Nabakalebara: A simpler interpretation of the divine (Part I) by Amrita Satpathy – First part if you have not read.
Continuing from where I left in my last post Nabakalebara: A simpler interpretation of the divine (Part 1), let us now try to take some time off and travel a couple of thousand years back into the history. Let the imagination run wild and transfer you to the Kalinga of the old. I can imagine a verdant, picturesque Kalinga. I can also see in my mind’s eye that majority of its people are tribal.
By the way, have you ever thought of Jagannath and wondered about his features and his make? Doesn’t an aboriginal tribal aura resonate in his features, his limbs, his eyes, his construction? You must think about it. In fact there is a school of thought that opines that religion was once used to bring all the various tribes of Odisha together and a new God was manufactured who came to be known as Jagannath. Especially when the Aryans invaded the east, they thought of this solution for unification. May be that is why the tribal features! In fact it is also said that Indradyumna was an Aryan (who came from the north) and Vidyapati, his minister was a Dravidian (who came from the south).
|In the pic. (from left-to-right): Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannnath|
Come on now, if it were that easy to put a finger on the exact origin of Jagannath and his siblings who have been worshiped since a long time in the haloed portals of the majestic Jagannath temple at Puri, would it not be a really dry proposition? There are many theories regarding his origins and that has obviously given rise to a good deal of myth and folklore.
As mentioned in my last post once the wood has been sourced post the Banajaga Jatra, thebrahma daaru (holy wood) is loaded onto bullock carts and brought to the Koili Baikuntha. Koili Baikuntha is that place where the new idols are carved and the old idols are buried. All the previous idols old Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra have been laid to rest there, one atop the other.Koili Baikuntha is a combination of two words, Koili which means burial ground and Baikunthawhich means heaven. Also the remaining wood that is left over after the construction of Daaru Brahma (wooden deity/God) is preserved here for replacing any wear and tear that happens to the Gods over the year of worship i.e. till the next Ratha Yatra. On an auspicious day, 9 Maharanas (main carpenters) begin sculpting the idols and are assisted by a fleet of about 150 assistant carpenters . Again, they cannot make the idols as per their wish. They have to follow the instructions laid down in the almanac called “Madalaa Paanji”.They have to complete the project within a stipulated time period of 21 days. Austerity is maintained during these 21 days when they cannot leave the premises of the Jagannath Temple and once inside the Koili Baikuntha, they cannot consume (eat/drink/smoke) anything. Also, in the night they have to sleep in the courtyard and partake the Lord’s Mahaprasad.
And now comes the interesting part. I mean if it were just facts then you could refer to the Nabakalebara article on Wikipedia. But I believe there is more to Jagannath than what meets the eye. Once the idols have been made, the soul of the old deities is to be transferred into the new idols. But have you ever wondered what the soul looks like? I have been dying to know about it ever since I got to know that such a ritual existed. This ritual is an extremely covert operation, one that takes place in the wee hours of the night, a time when the entire region of Puri is devoid of any form of light. If you were to talk about the location of the moon and stars, then this ritual happens on the midnight of the Adhika Ashadha Krishna Chaturdashi. Refer to my previous blog to know what Adhika Ashadha means. Interestingly no one knows what the Tattwa Padartha/Brahma looks like. When the new idols are carried inside by the Daitapatis, only the three eldest Daitapatis stay for the process of Brahma transfer. They are blind folded and have Jagannath’s cloth wound around their arm. There’s no way they can touch or see the Brahma. When asked, they said they have felt a very eerie feeling when the Tattwa seems alive and seems to be throbbing in their palms. Beyond that no one can put a finger as to what the Brahma is exactly.
