Sunday, June 24, 2012

Divinity comes to my door step

It is not the most pleasant of weathers these days - not in Delhi, nor in Puri. Yet this is the time that divinity chooses to come to our doorsteps. I'm talking about the rath yatra - the Jagannath rath yatra which takes place each year around this time. The Jagannath rath yatra is THE festival of all Oriyas and all Jagannath followers. And I too have my favourite moments of this festival. I'm not an overly religious or traditional person but I do have festivals that I like. And moreover, the whole story and the human-like behaviour of Jagannath is what pulls me to this awesome threesome.

To start at the beginning, Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra are the three main Gods of Orissa. And what makes this combination different and dearer to me is that this is a combination of not couples like Radha-Krishna or Rama-Sita. Instead, it is a combination of brothers and sister. Jagannath is a form of Vishnu while Balabhadra is Balaram. Subhadra is their sister. All three of them are my favourite gods because ... they are. Now, let me get on with the story of the Rath yatra - the way I have imbibed it.

In the hot and long summer months, when the trio are tired of the heat and oppressive humidity, they decide to get themselves some relief and how? Well, they simply take a very long and hopefully satisfying bath with 108 huge pots of water each. The number may be more or less but the long, comforting bath it is. As soon as the day of bathing is done, the natural happens. Yes - even to our gods! All three of them take ill due to the sudden exposure to all this coldness in the midst of the blistering heat. And this is the time, known as Anasara, when all three of them are bedridden and lay all weak and tired from a fever. These are the days when the people of Puri miss their favourite threesome the most. There is no darshan ...for wouldn't it be lowering the morale of the people to see their gods bedridden! So, no darshan and even the prasad takes on the form of medicines administered to the three by the doctors. It is the medicine which is distributed as prasad to the bhaktas as well. (And it is quite yummy - no bitterness that I remember!) It is during this Anasara that Orissa experiences its most disquieting weather - the humidity is high, the lands are parched, the people wait with slow breaths the end of this period - which would mean rains and also, the return of the three gods. After 15 days or so of illness, the good news reaches all. The gods have recovered and are as hale and hearty as ever. What's more - they are tired of being shut in their rooms and have planned a small vacation with stopovers at their aunt's and at one of the saint's place and some picnics and games! The whole air is abuzz with excitement and the chariots or the raths are all ready with their paint and silk and horses and ropes.

It is this coming out of their homes to go on a vacation that is the Jagannath rath yatra. The gods playfully let their bhaktas carry them to the raths and then are lovingly pulled by the thousands and thousands of devotees towards their aunt's (mausi) place. What adds magic to this rath yatra is that tradition says that it always rains on the day of the rath yatra - and it always has!! Tradition and myth also says that the raths, cannot and will not be pulled if the three gods don't will it. And mysterious as it may be, that has also been the case. There are times when Subhadra has been carried on the shoulders of her bhaktas just like a baby but her elder brothers, both naturally bigger and stronger than her, have given enough trouble to the bhaktas carrying them. If they want to turn right, they will and the bhaktas can just keep pleading or complaining to them. They will allow themselves to be moved only when they allow it...they are gods after all! Before they board the raths, it is the King of Puri himself who comes down to clean the raths for the gods. And what does that send out as a message - In front of the Gods, we are all equal and no task is big or small. This is the wonder of this rath yatra which unites the people with their divine saviours, with their gods. The current King of Puri is a highly educated, modern, and humble human being and considers it his privilege to do this sweeping of the divine cars. Once this is done, the gods can then be hoisted to their own separate raths and they are off on their way!! But, not so fast...while the raths are actually pulled by the bhaktas with the help of the ropes, they also have complicated breaks and accelerators in place all manned by the bhaktas. Nonetheless, the raths move or stop or whiz past only on the wish of the gods inside them. Jagannath is known to be the most moody of them all. After all, he is the same Krishna who has troubled many in his childhood and youth. Besides the part about the vacation, there is another side to the whole concept of Jagannath's rath yatra....

This is the manner in which the three gods come out to meet their devotees. Each day of the year, it is the devotees that flock to the temple - hurrying with their bhogas and puja samagri to greet their gods, to see them during the scheduled times, to confer with them amidst others. But today - on the day of the rath yatra, the story has changed. It is the Gods who have come to their bhaktas -- no longer will they follow their own routine, they are in the hands of their bhaktas and are there for them right in their midst. This is the fairness of these three gods that they in turn return to all their bhaktas. Not only that, it is popularly believed and I have heard the same from my grandfather, that since people from all over Orissa or India throng to reach the gods and see them on their raths, the Gods also follow their divine sixth sense and actually wait for that special person to appear and join them on this journey. When the raths dont move, and the bhaktas have gone hoarse from pleading and placating and even throwing abuses at the three, some wise people always whisper that - Jagannath is waiting for his special bhakta. Saalbega was once such a bhakta but that is for another post another time...For now, let's continue on this journey.

The three gods stop at their aunt's place for the famous podapitha that she has made for them and then proceed to their vacation house - the Gundicha mandir. The threesome stay in this mandir for 9 days and during this time, they have a good time - full of picnics and games. Just like you and me during our summer vacations. But oh - haven't they forgotten something...or someone?!

Goddess Lakshmi, Jagannath's wife, has been left behind in the Srimandir. She has not been included in this vacation plan of the brothers and the sister. She is not happy about it for sure! However, she gives Jagannath a chance and actually comes to visit him at the vacation retreat...expecting that apologies will come her way and after much nakhras, she will also stay with them and enjoy the break. However, the three are so involved in their vacation and picnics and games and with meeting their bhaktas, Jagannath is nowhere to be found when Lakshmi arrives!! She is angry at this snub and goes back to the Srimandir fuming. It is when the three return to the Srimandir after 10 days of vacation that Lakshmi - the Goddess of the mandir and the land refuses the three to enter and barricades the main door.... There is much pleasing and apologizing that ensues...Jagannath, the god the whole world, bows down to his wife and asks for her forgiveness and promises never to go away leaving her behind. It is only after this that the whole divine family is united and then stands together in all their finery in front of all their bhaktas in the suna besha....

Here ends the story of the rath yatra.

Are there any questions on why Jagannath resonates with me....?


It has been some time since I posted anything to my blog...Many a times, an idea takes shape somewhere at the back of my head (just above the top of the neck to be precise) and I let it stay there for many reasons. The first and foremost reason is my loathing for logging into a laptop after spending the working day looking at one and typing away. There are also the long hours of commute that cause this decay and delay., well today, I intend to cross over to the other side of this hiatus and hopefully, pen down something worthwhile.