They have lost their estates, some of them palaces too, but at least once a year — on the day of Rath Yatra — they perform a royal duty. Clad in royal attire and armed with sword, the scions of several royal families in Odisha's Ganjam district performed 'chhera pahanra' (sweeping the chariot).
"My father-in-law Sachhidananda Rajendra Deo has been doing this ritual for years before the chariot at Chikiti is pulled," said Women and Child Development Minister Usha Devi. While Chikiti king Sachhidananda, 92, performed the ritual, his son Trigunatitta Deo assisted him. "I have been carrying on the tradition after my father's death in 1974," said Ashok Kumar Narendra Dev, son of Sishir Kumar Dev, the then king of Mahuri estate. Ashok performed 'chhera pahanra' at Khaspa Street Rath Yatra.
The Jagannath Temple, built by a Mahuri king, is one of the oldest temples in Berhampur. Ashok has sold his palace in Berhampur and his family has shifted to Bhubaneswar. He comes only for the festival.
Similarly Sulakhyana Devi, queen of Dharakote and daughter of MLA (Sanakhemundi) Nandini Devi, sweeps the chariot at Dharakote. After the death of her father Kishor Chandra Singhdeo, Sulakhyana was coronated queen in 2010. In a departure from the male-dominated tradition, the 17-year-old girl has been doing the royal duty. "I feel proud to perform the rituals. I have been maintaining the tradition of our family," she said.
In Digapahandi, Manikeswari Prasad Dev, 65, royal scion of Bada Khemundi estate, performs the ritual. He lives in Berhampur, but comes to Digaphandi for it.
Purna Chandra Singhdeo, royal scion of Sheragada, did not perform 'chhera pahanra'. Raj purohita (royal priest) performed the ritual while Singhdeo first pulled the chariot. "It's our tradition here," Singhdeo said.