A couple of days back the Grand Road of Puri was having a very vibrant atmosphere even at the darkest hours of night but today it is deserted, the streets are full of beggars and those people who have no one except the Lord as their shelter. But this serene silence the Grand road (BADA DAANDA) is the mute spectator of the events that led to the evolution of a brand called ‘Jagannath’, a culture that is universal and a lord who is omnipresent. Before I get going a short preface to the main is as follows:
The other day on the occasion of ‘Niladri Bije’ the day when Lord Jagannath,Balabhadra,Subhdra and Sudarshan were getting ready to return to their palace(The SriMandir) after a 12day long tour of the lord’s birthplace (The Gundicha Mandir) popularly known as Ratha Yatra or the Car Festival. It was His grace that he called me and gave me the golden opportunity of embracing as well as kissing the Lords. As I was enjoying the divine company a question came to my mind- “O Lord are you man or God?? You are simple and at the same time the most complex…who are you?? Why are you the heartbeat of so many regional, national and international people?? What is this Rath Yatra all about??” Just then a voice from within told –
“Niladro sankha madhye sata daal kamala ratana-singha sanastam
Sarvaalankar juktam navaghana ruchiram sanjutam chagra jenam
Bhadraya vama bhage ratha charana krutam
Vedanam saara mekam srujana parihatam brahma-rudrendra vandyama
Sakala bhubitalam brahma daaru smarami…”
The lord had answered my questions so beautifully. He introduced himself as that that lives at the center of a conch shaped place known as Niladri or Puri on a throne under which many valuable stones are present. On the rath He is the one who comes with his elder brother and sister, He is the confluence of all Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptures for they are created from him only. He is that before whom even Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva, and Lord Indra (The King of Gods) bow, the whole world is under his feet yet he is but only an idol made out of wood and it is to this lord the whole world is paying respect to.
A friend of mine had asked me whether Jagannath is going to his maternal house or to the house of his maternal aunt. That friend was curious to know about Jagannath and his cult for being new to Odisha it was surprising for my friend to know that in this place Jagannnath is the heart-beat of even a non-aesthetic person. At that time I had planned to write this article about the Jagannathian brand but probably my preparedness was not sufficient so I lost the initial write-ups or maybe it was His wish to first enlighten me before I enlighten others. Now that my thoughts have His approval I guess at the end of this article I’ll be able to prove why Jagannath is not just a God but a brand and the soul of not only odias or Indians but of many international persons.
To know the brand value of Jagannath we first need to know the genesis of Jagannathian cult. By Jagannathian cult I mean the culture of “Basudheva kutumbakam”i.e a culture that carries affects everyone irrespective of caste, creed, language, region and most importantly religion. The Jagannath we see or hear of today was initially called NILAMADHABA. The journey from Nilamadhaba to Jagannath and the evolution of Jagannath have travelled hand in hand. Nilamadhaba was like any normal statue of Lord Vishnu with four arms carrying Shankha, Chakra, Gada and Padma the only uniqueness was that it was made out of a blue stone. Nilamadhaba was restricted to knowledge of one particular tribe that resided in the hills of Nilagiri along the coast of Bay of Bengal. For most part nilamadhaba was like just another idol of Lord Vishnu in India but slowly Nilamadhaba wanted to expand and express himself before the whole world. But the acceptance was difficult as then the Hindus were grossly divided into 2sects-the shivaits (believed in lord Shiva) and the vaishnavits (believed in Lord Vishnu) so in such a situation it was difficult for a 3rd lord to gain importance. As of result of this conflict Nilamabhaba split into Shankarshan(incarnation of Shiva) and Madhusudan(incarnation of Vishnu). I am talking here of the evolution of the trinity that are worshipped now in Puri so all the divisions are actually division in form of idols and their worship. After having satisfied the two major sects of Hinduism Shankarshan and Madhusudan freed themselves from the tribal culture. They were now Hindu Gods. But slowly the importance of female power gained prominence and Hinduism saw the birth of another sect i.e. the Shaktas(believers of Shakti/feminine power).With the new sect Nilamabhdhab who had already split into 2 was now divided into 3- Shankarshan, Madhusudan and Bhubaneswari(form of Shakti).With this came the culture of trinity worship.
