"Ganesh Puja” to be celebrated by Lucknow Oriya Samaj on 13th September 2018

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SRI JAGANNATH - The Quintessence of Odia Culture

Religion, Idols and Idol worshipping

Is the religion opium as opined by Karl Marx or are the idols imaginary and their worshippers less enlightened? Sri Aurobindo said, 'Ego was a help; ego is a bar.' When a nucleus in a cell wanted to evolve itself as a distinct signature in the creation, ego was then a help. However, once it has completed that job for us, we should know how to outgrow. Otherwise, the same ego becomes a bar to our further growth in life. The objective of 'religion' is to re-root one's existence to its origin and every faith has evolved a set of rituals which upon observance is believed to help facilitate its follower to progress towards the life's source and sacrifice his little ego at the altar of the supreme ego. Hence, every religion is a systematic study based beliefs and practices and the different religions only denote different paths to serve this objective.

Now, let's take the image of Sri Jagannath. Is it imaginary? Just close your eyelids and press the two upper corners of eyes with the help of your two fingers. Lo and behold the Chokadola! Do we not, either knowingly or unknowingly, do the same thing when in deep tension? Yes and it also relieves us and even we get a solution to our problem. Sri Jagannath's image is not imaginary. It is the reality. His Eyes are Eyes of our eyes.  Then what about Him being handless? In Srimadbhagavad-Gita, Lord Sri Krishna said, 'Arjuna, there is nothing in all the three worlds for Me to do, nor is there anything worth attaining unattained by Me... (3:22).' This aspect of Lord is represented aptly in the handless image of Sri Jagannath. In regard to the question of whether idol worshippers are less enlightened or not, suffice it to say that every religion practices worship and invariably has some scared places, objects of veneration, artefacts of sacramental value and rituals for consecration and servicing of their deities. Man as a finite being cannot directly grasp and realise the infinite being without having any intermediate finite divine form to fix his consciousness before transcendence. 


Living as an art

Everything has been figured out, expect how to live,' wrote Jean-Paul Sartre. Had he been exposed to the pastimes of Sri Jagannath and the rituals surrounding Him, probably he would have different things to say. Every distinct geo-climatic region has a unique ecology and has been endowed by nature with certain biomass regenerating system on a sustainable basis. Nature's permissiveness and restrictiveness in that particular geo-climatic ecology should ultimately shape up the inhabitants' way of viewing life and developing an exclusive art of living for them. Sri Jagannath is the personification of the Odia (collective) Soul and His daily living routines and those observed on special days and festive occasions and the goods and articles used therein signify the Odias' capacity to gift themselves with an art of living based on the above principles. For example, potato and tomato not being originally native to Odisha are yet not used for Sri Jagannath's bhoga.  

Stephen William Hawking who could solve the riddle of universe through his analysis of Black Hole has admitted that woman has remained as the most intriguing entity eluding his all understanding. In fact, none has understood a woman's heart. As the working of a man's mind is incomprehensible to God, the working of a woman's mind is incomprehensible both to man and God. If wife becomes angry, all my outward pretensions of my capability and contributions are laid asunder. Sri Jagannath might have kept His sister and elder brother in His Company and on the same pedestal, but He has never belittled the status of His wife, Goddess Lakshmi. For Her, He has given a distinct and dedicated temple. At any cost, one must earn peace with his wife.  Otherwise, he may even have to go hungry or take burnt food. Sri Jagannath had to suffer the same predicament when He had once extremely irked Mother Lakshmi.

However, nothing angers a wife more than when she sees for herself her husband's display of more affection to another lady. The Hera (to see) Panchami (on the fifth day) festival at the Gundicha temple is built around on such an incident. On the fifth day of Ratha Yatra Festival, Mother Lakshmi became very worried since Sri Jagannath had not returned from Gundicha temple although promised to come back soon. She went to see the Lord. As She reached, the main doors of Gundicha temple were suddenly closed with a bang. She peeped through the chinks of the doors and saw Lord's enjoying the cakes and other Odia delicacies praising the culinary art of Queen Gundicha, forgetting Goddess Lakshmi. It annoyed Her very much and while returning with a heavy heart She, in a fit of anger, struck the Nandighosa chariot (the chariot of Lord Jagannath) parked outside breaking a small part of it just to teach a lesson to Her beloved Husband.

When King Indradyumna found the log, radiant with light floating in the sea, he got Vishwakarma, the architect of gods, to build the magnificent temple and Sri Vishnu Himself appeared in the guise of a carpenter to make the idols on a condition that none should open the workshop temple door until he finishes the work. But just after two weeks, the Queen became very anxious. She took the carpenter to be dead as no sound came from the temple. She requested the King to open the door. As the King opened the door, it made Sri Vishnu to stop the work and we got the idols unfinished i.e. without hands. Veracity apart, does it symbolically communicate that if you act instantly by the literary meaning of what is being just said by your wife when she is in an anxious or inconsolable state, you would have as severe a consequence for yourself as the handless idol of Sri Jagannath?


