We only have a faint imagination of seeing Arjuna or Duryodhana fighting the Mahabharata war on Rathas in the B.R Chopra Mahabharata serial. Although the chariots used in those serials were made up of low quality wood, the actual Rathas were quite powerful and could carry heavy loads.
The development of Ratha can be imagined. First man used to walk and travel. Later on, he started to ride the back of animals which was quite tedious but faster than walking. But some brilliant mind got the idea of a wheel and thus constructed a chariot moving on wheel which would be pulled by muscle power of animals while man can comfortably sit in the chariot.
Thus began the science of building a Ratha. Further developments took place.
- The material which was used to build a Ratha was light.
- The number of wheels, animals attached were varied.
- The concept of Sarathi who drives the Ratha was consequently developed.
|Lord Surya, with his chariot of 7 horses.|
- The Ratha is said to be constructed of wood. The specific trees used were Khadir ( Khair in today's terms which is also used in Hom-Havan) and Shimshapa ( or Sheesham in today's terms). This information is given in RV ( 3.53.17-19)
- The wheels used to have spokes for higher speeds and for being light in weight.
- Different animals were used to pull the Ratha. Horses were most preferred during wars. But apart from horses, bulls, mules and wild ass was also used. RV (6.75.7) clearly tells that horses pull a Ratha faster than a bull. RV (3.53.17) tells us that bulls were indeed used to pull chariots. Use of wild ass in the Ratha of Ashwini Kumars is stated in RV (1.116.2)
- Almost every God had a Ratha. Hymns from Rigveda talk of Rathas of Indra, Agni, Ashwini Kumars, Usha,etc. Almost every king at war had a Ratha.
- Mahabharata and Ramayana wars have ample references to kings fighting on Rathas. Why others ? Our very own Krishna spoke the verses of Bhagvad Geeta on a chariot.
- We have an extra special hymn in Rigveda. It is 6.75. It is composed by Payu Bharadvaja. King Prastoka Sarnjaya had sought help from Payu to win a war. So Payu created this hymn in praise of all war-related things including bow, arrow, Sarathi, Ratha, different parts of Ratha,etc. It contains information about different parts of Ratha.
|Arjuna's peculiar chariot with his favourite 4 white horses|
|The wheels on the temple of Konark. They are 12 in number signifying the months of a year.|
Each wheel has 8 spokes signifying the 8 Prahar of a day.
- Sangramik Ratha- For wars.
- Deva Ratha- For Gods.
- Karni Ratha- Special Ratha for women, particularly queens.
- Vainayik Ratha- For giving training of driving a Ratha.
- Pushya Ratha- For processions of kings.
- Kreeda Ratha- For competitions and races.