The quintessential aspect of ‘India’s composite culture is best illustrated in the celebration of the Car festival at Puri, where the narrow boundaries and regimentations of mankind are conspicuously absent thereby emphasizing the unity among diversity as millions of devotees from home and abroad witness this gala event once in a year.
Jagannath Dham or Purushottama Puri occupies a distinct place among the religious Chaturdhamas. Although legends have it that, Jagannath Puri, is an enternal Dhama, yet history tells us that it was Shankaracharya who had founded the four Dhamas, namely, Badrinath in the North, Dwarkanath in the West, Ramanath in South and Jagannath Dham in the East. But Lord Jagannath was
worshipped here at Puri much before the visit of Bhagwana Shankarachary to this holy land.
Legends lace the lands of Shrikshetra Dham of Puri. As per a legend, once the Rishi Sangha (The holy assembly of the Rishis or seers) decided to ascertain the antiquity of this Puri Dham. An entourage of four Rishis reached this land and enquired about the historicity of this Dham. At first it was resolved that sage Markandeya, who had lived for one Kalpa (the sum total period of one Satya, one tretaya, one Dwapara and one Kali) would tell how much old was this holy land , where Lord Jagannath has had been worshipped. Markandeya humbly replied to the enquiring rishis since he had lived only for one ‘kalpa’, he could not be able to predict the exact period from when Lord Jagannath was worshipped at Puri Dham on this planet of ours. But Markandeya advised the Rishis to go to the Narendra pond wherein a tortoise named ‘Jangha’ was living and he could answer to the queries of the Rishis since he (Jangha) was living for seven Kalpas. Accordingly, they encountered Jangha (a tortoise) who in apologetically, bowed before the Rishis replying that since he had lived only for seven kalpas, he could not be able to tell exactly since when Lord Jagannath was being worshipped here at Shrikshetra. He had seen the Lord for seven Kalpas only.
Bewildered, the Rishis sought his advice and Jangha asked them to seek the wisdom of BhusandaKaka who could help them to arrive at their search. The rishis then approached Bhusandcrow who was staying Kalpabata who humbly replied that he had lived only for 14 Kalpas ( i.e. 56 yugas of Satya, Tretaya, Dwapara and Kali put together). He had seen this Lord for 14 Kalpas. But the Lord was worshipped before. He advised the seers to proceed to the Ratna Singhasana who could be able to solve their riddles. The Rishis then proceeded to Ratna Singhasana and sought to know the period from which the Lord was worshipped at Puri. But the Ratnasinghasana retorted that He was of twenty-eight Kalpas only and he had the rare honour and privilege to carry the Lord’s on his lap in the Sanctum sanctorum.
But the Ratna Singhasana replied much before it the Lord was worshipped in the Snana mandap. They could get the answer from the Snana mandap. Being awestruck and dumbfounded, the Rishis proceeded towards the Snana mandap and prostrated before the Snana mandap to let them know since when Lord Jagannath was worshipped here at this place at Puri. The Snana mandap answered that he was of 56 Kalpas only and He knew the Lords were worshipped much before here at Puri in the Nilagiri. The Rishis felt sick and sullen and repented for their audacity and returned to their places only to express their futility. They begged forgiveness from the Lord for their foolish intellectual endeavour which ended atlast like the dull dispensation of pedantic scholars. This legend alone shows that Lord Jagannath is the universal Supreme Lord who is the ultimate divine creator of this Universe.
However, history has recorded the celebration of Shir Gundicha yatra from the 9th Century AD although as per legends it was held even much before that. Thus it is needless to mention here that Lord Jagannath is one of the most revered and ancient of the deities of the Hindu pantheon. The earliest references to Lord Jagannath are found in the Puranas and ancient literatures though details of his origin and evolution are still shrouded in mystery and antiquity. Legendary sources also suggest that the lord was worshipped by the Sabaras or the tribals at one point of time. Evidences in this regard are still in existence today as a class of Sevakas called the Daitas who are considered to be of tribal lineage and who still play a Major role in the various services to Lord Jagannath in the temple are there.
