Puri’s Jagannath Rath Yatra A Cosmotheandric Experience
Every year in rainy season all the deities are brought down to the road from the womb of the temple by thousands of devotees known as pahandi; each of them is slowly lifted, shifted and pushed ahead little by little by the people till they reach the raised platforms of the chariot and occupy the specified seat on their respective chariots. Chariots are called raths in scripture. The sequence starts with Sudarshana who is carried and installed in Subhadra’s chariot Darpadalana, follwed by Subhadra, then Balabhadra occupies Taladhwaj; Jagannath occupies Nandighosha.
These rathas are made of wood. Interestingly, the base structure (as seen from top), of these rathas are prototypes of the basic yantra forms viz. Sleeing (Taladhwaj), Hreem (Devidalana), and Kleeing (Nandighosha). Balabhadra on Taladhwaja Rath, Subhadra along with Sudarshana on Devidalana Rath and Jagannath on Nandighosha Rath are pulled by people in the above sequence to cover a distance of two km from Jagannath temple to Mausima temple (Gundicha Mandir). These rathas are decorated with fabrics of specific colours viz. Taladhwaj (green and red), Devidalan (black and red) and Nandighosha (yellow and red).
In the Upanishad rath is defined as “body” (Atmanam rathinam biddhi shareeram rathameva tu) and this distance is believed to represent symbolically the path the ‘body’ (shareera) takes to reach its destination (moksha or nirvana) and the yatra (the journey) is known as Rath Yatra or the Car Festival. The oldest available engraved stone monument of Rath Yatra is present in Orissa Museum, Bhubaneswar—a cart-form having three lotus flowers seated and drawn by buffaloes with an additional pushing by an ascetic.
Sri Aurobindo wrote, “But until Jagannatha’s chariot is built, the ideal community will not be created. That
is the ideal, that is the best manifestation and image of the deepest and highest truth. Mankind tries to build it under the inspiration of the secret cosmic person. But due to ignorance in its nature, it only succeeds in creating a different likeness—either malformed, unfinished and ugly or passably half-beautiful or incomplete despite its beauty: a dwarf instead of a Shiva or a rakshasha, else a half deity of the intermediate regions… the true name of this Chariot of Jagannath is not society but commune. It is not a many-faced, loose-knit human collectivity or crowd but a free indestructible union, a divine commune evolved in joy by the power of the harmonising knowledge of self and God… a day will come when inspired by the will of world spirit, soul-unity will be manifest as the result of the synthesis and unification of knowledge, emotion and work; then will the chariot of Jagannath come out on the thoroughfares of the world. Then shall its light spread in all directions. The age of truth will descend on the earth, the world of mortal man become the playground of the deity, the temple-city of God, the abode of spiritual delight.” The process is on and we all are in it! It is only a matter of looking into it and understanding the meaning underneath.
The legend has it that a famous festival was going on in the eastern India where a deity seated on a chariot was being drawn by the devotees. People were immolating themselves under the chariot. One ponders is it for the primeval and savage quality of the deity that we want to worship or for the sake of tradition that we want to pull the chariots lest the ominous might befall on mankind or is it a grand festival of joy?
The Shroud of Mystery
Jagannath transcends all forms and is beyond the limits of an icon. Cults and religious diversities have Orissa
confluenced in this ancient deity which can possibly save the world when in despair. In Kapila Samhita (fifth chapter) it is written: “Sarvesamapi kshetranam raja raja sripurushottamah, sarvesamapi devanam sripurushottamah” (Of all lands it is the Land of Purushottam, of all gods it is Purushottam— Jagannath). Orissa for ages has remained a holy sanctified land which taketh away sin. Raja Mansingh, a General of Emperor Akbar, proclaimed: “This part is no fit subject for conquest or schemes of human ambition, it belongs to gods and from end to end is one region of pilgrimage”.
For the people of Orissa, Jagannath is the isht dev. WW Hunter wrote: “The true source of Jagannath’s undying hold consists in the fact that He is the God of the people. As long as His tower rises upon the Puri sands so long there will be in India a perpetual and visible protest of equality of man before God.
It is also written: “Sarvendriya gunabhasam sarvendriya vivarjitam sarvashye pravumeeheenam sarvashye sharam brihat” which means He is the ultimate giver of immortality; He is the guiding force of the past, present and future and also all people who live on food. Although senses are indicated in Him there are no senses. Although He regulates everything as the supreme and ultimate, He gives protection to all. Sri Jagannath is the saviour, the forgiver, the compassionate, the supreme, the inexpressible and the infinite.”
One who has a glimpse of Jagannath will not be surprised to know that Chaitanya (1485-1533) merged with the deity, vanishing into it in broad daylight before his awestruck devotees. Seeing the deities inside the temple is a cosmotheandric experience, an experience which contains the emerging religious consciousness. Eko aham bahusyam (He alone desired to be many)—the primordial cause and effect of creation. Akaybaham jagatyatra dwitiya ka mamapara (In this existence I alone am present, except me none else). He is also the proverbial patita pavana (redeemer of the fallen); In Brihat Narasinghapurana it is written: “Jale, sthale antarikshe muktih Sri purusottama.”
He is the hiranyagarbha and this word has relevant and interesting meaning. Hiranya means gold, golden emanation. Hiranyagarbha means “He within whom all radiations are contained.” Sun, moon, stars and all objects are all contained in Him. Yajurvada says: “Vishwam jyotijachha” (14/14) meaning the universe is shinning from your emanations only. Again it says, “Hiranmayena patrena satyasya pihitam mukham” (40/17) meaning the face of the Supreme Being is, who is truth absolute, is veiled by very attractive, shinning container indicating thereby that not to be disillusioned by the outer but to discover the truth hidden within.
Jagannath cult is deep rooted, mysterious and esoteric. Yogis understand a little and the wise pray to know more . Many aspects of Jagannath Mahaprabhu still remains unattended and this is only a humble effort to present an infinitesimally small aspect of this ancient people-based tradition. Whatever little we know about Him only implies the vast unknown that remains.
By Sashibhusan Rath