The Five-Fold Root Of Lord Jagannath
Culturally, Orissa may be characterised as the “Land of friendliness”. The culture of Orissa with its hoary past draws its full inspiration from the fount of deep spiritualism which avowedly declares “Friendship towards all” as the voice of its central vision. The web of Orissa culture weaves round this key-concept of “Friendship towards all”, and the history of the land and the people of Orissa breathes it as its ruling passion. It has very often been reiterated that history of Orissa is the history of Jagannath, the presiding deity of the land. It has been well-remarked that the connecting thread of the Orissa history is not to be traced through the house of ruling dynasties but through Jagannath, the supreme lord of the land and people of Orissa. The socio-economic and political motive of Orissa has its deep roots in Jagannath, the embodiment of the ideals of the people of this land.
Jagannath, the lord of the universe, is also named Jagabandhu, the friend of the universe. He is maitri devata (the deity of universal friendship). His prominent circular eyes (all-encompassing vision) and unreserved smile and open arms in the posture of an embrace well characterise maitri (friendship). Jagannath with these features can unmistakenly be taken as the image of universal friendship; the idol which stands for the ideal of the land. No wonder one can read in the recorded history of the institution of Jagannath the ebb and flow of the Orissan history. Orissa is called “Jagannath desh”, the land of Jagannath. Gajapati, the ruling chief of Orissa was taken to be Jagannath’s representative who rules Orissa on Jagannath’s behalf. He is the prime person in service of the lord. In the Ratha Yatra, Gajapati performs Chera Panhara ceremony with a broomstick in hand, offering the occular demonstration that the political, administrative and governrnental status quo is subservient to the spiritual ideal of the people. Thus, spiritualism constitutes the essence of Orissan culture and through ages the people of Orissa have been wedded to it.
Friendship towards all has been extolled in the Bhagawad Gita as one of the cardinal virtues of a spiritual man. The Lord says, “He is dear to me, who has no hatred towards anybody and is friendly and compassionate to all” (Gita, XII, 13). Negatively speaking, Non-hatredness, and positively speaking friendliness towards all, constitutes the mental climate of a true spiritual personality. A spiritual being is a friend to everybody. He hates none and engages himself in the benevolent act of universal welfare. He suffers from no division of consciousness of mine and thine. He treats nobody as foreign to himself and thus knows not what is called “alienation of being”. The Lord again emphasises the all-important point when he says, “He attains eternal peace who knows me as the friend of all being” (“Suhrdam Sarvabhutanam” Gita V, 29). Thus spirituality consists in being aware of the primal source of all beings as the ‘friend’ (suhrid) of all that exists and therefore living a life of authentic friendliness with the world and people around. Orissan culture as embodied in Jagannath dharma is essentially a belief and practice in this dharma of “Universal friendliness”. Friendliness here is no means to an end; it is an end in itself. It is rather the summum bonum of our life and being. This authentic friendship is not mere a compromise, a comouflage of a carrierist or a cunning device or a matter of strategy but a true response of a spiritually oriented soul. Thus Brahminism is basically inspired by the consciousness of authentic friendship called maitri. The late Pandit Nilakantha Das rightly emphasised that Jagannath, the central eye of Orissan culture represents the all embracing active principle of maitri (universal kinship) called Metta or Mettabhaba in prakriti; by the Jainas or the Buddhists. Mettabhava or the maitri consciousness is fundamental to the Jaina and the Buddhist way of life. It is the basic mode of their “self culture” for their being and being-in-the-world. Panditjee had also drawn our attention to the fact that “This positive virtue of maitri is not now-a-days comprehended or practised in the Jaina way”. Ahimsa (the restraint from causing pain or harm to any creature, has gained favour with the Jainas and Panditjee has not failed to note that ahmisa, being a negative qualification “is neither com- prehensive nor full” in the place of maitri. The Jaina ahimsa (non-violence) and Buddhist karuna (compassion) are at bottom identical with maitri. Ahimsa and karuna are to be understood as the two off-shoots or the self-same stem called maitri. Thus Buddhism, Jainism and Brahminism at the rock bottom of their inspirations have all-embracing maitri consciousness:
Each tradition has its own way of sadhana (technique) to realise this foundational truth; to live without enmity to anybody, without hatred and thought of violence towards any and consequently to live an authentic life of freedom from fear. These constitute their spiritual programme. “He who is apprehensive of none and of whom no body is apprehensive” lives a life of genuine spirituality (Gita XII, 15). In spite of their doctrinal differences, differences in their mode of sadhana, differences in their metaphysics, the Buddhists, the Jainas and the Brahmanic traditions were inspired, actuated and were in search of the attainment of full-orbed maitri consciousness.
It may sound queer to-day that we had in our history of though, great “Sages” of materialism. They were sages; in every sense of the term, but with a materialistic rather naturalistic metaphysics. They were against the spiritualists (with Buddhists and Jains as no exceptions). They were believers in this world and with here and now. They were pungent critics of anything other worldly. One such great sage was, Ajita, a senior contemporary of Buddha known as Ajita Kesa-kambalin (Ajita with a garment made of human hair). Such an uncomfortable garment is cold in cold-weather and hot in hot, hence, is “least desirable”. Ajita gave an occular demonstration to the fact that one can be comfortable in the most uncomfortable circumstances. The least desirable clothing can well satisfy the needs of man. Then, it is not the so-called struggle for existence?
