Puri is famous for being the land of the Purushotam , Lord Jagannatha and the annual Car festival. But there is so much to know about this Holy Land which is one of the Char Dhams of the Hindu religion. Let us know about the same.
The details about the land of Puri finds its mention in the Brahma Purana, Narada Purana & Utkala Khanda of the Skanda Purana. As per the description of Skanda Purana, King indradyumna who was ruling over the Malava country in satya yuga was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. After being informed about Purushotama, on the shore of South sea from his family priests that on Nilachala ( the Blue Hill), the image of Vasudeva made of Blue saphire was being worshiped ( Nila Madhaba)by the Sabaras a tribal clan) secretly in dense forest, the king then deputed Vidyapati, the son of His priest to locate the site. Vidyapati , after his long travel met Biswabasu , the chief of the tribal Clan. After a lot of initial hesitation, Viswabasu agreed to disclose the location of Nila Madhaba. And Vidyapati had the graceful and mesimerising darshan of Nila Madhaba. After his elaborate description of the experience, king Indradyumna came to the land of Prushotama and arranged for Aswamedha Yagna and after a while Nila Madhaba concealed His present image of Nila Madhaba and apperead in the form of divine wood to be worshiped in the form of Purushottama.
Medieval Period :
The present temple of the Lord Jagannatha was built by king Ananta Varman Chodaganga Deva in the 12th century AD. Though the construction was almost over during the reign of the king , it was Anangabheema Deva III who completed the temple in the 1230 AD and installed the deities . The Gangas ruled over Odisha for a period of about 350 odd years and their policy of expansion resulted in establishment of a large empire from river Ganges in the north to river Godavari in the South. The famous poet Jayadeva also created the famous Geeta- Govinda depicting the divine love of Radha -Krishna and even today the creations of Geeta Govinda find its presence in the rituals of Jagannatha culture during this time. Odisha was ruled by Suryavamshi Gajapati Kings after the fall of Ganga dynasty. The belief and the rituals of the Puri temple remained the same during this transition period as well. Shri Chaitanya and the Panchasakha poets had their contribution during this period towards enhancement of Jaganatha culture and in increasing its popularity among devotees. After the reign of king Prataprudra Deva, Odisha passed into the hands of Afghans in 1568 AD and by 1592 Odisha was annexed by the Mughal empire. even during this turbulent phase, the Jaganatha temple remained strong in protecting its rituals as before.
Modern Period :
When the last independent Gajapati king , Mukunda Deva died in 1568 AD , Odisha paseed into the hands of Afghan rulers of Bengal and for a long time anarchy prevailed.During the Afghan conquest, a general of Afghan Army named Kalapahada had attacked Jaganatha temple along with many other temple shrines. After a lot of hassle the deities were re-installed in the temple. Ramachadra Deva , who was the son of a army chief seized this turbulent phase and declared himself as the independent sovereign monarch of Odisha with its headquarter at Khurda.Eventually, he was recognised as the hereditary superintendent of Jaganatha Temple by Man Singh on behalf of the Mughal emperor Akbar and was allowed to use the prestigious title of Gajapati King (which is used even today). Again during the reign of Emperor Jahangir, the temple at Puri had to face many attacks . However, during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan, there was no such attack. But again when Aurunzeb ascended the throne, there was again trouble unleashed. He had ordered the Subedar of Bengal, Ekram Khan to completely demolish the Puri temple . However, it was the courageous and the cunning Dibyasingha Deva ( 1688-1716 AD), the then Gajapati King who tactfully transfered the deities to a safer place and saved the temple. It was during the Subedarship of Murshid Quli Khan, that the worship was restored at Puri. In 1751 AD, odisha came under the authority of Marathas . The Raja of Khurda lost the control over the temple administration. In 1803 AD, the British occupied Odisha and ruled till 1947. However, with regard to the temple of Jagannatha, the British followed the policy of non-interference. This was due to the instruction of British Governor General Lord Wellesley. Gradually, the Gajapati king who had been imprisoned due to his revolt against the Britishers was released and was allowed to be the custodian of the temple administration.
After Independence, the Government has remained secular and there has been no change in the system of worship in the temple administration. The Puri Shree Jagannatha temple Administration Act, 1952 came into force on 5.9.1952. The Gajapati Maharaj of Puri is the chairman of the Sri Jaganatha Temple managing Commitee in which he has powers to overlook the temple administration and its governance.
