The Tale of Neela Madhava

Google images

Once upon a time there was a king named Indradumnya. One day he came to know that Lord Vishnu himself was residing in a tribal forest of Odra (Odisha) and he was being worshipped there in the form of Neela Madhava. Indradumnya was too eager to have a darshan of Neela Madhava and he sent his court Brahmin Vidyapati to the tribal village to investigate the matter. The tribal king’s name was Viswavasu and he was the one who worshipped the deity. But after repeated inquiry he did not divulge Vidyapati the whereabouts of Neela Madhava. But Vidyapati was not ready to give up his mission yet. Instead, he married Viswavasu’s daughter Lalita and settled among the tribe. After some time, Lalita convinced her father to take Vidyapati to the cave where Neela Madhava was residing. Viswavasu blindfolded his son-in-law and took him to his place of worship. Vidyapati played a trick. He took with himself some mustard seeds and dropped them on the way. The seeds sprouted after a few days and it was easy for Vidyapati to find the cave afterwards. Then he informed the king and king Indradumnya set out for Odra on a pilgrimage to view the deity. But when he arrived Neela Madhava had already left the place. Viswavasu had hidden him in the sand. Indradumnya’s heart was broken and he promised in the name of Lord Vishnu that if he did not allow him a darshan he would fast until his death on the spot. Then a celestial voice spoke out from the sky that the king’s wish would be granted. Indradumnya broke his fast and built the world’s largest temple for Neela Madhava atop Mount Neela (Neelachal or Puri Dham). Later the king had a vision of Lord Jagannatha in his sleep and he was directed to find a tree on the sea shore and make idols out of it. The king complied and went to the place. He saw a great Margosa tree (Daru Brahma) with four main branches and the marks of lotus, conch, club and disc engraved on it. The king brought the log to the temple and invited the best sculptors in the country to carve images out of it. But no one could perform the task. Then the Supreme Lord himself came in the disguise of an artist and told the king, ‘My king, if you give me 21 days and allow me to work behind closed doors, I can finish the job.’  The king agreed to his condition. After 14 days passed, the king did not hear a sound coming out of the closed room and he grew anxious. He could not wait and forced open the door.
The sculptor was nowhere to be seen in the room. Only the unfinished images of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Chakra Sudarshana were sitting in the room. The king thought he had offended the deities and he started fasting in order to redeem his sin. Lord Jagannath again appeared in his dream and assured him that he is eternally situated here in Nilachala in the form of Daru Brahma. Then the king took the unfinished images and installed them in the temple. Later he invited Lord Brahma to sanctify the temple and the images. Lord Brahma was very pleased with the king after seeing the temple and wanted to grant the king’s wish. In reply, Indradumnya prayed to Lord Brahma, ‘My Lord, if you are so please with me then grant me the wish that I shall never have any children and I shall be the last of my family so that no one after me takes the pride as the owner of the temple.’ Needless to say, the great king’s wish was granted. As per Lord Jagannath’s wish the descendants of Viswavasu, the Dayitapatis are allowed to serve the Supreme Lord generations after generation. The descendants of Vidyapati’s Brahmin wife perform the worship and the Suyaras, the descendants of Lalita cook the Mahaprasad.
It was King Anantavarman Deva of Eastern Ganga dynasty who built the Puri temple on top of its ruin during  12th century. His successor King Anangabhima Deva finished the job in 1174 CE by giving it the shape in which it stands today. According to the records maintained by the temple authority, the Lord Jagannath temple has been invaded and looted eighteen times. In 1558, Kalapahad , Afghan general of Sulaiman Karrani, destroyed the temple. Later the temple was consecrated by King Ramachandra Deb and the deities were reinstalled.