Some people say Brahmas are the three stones, the ones that Vidyapati stole from the savara (aboriginal forest dweller) Viswabasu. (Read the entire story at the end of this blog). There’s yet another school of thought that says the Brahmas are actually three teeth of the Lord Buddha, the ones that Emperor Ashoka had plundered during his invasion of Kalinga. In fact, there is a lot of contention between the 9th avatar of Vishnu’s Dasavatar (10 incarnations). There’s a group that says Buddha was the 9th Avatar and there’s another that says Jagannath was the 9th Avatar. Maybe there is a link and they could be these relics (teeth) that Emperor Ashoka took back home to Magadha. But if they (Brahmas) were teeth then they would have been burnt along with the idols when the vengeful Kalapahad attacked. It is said that he massacred the servitors, pillaged the temples and in an elaborate and sacrilegious fashion burnt the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. (Don’t worry, I will definitely blog about the Kalapahad pillage soon). Legend has it thatBisi Mohanty, thrust his hand into the embers and retrieved three stones and escaped via a secret route to Chillika. By the way, next time you visit the Jagannath Mandir at Puri, make sure you inquire about the Amuha Deula (temple with NO entrance). Perhaps that was the secret rout to the tunnel under the sea and to Chillika. The Jagannath Temple has been plundered 18 times and it is said that whenever there was an attack, the Daitapatis would carry away the Deities and the riches via a secret tunnel under the sea and reach Chillika in record time. Phew…. Man, this could form the perfect setting of an Indi-Harlequin-Romance book.
|In the pic. Pattachitra depicting the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu|
Therefore, I would concur with that group of people who believe that the Brahmas are stones. But, they are not ordinary stones. They are Saligrams or Shalagramas which are lesser known manifestations of Vishnu. Hindus and especially the brahmins worship the Shalagrams. They also consider it to be living. Maybe that’s what the Brahma is. Maybe, may be not. To each his own.
And now the story of how Jagannath came to Puri.
Folklore has it that several centuries ago an aboriginal forest dweller named Viswabasu used to worship the Nilamadhaba in one of the several caves of the Nilagiri mountain. The Nilamadhaba were three shalagramas. Indradyumna, who was then the King of Kalinga, claimed to see a dream where the Nilamadhaba himself expressed a desire to leave the recesses of the mountain cave somewhere near Koraput and be worshipped in a wider area. Indradyumna ordered his minister, Vidyapati to bring the Neela Madhaba to Puri. However, Nilamadhaba was very skillfully hid by Viswabasu and the knowledge of their whereabout was known only to him and his beautiful daughter Lalita. Vidyapati, naturally, tried to entice her and she fell in love with him, rather she walked into the trap. Love as we all know is blind and she led him to the three stones.
|In the pic. Auspicious Vishnu Shalagram|
Vidyapati successfully smuggled the three stones and fled to Puri. It was rather coincidental that one that very same day a massive log of wood which was red in color was found on the seashore. Indradyumna saw it as a divine indication and ordered the carpenters to carve three deities out of that log of wood and establish the three stones in them. The deities undeniably wereJagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra.
After a few days of this incident, Viswabasu reached Puri with his entire family. He requested Indradyumna to let him stay and worship the Nilamadhaba as he was incomplete without him. He also threatened to end his life if Indradyumna took away his right to worship his God. Indradyumna relented and gave conferred upon him the right to stay and worship the Nilamadhaba and change the Brahma. And it is his descendants who came to be known as the Daitapatis and since then, only they have the right to change the Brahma. The Daitapatis also take care of the Lord Jagannath and his siblings when they are kept in the recovery chamber called Anasara graha when is sick after bathing with 108 pots of water under the blazing hot sun. This sickness happens for a fortnight and during this time they take care of the deities, paint them, make-up for any wear and tear that has happened over a year of worship and then take them out in the grand procession called Ratha Jatra.
Vidyapati and his descendants in the meanwhile got the right to worship the deities all the year round except the Anasara fortnight and were given the title of Pujaka.
And here comes to an end an interesting story.
P.S. You will know more about Ratha Yatra and the essence of Jagannath culture in my final blog on this topic. I am keeping my fingers crossed as to whether I can publish it on time coz Ratha Yatra is just round the corner! Do let me know your thoughts on this one.