Said Swami Vivekananda, however a religion may be profound and with very enlightening contents, if it fails to provide its followers with an acceptable and comparable degree of economic prosperity, others will simply ignore or marginalise it. Religion of a society is hollow without strong economic background of its members. The rituals and the various goods and articles used in the service of Sri Jagannath and which also accordingly serve as a guide for all the citizens to use these as well in their daily living offer a tremendous mass market for the people engaged in their production, distribution and servicing and a strong and resilient domestic economy gets built up around them. Mahatma Gandhi said, when the goods and articles of mass consumption are produced and controlled by the masses, there would be no social upheavals.

Swamiji also further added that it is the religious orientation in people that keeps the economic goods and services free from adulteration. If the religion is on the back of your mind and if the people at large use the same goods and other articles as are being used for the service of Lord, you cannot afford to compromise with the quality of the goods produced by you. Since who knows it may land in the service of Lord and you may thereby invite His wrath!

The presence of Sri Jagannath has also led to the flourishing of many art industries in Odisha where blending of beauty in utility takes place to its divine perfection. The appliqué work of Pipili and other fine handicraft products used for the Sri Jagannath temple and in His service amply attest it.


The use of a GI (geographical indications) on a product acts as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities, is made according to traditional methods, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin. Although the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) has now included it as a trademark, the concept is fairly old.

A locality near the Chilika Lake (world's largest coastal lagoon) area was famous for its curds. It was the livelihood activities of many families there. While leading King Purusottam Dev's march towards Kanchi (a Kingdom in the south of Odisha), Sri Jagannath gave His ring to a lady who served Him some curd to quench His thirst. Through this act He conveys a very profound message, 'Reward generously the people who are trying to eke out livelihoods through a decent and legitimate means; otherwise, one day they may resort to snatching.' To perpetuate the memory of this great incident, the King who paid money in exchange of the ring founded a village in that locality. As the name of the lady was Manika, the name given to the village was Manika Patana. Even to this day, the 'Manika Patana' curds are famous. Is it not in a way the use of GI as a certification of a product quality?

The renowned British Economist, John Maynard Keynes wrote that if you transplant a sapling from a foreign soil, it will die; but before it dies, it would also turn poisonous. For example, if you imitate the food habit of a foreign culture, you would render the supply-chains associated with your native food habit totally useless. The supply-chains of watered rice with fried green leaves for a breakfast are totally different compared to the supply-chains of toasted bread-butter with coke. As such, if one goes for food habit that a particular geo-climatic ecology cannot naturally sustain it, there would be a lot of economic shocks in that society and in due course, the foreign economy would grow at the expense of the weakening domestic economy. When you break your own cultural mirror and attempt to see yourself in the cultural mirror of another society, you would appear inverted or in due course even perverted.


Sri Jagannath is the God personified

Sri Jagannath has sevayats or servitors for His health, prosperity and peace. As per the current Record of Rights of the temple, there are 119 categories of sevayats at the temple indicating that as many categories of posts are also required for a society to run well. The first sevayat of Sri Jagannath is Gajapati – the King of Puri. And what is the most important act that the King performs? Chhera Pahanra – sweeping of the Lord's chariot platform during Ratha Yatra before the chariot is pulled! It upholds the universal truth that before God – the Real Sovereign Lord, even the King is but another ordinary mortal and there is no distinction between the king and a person performing the job of a sweeper. In other cultures, the King is supposed to lord over his fellow human beings. Whereas in Odia society, the King is considered to be the first servant of a common man beginning with Sri Jagannath.

Why not? Like any other human being, Sri Jagannath also eats, sleeps, indulges in pleasure, suffers from illness, goes for a rest or convalescence, hankers for relations, undertakes travel, takes part in festivals and celebrations, changes His mortal frame, etc. A family who has installed Sri Jagannath's Idol in its home and has five members, takes six measures of grains for cooking – the additional measure being for Sri Jagannath. Elders treat Sri Jagannath as one of their children. Sometimes it so happens that if a person has three children, he would divide his property in four parts and one part he would register in the name of Sri Jagannath as the rightful inheritor of his property. Sri Jagannath's lands are strewn in every nook and corner of Odisha and even some are also outside Odisha. Many issueless parents adopt Sri Jagannath as their child, some single women adore Him as their husband and a few male devotees even relate to Him as Gopi.

There are three activities viz. walking, swimming and cycling – each of which gives a wholesome exercise to one's body and mind. Sports and athletics are primarily evolved to give a constructive orientation to the beastly or animal instincts of humans. Whereas 'dancing' apart from being a complete exercise also lifts one's soul to experience the divine ecstasy. Here each and every muscle, bone and consciousness blend and offer themselves in propitiation of their creator. Therefore, any culture which has gifted a dance form, its fundamentals are very strong. The various poses and postures of a dancing form are nothing short of celestial pleasure to sight and of great recreational value. Sri Jagannath culture teaches us the value of self-entertainment or giving a treat to self almost as part of any other rituals of life. Odissi dance which originated in the Sri Jagannath temple for His pleasure speaks loudly that.

