional floats, temple structures were carved out of a granite rock on the east coast south of Chennai , which were supposed to be able to transform structures made of wood and clay into a permanent material. It is a separate group of five 7th century temples in the south of Mahabalipuram , called Pancha Pandava Ratha ("five chariots of the Pandavas "). The miniature temples were intended as models for cult buildings to be built in the future. For the first time in South India (by the Pallavas ) free-standing temples were built. The name Ratha only makes sense insofar as four of these buildings are set up in a row like processional floats.

Miniature rock temple in Mahabalipuram. Row of four of the five Rathas. From left: Dharmaraja-Ratha, Bhima-Ratha, Arjuna-Ratha and behind the little Draupadi-Ratha. At the bottom of each column is a lion
griffin ( yali or vyala ), a mythical animal with a protective function. Her face later became one of the most common decorative motifs on temples as Kirtti-Mukha ("Glory Face").

All stand firmly on profiled rock pedestals ( pitha ). The Draupadi-Ratha imitates the simple square farmhouse from the south Indian mountains with four-sided curved roof shells that converge at the top. The overall shape is repeated in miniature as the kuta type on south Indian temple towers. On the same platform stands the Arjuna-Ratha with the basic dimensions 9 × 10 meters, the longer side forms a small porch at the entrance, otherwise square with a two-story temple tower, the roof is divided by miniature temples with barrel roofs ( kuta ). It is the basic shape of the South Indian temple roof Vimana , a term that also means vehicle for the gods.

The elongated, 16 × 8 meter large Bhima-Ratha with a pointed barrel roof, which resembles an upturned boat hull, follows on its own platform . This long south Indian roof shape is called Vesara . The roof was too heavy for the substructure to be hollowed out. Outer rows of columns were carved out - five columns on each long side, the lower half of which is formed by seated lions, the rock inside was not removed. This roof shape was no longer used in temple construction, as it did not indicate a central cult area, but it served as a template for all later gate towers ( gopuram ) of the southern Indian temple area, which, regardless of how high they are, have a barrel roof at their top.

The Dharmaraja-Ratha , another name ("royal law") for Yudhishthira , the oldest of the five Pandavas, is still missing in this series . It is a square enlarged Arjuna-Ratha and with its three-storey roof structure the most beautiful and most useful of the temples. The square is an absolute shape that best depicts the cosmic plan. The central roof end with the stupika forms the symbolic vault of heaven.

The Sahadeva-Ratha to the side of this row is a strange combination of the two roof forms Vimana with floor structure and Vesara barrel roof and with a round apse derived from early Buddhist cave temples ( Chaitya ). In short, it was an unsuitable attempt to want to use a hall structure for the Hindu cult, which must have a basic plan aimed at a cultic center.

To the west of Mamallapuram are two more stone rathas : Pidari Ratha and Valian Kuttai Ratha . The Rathas of Mamallapuram are part of the World Heritage Site " Temple District of Mahabalipuram ".

Temple buildings as Rathas

Rathas can be found in reliefs on many stone temples, and it is probably thanks to a desire for sculptural design that, contrary to the laws of gravity, entire temples in South India were carved in stone as rolling temple chariots. Under the Chola dynasty, the south Indian temple complexes grew by adding vestibules ( mandapas ) for various purposes and new inner courtyards and entire temple towns were created through additional enclosing walls. The Gopurams reached their hitherto greatest heights and became the embodiment of the world mountain Meru . In the temple towers ( vimanas ), the cult space was repeated several times in miniature form, becoming smaller upwards - imaginable as an eruption upwards. There were practically unlimited financial resources available for the temples, the height of the buildings was limited solely by the technical possibilities. Perhaps this limit should be overcome by means of the stone wheels, similar to the attempt to attach wings to the mountains again.

About 30 kilometers from Chidambaram is the small town of Kadambur. The Amritaghateswarar temple there is a Shiva temple of the late Chola dynasty from the beginning of the 12th century. On both sides of the vestibule there is a spoked wheel and a horse jumping to the east on the high plinth area - with rather reserved symbolism.