Ratha Jatra or the world famous Car Festival is not a one day festival as many believe it to be. It is in fact an elaborate ritual which has been celebrated as a century old festival in Odisha, India. It finds mention in Brahma Purana, Skanda Purana, Padma Purana, Kapila Samhita etc.
In contrast to the linear concept of time in Western philosophy, Eastern philosophy believes time to be cyclic in nature and hence there is a repetition of events to mark the eventful days. Hence , according to this belief, events & festivals are observed every year on the auspicious occasion as per the pre calculated dates according to a perticular system of calculation.
Ratha Jatra is celebrated on Ashadha Shukla Pakshya Dwitiya (This year it was on 12 July, 2021). It marks the journey of the Lord from the Puri Temple to the Gundicha Temple which is also called as Mausi – Maa mandir when the Lord Jaganatha along with His elder brother Lord Balabhadra and sister Subhadra visits his birthplace . Ratha Jatra is thus also called as Gundicha Jatra.
The Rathas or the chariots also are very unique and are constructed in the same pattern with exactly the same measurements century after century. On the auspicious occasion of Akshaya Tritiya every year, the building of chariots is commenced. The Jagannatha culture gives a lot of importance on the decentralization of labor. Hence there are communities who have been doing a particular seva for the Lord century after century . That means , there are communities dedicated only to supply the requisite amount of Chandan to the deity etc. Similarly, there are communities, who cook the temple Mahaprasad and similarly there are assigned people who generation after generation have dedicated themselves in the construction of the Chariots displaying their craftsmanship.
Ratha Jatra starts on the Ashadha Shukla Pakshya Dwitiya where the deities are brought out in a procession called as Pahandi accompanied by the Sevayats onto the Bada Danda ( the main street of Puri ) and travel to the Gundicha temple in the chariots allowing every devotee the public darshan . Every year, lakhs of people , not only from India but different parts of the world participate and pull the chariot to the destination and back to the temple. However, due to ongoing pandemic due to Covid -19, no one except the temple Sevayats (who have been tested before their participation) are allowed. Even the local residents of Puri have strictly been kept away since the pandemic hit. The deities visit the Gundicha temple and stay there for nine long days. The day when they return back is called Bahuda Jatra. On the way back, the three chariots halt at the Mausi Maa Temple and the deities are offered Poda Pitha, a kind of baked cake which are generally consumed by the people of Odisha. The Ratha of Lord Balabhadra is called Taladhwaja, of Goddess Subhadra is called Darpadalana and that of Lord Jaganatha is called Nandighosha . Each Ratha has different number of wheels, color of cloth , height and even the intricate inner designs are different. However, the same pattern of each Ratha is constructed year after year since time immemorial.
One of the most significant ritual associated with the Ratha-jatra is the chhera pahara. During the festival, the Gajapati King sweeps all around the deities and chariots in the Chera Pahara (sweeping with water) ritual. The Gajapati King cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder with utmost devotion. This ritual signified that under the lordship of Jagannatha, there is no distinction between the powerful sovereign Gajapati King and the most humble devotee. Chera pahara is held on two days, on the first day of the Ratha Jatra, when the deities are taken to garden house at Mausi Maa Temple and again on the last day of the festival, when the deities are ceremoniously brought back to the Shree Mandir.
The Maharaja of Puri
Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb is the current titular King of Puri. He is the descendant of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty . The Gajapati Maharaja is the current “Adhyasevak” (treated as the first and foremost servitor) of Lord Jagannatha and according to some customs also considered to be the living reflection of the Lord. He is also the chairman of the Shri Jagannatha Temple Managing Committee. This year the Maharaja successfully completed fifty years ( 50 years )of Cherra Pahanra!
Dibyasingha Deb ascended the throne in 1970 at the age of 17 after the death of his father, the then Maharaja of Puri, Gajapati Birakishore Deb. He did his schooling from Convent School, Puri and Rajkumar College, Raipur in Chhattisgarh. He went on to pursue his graduation in History from the St. Stephens College from where he graduated in 1972 and then pursued LLB from Law Faculty at University of Delhi (1971-1975). He then pursued LLM from the North Western University of Law (1975-1976), Chicago before eventually taking on the traditional role of the titular King of Puri and hence the chairman of the Temple committee.