The evolution didn’t stop with the start of trinity worship. For the aim of these deities was to expand universally. The deities had already acquired an n honorable position in the Hindu religion but they were far away from the general public as Gods and Goddesses were then properties of the purohits, sadhus and mahatmas. As Vishnu was the considered to be the coolest among all three people were able to connect with Vishnu more easily. Thus Madhusudhan became Purusottom( the greatest of all men) and was actually looked upon by all. Shankarshan, Bhubaneswari and Purusottom were now Lords of public and not merely some particular group. A major change came when Adi Shankarachrya came to then Purusotom dham( now Puri). He christened the three idols as Balabhadra,Subhadra and Purusottom.Iin an attempt to establish a common style of worship he established the family relationships i.e. Balabhadra is the elder brother and Purusottom the younger and in between them was Subhdra the sister of two. This relationship of brother-sister brought the deities so close to the general public Shankarachrya later declared Puri as the last of dham of the four holiest places of Hindu religion. The cult of the trinity was spreading like forest fire amongst the Hindu society. But the spread was even faster in other religions. At that time Odisha was a major center of Buddhism and Jainism. The prominent priests of those religions were then in search of such a deity holding whose hand their religion’s very existence could be saved. The Buddhist found that deity in the eyes of Purusottom(The two huge eyes of Jagannath),which according to the Vajaryani sect of Buddhism was actually a form of tantra and called him Tathagat. The Jains found similar facts about Purusottom as Rushavnath which brought them closer. The Buddhist called Purusottom Jagannath as per their tantra. Jagannath thus came into existence due to Buddhism but it actually boomeranged and Buddhism surrendered before Jagannath. Buddha now acquired the controversial position of being the 9th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Jagannath literally means Lord of Universe. But Jagannath till then was only a Hindu lord. In order to justify His new name he had to spread
Guru Nanak of Sikh religion, Muslims like Salabega and Kabir and now even Christians have accepted his Lordship. Europeans and devotees from other parts of the world use to come to Puri during Car Festival and dance engrossed them with deep devotion to lord. Chaitanya’s Krishnalisation of Jagannath was actually a huge boost and is actually the biggest turning point in the evolution of Brand Jagannath. He introduced Jagannath as Krishna to the world and Balabhadra as Balaram,the elder brother of Krishna. The famous verse ‘HARE RAMA HARE KRISHNA’ spread universally crossing all the regional and religion boundaries. Bhakti Vedanta Prabhupad the founder of ISKON continued the work of Chaitanya and through ISKON made Jagannath universal. But still there was this gap of ‘bhakat & bhagwan’. Jagannath could not have become a brand ambassador of the public as he was the God and not just any human being like Amitabh Bachchan or Sachin Tendulkar or Barack Obama or Vajpayee. To become a brand He needs to come down from his divine form to the human form. Lord Rama became people’s ideal and not just an idol, Lord Krishna became the guide of all humanity and his words became Shrimad Bhagvat Gita, Heavenly Father was accepted only in the form of Jesus and people prayed to Allah in the form of Prophet Muhammad. All this happened because the Gods were personified as being one amongst all the Homo sapiens. Hence Jagannath also had to connect Himself with the masses.
