The legend of Lord Jagannath
Purushottam Nitai Das: When Lord Jagannath with his elder brother Balarama and little sister Subhadra enthrone the beautifully decorated majestic chariots on the Rath Yatra day then the hearts of lakhs of people dance in joy. After snana yatra, Lord Jagannath remains confined in a secluded place for 15 days. During these period he performs his pastime with goddess of fortune. He then takes permission from her and come to ride on the chariot to give pleasure to the devotees. And the devotees without any delay enthusiastically start pulling the ropes of the mammoth chariots to invite the Lord to reside in their hearts.
The chariots sometimes move very fast, sometimes very slow and sometimes just stand still even though it is pulled vigorously. It is said that the chariots move by the desire of the Lord and not by the efforts of an ordinary person.
The forms of the three deities are quite unique. They have big round eyes, have a huge smile on their faces but have no hands and feet. It is said the chariot festival began around 5000 years ago when Lord Krishna met brajvasis in Kurushetra after several decades of separation.
Krishna was the darling of braja but when he left them then all the brajvasis were devastated. Every moment they would remember Krishna, would always talk about Krishna and would hope that one day their Krishna will return back to Vrindavan. Krishna although had left Vrindavan but he too always remembered his cowherd friends, his mother, Yashoda, his father, Nanada Maharaja, and of course the love of his life, Srimati Radharani.
Once there was a solar eclipse and Krishna along with his brother Balarama and sister Subhdra travelled on a chariot to Kurushetra to observe the Vedic custom of taking bath in a sacred place during solar eclipse. The residents of Vrindavan too had come to the holy city. And here after several years Krishna and brajvasis saw each other. Their hearts danced in joy, eyes were filled with tears. Overwhelmed with love and with broken words they complained as why did he betray them? Why he did not keep his promise of returning back to Vrindavan? Krishna was speechless, how could he make them understand that although physically he may not be with them but his heart was always in Vrindavan. Krishna was now the king of Dwarka, he was dressed gorgeously and was on a beautiful chariot. He was accompanied by beautiful queens and hundreds of soldiers. The residents of Vrindavan did not like the opulence of Krishna. For the gopis Krishna was their paramour, for gopas he was their friend with whom they joked and played and for Nanda and Yasoda he was their naughty little child. Such simple, selfless and pure love can be experienced only in Vrindavan. They wanted him to come to Vrindavan and so all the brajvasis started pulling Krishna’s chariot to Vrindavan. To commemorate this beautiful pastime Rath Yatra is celebrated.
In Skanada Purana it is mentioned that the first deity of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladeva and Subhadra Devi was installed by King Indradumya. Indradumya was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. Once in a dream he saw the deity of Nila Madhava and he immediately fell in love with the beautiful form of sapphire colour deity: Nila means blue and Madhava is one of Krishna’s names.
Next morning he sent his messengers in different direction to search the deity. All returned unsuccessful except Vidyapti, a brahmana.
Vidyapati had wandered to several places and had finally come to a place inhabited by Sabaras, pig farmers. There he found shelter in the house of Visvasu, a sabara. He later married his daughter, Lalita.
While staying, Vidyapati observed a peculiar behavior of Visvasu. Every night he would leave the house and return next day noon. His arrival would inundate the house with the fragrance of camphor and sandalwood. Vidyapati would ask Lalita about it but her father had warned her not to disclose it to anyone. Her husband’s repeated plea melted her heart and she revealed the secret. Her father was furious but subsequently relented to take Vidyapati to Nilachal where he worshiped, Nila Madhava. However he put a condition that Vidyapati will have to travel blindfold. Their journey began and on the way Vidyapati carefully dropped mustard seeds, which he had carried with him, to mark the way. When they reached the destination, Visvasu opened the blindfold and Vidyapati seeing the beautiful form of Nila Madhava started dancing in joy.
Visvasu happily began worshipping the Lord but his joy turned into sorrow when the Lord said, “You have served me with great love but now I want to accept the service of my dear devotee King Indradumya.” Visvasu was heart broken. How could he live without his Lord? He considered Vidypati the culprit, so he locked him in his house but Vidyapti with the help of his wife escaped.
When King Indradumya heard about the Lord from Vidyapti, he immediately left with his entourage to Nilachal to meet the Lord. The mustard seeds was now small mustard plants and they followed that path to reach the destination.
But the deity of Nila Madhava was not there. The king was brokenhearted, he thought Visvasu has stolen the deity. His soldiers surrounded the village and arrested Visvasu. Then a voice came from the sky, “O King! Release Visvasu! He is innocent. I would now not be present as Nila Madhava but will appear in a wooden form as Daru – brahman. Construct a temple for me and install the wooden form of mine.”
The Lord also informed that he would come floating on the ocean in his wooden form. On the shore, the king saw a giant wood piece having mark of conch, disc, club and lotus (sankh, chakra, gada, padma). Many men tried to lift the wood but failed, even the elephants were not able to move the wood even by an inch. The king was disappointed but in the night in a dream the Lord expressed his desire that Visvasu be engaged in his service. Next day the king brought Visvasu and put him on one side of the Daru brahman and on the other side was Vidyapati, the brahmana. A golden chariot was placed in front of the wood. Now the Daru brahman was easily lifted and placed on the golden chariot.
Now to carve the deity from the wood, Indradyumna invited many sculptors but their chisels would break as soon as they tried to touch the wood. Finally it is said that the Supreme Lord himself came disguised as a sculptor. He put a condition that he would work all alone in a room for 21 days and no one should disturb him. But after 14 days as sound stopped coming from the room , the king became anxious and opened the door. The artist was not there but there was the beautiful form of Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladeva and Subhadra Devi. But the deities did not have hands and feet and they looked incomplete.
The king thought he made a great mistake by opening the door. The Lord again appeared in his dream and said, “I reside in Nilachal in this form as Lord Jagannath along with my brother and sister. Although I have no material hands and feet but I accept all the offering from my devotees through my transcendental senses.” In Svetasvatara Upanisad (3.19), it is mentioned, “Without legs and hands, He moves and accepts. Without eyes He sees, and without ears He hears. He knows all that is knowable, but no one knows Him. They call Him the original Supreme Person.”
The king was overjoyed, he made elaborate preparations to worship the three deities. He made sure that Visvasu and his descendants would continue serving the Lord and they would be called dayitas. The descendants of Vidyapati born from his brahmana wife would perform the deity worship. The descendants of Vidyapati born from his Sabara wife, Lalita, would cook food for the Lord.
Several hundred years have passed but this tradition is still continuing in Jagannath Puri. Hundreds of devotees daily come to the temple and thousands of devotees throng the temple city on the occasion of Rath Yatra.
Today Rath Yatra is not just confined to Puri but have spread all over the world. In fact it is now common to see Lord Jagannath’s chariots rolling through the streets of London, New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris and other cities of the world. Srila Prabhupada is credited with introducing Rath Yatra festivals in many important cities of the world.