“Dole cha dolagovindam,
Chaape cha madhusudanam,
Rathe tu vamanam drustva,
Punarjanmam na vidyate!”
Even just a glance of Shri Jagannath, the lord of the universe, during Dola Yatra, Chandan Yatra and Ratha Yatra is enough in order to attain Moksha, i.e. salvation from the cycle of birth and death.
But when Brahma Dev asked Shri Vishnu, what if a devotee was unable to have Darshana of the lord on all the three occasions? Shri Jagannath promised that on the day of Ratha Yatra, no one with true devotion shall be left bereft of His grace. And such is the glory and sanctity of the festival, that each man of sincere submission leaves the day only after being graced by the Lord’s Darshana, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
What makes the festival even more loved is that the ceremony begins long before the actual celebration. From the initiation of the Rathas’ construction on Akshaya Tritiya till the day of Bahuda Yatra when the Rathas carry the siblings back to the temple, the entire path of the celebration is resplendent with intricate and meaningful rituals. And one of the most crucial of these rituals is the Snana Yatra and its subsequent developments.
Following the conclusion of Chandan Yatra, this ceremonial Snana or bath of the deities is held on the Purnima —or full moon day— of the month of Jyestha. The Skanda Purana says that Snana Yatra was first arranged by Raja Indradyumna when the deities were initially installed by him; which is why many consider the day to be the birth day of Mahaprabhu making the event even more pious. The Yatra sees the Daru Diyans or wooden idols of Mahaprabhu Jagannath, Mahaprabhu Balabhadra, Maa Subhadra and Chakraraj Sudarshana being escorted out of the Garbha Griha onto the Snana Mandapa in a stunning ritualistic procession called ‘Pahandi‘. Further, 108 pots of holy water drawn from the Subarna Kupa are brought to the Bhoga Mandapa where they are worshipped and purified with turmeric, basil and sandal among others. Interestingly, the Suaras and Mahasuaras who are entrusted with the responsibility of these pots keep themselves masked, lest their breath contaminate the holy water.
This is followed by the eagerly awaited Abhisheka of the Diyans. The Chaturdhamurtis, who are given a ‘Bimba Snana’ or a symbolic bath for the entire year, are showered with the Subarna Jala and history is witness that even the skies rain down for the divine ceremony, every year, as heavens open up to have the Darshana of the divine siblings.
Later on, the deities adorn the Gajanana Vesha or the elephant form. And assumed by the Lord specially for the sake of Ganapati Bhatt, a devout worshipper of Shri Ganesha, this legendary form is yet another indelible mark of the Lord’s words that no one with true Bhakti in his heart shall be left dissatisfied by Him.
But curiously, right after the Snana, the Diyans enter into a fortnight of special quarantine called ‘Anabasara’ when they are believed to be in fever and hence are taken away from their usual pedestal to an Anabasara Bedi. During these fifteen days, the deities are only offered Dasamula Modaka prepared by the Raj Vaidya to cure them of their ailment and all kinds of public rites remain suspended!
Does that mean the Lord denies his children’s devotion for an entire fortnight?
When famed devotee of the Lord, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, overwhelmed with love for his Lord was unable to bear this long separation and threatened to let his body perish if he could not have his beloved Prabhu in his eyes, Shri Jagannath bestowed upon him the direction to find His manifestation in a shrine amidst the Brahmagiri hills.
Lesser known yet immensely significant, the Alarnath Dham was established by the Alvars of Rajasthan in Brahmagiri –about 25 km from Shree Kshetra– where Brahma Dev is said to have worshipped the Lord ages back. Installed in the form of Chaturbhuja Vishnu accompanied by His Vahana, Shri Garuda, the deities here are not Daru Diyans but rather are made of black stone. And the enigma of Shri Alarnath is such that He has descended, time and again, to prove His love for His children.
Besides the belief that Shri Jagannath incarnates as Alarnath during the Anabasara, there are numerous other interesting anecdotes associated with the Dham as well. Gracing his devotees, Shri Alarnath is said to have willed the temple to house a Murti of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It is said that when Shri Chaitanya, on first sight of the Lord, overcome with ecstasy lay down in front of him in full respect, the stone slab below him melted with the bliss of his touch; this slab can also be found in the temple premises.
The Kheera Bhoga offered in the shrine, exclusively during this period, is also said to have been first offered to Shri Alarnath by a beloved devotee. The legend goes that when offered Bhoga by Madhusudana, the small child of priest Shriketan, the Lord touched by his innocence had excitedly dipped His hand into the scalding Kheer thereby burning two of his fingers. And these burnt fingers can easily be observed with some help from the priests!
On the 16th day, Anabasara concludes and Shri Jagannath blesses the world by returning from his quarantine in a rejuvenated Nabajoubana Vesha. As the Netrotsava in Shree Kshetra literally brings a celebration for the waiting devotees’ eyes, Shri Alarnath recedes into buried corners of memories for yet another year. But the temple atop the Brahmagiri has stood tall, through perils known and unknown, as a mark of the Patita Pabana’s promise that He belongs to those who love Him; and shall keep standing till the end of time and space.
He kept His words when His devotees were barred of His Darshana by emerging as Daru Diyan in the sacred land of Puri. He kept His words when His devotee wanted to witness a particular form of His by taking Gajanana Vesha. He kept His words when His devotees suffered from His separation by manifesting into the shrine amid the hills. Then how can He not fulfil His promise in these testing times when the entire world is reeling under an unseen enemy?
Yes, like the year past, no ritual associated with Ratha Yatra shall see the sea of the public this year either. But amelioration is not too far. After all, idea of salvation may not always appeal to a common man attached with existence. But when a glance is all humanity wants, He who is devoted to His devotees shall never make His children wait for long.
DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author