Bira (pronounced as Bee-raw, meaning brave in Odia) was born into a Brahmin family, in a Brahman Sasan. In Odisha, a Brahman Sasan is a village where every family is Brahmin. He grew up witnessing the monster called Brahmin supremacy and the twisted, distorted Hindu Sanatan religion. Tired of it, he and few of his friends went to Joranda and embraced Mahima Dharma. That was seven decades ago.

The allegation that was levelled against Bira was that he had converted and was no more a Hindu, so he and his family need to pay a fine to continue to stay in the village, to which Bira sternly refused. As a result, his family was banished from their ancestral village. One of main reasons was, even after being a Brahmin himself, Bira had challenged their supremacy. All other families of the village were asked to not keep any kind transaction with his family.

In the meantime, a letter was written to the high seat of Hindus in Jagannath temple, in Puri, asking them to advise a future course of action in Bira’s case. To which, they replied that it was settled long back and Mahima Dharma was very much a part of the Sanatan Hindu fold. After the ban on Bira’s family was lifted, having his point proven he chose to stay back in his ancestral village fighting further religious atrocities and intolerance, till he left for a city close by for his children’s education few decades later.

Bira Panigrahy was my grandfather. Of the group of people who embraced Mahima Dharma on that day, more than seven decades ago, only my grandfather continued to be a follower till his death. Any history of my association with Mahima Dharma would be incomplete without mentioning the brave man who was much ahead of his time. As I sat down to write this post, devotional songs written by the blind poet Bhim Bhoi and sang by Mahima devotees rang in the background. The devotees, even though having full time professions, accompany the monks  wherever they go. They were at our home as we were conducting something known as a “Balyaleela”, a yagna of sorts. The occasion this time was my grandfather’s death anniversary.

As per the teachings of Mahima Swamy (as the Master of Mahima Dharma is called), a human doesn’t need any intermediaries to reach the Supreme. All humans are born equals despite caste, creed, color, race, gender and religion. That there is only one God, the Supreme, who is shapeless and colorless, the nothingness in other words. The Supreme resides in every living and non-living being and everything resides in the Supreme. Mahima Dharma is a form of Vishisht Advaita, where every living being is respected equally. Followers of Mahima Dharma worship the nature and the universe, the nothingness within and without, and pray for well being of every living being of the universe.

The Offering
A Mahima monk accepting a coconut being offered by a follower of Mahima Dharma at “Dhuni Mandir”, the temple of fire in Mahimagadi, at Joranda, Dhenkanal, Odisha. The offered coconut will be burned in the holy fire.

The monks of Mahima Dharma as directed by Mahima Swamy himself follow an extremely ascetic lifestyle. For example, when they visit the houses of devotees, they not allowed to stay for more than a night, and are not supposed to go inside the house. They eat under the open skies, and are not allowed to sleep on beds for the rest of their lives. Giving up basically everything that would even remotely qualify as modern comfort. They have only one task at hand, spread the message of the Master, and in the process move ahead in their spiritual journey.

When I was on a road trip with parents in Odisha few months back, something strange had happened. After having spent few minutes in the Indralath temple, in Ranipur-Jharial, we came out and were getting ready to get inside the car. A drunk shepherd approached my father from nowhere, and told him “A Mahima monk had come here many many years ago when I was a kid. And he hosted a “Balyaleela” (a ritual done on special occasions), and there were lakhs of people.” There were no identifications either on my father or on our car which suggested that any of us were a follower of Mahima Dharma. The followers of Mahima Dharma are a very very small fraction of the total population.

Before that, when I had gone to see Puri during Rathyatra last year, I received a call from an unknown number. On the other side was a Mahima monk who visits our family very often. “Have you become a Jagannath devotee?”, he asked me, when on being asked I told him that I was in Puri. Worshiping deities, shapes or  forms is forbidden in Mahima Dharma.That the monk had called me for the first time ever, when I had come to see Lord Jagannath had to mean something; also, what the drunk shepherd was mumbling in front of the Indralath temple.

The celestial message was clear to me. I had to go visit the Mahimagadi, the seat of Mahima Dharma at Joranda, in Dhenkanal, Odisha. And what better time than the annual Maghmela, on the full moon day in the Hindu month of Magh.

On 31 January, 2018, Joranda was a mission accomplished!


VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

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Written by Amrit Panigrahy

Amrit is a freelance photographer and a storyteller.

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