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Lord Jagannath The Supreme Lord of the Universe

Updated: June 12, 2010 12:03 pm

Lord Jagannath is the Supreme Lord of the Universe. He is Lord of the Lords. He is Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent. He is the only cult. He is the only religion. He is the sole sect. All sects, all religions, all isms, all beliefs have mingled in His external oblivion. He is Lord Jagannath and for Orissa and teeming millions of Oriyas, He is the nerve centre. The institution of Lord Jagannath influences every aspect of life of Orissa. All spheres of our activities, political, social, cultural, religious and economic are inextricably blended with Lord Jagannath.

            All greatness is associated and ascribed to Lord Jagannath. He is greatest of all Gods with all greatness. He is Bada Thakur, the chief among the Gods. His temple is Bada Deula, the chief temple among the temples and the path in front of His temple, Bada Danda, the chief pathway, i.e. the grand road. The sea washing the shores of His kshetra is called Mahodadhi or the great ocean. Even the cremation ground at Puri is named as Swarga Dwar, the gateway to heaven. All the deities are worshipped if He is worshipped. Visit to His place or kshetra, the culmination of all pilgrimages, one achieves emancipation. He is the king, the co-subject, the father, the brother and the son in one whole being. Bada Deula, the temple of Lord Jagannath, is also a cultural centre besides a profound religious habitat. It is the temple where the priests decide the rules and regulations governing Hinduism and also prescrib expiation (prayaschit) for any sins committed. Only the temple has the final say for any sort of religious dispute. Thus in the Hindu society throughout the country, the importance of Lord is beyond challenge. Not only in India, but also in the other Hindu countries like Nepal and others Lord Jagannath rules the religious sentiments of the people and ruler.

            Lord Jagannath is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. According to some scholars He is Lord Sri Krishna. As all of you know Lord Vishnu, the creator of this world, had ten incarnations. Why these incarnations? When the world becomes full of sins, the sinners terrorise the innocent and religious persons, persons with devilish character torture the saints and the common man, Lord Vishnu takes avatar or incarnation to establish dharma.

            Lord Jagannath is always and for all practical purposes deemed to be the supreme monarch of the universe and the kings of Orissa are regarded as his representatives. In yesteryears when Orissa was a sovereign state, the kings of the sovereign state had to seek the favour of Lord Jagannath for their success in administration and in wars. Even during the British regime though the rulers did not say that, they were the representatives of Lord Jagannath, they did not venture to interfere in the temple administration and its nitis and rituals. They had conferred all those powers on Gajapati Maharaja, who is known to be the Thakur Raja. The British rulers had also high regards for Jagannath culture and traditions.

            According to Sanatana Dharma, among the four most important holy shrines of Hindus, Puri or Shree Kshetra is the most important centre of pilgrimage where Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra reside. The origin of Lord Jagannath can be traced back into the hoary past probably to the age of pre-history and the cult of Lord Jagannath is “Prak-Vedic” derived from the oldest civilisation of the world for which it has been rightly said that the uniqueness of Jagannath cult is that all the old religions and sects of the world are assimilated in this cult.

            Regarding tribal origin of Lord Jagannath it is said that Nilamadhaba was worshipped by Savara King

Viswabasu inside the dense forest of Nilagiri (the Blue Mountain). Subnseaquently Nilamadhaba disappeared and reincarnated in the forms of three deities—Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra. The three deities together symbolise Nilamadhaba (Nila-Madhaba). Nila (Blue) represent Lord Jagannath, Ma (Mother) represents Goddess Subhadra and Dhaba (White) represents Balabhadra who are worshipped at Puri. The ‘Savaras’ became known as ‘Daitas’ who are the hereditary servitors of Lord Jagannath. They observe the funeral rites of Lord Jagannath during Navakalevara (when the deities changed their body) and the sole responsibilities of ‘Snana Yatra’ and ‘SriGundicha Yatra’ are bestowed upon these ‘Daitas’. The worship of Lord Jagannath by ‘Savara’ is also mentioned in Darubrahma Gita written by Jagannath Das in 16th century AD and in Deula Tola written by Nilambara Das in 17th century AD.

            Rath Yatra, a special festival of the Lord is celebrated at Puri in a very gorgeous manner and lakhs of devotees from every part of the country rush to Puri for witnessing the famous car festival and the great Lord on His chariot. This is a great occasion when Lord Jagannath comes out of the temple to give darshan to the people of all sections irrespective of their caste, creed, cult and religion. Lord Jagannath is known as “Patitapavan”—the Lord of the poor, neglected and downtrodden.

            This Rath Yatra is now celebrated in every nook and corner of the state and in various places of India and the world with great enthusiasm and spirit. The car festival in different places of USA and other parts of the world is also celebrated with pomp and ceremony and devotees take the pleasure of dragging the chariots of the Lord. This bears the testimony of deep-rooted bond of the people from all walks of life with Lord Jagannath. Chhera Panhara in Rath Yatra is one of the great traditions of Lord Jagannath and on the Rath Yatra day millions of devotees at Puri and all over the world anxiously a wait to witness when Gajapati Maharaja, the moving idol of Lord Jagannath would come in a great procession in His tradition royal costumes to clean the chariots of Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath. Though he is the great King, He performs this ritual as a sweeper. This shows the greatness of the Thakur Raja who has established that king is only a sevak and Lord Jagannath is the Supreme Lord of the universe.

