Eclectic History of Jagannātha

On the dwitiya tithi of Sulka Paksa in the month of āṣāḍha, the deities Sri Jagannātha, Balarāma and Subhadrā are taken on a chariot from the main temple to the Gundicha bari (temple). The chariot of Lord Jagannātha is about 45.6 feet high, and comprises of 18 wheels and is referred as Nandighosa. Balarāma’s chariot is about 45 feet high with 16 wheels is called Taladhvaja. The chariot of Subhadrā known as Devadalana has 14 wheels and is 44.6 feet high. Before the chariots are taken out in procession the roads of Puri are sweeped by the ruler of the city. It is believed that whosover is fortunate enough to pull the ratha-s and get a glimse of the Lord, would be blessed and have their desires fulfilled.

Records from an ancient time suggest that the temple of Lord Jagannātha was equally revered by all sampradaya-s, and followed an ecelectic philosophy, such that elements from śākta, Śaiva, saurya, bauddha, along with vaiṣṇava methods and theology have all been integrated into the worship. Specially at an ancient time, Lord Jagannātha was considered as mahābhairava and the kṣetra was a bhairavī-chakra. In the daily worship of Jagannātha there is usage of nyāśa-s such as ṣaḍaṅganyāśa, Kasbadinyāśa, Matrkanyāśa, śodhanyāśa and Mahāśodhanyāśa. All these are important aṅga-s, limbs of the śākta Tantric worship.
In the Mahānirvāṇa Tantra Jagannātha has been identified explicitly as Kali:

tārā sākṣāt śūlapāṇi Subhadrā bhuvaneśvarī/ Niladrou tu Jagannātha sākṣāt dakṣiṇa Kalika

– three of the most prominent Mahavidya-s of Tantra sadhana, or that the three deities of Puri stand on the yantra-s of these three goddess. Even the bija mantra-s of these three forms are used in the daily worship in the Jagannath temple. Apart from these there are local texts of antiquity which seem to suggest Lord Jagannātha as a physical depiction of the nirguṇa śūnya.


It is recorded that Sri Rāmānujāchārya of the Sri Vaiṣṇava sampradaya, when he visited Puri, was quite disturbed by the application of Tantric modes of worship in the temple and was determined to change that, but by some Divine mechanism, so say the texts, he was transported from Puri to Kurma Kshetra and in a vision was ordered by the Lord himself not to interfere or change the method of worship followed in the temple.

When Purushottama Deva of the Gajapati dynasty came to power, the transformation of Jagannātha Puri into a full fledged vaiṣṇava center became complete. Purushottama deva introduced the Gopalapujapaddhati as the prefered manual of worship and used a sloka from the Tantra-s to establish the identity of Jagannath as Gopala: Kalau Kali, Kalau Krishna, Kalau Gopala Kalika. Then with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s bhaktirasa the identification of Jagannātha with Krshna became permanent in the minds of people. However, the priests who perform the actual worship of the Lord still continue using the earlier established eclectic methods for their daily rituals.

To the millions of ordinary devotees of the Lord, Jagannātha is the dham of Kali Yuga. His worship remains the simplest yet the most difficult, for no complex rituals are needed to obtain his grace except a pure heart, and yet that is the one thing which remains in short supply as Kali Yuga deepens. It is believed that with his large round eyes no action, small or big, dharmic or adharmic, escapes Jagannātha’s sight. Like the īśvara of Yogic philosophy, he watches silently everything as the Universe unfolds through the laws of action and reaction which governs life in this plane.

हर त्वं संसारं द्रुततरम् असारं सुरपते
हर त्वं पापानां विततिम् अपरां यादवपते ।
अहो दीनेऽनाथे निहित चरणो निश्चितमिदं
जगन्नाथः स्वामी नयन पथ गामी भवतु मे ॥

O master of the demigods! Quickly deliver me from this worthless worldly existence. O Lord of the Yadus! Purge me of my limitless host of sins. Aho! You have promised to bestow Your feet upon the fallen and shelterless — O Jagannatha Swami, please be the object of my vision. [ jagannāthāṣṭakaṁ].


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