Lord Jagannath, as the name signifies, should be accessible to everyone without any distinction of caste and creed. He is ‘Lord’ of Jagat that is universe. If he is the lord of the universe, we cannot restrict persons belonging to different religious beliefs from going inside the temple. As I say this, I am also conscious of the fact that lord Jagannath is not simply a deity adorning the temple at Puri, on the sea shore of Odisha. He is very much a living being. Rituals observed in the temple for several centuries indicate that he takes birth, and also after 12 to 15 yrs, he decides to incarnate again.
This is based on the saying of lord Krishna in the Bhagavat Gita that as our garments become old or not useable, man has to choose a new one; our body is also a garment in the same sense which can be disposed of in favor of a new one. The lord Jagannath has demonstrated this version of the Bhagavat Gita in his own life by choosing a new body in course of a ceremony which is known as ‘Nava-Kanebara’ meaning thereby the acceptance of a new body by the lord.
Two years back, ‘Nava-Kanebara’ ceremony drew the attention of the whole world. There is a god in a remote corner of Odisha, just by the side of the Bay of Bengal, who changes his body in every 12 to 18 yrs as per the astronomical calculation followed in the temple. For the purpose of giving a suitable body to the lord, many procedures are laid down as per the religious book. Authorities of the temple have to select four Neem trees for four deities through whom the supreme lord Jagannath has manifested for the purpose of worship by the devotees.
Lord Jagannath has with him lord Balbhadra, said to be his brother, Subhadra known as his sister and Sudarshan said to be his weapon. The almighty, the supreme consciousness is represented as lord Jagannath. Lord Balbhadra is the reflected form of the supreme who is known as ‘Ishwar’ and is more approachable and acceptable; Subhadra is the “Prakriti”, or the feminine creative form with which the lord brings out the whole creation. All these three deities are the representative symbols of the Vedantic Brahma, the supreme reality. They have no feet, but move at the call of the devotees. They have arms only, but no fingers. Though symbolic deities, they are living forms of divinity which can be realized in course of devotion. Sudarshan has just a pillar like shape. All these deities take their bodies from different trees bearing signs as mentioned in the scriptures.
I give the above information for the readers in order to indicate my view about the general entry for all sorts of visitors who like to go inside the temple. I would like to point out that though I am in favour of entry of all sorts of people, I feel that there should be a restricted entry. I have already said that the lord is just not a deity to be demonstrated before inquisitive people.
True, I have indicated that deities have several specific features which will really impress the visitors, when they see that the deities are exact replica of the vedantic concept of ‘Brahma’ who accepts without fingers and move without feet. But I have to emphasize that the lord is very much a living being. He is the supreme lord in human form. He should live in an atmosphere having sanctity. True that the Britishers have indicated in a signboard that the temple is only meant for Hindus. We can plead for entry of non-Hindus also subject to some restrictions. The places of prayer of various religions don’t require the sacred rituals which are maintained inside the temple of lord Jagannath. Even there are restrictions for Hindu devotees. Non-Hindu persons may not like to observe restrictions required for visiting lord Jagannath. Our non-Hindu friends are not accustomed to restrictions required to be observed for visiting Hindu temples.
I can just plead for people belonging to other religions to go and watch lord Jagannath from a distance, but only when they accept restrictions to be observed in the temple. I cannot simply argue for the universal and non-restricted entry to visit the lord as He has his own sacred surroundings, maintained through various rituals prescribed by the scriptures. The lord is not the subject of our curiosity; he requires deep devotion, strict sanctity and some secrecy also. I have been very much pained when I have found that foreigners who have accepted lord Krishna and Buddha as their ideal are not allowed in Puri temple.
I am of the opinion that those who have accepted Vaishnavism, Buddhism and Jainism should have free entry and enjoy equal status with those who are born Hindus. I am in favour of restricted entry to foreigners who can watch from a distance with obligations to submit to restrictions imposed by the temple authorities. The lord should be accessible to everybody, but his surrounding and sanctity should not be taken for granted.
The writer is Ex-DPI,Govt.Of Odisha; he represents Jagannath temple
By Dr. Rajat Kumar Kar