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Cult of Jagannath

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Cult of Lord Jagannath

Puri is a coastal town in Orissa, situated by the sea-shore.

Jagannath Puri is one of the four most holy places of pilgrimage in India – the three others being

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  • Badrinath in the North,
  • Rameswaram in the South and
  • Dwaraka in the West.

The word “Jagannath” means Lord of Universe. The great Hindu temple of Lord Jagannath is situated in Puri. The presiding deities in the temple are Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balaram and their sister Subhadra.

The images of Lord at Jagannath Temple are a triad of fascinating wooden figures (Wooden deities) painted in brilliant colors and lined up next to each other, sitting in Ratna Singhasan (Jewelled Throne) in the sanctum sanatorum of the temple. The main image is that of Lord Jagannath after whom the temple is named. Lord Jagannath is also called Daru Devata, a word which means wooden deity.

The Puri temple is known popularly as Jagannath temple. It is the hallowed seat of Lord Jagannath. Thousands of devotees visit the temple of Lord Jagannath every-year.

Origin of Jagannath Temple

Mystery surrounds its origin, scholars give diverse opinion. Many legends are recounted to explain the strange form of Jagannath. According to the most popular legend, Lord Jagannath was being worshipped by ‘Savaras’ (Tribal people) as ‘Nilamadhab’ in dense forests. Viswavasu was the Chieftain of Savaras. King Indradyumna was ruling Abanti at that time. On hearing that the God Absolute is present in Nilagiri of Udradesha whose glimpse gives salvation, he sent his priest Vidyapati as his emissary to Utkal. On arrival here, Vidyapati stayed in the Savara hamlet. He established rapport with Viswavasu, who being merciful took him in a secret narrow path and showed him ‘Nilamadhab’. Vidyapati on return informed King Indradyumna and thereafter the King went to Utkaldesha with Narada. On arrival there, King of Ultkal informed him about the recent disappearance of Nilamadhaba. Indradymna was extremely disappointed but was consoled that God will appear in shape of a log of wood in four-fold images. The king performed Aswamedha Yajna. On its closing day lndradyumna saw God `Nilamadhab’ in his dream. Later royal messengers informed him that a four-branched great wooden log in the sea was floating. A divine voice was heard from the heaven that “Lord Jagannath will himself construct his own image and get them installed on the Mahavedi (The Great Throne). Mahavedi will remain closed for a period of fifteen days. The old carpenter who is standing outside with his instruments should be allowed inside and the door be closed. Nobody should open the door and go inside the room until the construction work is complete, in fifteen days“. The old carpenter was no other than the Viswakarma, the divine architect, who appeared in the guise of the carpenter. After some days, the Queen hearing no sound or noise of construction work from inside got curious and caused doors to be opened, to find that Viswakarma had disappeared leaving behind, three wooden unfinished images. They were the trinity-Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. Again in accordance with divine instruction, the king installed the three images in a newly constructed temple and worshipped them.

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The existing temple of Jagannath was built by first ruler of Ganga dynasty, Chodagangadeva in twelfth century A.D. The triad of three wooden images, Jagannath, Balabhadra and Suhhadra were installed inside the temple in the sanctum sanctrom. Worship was started.

There are hundreds of temple servants or Sevakas who were appointed by the King for services to the deities. The descendants of Sevaks are performing the rituals to this day. There are thirty-six traditional communities (Chhatisa Niyoga) each rendering a specified hereditary service to the deities. Among them also are temple priests. Then there are communities of potters who produce thousands of ritual vessels used by the temple daily, for proparation and consumption of food. Communities of carpenter build every year new wooden chariots for the Car Festival ( Rath Yatra)

The king introduced rituals of dance arid music in the temple by appointing Devadasis (Dancing girls) Called `Maharis‘. Musicians and instrumentalists were in attendance. The “Geetagovind” composed by great poet Jayadeva used to be recited inside the temple. During the rule of Anangavim Dev-III, Jagannath Dharma was adopted as the State religion and King declared himself as the servant of Lord Jagannath. Shri Jagannath continues to remain the State deity of Orissa. Lakhs of devotees from all nooks and corners come to Puri.

Lord Jagannath is the Family God of most people of Orissa. The daily rituals in the temple are done by Sevakas according to the Records of Rights prescribed several centuries back. The first Sevaka is Gajapati Maharaj (King) living at Puri, popularly called “Thakur Raja”. He performs some rituals, particularly sweeping the floor of chariots during the Car Festival (Rath Yatra).

A special feature of Jagannath Temple is that temple kitchens cook prasad (holy offering of food) sufficient to feed thousands of people every day. Jagannath Temple has the largest kitchen in the whole of the country. The cooked food is first served at Bhoga Mandap (the platform for sacred food offering) and after it is offered to the Lord, it becomes Mahaprasad. Early in the morning Gopala Balava Bhoga is offered, followed by Sakala Dhupa (Morning food offering), Madhyana Dhupa (Mid­day food offering), Sandhya Dhupa (Evening food offering), Badasinghar Dhupa (The last food offering) to the Lord.

Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath

There are descriptions about fifty nine festivals of Lord Jagannath. But the most important and famous amongst them is the Car Festival or Chariot Festival (Ratha Yatra). Every year for Rath Yatra, the three Chariots are newly constructed. Lakhs of devotees throng Puri on this occasion, when the deities are put on public view. The Car festival is a 9 day long festival. It begins from Asadha (June-July) and the three deities come out of the temple and are taken on a journey in procession in decorated chariots, for rest in the Gundicha Ghar (Temple). The return Car Festival (Bahuda) is held nine days later. The Chariot of Lord Jagannath is known as ‘Nandhighose’. The Chariot of Balabhadra, is named as ‘Taladwaja’. ‘Devadalan’ is the Chariot of Subhadra. From Gundicha Temple, they return and re-enter the Jagannath Temple. This is called Return Car Festival (Bahuda Yatra). Car festival is one of the Country’s most incredible spectacles. Because the three divine images of the Puri temple are wooden, they have to replaced from time to time. On a cycle which determined by the Hindu calendar, the deities cast their old frames to assume new ones. Generally this comes once in twelve years. This process and attendant function is called “Nava Kalebera” (New embodiment of three deities).

Followers of Lord Jagannath

The cult of Lord Jagannath pervades the whole State of Orissa and in every household one finds the images. Numerous religious faiths came and spread religion in ancient Orissa – Hinduism, Jainsm, Budhism, Vaishnaism, Saktaism and Bhaktism etc. But Jagannath Dharma (religion) assimilated all the religious philosophies. Lord Jagannath is being worshipped by all the sects of religions. Thus evolved Jagannath cult which is a unique cult. It has contained diverse faiths and cultures. Therefore, cult of Jagannath is regarded as “Gana Dharma” which means religion of the mass people. Jagannath is the deity of Kings, Brahmins, Scavengers, downtrodden and the common men, and of all castes. The uniqueness of Lord Jagannath is that while in other places, the religion and culture of that place is not associated with the names of the presiding deities, here in Orissa Jagannath has continued to be the epicenter of the religion and belief of Oriya people.

The cult of Lord Jagannath is based upon love and affection, service and sacrifice and displays the idea of equity in society. It unites people belonging to all castes, creeds, colours, faiths and religions which is a unique feature in the world.

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