Whenever we talk of the superlative form of comparison, be it anything, I always prefer personal opinions. And here’s no exception. Of all the fascinating and interesting legends I have come across so far in my life, this is one most shrouded in symbolisms and of course beliefs and faith – the legend of Lord Jagannath, the “Lord of the Universe” (Jaga – universe; nath – Lord). One of the most recited and yet evergreen legends of the bounty of them residing in India.

     Lord Jagannath is the primary deity or the ishta devata of Puri as well as Odisha (former Orissa), where he is worshipped along with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. Purushottam Kshetra (Odisha) is primarily a conch – shaped area where beliefs state that death touches none. It is said to be well guarded by eight Goddesses – Mangla, Lamba, Kalratri, Marichika, Vimla, Sarvamangala, Ardhashini and Chandrupa and also eight Gods – Kapalmochan, Kshetrapal, Yameshwar, Markandeyeshwar, Ishan, Bilveshwar, Nilkanth and Vateshwar.

  Hinduism believes in the Trinity or Trimurti – Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer) and Vishnu (the protector). But there are three widely prevalent traditions in Hinduism as well – the Shaiva tradition (followers of Shiv), the Vaishnava tradition (followers of Vishnu) and the Shakta tradition (followers of Shakti, the goddesses). Vaishnava tradition believes that Vishnu has ten avatars who had incarnated to rid this world of unrighteousness. Although they differ sometimes the most prevalent list involves – 

  • Matsya (the fish).
  • Kurma (the turtle).
  • Varaha (the wild boar).
  • Narasimhadev (half man – half lion).
  • Vamana (the priest).
  • Parashurama  (the ascetic).
  • Rama (the king).
  • Krishna (the cowboy).
  • Lord Buddha (the king who turned into a priest).
  • Kalki (the warrior who is yet to arrive at the end of Kali Yuga.

           But nowhere here do we find the mention of Lord Jagannath. Actually, the lord is considered to be an avatari of Vishnu (his roop) and not an avatar. But at the end of the day he is the Lord of the Universe – Jagannath. In fact different traditions claim him to be a representation of their beliefs and tradition. The Vaishnava traditions considers him to be roop of Krishna, wherein Balabhadra and Subhadra are his brother and sister respectively. Shaivas believe the idols to be Rudramurtis, incarnations of Shiva. Jains believe them to be Triratnas, whereas Buddhists believe that the idols have relics of Buddha installed in them. But he is above all the Lord of all – Jagannath.


    The idols of Gods and Goddesses are usually made of stone, metals or clay, but here for Lord Jagannath, the case is different. The idols are made of wood (daru), whixh again are burnt and the Gods are given new bodies, known as Nabakalebar. But that I would be getting to a little later. For now let’s talk about the legend we embarked upon. To begin with we have a devout Vaishnava, King Indradyumna, who ruled somewhere around Central India. He wanted to have darshan of Lord Vishnu. One day a traveler informed the king that Lord Jagannath was worshipped in his most magnificent roop in Orissa (now Odisha) known as Neel Madhav. Here it is to be mentioned that Lord Jagannath was originally thought to be the deity of the Savara tribe. So the king sent one of his officials, Vidyapati to search for the idol of Lord Vishnu and he went out in search. On reaching the village, he was greeted by the tribal chief Viswabasu who refused. Later on, while in the village, he fell in love with the chief’s daughter Lalita, whom he pressed to let her father take him to the Lord Vishnu’s worshipping place. Finally, Viswavasu agreed but, took Vidyapati there blindfolded opening it only when they reached there. Vidyapati for his determination to know the path, had carried mustard seeds with him and went there dropping those in the way. He was spell – bound by the visual of the Lord and went back to his King ecstatic. The King was very happy to know that he could now meet his Lord and immediately set out on the journey. But on reaching the cave along with Vidyapati he found that Neel Madhav had disappeared! The king was heart – broken. 

        But soon he received a divine message commanding him to go to the sea and collect a floating log of wood (daru) from there. It would be identified by the symbols of shankha (a conchshell), chakra (a disc), gada (a mace) and padma (lotus), the accompaniments of Lord Vishnu. The King complied and he saw the same at sea and collected the log of wood back to his palace. But here arose the next and the bigger problem. The log was too hard for any craftsman to carve it. Also, nobody had ever seen Neel Madhav, so it was nearly impossible to carve the idols out of them. But the solution also came in a divine manner. An old craftsman came to the rescue of the King, who was actually, unknown to the King, Lord Vishwakarma, the god of architecture himself! But he put forward a condition that he would be working for twenty – one days ina closed room, where no one would be allowed to enter. The King agreed and the work therefore began. But on the fifteenth day no sound of carving the wood was audible from outside. Everybody thought that the craftsman had died. The queen pressed the King too much to open the door even though the King did not want to. The King much reluctantly on opening it saw with utmost surprise that the three idols were unfinished with no nose, palms, feet and the paintings going on and the craftsman had disappeared. He therefore placed the unfinished idols and worshipped it. It is believed that these idols were placed in the Jagannath Temple in Puri and the present ones are continued from then onwards.

