Starting on the peaceful morning of the Rathayatra, it soon throws you right bang into the surreal majesty of it all. The three gigantic colorful carts tower over an ocean of hundreds of thousands of fervent worshippers, and as Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra are carried out, it seems like something completely out of this world.
The size and scale of everything—the crowd, the chariots, the Deities—is far beyond anything seen in international Rathayatras, and creates a dizzying experience.
Then the camera descends into the throngs, and as people jostle it around and grin at it, it seems like you’re right there in the midst of this impossible scene.
Vasudeva worked hard to create the experience. “My equipment wasn’t the best, and I had no crew but myself,” he says. “On top of that, it was probably the worst possible environment to work on a film—I had to constantly try and navigate my way through about a million-strong pilgrims. Even while I was filming overhead shots from the roof of a building opposite the temple, there’d be 100 or so people clamoring around me, also trying to get a look. And I’d have to either fight them or soften them up by explaining that I was doing service for Lord Jagannath.”
Vasudeva even managed to get stunning close-ups of the Deities and their chariots. While in Puri, he stayed at the home of Gajendra Mahashaya, a well-known businessman and craftsman who connected him with the Pandas, or priests of Lord Jagannath. Through them, he was allowed on the chariots right next to the Lord, a privilege otherwise denied to westerners during the parade.