The Puri temple of Lord Jagannath is considered to be one of the holiest places as per the Hindu religion. It is said that if one dies at Shree Kshetra (Puri), one will achieve the Moksha. The concept of Moksha is similar to that of Nirvana of Buddhism. Having achieved the Moksha, one’s atma or soul will reunite with the Paramatma, which is the Ultimate Celestial Body that has no beginning and no end. There is one thing about the Jagannath temple that makes it unique among all other Hindu temples in the world. Only at Jagannath temple one can see three main sects of Hindu religion being congregated, namely Vaishnavism, Saivism and Shaktism. The scholars say that originally it was only Lord Jagannath who was being worshipped in the temple. It is, therefore, believed that an image of Goddess Durga was installed by the side of Lord Jagannath during the revival of Shaktism from 7th century onwards. Goddess Durga (who is also known as Bhadra or Bhadra Kali) became Lord Jagannath’s sister Subhadra later on during Vaishnavite resurgence. Moreover, this theory grows stronger by the fact that Subhadra is also considered to be a form of Yogmaya which is an integral part of the Supreme Celestial Energy. Similarly, Lord Shiva’s another name is Veerabhadra and he became Balabhadra when Vaishnavism flourished again. The influence of Shaktism still prevails strongly in the temple by the fact that the food offered to Lord Jagannath is not considered Mahaprasad unless it is first offered to Goddess Vimala whose shrine is situated in the temple premises.
The Jagannath Temple is famous for the great Chariot Festival or the Rath Jatra. On this auspicious occasion the four deities come out of the temple and set out for Gundicha temple via Mausi Maa Temple on different chariots of their own. They stay at the Gundicha temple for nine days and then come back home. The return journey is called Bahuda Jatra. The three chariots of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are known as Nandighosha, Taladhwaja and Devadalana respectively.  The English word 'juggernaut' owes its origin to the massiveness of the chariots of Rath Yatra. As per ancient Hindu scriptures, the chariot symbolizes with body and the deity with the soul; while the charioteer signifies wisdom that control mind and thoughts. I never call myself a devotee, rather far from it. But the philosophy of the Hindu religion will never to cease to amaze me. It's a pity that majority of people take it on the face value. Anyway. Every year the living descendant of Gajapati dynasty performs Chhera Pahara before the Jatra takes off. Chhera Pahara means sweeping with water. As per this ritual, the king appears in the outfit of a sweeper and cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold handled broom and sandalwood water. This ritual signifies that there is no difference between a king and a common man in front of the Supreme Lord.
Once Gajapati King Purushottoma Deva came to know that the King of Kanchipuram called him a chandal (a person of low birth) because he swept the roads before the deities. The infuriated king declared a war against Kanchi and set out with his army. After a day’s journey they halted near Chilka Lake and camped there. Then a milkmaid came to him and gave him a bejewelled ring. She told him, ‘O king, before you arrived, two men, riding on one black and one white horse, came to me and bought curd from me. They did not have any money to pay with, so they gave me this ring and told me that King Purushottoma Deva would soon pass by this place and if I gave him the ring he would pay me the price of the curd.’ The king realised that the two men were none other than Lord Jagannath and his big brother Lord Balabhadra and that they were guiding him on his way. The king rewarded the milkmaid and built her a village in that place. The village was known as Manika Pattana after the name of the woman.
This year’s Rath Jatra is considered a more special one owing to the great ceremony of Naba Kalebara. Naba means new, Kalebara means body. This year the main four deities left their old images and took new body. It is a noteworthy fact that, only in Puri temple the deities behave in a very mortal manner. They fall sick; they die and then take rebirth. What makes the event of Naba Kalebara so special is that it only happens after 12 to 19 years. The last ceremony took place back in 1996. The most important ritual of this event is the Brahma Parivartana part. According to popular myth, the Brahma Padartha or the Sole Object of Lord Jagannath is hidden inside the hollow of the idol. Till date nobody has seen it or touched it directly. During the Naba Kalebara ceremony, the object is transferred from old image to the new image with utmost secrecy. Only the Dayitapatis are allowed to do the transfer that too, blindfolded. Some says it contains a very rare form of Salagram Sila; some says it is the remains of Lord Buddha. The most interesting theory is that it contains the remains of the Dwarka King, Lord Krishna.
Rath Jatra is widely celebrated in Bengal. In fact, it is one of the greatest festivals of Bengal. The connection between Odisha and Bengal dates long way back when they were part of one single kingdom. The best part of Rath Jatra in Bengal is that one can see myriad miniature versions of chariots are being pulled by the children on the street. When I was a kid, I had one two storied chariot myself and I would decorate with utmost care and devotion every year. In fact whose chariot was the best decorated one was a matter of ultimate pride among us.
Wish all my readers a very happy and prosperous Rath Jatra. May the blessings of Lord Jagannath shower upon all. May every one achieve the Moksha and be free from all earthly pain and sorrow and find Celestial Bliss.