Deva Snana Poornima is an important ritual in the build up to the Annual Car festival of Lord Jagannath. For the un-initiate, on this day the idols of Sudarshana, Ma Subhadra, Lord Balabhadra and Lord Jagannatha are taken out to the ‘Altar of Bathing’ inside the temple premises. An elaborate bath is given which can be termed as the bath of the year. Of course bath is a part of the daily ritual of the four-fold lords. But on this day – the full moon day of the month of the Jyestha – it is a special bath.
According to the folk belief, after this elaborate bath the lords fall ill. So the doors of the temple are closed for the devotees. This period of Lord’s illness is know as anavasara. The Lords recover just in time before the car festival – that falls on the third of the Ashadha Shukla Paksha. This year as per English Calander the day fall on 30th June.
A day before the Car Festival day is celebrated as Nava Jauvana Darshana. On this day, from celestial illness the Lords emerge in their resplendent glory to be beheld with awe by the devotees.
During this period of illness, practically what happens is that elaborate treatment and renovation is done to the wooden idols to prepare them for the rigorous two way journey entailed during the car festival. So there is a practical angle to this ritual.
Of course the devotee does not need any analysis. The devotee does not need any explanation. It is said that the heart has its reasons which are unknown to the head. The devotee is just happy about the effect of such playfulness or leela the Lord has on her at the emotional level. It is not uncommon to sight tears of joy flooding the eyes of the devotees on sighting the Lord and remembering his leela.
If one is not a devotee such rituals may seem very strange. First of all, how can the Lord fall ill?
Bhakti is a form of love. In Narada Bhakti sutra it is said, Sa parama prema rupa – it is the ultimate in love. If there is an ultimate state of love that is bhakti. Of course in the ultimate stage one transcends the relative love and just becomes love. In the ultimate state of love form does not matter.
But to start with one must fall in love with a form- the manifestatatin of the formless ultimate in some sort of a form or symbol.
Once in love, it becomes a two way process. Somewhere it also becomes the responsibility of the Lord to deepen the love. So lord plays small tricks with the devotee. This involves being absent or missing from time to time. As they say nothing strengthens love than temporary absence. Lord Krishna used to paly many such small tricks during his childhood days. These have been lovingly described in the Bhagavata Purana.
These days, particularly among the Hindus, spiritual practices are exceptions rather than the rule. But there was a time, maybe just in my previous generation, spiritual practices were the rule. It was something done everyday. In that context it was a message that occasionally you need to take a break from spiritual practices too. But occasionally only. Of course in our tradition there are many occasions when one is not supposed to go to temple or do any puja activities at home. But these are exceptions only. Spiritual practices are supposed to be part of daily routine.
But the hardcore devotee does not need ‘absence’ to deepen his love. His love is already so deep. He is at the point of no return. For such devotees there is an alternate. They can go to the Alarnath temple at Brahmagiri, located at about twenty five kms from Puri. According to the legend, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, during his stay in Puri, was directed to go to Alarnath so as not to miss his daily darshan of the Lord during this period. The boulder over which Sri Chaitanya used to do Sankirtan is still there.
The eastern concept of time is that it is cyclic. At macro level all the four yugas get repeated, all the avataars of the Lord get repeated. Leelas like Deva Snana Purnima are at micro level. Every year the Lords take a grand bath and fall ill. Every year they recover just before the grand celebration of Rath Jatra. The rituals of the Lord gets repeated every year like the change of seasons. The rituals get repeated without fail, which is to say they repeat ad infinitum giving life a sense of immortality.
Hearty greetings on the occasion of Deva Snana Poornima. Jai Jagannatha.