Genesis of Jagannath

The mythical King Indradyumna saw in his dream a manifestation of Lord Vishnu as Nila Madhava (the Blue Vishnu), in the form of an Indranil gem. He sent out his courtiers in all directions to find out more about his dream. Among the courtiers was Vidyapati, the younger brother of the royal priest. He travelled east from King Indradyumna’s capital city of Avanti (present day Ujjain, in Madhya Pradesh). On his way he came to know about the legends of Kitung, a Sabara (tribal) God, being worshipped by the Sabara chief Vishwabasu. Kitung’s description sounded very much similar to that of what King Indradyumna had seen in his dreams.

With lot of difficulties, Vidyapati reached the Sabara village near Brahmadri hills on the banks of a big river (present day Mahanadi, in Odisha), the place where Vishwabasu lived along with his daughter Lalita and his other subjects. Vishwabasu was very secretive about the location of his God, Kitung, because he was bound by a pre-condition by Him that the day any outsider came to know about His secret location, He would vanish. After living there for many months, Vidyapati was able to win Lalita’s heart and gain Vishwabasu’s confidence, after being one of them.

After Vishabasu agreed for the marriage, on Vidyapati’s request he also agreed to take him to Kitung, but put up a condition that Vidyapati must be blindfolded for the entire route. Vidyapati agreed to this condition, however, secretly kept a handful of mustard seeds under his waist belt. While walking behind Vishwabasu, blindfolded and holding his hand, Vidyapati kept sprinkling the mustard seeds all through the way. After reaching the cave of Kitung, he could confirm that Kitung was what his King was looking for. He was indeed Nila Madhava.

On pretext of calling his parents and other family members for his marriage, Vidyapati went to Avanti, and reported to King Indradyumna about the location of Lord Nila Madhava. The King having found his Lord, gathered everyone and marched east, towards Vishwabasu’s village. Upon reaching the village, Vidyapati easily identified the route because the mustard seeds he had sprinkled had grown into small trees, and their bloom marked the path with their yellow flowers. When King Indradyumna reached the cave, with Vidyapati, Vishwabasu, Lalita and everyone else in toe, it was empty. Vishwabasu’s Kitung had vanished, as per the condition with him.

Having not found Nila Madhava, King Indradyumna repented. That’s when the voice from the heavens directed him and others to go further east, to the sea, where the Lord would then manifest Himself in the form of a very large, fragrant, reddish log, and the signs of conch, disc, mace, and lotus can be found everywhere on it. They were instructed to take out log from the sea, and make four deities out of it and worship them.

The location they found the log at would be present day Puri, on the east coast. The four deities would be the siblings – Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Goddess Subhadra, and Sudarshan. The descendants of Vidyapati and Lalita, and the people from Vishwabasu’s tribe still serve Lord Jagannath and His siblings in Puri. Vishwabasu’s village on the banks of Mahanadi is today known as Kantilo, in Nayagarh district in Odisha. A temple was built in later centuries and Lord Nila Madhava was consecreted at the same spot where Vishwabasu once worshipped Kitung.

What happened of King Indradyumna? Well, that’s a story for some other time!

I grew up listening to these as bed time stories, and at other times reading them from story books. The more I listened and read, I got fascinated by things of the past, legend or truth. I wonder if the later generations could ever relate to these.

Nila Madhava
A priest comes running down the stairs of the west gate of the Nila Madhava temple, in Kantilo, Nayagarh district, in Odisha.

In frame: A priest comes running down the stairs of the west gate of the Nila Madhava temple, in Kantilo, Nayagarh district, in Odisha. Kantilo is believed to be the place where Lord Jagannath was being worshipped in his earlier manifestation of Lord Nila Madhava or Kitung, by the Sabara chief Vishwabasu.

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© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

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Amrit Panigrahy

Amrit is a freelance photographer and a storyteller.

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