There is hardly any lingusitic tribe in India, which relates to any particular God like Odias relate to Lord Jagannath. Being an Odia myself, I grew up in the midst of Jagannath culture. Most part of a religious Odia’s life (and majority of us are quite religious) revolves around Lord Jagannath, to the extent that the first invitation card of any auspicious occasion from an Odia household goes to Him. In even the smallest villages of Odisha, you will find a Jagannath temple, and all the rituals/festivals being observed as it happens in the Jagannath temple of Puri. Oh, and yes! For those of you unaware, it is said Odias observe thirteen festivals in a year i.e. in twelve months, and almost all of them are someway or the other related to Lord Jagannath.
Image: Lord Jagannath on his chariot Nandighosh, on His way to His aunt’s place during Rathyatra.
So, what is it with the Odias and this seemingly “physically incomplete” deity? Wait! Did I just call a God “physically incomplete”? Well, I am allowed to. Because, although his name translates to “Master of the Universe” and Kings sweep his chariot, Lord Jagannath is as much a friend to all Odias, as he is God. He inspires as a friend, philosopher and guide to every Odia in true sense, to the extent that He lives like a human, His wife fights with Him like any other man’s wife, and He also dies like a human to take birth again. And He is also known as “Patitpavan”, which translates to “He who lifts the downtrodden”.
Among all the things that Lord Jagannath is to Odias, most importantly He is the pride, He is The Odia identity. And He is the ultimate symbol of valiant resistance by this tribe against attacks and oppression by foreign invaders – from Turks to Afghans to Mughals. The Jagannath temple in Puri has been attacked twenty times, over the centuries. And the tremendous belief that Odias put on Him can not be described in simple words. Why not! I mean, no other God is accessible, like Lord Jagannath is.
When a King was marching on a mighty kingdom to the south, He answered the King’s prayers, came out and marched ahead of the King’s army, and fought on the King’s side. When a low caste devotee was not allowed inside the temple to offer his prayers, Lord Jagannath himself walked down from his temple to accept his devotee’s offering. When his favorite devotee was not allowed inside the temple because he was a Muslim, Lord Jagannath made sure that His chariot stops in front of His favorite devotee’s tomb every year during Rathyatra.
Today happens to be “Bahuda”, the day of homecoming from His annual outing to his Aunt’s place. Well, that is what Rathyatra is all about! Didn’t I tell you in the beginning that He is more human than any God can be? At the same time, Rathyatra is also about meeting all those who could not pay Him a visit at His abode. And it is said, if you see Lord Jagannath on his chariot only once, you are free from the cycle of life and death and will attain Moksh.
True Master of the Universe, don’t you think?
And what better day to start a series on Him and related tales, legends and history (which also includes that of Konark, by the way), than on the day of His homecoming. Get ready for the “Jagannath series”, all of you!
In frame: Lord Jagannath on His chariot Nandighosh, on the way to His aunt’s place during Rathyatra 2017. Rathyatra is also one of the largest congregation of humans in the world.
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© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.