In the town of Kumbakonam on the banks of the Kaveri , 40 kilometers northeast of Thanjavur , there is the Sarangapani temple from the same period. The sides of the main building are designed as a four-wheeled temple wagon that is pulled by an elephant on each side. Reliefs inside show Vishnu descending in the heavenly chariot. In the nearby temple pond (common Tirtham , this Mahamagam ) the holy Indian rivers flow together every 12 years and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come for a ritual bath. The Shiva image of the Kumbheshwarar temple is driven to this water basin in a large procession in a silver carriage.

Brihadisvara Temple, Thanjavur. Single-axle horse-drawn cart on Mandapa stem

In relation to the huge vimana of the Brihadisvara temple in the former Chola capital Thanjavur, the single-axle horse-drawn cart on one of its mandapa stems looks like it has been degraded to a decorative motif, and the elephants on the sides of a staircase are also thought of accordingly. At 61 meters, it was the highest temple tower of its time; the end stone alone, a so-called 'umbrella dome' ( stupika ), which had to be brought up over a spiral pile of earth, weighs 80 tons. A rolling temple is out of the question here.

Five kilometers south of Kumbakonam in Darasuram , the Airavateshvara temple is one of the extremely rare temples for the first elephant Airavata . The temple from the end of the 12th century is a smaller replica of the Brihadisvara of Thanjavur. The wheels of a temple chariot protrude from an open pillared vestibule attached to the side. Here, too, there are elephants next to them, which form a banister with their trunks.

The most famous temple, which is presented in its entirety as a heavenly chariot, is the 13th century Surya Temple of Konarak , located southeast of Bhubaneswar on the coast. The local Ganga dynasty may have borrowed the motif of the temple as Ratha from the Chola . The chariot of the sun god was symbolized by partially preserved harnessed horses and 24 plastic spoked wheels on the projections around the high sandstone base zone.

Certain types of construction were retained throughout the history of Indian temple architecture. The spiritual foundations first brought into structural forms in the original materials bamboo, wood and fired brick were taken over together with these forms in the later stone. The ancient world tree , a wooden post at the time of the Vedas, became a stone world mountain in accordance with Indian cosmogony . The material transformation works because of the basically same meaning.

Vitthala Temple, Vijayanagara. Garuda Shrine as Ratha

The procession as a ritual of renewal has another aspect: The temples were not only further decorated out of the desire to transform and the joy of ever new forms - they were given wheels to move the heavy stone symbolically. In another transformation back, the wooden chariots became stone temples again. It is imitation as a gimmick, as with the ever smaller miniature temple forms on the storey roofs of South Indian temples. From the 14th to the 16th century there was the southern Indian Vijayanagara empire with its capital near today's village of Hampi . In the "City of Victory" the largest number of temples were built in one room and decorated in great detail in their own style. The height of the temple towers prescribed by the Cholas was exceeded. In the northern part of the once 26-square-kilometer city stands Vitthala - temple. The entire complex is considered to be the most beautiful and richly decorated in the city. In the longitudinal axis in front of the main temple dedicated to Vishnu there is a small shrine for his mount Garuda . It is a free-standing Ratha, faithfully rendered in stone from the wooden form.

Ratha as a term for projections on a temple tower

Main article : Ratha (architecture)

In contrast to the South Indian, the North Indian temple tower ( Shikhara or rekha deul ) is structured vertically. With projections and recesses, the originally undivided rectangular shape is transformed into a step-like basic plan. For this basic plan, since the 6th century pilaster-like projections were led upwards and curved in a beehive shape to the top (see also urushringas ). Tri- , Pancha- , Sapta- or Nava-Ratha means that the wall surface is divided by three, five, seven or nine projections. An increasing number of protrusions results in an increasingly rounded structure. Early temples up to around the 10th century were mostly of the Tri-Ratha type, then of the Pancha-Ratha type. At the time of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty in the 13th century, Odisha was built with even more promises .

