Today is RATH YATRA of Lord Jagannath. Millions of devotees all over the world, the majority of them from the temple town of Puri, Odisha are braving heat and humidity to have a DARSHAN (devotional peek) of the Lord.
I wrote this piece in the year 2013 named JAGANNATH – 101, a simple and brief yet as much informative as possible without being inordinately long. This was printed on the July 2013 issue of the KHABAR magazine in Atlanta, Georgia in United States. Here you go..
Who is Lord Jagannath ? He is a famous Hindu deity. The word Jagannath is formed as the conjoint (SANDHI) of the two words JAGAT (Universe) + NATH (meaning Lord of the Universe). He is also addressed by several other names CHAKADOLA (Circular eyelid), KAALIA (for his Amber complexion), JAGABANDHU (Friend of Universe), PAITAPABAN and myriads of other names by his devotees. He is considered as a form of Lord Vishnu. Inside the temple his idol made up of DAARU (wood) is accompanied by his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra.
What is Jagannath culture ? Keeping it simple it is a way of life, our way of life. It denotes the wonderful culture and traditions of Odias and the great state of Orissa. Jagannath culture envisages devotion and respect for elders, affection for the children and invokes us to do the right things and follow the path of righteousness and justice. It is as simple as that, need not be more complex to perceive or visualize.
In its realms the Jagannath culture sees God in every object, in its endless and infinite form. It is just not limited to any boundary, national or international. Jagannath as His name indicates belongs to the whole universe.
Believers, atheists and agnostics alike agree on one thing, i.e, Lord Jagannath is our window to the world. It is our export which does not bring us any Foreign exchange but tons of gems in the form of goodwill and joy.
Now lets take look at Jagannath temple from the historical prospective. The coastal township of Puri in the state of Odisha, India is famous for its Jagannath temple which is one of the CHAAR DHAAMs or the Four sacred abodes of God. (The other three being Badrinath, Dwarka and Rameswaram, all revered by Hindus).
This temple was built in 11th Century by King Chodaganga Dev from the Ganga dynasty. But the legend of the temple which precedes that time has it that the temple was built by King Indradyumna many centuries ago. Lord Jagannath who always resides in the heart of Oriyas have helped them for centuries.
Legend has it, He and along with his brother Balabhadra assisted King Purusottam Deb of Puri in defeating his opponent, the King of Kanchi. It is also said that the Lord saved himself from the marauding KALAPAHADA the JAVANA or outcaste, an euphemism for the Muslim General who desecrated the temple in 18th century.
Lord Jagannath is offered CHAPPAN BHOG (56 kinds of foods) as offerings, but the MAHAPRASAD ( the great food offering) also colloquially known as AVADA tops it all. It is cooked on earthen pots using fire woods without garlic, onions or foreign origin veggies like Potato, Tomato, Cauliflowers, Cabbages etc. It has a unique appetizing smell and taste which is attributed to Lord’s MAHIMA (miracle).
Inside the temple in ANAND BAZZAR (The market of Happiness) everybody irrespective of caste, creed or class can seat and eat together. It is another profound aspect of our culture where all are considered equal in the abode of the Lord (currently it is heavily debated on allowing non-Hindus to enter the temple). The MAHAPRASAD is buried in the ground without being offered to the Lord as it is considered MAARAA (inauspicious) on three occasions.
1. A non-Hindu or Sikh or from any Religion of foreign origin enters the temple.
2. A person dies inside the temple premises. (It is believed that if one dies inside the temple straight goes to Heaven)
3. A dog enters the temple (However Cats and Monkeys roam free inside the temple).
Now lets move on to RATH YATRA or The Car Festival which is held in the months of June-July depending on the auspicious occasion as per our Hindu Lunar calendar. It is held all over the world including our stage of Georgia, but the most famous is Rath Yatra help in Puri where the famous temple of the Lord is located.
Lord Jagannath is regarded as one among us. Like a normal human being he eats, takes a shower on SNANA PURNIMA (the full moon day for bath) and falls sick. He suffers from fever for several days before on the day of RATH YATRA he travels to his MAUSI’s (sister of his mom) house a few miles away sitting on a chariot named NANDIGHOSA. His brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra also travel in two separate chariots.
The King of Puri sweeps the top of the Lord’s chariot using his golden broom. All the three chariots are pulled by hundreds of thousands of devotees thronging BADADANDA (The Broadway) of Puri amidst beating of GHANTA (brass plates), DHOLs( drums) and sirens of SANKHA(conch shell).
The DAHOOKA or Charioteer is the person in front of the chariot is known to chant the Puri BOLIS (limericks) full of profanity in order to entice the crowd. This practice of utterance of expletive filled chants have been replaced by Sanskrit SLOKAS (hymns) these days. Though highly offensive this practice continued for centuries and cannot be ignored or denied as part of our history.
During the British rule the Englishmen were appalled at devotees throwing themselves in front of the chariot with the belief of being assured a place in heaven (Juggernaut from Jagannath is probably the only word in the English lexicon which originates from Odisha meaning a heavy vehicle on the roll).
I will end this article with JAGANNATH SWAMI NAYANA PATHA GAMI BHAVATUME, roughly meaning “O Lord Jagannath, The Beacon of our eyes, He who shows us the path, Be visible to me).