The husband & Wife banter:
The Lord Jagannatha is believed to play the Manaviya Leela in Kalyuga , i.e, He is believed to function as a normal human being and hence His rituals are similar to that of a human being. One such example is the ritual of Hera Panchami. On Hera Panchami which is the fifth Day of the Ratha Jatra, Goddess Laxmi, the wife of Lord Jagannatha visits the Gundicha Temple to visit Her Husband. She is gripped with the emotions of grief, anger and disappointment as Her husband has left her behind in the temple premisesa alone, while He enjoys with His sibling visiting His birthplace. She is not able to bear the separation and visits the Gundicha Temple to have a glimpse of Her husband and fails in her attempt to do so as the Lord is busy in the rituals. Feeling neglected , She is enraged and breaks a part of His Nandighosha Ratha and returns to the Shee Mandira or the Puri temple via a different lane called the Hera Gohiri Lane without any procession.
Bahuda Jatra is the ninth day when the deities return back to the temple after their stint at the Gundicha temple . The chariots are again pulled back to the Shree Mandira and are halted at the Shinghadwara or the Lion’s Gate at the Shree Jagannatha Temple. This day is also called as Bahuda Ekadashi.
The next day is called the Suna Besha which is the tenth Day and the deities are adorned with Gold ornaments and hence the name “Suna Besha“.During the reign of Ananga Bhima Deva in the 13th Century AD, the king of Utkal, Lord Jagannath was declared as ‘Utkal Samrat’ or “Lord of the Nation”.
According to temple history, Suna Besha was introduced during the era of King Kapilendradeva in 1460 A.D. When the king Kapilendradeva (r.1434-1466 AD) returned home triumphant after winning wars over the rulers of the Deccan (Southern India) he brought a huge bounty which was carried in 16 cart loads (on 16 elephants is also mentioned). The trophies which he collected consisted of diamonds and gold. The day he arrived in Puri he donated all the war gifts to the Lord Jagannatha. He instructed the temple priests to get ornaments crafted out of the gold and diamond he had donated to adorn the deities on the occasion of the Ratha Jatra festival. Since then the deities, Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabharda and Goddess Subhadra are decorated with this jewelry after the Bahuda Yatra.
The eleventh day is the Adhara-Pana day when the deities are offered the traditional drink called the Pana. The drink is kept in the earthen pots that are cylindrical in shape that reaches the lips or the Adhara of the deities. The earthen pots are then smashed and the drink overflows quenching the thirst of all the spirits guarding the Ratha or the chariot.
The twelfth day that is the last day of the Ratha Jatra is called the Niladri Bije when the deities are shifted from the Ratha to the Ratna-Singhasana ( The jeweled throne in the temple premises or the Holy Altar). This ritual is also done with lot of pomp and with the sound of drums , ghantas & conch sounds. The ceremonial pahandi is also done where the Lords are swayed in a rhythm and are taken into the temple. However, the Goddess of the temple, Maa Laksmi is still angry and does not allow the entry into the temple. Her sevayats close the door and stop the Lord of the Land to enter a single inch into the temple. There is a proper debate between the Laksmi & Narayan ( which is enacted by the sevayats ) and this is called the Laksmi- Narayan Bachanika. Lord Jaganatha offers Rasagola to Maa laksmi in order to calm her anger after which the deities are allowed to enter the Shree Mandira. So, Ratha Jatra actually comes to an end on the twelfth day i.e. Niladri Bije, when the deities come back to their throne after spending time at the Gundicha temple. Odisha has been celebrating Niladri Bije as Rasagola Dibasa .
Lord Jagannatha is also called Chaka Akhi ( The lord with big round eyes by the Odias along with many other fond names ) signifying that He sees everything in us, the good , the bad and the ugly and is the Best Judge of all times. He is also called the Lord of the masses as there is a belief that He needs nothing but love and devotion of His devotees. He is incomplete without the devotees and so are the devotees without Him. He is the Brahma that is within us making it clear that each human body is an universe in itself housing immense potential . The only need is to identify ourselves as part of the Supreme power and eventually as per Hindu belief the body will merge with Him after fulfilment of purpose of the mortal body.
May the Supreme Lord bless us all to find purpose in our lives and guide us in our life journey to face all struggles in the path called Life. Jai Jagannatha !
With my head bowed down,