The development took place from the cult cave to the open-air temple with a flat stone beam roof to increasingly steep roof structures. Perhaps the upward direction of movement gave it its name: then the heavy pillars and protrusions emerged from the interior of the cult cave.

Web links

Commons : Ratha  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Henrik Samuel Nyberg : The religions of ancient Iran. (1938) New edition: Otto Zeller, Osnabrück 1966, pp. 60, 301
  2. Otto Günther von Wesendonk : The world view of the Iranians. Ernst Reinhardt, Munich 1933, p. 52
  3. Marcus Sparreboom: Chariots in the Veda. (Iconography of Religions). Brill Academic Publications, Leiden 1985, p. 10
  4. Peter Raulwing: Horses, chariots and Indo-Europeans. Foundations and Methods of Chariotry Research from the Viewpoint of Comparative Indo-European Linguistics. Archaeolingua, Series Minor 13, Budapest 2000.
  5. Heinz Mode: The early India. Gustav Kilpper Verlag, Stuttgart 1959, p. 99
  6. Between Mumbai and Pune . Columbia.edu photos of Bhaja. Top image: Entrance to cave 19. On the left, the chariot of the sun god Surya with a spoked wheel, pulled by four horses.
  7. Volker Thewalt: Horse representations in rock drawings on the upper Indus. In: Jakob Ozols, Volker Thewalt: From the East of the Alexander Empire. Peoples and cultures between Orient and Occident. Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India. DuMont documents, Cologne 1984, pp. 204-218. Text online
  8. Sparreboom, p. 8
  9. Asko Parpola: The Nasatyas, the Chariot and Proto-Aryan Religion. (PDF; 1.3 MB) Journal of Indological Studies, No. 16 and 17. 2004–2005, p. 15. Quoted here: Edward W. Hopkins: The social and military position of the ruling caste in India, as represented by the Sanscrit Epic. American Oriental Society, New Haven 1889, p. 195.
  10. Kautilya's Arthashastra. ( Memento from January 12, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Shamasastry - English translation from 1915. Book II, chap. 33
  11. Parpola, pp. 13-15
  12. Parpola, p. 10
  13. ^ Duane W. Hamacher: The Sumerians and Gemini. Sumerian Astronomical Interpretations as Origins of the Divine Horse Twins and Solar Chariots in Indo-European Mythology. ( Memento of the original from October 31, 2010 on WebCite ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. University of Missouri, Columbia @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / blacktaj.homestead.com
  14. ^ Hermann Oldenberg : The religion of the Veda. Wilhelm Hertz , Berlin 1894, p. 212
  15. Rigveda. 6.9.1. English translation: Ralph TH Griffith, 1896. Sacred Texts.com
  16. ^ JJ O'Connor, EF Robertson: The Indian Sulbasutras.
  17. Sparreboom, p. 12
  18. Mircea Eliade : The longing for the origin. From the sources of humanity. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1976, p. 215
  19. ^ Festivals of India: Ratha Saptami
  20. Orissa Reference Annual 2005: Car Festival. ( Memento of April 10, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 227 kB)
  21. Klaus Fischer , Michael Jansen , Jan Pieper: Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1987, pp. 56-62
  22. The German Carnival is originally a New Year celebration, processions with deities carried around there are also worldwide in Catholicism.
  23. Ratha Cave Temples. Asian Historical Architecture (photos and plan of the temple complex)
  24. Nakula Sahadeva Ratha. flickr.com (photo)
  25. R. Nagaswamy: Kadambur. Description of the temple with a picture of Ratha and horse.
  26. Templenet. Description of the Sarangapani Temple in Kumbhakonam.
  27. Klaus Fischer: Creations of Indian Art. Cologne 1959, p. 52, 208
  28. Stella Kramrisch: Indian Art. Traditions in sculpture, painting and architecture. Phaidon, Cologne 1956, p. 14
  29. Kramrisch, p. 18