  Here what is to be noted is the probable message of this incident – even the Lord of the Universe is imperfect. Then how can we claim to be perfect from all aspects? This basically humbles us as to who we are. This needs to be understood not as disrespecting oneself but eliminating the pride that might develop within us. This can also be found in the event of Nabakalebar, wherein the deities catch fever like every year after the Snaan Yatra (bathing ceremony) but fail to recover and hence die. Their bodies are then burnt just like human bodies. It is said that each deity has a soul which is then shifted to the new body and hence a new body is born. This again brings in the concept of naswar deha or perishable bodies and eternal soul, a firm belief of Hindus. Vaishnavas believe, as stated in Bhagavad Gita, that the body dies but the soul does not. It merely discards a body and finds a new one and hence all material things are baseless; even for the Gods!             


  Nabakalebar happens once in every 8 or 12 or 19 years. The Lord has big piercing eyes that force out all of one’s feelings who stare at them once, providing a deep pleasure of Bhakti

 Jagannath Temple in Puri is one of the Char Dham which are considered by Hindus to be visited atleast once in their lifetime, the other three being Badrinath, Rameswaram, and Dwaraka. It is belived that Lord Vishnu descends down on earth every day in his human abode and first takes bath at Rameswaram. Then he goes to Dwaraka to rule like a King. At noon he goes to Puri Dam to have his lunch. Hence food i.e bhog is given a special importance and significance here. Infact, the kitchen inside the temple complex is considered to be one of the largest in the world and the most esteemed Mahaprasad served everyday is built entirely using traditional methods and utensils. All items are prepared in clay made containers by a special method over wooden fire. This is something that defies scientific logic and reasoning. The cooking pots are placed one above the other and then put to cook. But surprisingly the uppermost pot gets cooked first and then it comes down. This is so far unexplainable. The pots after cooking are broken and not reused. Every day the similar amount of food is cooked in the kitchen but on none of the days does that fall short or get wasted.

     Coming to the event of Rath Yatra or the annual Car Festival of Puri, the siblings go out to the Gundicha Temple, their aunt’s house for a vacation. Here, it is to be mentioned that Gundicha was the queen of King Indradyumna and the couple was childless. Here, before the Raths start moving, the King, with a golden broom cleans the areas surrounding the place where the Gods and the Goddess sit in the rath. This is known as chhera pahanra. It signifies the fact that to God all is equal and even no work is high or low. The King therefore has to broom the floor of the rath. Also the material of the broomstick i.e gold is used since it is a higly valued metal and also to show that for God that is nothing more than a broomstick. Before this the pahandi takes place, which refers to the journey of the siblings from the temple to the Rath. Here we see that Lord Jagannath and Balabhadra are taken to their respective raths – Nandighosa and Taldhwaja in a typical walking style as one walks step by step, but with a sway to the music, whereas Subhadra is carried almost in a lying manner. It is therefore understandable that the Gods and the Goddess are actually living like human beings in Puri.

  There is one interesting fact as well regarding the Chardham. The Badrinath Dham was built in the Satya Yuga, the Rameswaram Dham was built in the Treta  Yuga, the Dwaraka Dham was built in the Dvapara Yuga and the Puri Dham was built in the Kali i.e the present Yuga. Therefore, of the CharDham, Puri is the only one which is built in the Kali Yuga and hence Lord Jagannath is the Lord of the Kali Yuga.

