For millions of devotees, Jagannath, or Lord of the Universe, is an emperor who comes out of his abode once a year to give darshan to his subjects. He is the Lord, yet he leads the lifestyle of a common human being which makes him unique among all deities. Many rituals, socio religious traits and customs have been assimilated in the Jagannath cult. No wonder, Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra, the biggest festival of Odisha, doesn’t differentiate between caste, creed or sect. The festival symbolises the philosophy of a classless and casteless society. This is the occasion when Puri Gajapati Maharaja, known as the foremost servitor of Lord Jagannath, sweeps the chariots clean before the Lords ascend them in a practice which establishes that all are equal before the Lord. Several rituals are practiced throughout the year to highlight the glory of Lord Jagannath. However, no ritual is carried out without the Agyanmala (a garland of consent) or a work order from the Lord himself. Starting from the selection of the wood for the construction of the chariots till the completion of construction, every activity is undertaken by the respective servitors only after they obtain permission from the Lord. Though Agyanmala is issued for all rituals of Srimandir, Sunday POST lists a few rituals connected with the Rath Yatra.
An Agyanmala is defined in the Purnachandra Bhasakosha, an Odia language lexicon, as a garland of flowers sent by the deity to signify that a command is issued to a person. But in the context of Lord Jagannath, it is an order or permission from the Lord himself for performing all the rituals.
“No religious activity or ‘leela’ associated with the Trinity (Lords Jagannath and Balabhadra and goddess Subhadra) can be undertaken without the Agyanmala or command. This practice has been going on since Satya Yuga,” said Rabindranath Pratihari, a former member of the temple management committee who now works as the general secretary of Shree Jagannath Chetana Gabesana Pratisthan, a national level research centre on Shree Jagannath consciousness. Rabindranath adds that these commands are given to living beings as well as to objects like chariots and his representative gods like Ram, Narayan, Madhusudan and Dola Govinda.
According to some records, Agyanmalas are issued 139 times a year. But no orders are issued when the Lord himself takes part in festivals like Snana Yatra, Rath Yatra, Bahuda Yatra and Niladri Bije. This is a unique arrangement which is not seen in any other religious shrine. According to Niladri Mahodaya, a religious book that details the daily rituals of Srimandir, Lord Jagannath is the supreme God and his energy is transmitted to other deities when they receive the Agyanmala. Dola Govinda and Madhusudan are two other names of Lord Vishnu and they receive the Agyanmalas during Dola Purnima and Chandan Yatra, two major festivals associated with Puri Srimandir traditions. This is why it is popularly said Dole cha Dola Govindam, Chape cha Madhusudanam, Rathe Tu Bamanam Drustwa, Punarjanmam Na Bidyate (If you behold the Lord Dola Govinda in the wooden palanquin during Dola festival, Lord Madhusudan in the boat during Chandan Yatra and Lord Jagannath (Bamanam) on the chariot during Rath Yatra, there will be no rebirth and you will be free from the cycle of birth and death), said Rabindranath who has authored many books on Lord Jagannath including Shree Darubrahmanka Agyanmala Rahasya (Mystery behind Lord’s Agyanmala).
Dr Satya Narayan Rajguru in his book Odishara Rashtra Devata Sri Jagannath says that the beginning of the Agyanmala ritual dates to the 9th century. At that time, Kalinga was an independent nation comprising small kingdoms and Lord Jagannath was the Rashtra Devata (national deity) of Kalinga. He was accorded the Emperor status. The kings of the smaller territories under Kalinga used to rule as the representatives of Jagannath the emperor and receive Agyanmalas. That was the beginning of the Agyanmala ritual, according to the book.
–Rath Yatra connection
Most of the rituals of the Rath Yatra (Car festival) are performed by the servitors after they get Agyanmalas from the Lord.
To begin with, the construction of chariots for Sri Gundicha Yatra or Rath Yatra starts on Akhi Tritiya, or the third day of Shukla Pakhya (bright lunar fortnight) of the Baisakha month, only after the receipt of Agyanmala from the Trinity. The temple priests collect the garlands from the idols and come to the Ratha Khala (site where chariots are constructed) in a procession. They serve the order of the Lord to the Maharana (carpenter) servitors following which the construction begins.
–The first set of wheels
The next order from the Trinity for the six wheels and three axles of the three chariots is served on the seventh day of Krushna Pakhya (dark lunar fortnight) of the Jyestha month. Once again, the priests come in a procession and put the Agyanmala on the wheels. The ritual is called ‘Chakadera’ as the wheels are connected to the axles for the first time. The construction process is stepped up after that.
–The three chariots
Then comes the turn of the chariots. Like in the previous procedures, three more Agyanmalas are served on the three chariots in the Shukla Pakhya phase of the Asadha month. After getting the orders, the chariots are brought from Ratha Khala to the Singhadwara for the Lord’s Sri Gundicha Yatra. The chariots are consecrated following the ritual.
–Final order before the journey
Three Agyanmalas from the Trinity are served on the three kalasas (wooden domes) fitted atop the chariots. These kalasas are previously kept at the Jayavijaya gate of the temple. A temple priest brings three garlands from the Trinity following which the kalasas are installed at the pinnacle of the chariots signalling the final work before the Rath Yatra. However, this is not the end of orders from the Lord.
Before their return journey after a nine-day sojourn, the chariots get an Agyanmala on the sixth day of Shukla Pakhya of the Asadha month for a south turn. The garlands are collected from the idols and served on the charioteers. Accordingly, the chariots are turned towards Srimandir (southern direction) so that the Trinity can set out for their abode.
One more Agyanmala is given during the return journey of the Trinity. This time, Lord Jagannath serves the order on goddess Laxmi, his wife. She comes in a procession riding a palanquin and appears before Nandighosh, the chariot of Lord Jagannath. Gajapati Maharaja lifts the goddess on his shoulder with the help of other servitors so that she can have a glance of her husband. After getting the Agyanmala from the Lord, she enters the Srimandir while Nandighosh is brought to Singhadwara, the main gate of Srimandir. The annual Rath Yatra comes to an end with the Trinity stepping into the temple with the last ritual called Niladri Bije.
The first Agyanmala
According to Skanda Purana, king Indradyumna, a ruler of the Avanti region, came to know about the presence of Neela Madhab, an idol of Lord Vishnu made from blue sapphire, in Neelachal (present day Puri). The idol was being worshipped secretly inside a cave. The king asked his trusted aide Bidyapati, a Brahmin, to search for the deity. Bidyapati somehow managed to have a darshan of Neela Madhab with the help of Sabar king Biswabasu. There he received an Agyanmala (garland of consent) from Neela Madhab and returned to Avanti. Since the Agyanmala was handed by the Lord himself, it remained fresh till Bidyapati arrived in Avanti. Neela Madhab, in his order, asked Indradyumna to come down to Neelachal to have his darshan. This is believed to be the first ever Agyanmala issued by the Lord. Though Indradyumna rushed to Neelachal without any delay, he couldn’t see the Lord when he reached there. Neela Madhab had disappeared. However, Lord Vishnu, through Narad Muni, ordered Indradyumna to perform an Aswamedha Yajna following which he would have a darshan of the Lord in the form of Daru brahma (or mystic expression of the Lord in wood).
BIJAY MANDAL, OP