In the mad rush of work and living, we often forget to take a break for self. For example, we might be taking leave for some work or for others but rarely just to live for some days ritually in a year at our own pace and terms. Sri Jagannath annually taking a break for a week for change of environment and staying in His Garden House at Gundicha temple which is also known as the world famous Ratha Yatra reaffirms its immense importance to life. Is not that the concept of farm house or villa has essentially the same principle at its base?

The hidden message of Rath Yatra

The profound significance of Ratha Yatra is on also another count. Rising prosperity level has brought about a significant drop in our social contacts and the increasing incidences of various non-communicable diseases, especially among the affluent ones serves as a grim pointer to this. Our body needs non-sensual touch from many a body to remain pure. The society has also recognised its importance and the festivals like Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Id, Christmas, etc., and the various fairs, congregations and other events of public celebrations are built around this concept. When we shake hands, rub noses/ cheeks or hug people, all in a non-sensual way, it purifies our body. Even getting pushed or pulled in crowds in fairs and other public events/ places also does the same job. Through Ratha Yatra, Sri Jagannath gives the same message to one and all as regards the essentiality of such social and bodily contacts for a healthy life.

On the full-moon day of the month of Jyeshtha (May-June), all the three deities are brought out from the temple and placed upon the Snana Bedi located in the outer compound. The deities are bathed there with 108 pitchers of perfumed water drawn from a nearby well. This festival is known as the Deba Snana Purnima or Snana Yatra. After the ritual bath, the holy triad, supposedly afflicted with fever, don't return to their pedestal in the sanctum. They stay away from the public view for a period of 15 days. During this fortnight, the deities convalesce with only fruits and restricted diets offered as Bhoga and icons get a fresh coat of painting which got washed out during their bathing. On the new moon day of the month of Ashadha, they finally appear in their Navayauvana Vesha, literally a renewed youth and the Rathas (chariots) whose construction started on the Akshayya Tritiya tithi are also ready by then. On the next day i.e. on the second day of the bright fortnight of the month of Ashadha, they come out of the temple in a spectacular possession called Pahandi for Ratha Yatra. The deities, colossal wooden statues, adorned with giant floral crowns, called Tahias, are literally pulled, pushed and dragged in rhythmic movement to the accompaniment of the beat of cymbals, drums and chanting of their names in chorus by devotees in frenzied ecstasy. With this social and bodily contacts from millions of devotees, the Navayauvana Vesha of the three deities remain healthy till their next ritual bath.

The epilogue

King Indradyumna put up for Sri Jagannath the tallest monument of the world. It was 1,000 cubits high (A cubit is equal to the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger). He invited Lord Brahma, the cosmic creator, to consecrate the temple and the images. Brahma came all the way from Heaven for this purpose. Seeing the temple He was immensely pleased with him. Brahma asked King Indradyumna to seek a boon of his desire, since He was very much pleased with him for his having put the most beautiful Temple for Lord Vishnu. With folded hands, King Indradyumna said, 'My Lord if you are really pleased with me, kindly bless me with one thing, and it is that I should be issueless and that I should be the last member of my family.' In case anybody left alive after him, he would only take pride as the owner of the temple and would not work for the society. Oh, what an incredible noble thought!

Given the heavenly glories and Sri Jagannath's divine pastimes associated with the place, it is obvious as to why Adi Sankaracharya recognised Puri as one of the Char Dham – the other three being Badrinath (Uttarakhand), Dwarka (Gujarat) and Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu) and pilgrimage of a Hindu is not complete until he/ she visits all these four places.

When someone's end is near, he picks up animosity with any saintly soul. However, within a few initial acts of his misdemeanours if the person concerned repents and prays for forgiveness, he is forgiven. To err is human and to forgive is divine and the giver and receiver of forgiveness are both considered as the blessed souls. Sri Jagannath is epitomised as the Patitapabana - a forgiver and rescuer of fallen souls upon their due repentance and praying. But alas! We often forget to imbibe this quality in our life. A General of Bengal Governor Suleiman Karrani, named Kalachand Roy (son of an Odia Brahmin) or Kala Pahada fell in love with the daughter of Karrani and got married on the condition that he converts himself to Islam. But on repentance, he wanted to come back to Hinduism. For this he came to Puri to convert himself again to Hinduism but he was refused. In tune with the dictates of this new faith, he now believed that idol worship was a heathen activity, and went about destroying all Hindu idols including that of Sri Jagannath and Odisha went under the Bengal Ruler. If he would have been forgiven, probably the course of Odisha history would have been quite different!

“Jagannatha Swami Nayana-Patha-Gami Bhabatu Me. .”

R.K Das
General Manager,
Mizoram Regional Office,
Aizawl – 796014