Sri Jagannath: beyond myths and miracles

No religion or spiritual sect is complete without myths and miracles. Stories of miracles abound around Lord Jagannath. Being the Kaliyuga form of Lord Krishna even though he is primarily a Vaishnav God, his devotees have come from diverse sects and religions over the past millennium. After all, the deity is none other than Jagannath – the Lord of the Universe as its literal meaning goes.

The ultimate aim of human life is to become Purushottam – the best that one can be. Puri is also known as the Purushottam Khetra. There is something in its vibes that has made the spiritual minded, irrespective of his sect, creed or religion, to feel the essence of divinity beyond names and forms.

The Lord of Harmony

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During the Annual Ratha Jatra the idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are taken in separate huge chariots on the Grand Road of Puri. On the way, the chariot of Lord Jagananth has to make a few mandatory stops. One of such stops is near the samadhi pitha of Salabega.

When the names of great devotees of Lord Jagannath are remembered one name that comes to forefront is Salabega. He was a Muslim by birth. He wrote many devotional poems dedicated to Lord Jagannath. Those poems are highly popular even today.

Over the years Sri Jagannath has emerged as a great symbol of sectarian and religious harmony. In the middle ages when the sectarian differences among the Shaivites, Vaishnavites, Shaktas etc. were clearly visible in the Hindu society, Puri was a confluence of spiritual leaders from all sects.

Adi Shankaracharya, the proponent of advaita philosophy, came to Puri and composed the highly popular devotional Sanskrit poem known as Sri Jagannath Astakam. He also established an Ashram in Puri which is known as Govardhan peetha. It is one of the four original mathas established by Adi Shankaracharya. Sri Nanak Dev came to Puri and is said to have offered his prayers at the lotus feet of Lord Jagannath even though Nanak was primarily a proponent of Nirguna Brahman. He stayed in Puri for some time and established a matha that is today known as Mangu Matha. There was a saint from Assam known as Shankar Dev who was also a Nirguna Panthi. But when he visited Puri he offered his devotion to the Lord who is a manifestation of Saguna Brahman.

Sant Kabir visited Puri and found that there was no difference between Allah and Jagannath. The Kabir Ghat on Puri seashore is testimony to his visit and stay at this divine town. In Puri there is a memorial called Tulsi Chaura. Saint Tulsi Das meditated here and as a result was able to see Lord Rama in the idol of Lord Jagannath. When Ganesha devotee Ganapati Bhatt came to Puri he saw lord Gansesha in Sri Jagannath.

There have bee numerous such devotees from Non-Vaishnav and Non-Hindu backgrounds. When they came to Puri they became overwhelmed with devotion in spite of their backgrounds. The presence of large number of mathas and other memorials of different sects stand testimony to their devotion. Lord Jagannath also puts on different types of costumes and avatars to resemble different forms of Gods like Ganesha, Buddha etc. on specific days to signify that “He is in all” and “all are in Him”.

The Gods who are also humane. Like us.

The rituals related with the Lord of the Universe in any given year may run into millions. There are different types of rituals. Some follow vedic customs, some tantric customs and some folk customs. Following folk customs, the three idols are treated as if they are normal human beings. So they wake up, eat, take bath, go to sleep, fall sick and do other leelas like human beings. The idols also shed their bodies and take new ones once in ten to twenty years. This is called Nabakalebara about which I have written in an earlier post.

The Lord also makes his wife Goddess Lakshmi upset due to his over-attachment with his brother and sister. Lakshmi is so much upset that she breaks his chariot and she has to be propitiated so that the Lord along with his brother and sister is allowed back to the main temple. Such rituals are performed in playful manners accompanied by songs, sweets and role play.

According to some myths God created man in his own image. Such folk rituals associated with Lord Jagannath signify that the reverse is also true. Man creates God in his own image.

Respect for other forms of life. Even for things without life.

Most of the idols of things animate like parrots, horses etc. associated with Lord Jagannath and his annual Ratha Jatra have names. Even inanimate objects like the flags and the steps of the temple have names. Some of the names are associated with deep spiritual concepts and some with different qualities of living beings. It will be a digression if I give the the detailed names and the significance of each name.

The point that I want to make is that such naming is in line with the ethos of our sanatana dharma where reverence for all elements of the universe was at the base of all our worldly and spiritual activities. Assigning a qualitative name and calling something by its name are acts of love and respect. By naming, inanimate objects are given life in our imagination.

P.S: The annual Ratha Jatra of the Lords is held around this time of the year. This year due to Corona, devotees were not allowed. But the tradition of chariot pulling was held on 23rd Jun with due precautions and with the help of the servitors and the state administration.

The links to some of my other articles related to Lord Jagnnath are given below:

https://durgadash.com/2020/04/11/from-jagannath-to-juggernaut/

https://durgadash.com/2020/04/07/what-about-some-thoughts-for-foods/

https://durgadash.com/2019/12/21/one-can-travel-for-food-to-these-odisha-temples/

https://durgadash.com/2018/07/29/the-east-india-abode/

https://durgadash.com/2018/07/13/the-big-lord-descends-among-us/

https://durgadash.com/2017/05/23/even-for-gods-one-life-is-not-enough-the-ritual-of-nabakalebara/

10 thoughts on “Sri Jagannath: beyond myths and miracles

  1. ‘The Gods who are also humane. Like us’
    Wow, just loved the informative post. There are some revelations and so much to learn from here. Thankyou for yet another wonder from your pen and your treasure of knowledge.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. informative post. Puri is my long overdue. it was not possible visiting that sacred place during my trip to Bhubaneswar to visit Lingaraja temple and others. Many people are used to say about extortionate ways of Pandas of Puri.

    Liked by 2 people

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