By Piyush Ranjan Rout
Every year around this time, a small town of less than two lakh population opens its doors to a million devotees. Puri, a small town located on the eastern coast of India, is where every Krishna devotee heads to. And once inside Puri, every street leads to the temple.
I meet a group of devotees from the US, Italy, Russia chanting “Jagannath, Jagannath Hare Krishna Hare Krishna”. One of the devotees tell me that she comes every year this time to Puri to meet the Universal Lord. And back home rest of the year, they chant the Bhagwad Gita, have turned vegetarian and talk about the Jagannath culture to everyone.
“We come to see Lord Jagannath now as we are not allowed to enter the main temple the rest of the year,” says a lady from Holland. That’s because historically, only Hindus are allowed to enter the main temple but the Lord has its own way of meeting his devotees twice a year, during Snana Purnima and Rath Yatra. The festival of one month, Snana Purnima to Nialdri Bijay is carried out by Daitas who claim to be the descendant of Viswabasu, the tribal who first worshipped Nilakantha.
Snana Purnima marks the starting of the Jagannath’s preparation for the Grand Rath Yatra. This festival is always observed on Jyestha Purnima (full moon day of the Jyestha month of the Oriya calendar) and is the first event of the year wherein the idols of the divine siblings are brought outside the sanctum sanctorum to the snanamandapa (a platform for bathing, Snana means bathing). Here the Gods are given a holy bath with 108 pots of water, almost as if to give them relief from the summer heat. The water is brought from a sacred well which is opened only this day every year.
After the bath, elephants masks called Hathi or Ganesha Vesha are put on the deities. The deities then remain on the podium till midnight for everyone to seek blessings.
There is a mythological story behind the Lord choosing Ganesh Vesha at the Snana Mandap. It is believed that once an ardent devotee of Lord Ganesh refused to see Lord Jagannath. But to his surprise when he arrived in front of Snana Mandap, Lord Jagannath appeared in an elephant form.
The deities are then taken back to the temple in a procession and stay between the inner and outer shrine in a semi-horizontal position. As per tradition, the deities fall ill due to fever and no darshan happens for a fortnight. After 15 days, they leave for a vacation to their aunt Gundicha’s house during the Rath Yatra.
(Dr.Piyush Ranjan Rout is an Urban Management Practitioner in Emerging Economy)