In course of time the cult of Jagannath took an aryanised form and various streams of faiths like Vaishnabism and Jainaism and Buddhism were assimilated into the concept of Jagannath cult as an all pervasive and all inclusive philosophy symboli-sing unity in diversity. Some scholars believe that the black, yellow, red and green colours of the icons represent the various races like the Negros, Europeans, Chinese and Mongolians and all the remaining races of the World. Some others believe that the images of the three lords represent the Jainya trinity of Samyak jnana, Samyak charitra and Samyak dristi. Some other scholars opine that the three images represent the Budhist triad of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It is widely believed that the soul of Jagannath most secretly ensconced within the image of Lord Jagannath is nothing but the tooth relic of Gautam Buddha. The Philosophy of Lord Jagannath thus defies all defination and is yet all pervasive and comprehensive enough to find unity among all beliefs and all sects.
THE CAR FESTIVAL
The Car festival of Lord Jagannath is the biggest colourful festival in the World. It is annually celebrated on the second day of the bright moon of Asadha or July. The Car festival is inclusive of the bathing festival or Snana yatra, Anasara, Netra Utsava, Nava jaubana darshana, Pahandi or the ceremonial procession, Chhera Panahara or sweeping of the floor of the Chariot by the Gajapati King of Puri, sojourn of the deities in the Gundicha temple and the Bahuda or the return of the Cars. The concluding part of this splendid extravaganza finally ends up in the return of the lords to the temple. On the day of the Gundicha, the three deities appear before the public on the Badadanda (Grand road) in a special procession called Pahandi Bije and ascend the three chariots. The deities then proceed forward to the Gundicha temple situated at a distance of 3kms from the main temple. The Gajapati Maharaj ( The King of Puri) performs his duty of ‘Chhera Panhara’ in three Chariots. Millions of devotees draw the Chariots with utmost devotion serially. Initially Lord Balabhadra’s Taladhwaja Car is followed by Mother goddess Subhadra’s Devadalana and finally comes Lord Jagannath’s Car in the end. The Car of Lord Balabhadra is clad in green and red cloth wrappings and the car is 13.2 meters high. This Chariot is supported by 14 wooden giant wheels. Four wooden horses christened as Tibra, Ghora, Dirghasram and Swarnabha are fastened to this Car. Similarly the Car of Subhadra otherwise called as DARPADALANA / DEVEDALANA / PADMADHWAJA is covered with black and red cloth. It is 12.5 metres high and is supported by 12 wooden giant wheels. The four hourses attached to it are called Rochika/ Mochika Jita and Aparajita. The largest among the three car is the Car of Lord Jagannath which is 13.5 metres high and is supported by 16 giant wheels. The four wooden horses attached to the Car are called as Sankha, Balahaka, Sveta and Haridasva. The Charioteer is called Daruka and the Chariot is known as NANDIGHOSA /GARUDADHWAJA or KAPIDHWAJA. All the three chariots are drawn by enthusiastic devotees to the Gundicha temple and the Cars reach before the sun set. This is known as Pahandi or the procession of the deities which is the most colourful event of the Car festival.
The assembled devotees jostle against one another either under the scorching sun or under the heavy rains to pull the Chariots, for it is considered sacramental on their parts to do so. Drums beat, cymbals clash and the priests harangue from the Cars enlivened with broad allusions and coarse gestures which are received with roars of laughter by the crowds. Hence the humanity proceed forward by convulsive jerks to reach their destination Gundicha temple while praying all along.
The deities stay there in the Gundicha temple for 9 days and return to the temple finally which is known as Bahuda Yatra or the return of the Chariots. After reaching the Simha dwara the lion gates of the temple on the day of Ekadashi ( the 11th day of the moon) the deities wear gold ornaments which is called Suna Vesa. The next day the deities are taken to Ratna Bedi known as Nilardi Bije. The deities finally return to the main temple. This city of the Lord Jagannath provides ample opportunities to the tourists to witness this gala event of the year.
While originating from the time immemorial, it continues in the time present and will be continuing in time future. The Car festival of Puri shall ever remain as a meeting point of the sea of humanity strengthening unity among diversity.PP JULY(1-15)2017