Ajita demonstrated the stoic virtues of penance and fortitude by personal example and taught not to waste away human energy in competition or rivalry for personal enjoyments. The other sage was makkali goshala. He held the view that “all living beings” including animals, camels, cows and donkeys must attain perfection in course of time by “purification through transformation”. Makkali, it is said, lived in a goshala (cowshed). He accepted animals as his kinsfolk and struck at the root of human vanity, that man is a celestial being and is qualitatively superior to animals. He emphasised that man is an animal and as much an animal as cows and donkeys are. Ajita Kesakambalin was always taking a mule with him to demonstrate that animals and men can make good friends, and it is a friendship among the equals. Man has no divine right to treat animals as a means to an end. Life is an end in itself, and all living beings have equal right to live. These complex doctrines of Ajita and makkali with many others cannot satisfactorily be characterised either as materialism or naturalism. These doctrines came under the broad spectrum of the philosophy of ajivikas that pervaded and permeated the life and culture of Orissa for centuries before Buddha. It is evident that the philosophy of ajivikas is essentially the philosophy or maitri. Maitri consciousness has avowedly inspired the materialistic metaphysics of the ajivikas. Thus, the inherent motive of the materialists is found to be identical with the inherent motive of the spiritualists. It is the joint effort of materialists and spiritualists to establish equality of all beings on the basis of universal friendship. No wonder that at a later date the ajivikas merged into the follower of Vasudeva. Inspite of their metaphysical differences the shiboleth “All this is Vasudev” (Vasudeva Sarvamiti), must have appealed to the materialists and the spiritualists alike, because of their unconditional adherence to maitri consciousness.
Inscriptions of Asoka mention “sramanas (Buddhists), btahmanas, ajivikas and nirgranthas (jainas)” – as representatives of the dominant trends of thought in ancient India. These four traditions were inspired by one motive, and that is maitri consciousness. The cultural soil of Orissa was made more and more fertile by the influence of these four traditions acting severally and jointly. Maitri as culture, religion, or way of life, took its progressive shape in the form of the institution of Jagannath. Jagannath played the role of the great solvent in whom all these varied traditions found their fulfillment and rest. The institutions of opposing religions and schools of thought grew around Jagannath, and, even today one can see the peaceful co-existence of these institutions around Jagannath. Each religious institution claims Jagannath as its supreme deity. Thus, a happy synthesis of the dominant trends of culture was made possible. Synthesis is the formative spirit behind Orissan culture and Jagannath is the ultimate point of synthesis of brahmnism, Buddhism, Jainisim and the materialism of the ajivikas. However, one ought not to think that these four traditions exhaust the source of maitri consciousness. The fifth and possibly the most influential tradition is that of the Sabaras. Jagannath is primarily the God of Sabaras. He is known as Sabari Narayana. Once Orissa formed the part of the vast territory inhabited by the Sabaras. The land of the Sabaras in ancient times included the whole of India, and that is why it can safely be admitted that the history of India is basically the history of the Sabaras. As an integral part of Indian culture, the culture of Orissa imbibed maitri consciousness from the Sabaras. In their history, Sabaras were never have been exploiters. In the words of Dr Padhi, “they have rather chosen to be oppressed than becoming oppressors”. Maitri consciousness was at the very root of their “tree worship” in the form of their dear cult of the “Ficus Tree”, It has been recognised by the scholars that the cult of the tree worship was the original contribution of the Sabaras to the Aryan culture. In the Bhagavat Gita the world (Samsara) is symbolised as the imperishable Asvattha tree with the roots upward and branches running downward. It is claimed that “he who knows it, is the knower of secrets of the Vedas” (Gita, XV, I).
A tree stands on its own, and does not complain or grumble it lot and grants shadow and shelter even to the person who cuts its roots. Thus a tree is friendly to all. Friendship, forbearance, freedom from passion, and free growth are the essential characteristics of a tree and the Sabaras well took it as the symbol of their spiritual and cultural aspirations. In due course of history, the tree worship of Sabaras got transmuted into Jagannath worship; the worship of Daru Devata. In the Bhagavat Purana, the ultimate reality is described as the “primal tree” (adi vriksa) (Bhagavat X, II, 27) so also in the Netrostavakarika, Jagannath is designated as “the tree-form” (vriksarupa). These references bear the stamp of Sabara conception of the divine and reflect the view of life based on the principle of universal maitri.
The culture of Orissa reveals the dominant traits of non-aggression, harmony and love of tolerance. Art, architecture and literature of Orissa bear testimony to this fact. There has always been an attempt at assimilative synthesis, and integration rather than that of rejection or apathy. Even in the matters of foreign conquest, these traits of Orissan culture have played their historic role. In the formation of “Greater India” the people of Kalinga through their port Paloura, established oversea relationship and exerted their “veritable fertilising influence” in formation of the vast pacific culture. As a part and parcel of integral culture of India, the Orissan culture also shared the glory of which Dr Kalidas Nag speaks in glowing terms. In the words of Dr Nag: “There might have been occasional lapses into racial conflicts in course of racial migration, but there was no sordid chapter of continued economic exploitation or political domination in the development of Greater India which coming as a legacy from Emperor Asoka of third century BC continued for over 1,000 years to foster the fundamental principle of maitri (fellowship) and kalyana (universal well-being) which form the bed-rocks of Hindu-Buddhistic idealism. In this context one is reminded of Emperor Asoka’s relationship with Kalinga, the land of his indoctrination to the universal maitri.
By Prof Hrudananda Ray