  There are several stories, beliefs and practices with regards to the Rath Yatra itself, which if included would be too lengthy and hence I avoid it here. But one which I am not being able to is the story of Bhakt Salabega, a story of true love and devotion to the Lord. To begin with, Salabega’s father, Lalbeg, was a Mughal soldier who had forcefully abducted a Brahmin widow on being attracted by her beauty. They had a son named Salabega, who later on joined the Mughal Army and went to a battle with his father wherein his father died and he received lethal wounds having almost no scope for survival. Her mother, a devotee of Lord Jagnnath, who had been secretly worshipping him these days prayed to the Lord for his son’s recovery. Miraculously, his son recovered very soon and got healed of his wounds, ultimately leading to him becoming a devotee of Lord Jagannath. But even though he went to Puri to have the Lord’s darshan, he was not aloowed inside as he was a Muslim, by religion. Nevertheless, he waited for the Rath Yatra festival. He built a hut on the way and started residing there as he went on visiting several holy places. On one such year while he was returning from Vrindavan, he suddenly fell ill and got seriously delayed for the Rath Yatra. He therefore prayed to the Lord with utmost sorrow and plea to please wait until he arrived. And how could the Lord leave when one of his devotee had not arrived! The Lord told him in his dream that he would be waiting for him. Back in Puri when the raths were being brought back to the Puri temple, the chariots suddenly stopped in front of Salabega’s hut, much to the surprise of all the devotees. They all tried very hard but couldn’t budge the rath an inch from it’s place. Even elephants were brought to push and pull the raths but to no avail. At night, the head priest had a dream where the Lord told him to not worry and wait for a few days as one of his devotees had got delayed, eliminating the anguish of the King and others. The Lord waited there for seven days until Salabega arrived and for all these days he stayed in his rath, outside his hut. When Salabega arrived, he was allowed to have darshan of his Lord and only after that the rath started moving. Even now, the rath is made to stop outside Salabega’s hut (a mazar now) for the great Bhakt to have darshan of his Lord, in every return journey of the Lord. This story remains immortal and is of course one of a kind. It is believed that one who hears this story of Bhakt Salabega, receives  moksha or freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

  The story and practice of Lord Jagannath soothing his wife Goddess Lakhsmi is of course a famous one! It goes something like this. On the fourth day after the departure of the deities in magnificent chariots, Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Jagannath, goes out in search of her husband as she is worried.  He had left saying that he wanted to have fresh air after being put down at bed for so many days and would return soon. But seeing him getting late, Goddess Lakshmi goes out in search of him. On reaching Gundicha temple she couldn’t find her husband and hence in a fit of anger broke a part of Lord Jagnnath’s chariot Nandighosha and returns back. When the deities finally return, Goddess Lakshmi slams the door close on the face of Lord Jagannath, venting out her anger. The Lord becomes thoughtful and comes out with an idea. He goes and places a pot of (Odiya) Rasagulla to pacify and please her and it worked magic! Her anger melts and she lets him in. Sheer intelligence, isn’t it?

   The raths are completely destroyed after the entire two – way journey of the deities is completed. No part of it is remnant. Next year again it is made from scratch. This is symbolic of the fact that nothing is eternal in this world. When something or someone has served the purpose, the duty is over and it has to go. One fascinating fact regarding the building of the raths is that there are no written down rules for making them. They are made with knowledge gathered through oral teachings. And also it is prepared with traditional tools with wooden sticks acting as measuring tapes. And yet the precision is really surprising. 

  There are also stories of the Lord giving darshan to his devotees who could not enter his temple and not accepting any flowers when a garland made by one of his devotees was not allowed to be given to him. Also there is story of Bandhu Mohanty, wherein the Lord provides ample food to his friend Mohanty and his hungry family in his own golden plate. He has very often acted as a friend in many instances! 

    Here we need to bring the factor of incompleteness associated with Lord Jagannath. He is the Lord of the Kali Yuga, the most unholy and sinful ones and hence in order to restore faith, belief and goodness the Lord becomes incomplete.

  And yet these all form just a small part of it. There are numerous facts regarding the temple itself at puri. The disc on top of the temple is known as neelchakra symbolizing Lord Vishnu’s sudarshan chakra, which is made up of  eight metals. But it has an important scientific reasoning as well. It protects the temple from thunderstrikes. Also no bird is ever seen sitting on it. Neither do any planes fly over it or any part of the temple complex. Also another fascinating fact is that the Neel Chakra has several flags or  dhwaja tied to it and every day a man with several flags climb he temple tower up with just faith and no modern tools to change the dhwaja! But what is even more fascinating is that the dhwaja at the Jagannath Temple at Puri always flats in the opposite direction of the wind blow! Whenever one enter the temple complex through the main gate or the Simha Dwara or the Lion Gate, one can hear the noise of sea waves from there but the moment one enters the complex it vanishes and one cannot hear that even if he/ she returns back to do so! Also the Neel Chakra at the top of the temple tower is visible from all over Puri and even no shadow of the temple is casted on any side of it in any time of the day; engineering feat or something more?  

    He teaches us not be complacent and boastful of our achievements. These things are going to be temporary. He acts like a friend and not a God in so many instances to show his equal love and devotion towards his devotees. Such is his greatness and courage! It takes courage to be a friend when you are the Lord of the Universe. It is Lord Jagannath, who shows us how to break the barrier of that high self – esteem and be a friend of humanity. His round soothing eyes can read anybody, whatsoever is hidden from the worldly beings. And it is because of that, he is called Jagnnath, the Lord of the Universe.

By Ahan Basu, Kolkata


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