The poets,historians,playwriters,kings,ministers and many other well to do peoples of the then society took the charge of personifying Jagannath. Jagannath now have a family which is just like any other normal Indian family. Balabhadra being the eldest of them all is the head of the family and his wife is Goddess Bimala, Jagannath is the younger brother and has two wives- Mahalaxmi and Kamala(both are connected with the wives of Krishna-Rukmini and Satyabhama), Subhadra is the two brother’s dearest sister whose husband is Arjuna(as per the legends of Mahabharata). Lord Jagannath’s birthplace is Gundicha Temple( the place where he visits for 9days during the Rath Yatra) and his uncle’s house is in Sakhigopal(a place 18kms away from Puri). His father in-law is Sea God otherwise called Mahodadhi(because Mahalaxmi was born from the sea as per some purana). Jagannath is very obedient to Balabhadra and that is the reason why Balabhadra being the eldest is given all the respects first. It is a fact that though Jagannath is the main deity of Srimandir but it is Balabhadra who is the owner of the temple. All the properties of the temple are in Balabhadra’s name and Jagannath is but just an ambassador even within the family. 200mts from the main temple of Puri is the temple of Maa Dakshin Kali and she is considered the god- mother of Jagannath. But all these relationships were not enough. People wanted him to be closer. Hence like God he fulfilled the wishes and came even closer.
A God never gets ill but a man does. So after taking the Grand Bath from 108pots of water in front of the public Jagannath falls sick. He is completely bed-ridden and just like us when ill he never meets anyone for 15days. Fever for 15days just by taking a bath according to medical science is very rare and here he proves His divinity. In general he is suffering from fever and the King of Puri orders the best physician to treat him who after 15days informs the king that the Lords are fit. But in order to keep his divinity safe he makes the people feel his heat. Those 15days the climate all over the state is generally very hot and humid. After 15days of bed-rest the lord’s want to refresh themselves. For a child the best place of refreshment is in his mother’s lap. So Jagannath goes with his brother and sister to their birthplace on a 9day tour on the three huge Raths made of wood. This is known as the World famous Ratha yatra or the CAR FESTIVAL. Here again to show his Godliness in human form he comes out in his main form(the main deities and not their representative) and gives the opportunity to those who cannot enter his temple to come and hug him. On the way to Gundicha temple he stays for a while near the temple of his aunt or Mausi(mother’s sister) to eat the famous poda-pitha or the rice cake. On return to the main temple Jagannath have a fight with Laxmi like any other normal husband and wife. On the occasion of ‘Niladri Bije’ just as Jagannath is about to enter the temple Laxmi shuts the door. She expresses her anger to Jagannath for not taking her for the tour but taking sister Subhadra( a typical jealously between bhabi and nanand). Then like in any family the quarrel is settled by Balabhadra the family’s head. Jagannath as per the pact gifts Laxmi sweets(rasgulla),sarees and jewels and promises to her next time. These are just few examples of personification of Jagannath there are many such examples which will be discussed in some other context.
It is these personalization that brought Jagannath closer to his devotees. The general public right from a beggar to a king connects with him. He is the father,brother,husband and son for many and so is he the mother,sister,wife and daughter of the rest. No God is scolded as ruthlessly as is Jagannath because for a those who scold him He is not their God but their family their blood relative. Yet there is no God who is the soul of not just odias but of the whole universe. It may be very easy for a beggar to meet him who can offer nothing to him but it will be impossible for many established persons who can offer him anything to even reach Puri meeting him is a further affair. It is this uniqueness of Jagannath that today he is not just a God or God man but he is the brand of all brand ambassadors. Anything related to him has sky high values. His clothes, his rope, his food, his stale food or dry tulsi,his bathing water or this rehydration drink, his chariot, his road, his everything is both divine as well as materialistic. Rabindranath Tagore had rightly said-
“ Ratha kahe aami deb , Patha kahe aami deb
Sakale kahe aami deb, dekhi haase upar antarjami”
He is a mystery that mystifies as you get deeper and deeper but at the same time he is the simplest truth of this world. Today he is a Lord with universal acceptance and his brand value is ever-increasing year by year. This is evident from the increasing number of devotees reaching to Puri during the Car Festival every year. Every year the number of people from outside India is increasing and it’s all because his JAGAT_NATH (Lord of Universe). Finally i can only say one thing that this brand is ever-evolving and what I said is actually what He made me say for without his help no one can write anything about him.