Aboard his chariot, Lord Jagannath will travel along the Grand Road of Puri as he goes on a visit to his aunt’s place accompanied by his siblings, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra, during Rathayatra next month. But are the deities prepared for this annual journey? As per tradition, the three deities of Srimandir fall sick after the sacred bath on Snanapurnima, which will be observed June 28. The deities recover within a fortnight during which they are treated and kept on a strict herbal diet akin to human beings when they fall sick. Hence, the devotees are forbidden to visit the deities during the ailment phase called ‘anasara’ when their representative portraits (‘Patti dians’) are worshipped at Srimandir. It is believed that devotees can acquire virtue with a glimpse of Lord Alarnath at Brahmagiri when the Puri lords are not available for public darshan. Sunday POST talked to devotees, priests and scholars of the Jagannath cult to learn more about this interesting tradition.
“Devasnana is the annual holy bath of Lord Jagannath which takes place on Snanapurnima or the full moon day of the Hindu month of Jyestha,” says Dillip Kumar Mishra, a priest from Bolangir. Mishra heads a group which is assigned to build chariots for Rathayatra in his hometown. He says, “Devasnana or Snanayatra is the bathing festival of the lord. The festival at Srimandir in Puri is witnessed by a large number of devotees and the custom is observed in every Jagannath temple across the state. The ritual finds mention in the Skanda Purana. King Indradyumna is believed to have hosted Snanayatra while installing the wooden deities at the temple. The religious texts Niladri Mahodaya and Naisadhiya Charita have referred to the festival.”
Mishra adds, “The idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra and Sudarshana are ceremonially taken out to the ‘snana mandapa,’ a raised platform where 108 pitchers of holy water collected from sacred wells inside the Kurmabedha of the shrine are poured on the idols amid the chanting of hymns by the priests. Suaras carry the pitchers to the bathing altar. After the bath, the deities are dressed in attire called ‘Gajananabesha’ to look like Ganesha.”
Besides Rathayatra, snanayatra is another ritual when non-Hindus can have a glimpse of the deities although non-Hindus are not allowed into the Jagannath temple. One can watch the proceedings of Snanapurnima while standing on Badadanda, the Grand Road of Puri.
As a result of the ceremonial bath, it is believed, the deities catch cold and fever and are given medication for a fortnight. On the 16th day, the three siblings appear in public on Netrotsav or Nava Yaubana Darshana.
“Sesame oil blended with the extracts of flowers and other herbal condiments are buried underground for a year before being taken out for embalming the deities during ‘anasara’ to heal them,” says Dr Niraj Kanta Mohapatra, an Ayurvedic doctor from Boudh. Mohapatra takes part in the Rathayatra of his town. “God has been merciful and so I get a chance to do ‘pahandi’ of Lord Jagannath at the Rathayatra in Boudh. Being a doctor, I am interested in the medicines used for Lord Jagannath. I have talked to the servitors of Puri. They say anointing sesame oil helps lower body temperature. It is called ‘swedana.’ The suara servitors apply the ‘osua.’ Moreover, ‘dasamula’ is also offered to the deities, which is instrumental in providing them a youthful look. Besides, the deities are offered a few other herbs and wear white clothes during ‘anasara.’”
The various mutts of Puri provide different services to the Lord Jagannath. The ‘phuluri taila’ or sesame oil is supplied by the Bada Odia Mutt to heal the sacred body of the lords. Founded by Atibadi Jagannath Das, the 16th century Odia saint-poet, this mutt provides ‘trimundi chandua’ and silk clothes for ‘chaka apasaran’ as well as ghee for Deva deepawali.
‘Patti dians’ are images of the deities of the temple. During ‘anasara,’ the main idols are kept away from public view and people worship the ‘Patti dians.’ The images are created using a typical art form called ‘Pattachitra.’ The images of the Trinity – Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra – appear different from the idols. Images of Ananta Narayan, Ananta Basudev and Bhubaneswari are created to represent Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra, respectively. The artists begin work on Jyestha Amavasya (new moon day) and complete the paintings within a fortnight, by Debasnana Purnima. Colours prepared out of natural ingredients are used in the paintings. A group of 10 to 15 artists work on the paintings. Each ‘patta’ painting is created on a 5.5 ft long and 4 ft wide canvas. Patterns of birds, floral motifs and other traditional designs are drawn and the deities are shown in traditional attire.
Alarnath pitha, situated in the Brahmagiri town of Puri district, is regarded as the second Shreekhetra (abode of the Trinity) because Lord Jagannath of Puri is worshipped as Lord Alarnath in Brahmagiri during ‘anasara’. It is believed that during ‘anasara,’ devotees can reap virtue by having a darshan of Lord Alarnath.
“The practice of worshipping Alarnath during ‘anasara’ has its origin mainly in the legend associated with Sri Chaitanya,” says Prashanta Mishra. An ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath and a scholar of Vedic literature, Mishra has visited Alarnath several times during ‘anasara.’ “As per the legend, the great devotee Sri Chaitanya spent his last 18 years in Puri. During that time, once he got mesmerised witnessing the holy bath of Lord Jagannath. The following morning, he visited Srimandir but could not get a glimpse of the Lord since it was ‘anasara’ time. Frustrated, he walked along the seashore when he heard a godly voice (‘Daibabani’) and accordingly reached Alarnath pitha and visited the deity. Now, he was happy as he felt that Lord Jagannath had appeared before him in the form of Alarnath to satisfy his devotional hunger. Gripped with devotion, the great devotee stepped on a hot stone and prayed for long. To everybody’s astonishment, the stone melted. The same stone can be seen even today in the temple premises in Brahmagiri.”
The ‘kheer’ offering
During ‘anasara,’ ‘mahaprasada’ (offering) for Lord Jagannath is available in Anandabazar of Alarnath. The ‘kheer’ offered there is regarded as very special.
Bhuban Mohan Mishra, who visited Alarnath last year, explains why the ‘kheer’ offered at the shrine is special. “As per Upanayana Samhita, Lord Alarnath accepted ‘kheer’ offered by a five-year-old boy, who did not know hymns or rituals. Legend has it that the Lord’s lips got burnt on partaking the hot ‘kheer.’ The burn marks are visible on the face of the idol even today. The moral of the story is that devotion alone can delight the Lord and He does not necessarily want to hear hymns or prayers.”
HIMANSHU GURU, OP