            Jagannath cult is not confined to any particular sect or religion. It is cosmopolitan in nature. It has integrated in its fold, all beliefs and practices and become universal. The multiplicity of ritualistic practices in the Lord’s temple leads us to divergent theories in respect of its origin. But, as far as the religious development is concerned, the historical data from age to age reveal the religious attitude and faith of the people as well as of the rulers operated in evolving the cult of Jagannath. The cult is not derived from any particular religious system, practice or beliefs; it is a combination of count-less religious thought.

            The sacred food offered to God is rich in quality and content. Therefore, it is popularly called the mahaprasad, the like of which is not found anywhere in the world. Food the first and foremost requirement of human life and existence, is not only offered to the deity but is also meant for all the people, irrespective of their caste, creed and religion and they satisfy their hunger and religious feeling with utmost comfort. mahaprasad is available in the temple always and for all. The Lord of the land sitting in the Ratnasinghasan with ease holds out His hands for giving food to His hungry and devoted millions. All the seasonal foods offered to the deity are also made available to the public. This arrangement is unique in a temple visited by lakhs. In the Lord’s eye all are equal. People with varied caste, creeds and cultures and status take His mahaprasad sitting together in the “Ananda Bazar”—the common dining place inside the temple. One source of administrative discomfort for the British officials was the close relationship existed between the Oriya nationalism and Lord Jagannath in the closing years of the nineteenth century. They believed that only the Oriya employees of the government are susceptible to the Orissa custom of “mahaprasad

brotherhood” formed by sharing the sacred rituals of Lord Jagannath which was an effective barrier to the smooth functioning of administration. This was so because the mahaprasad brothers are supposed to come to each other’s help and assistance under any circumstance ignoring the code of legal and moral principles and even humane feelings. Any deviation from this rule is considered the worst sin one commits. It is not only a betrayal of a mahaprasad brotherhood but also of Lord Jagannath.

            Muktimandap is the judiciary wing of the temple pertaining to religious matters. Cases involving religious controversies in any part of India particularly Orissa, are referred to the Muktimandap. This Muktimandap is the famous seat of the learned Brahmins associated with Jagannath temple and the verdict pronounced by this august assembly of Pundits, is always accepted by the parties with utmost respect. All social customs, cultural activities and religious practices get their prior sanction by reference to what is followed in His temple and the deviations, if any, are also made with humble supplication of His sanction. Thus, for the people, He is the ideal of all ideals.

            Attempts have been made to bring administrative reforms in the temple on various occasions. In 1977 when Janata government was ruling in the state and also at the Centre, Shri Bhagahat Dayal Sharma was the Governor of Orissa. A committee to bring reform in the temple administration was constituted with the Governor as its chairman. It was a nine-member committee where prominent persons like Dr Harekrushna Mahatab, Nityananda Kanungo, both former Governors, Justice Harihar Mohapatra, Dr Radhanath Rath and others including Gajapati Maharaja were members. Though these big people were there in the committee, as a matter of fact the Governor himself was doing everything on behalf of the committee. After two to three sittings of the committee, the Governor has sent an interim report to the government and insisted upon me and the Chief Minister to accept the same. I was really stunned to see the report, where recommendations were made that Gajapati Maharaja cannot be treated as “Thakur Raja” and Chhera Panhara (cleaning of the chariot of the Lords) should not be his sole rights. The other recommendation was that the traditional rights of the Sebayats will be abolished and they would perform their duties including the nitis, rituals and Rath Yatra as paid employees like “Tirupati Debastanam”. I as Law Minister was not prepared to accept such report. The Governor pressurised the Chief Minister to accept the report saying that the Law Minister is very much opposed to the report. When the Chief Minister asked me to accept the report, I clearly said, that if the traditional rights of the Gajapati Maharaja, who is the Thakur Raja, the moving Idol of Jagannath Mahaprabhu and his right of Chhera Panhara will be taken away from him there will be revolt in the entire Hindu world. These rights of Gajapati Maharaja are so much mingled with the great culture and traditions of Lord Jagannath that they cannot be separated from Him for which even the British government did not venture to curb them. The report was not accepted.

            Similarly, the Sebayats had their traditional rights in the temple which has been recorded in the record of rights. The Chhatisa Nijoga that is the different sections of the Sebayats have their specific rights to perform the nitis (rituals) of Lord Jagannath, which is unique in the whole world. These customary rights cannot be abolished. Sri Jagannath is Patitapavan and every devotee has a right to have free darshan of the Lord by going close to the Ratnasinghasan on a schedule time on a day. The devotee is also entitled to have free darshan of the Lord from Vitar Kath and Bahar Kath always. Lord Jagannath cannot be equated with any other deity of the world. The great culture and traditions of Lord Jagannath are widely accepted and honoured and any violation of them is not tolerated, as He is the Supreme Lord of the universe.

By Biswabhusan Harichandan

The writer is former Minister of Law, Industries and Revenue, Government of Orissa.

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