Before dealing with the Puja system of the great
Jagannath Temple of Puri, we must look into
the real definition of the terms Vaishnava
and Vaishnavism. According to Indian
epics, there are three deities, known
as Trishakti, Trideva or Trio. They
are Brahma, the creator, Vishnu,
the maintainer and Shiva the
destroyer. These three attributes
are indispensable in all matters;
even now in science and in the
simple construction of a building.
Everything we think, feel, and hear is
subject to these three influences, as told by the
ancient Rishies in the days of yore.
It is most interesting to note, however, that
Avataras, or Divine Beings who incarnate on earth
as man from time to time to uplift humanity, are
never born. They come to earth in a divine way,
from Vishnu, the Maintainer Himself. There are
no Avatars of Brahma or Shiva. According to
Ishabasya Upanishad, all creation is filled with
"Ishabasyamidam sarbam jat kichnitya
That which is created is easy to destroy,
but difficult to maintain and protect. For this
reason, Lord Vishnu Himself comes in the form
of a divine man, or Avatar, as a father would
come to protect his children.
'Jada jada hi dharmasya
Binasaya cha Duskrutam."
"Whenever problems overwhelm the world,
To uphold Dharma, or Righteousness,
I incarnate from age to age."
From the word Vishnu, "Vaishnava" is
derived, that is, one who worships Vishnu, the
maintainer and protector. This worship or spiritual
practice is known as "Vaishnavism".
Sri Krishna and Lord Jagannath
Orissa Review June - 2009
In Vaishnavism, we do not give so much
emphasis to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, such as:
1. Yama- Non-violence, having truth,
compassion, forgiveness, purity
2. Niyama- Spiritual practice, puja, worship,
japa or telling holy names, giving alms
3. Asana-such as Hatha Yoga
4. Pranayama-breathing exercises
5. Pratiyahara-worship through forms, known
as Sakara, formless worship, known as
Nirakara, and seeing God in all, known as
6. Dharana- one- pointedness, or forbearance
8. Samadhi-God realization
Here what alone is essential is Bishwasa,
or Faith, and Anuraga, or Loyalty and Affection,
and most importantly, Abhimana or Unconditional
"Bishwasa" means having complete faith,
with no doubt, blind faith even. With such faith in
her Lord Krishna, while uttering His name, the
poet-saint Mirabai drank poison. The poison
turned to nectar. "Anuraga" is the feeling of
loyalty, even if it is only one-sided. The child
Dhruva meditated in the forest, not to get anything.
But when he had a vision of Lord Vishnu, he was
given a place in the sky, known as Dhruva Star.
When one gives flowers to God, decorates God,
brings food to God, and meditates on Him out of
such deep affection, with no thought of results,
but simply as an offering, this is Anuraga.
"Abhimana" is the highest feeling for a
Vaishnavite. It is that found only between a
husband and wife, or a devotee and God. It is
love of the deepest kind, as in the union of the
sun and its ray, a flower and its scent; or sugar
and its sweetness. So mixed with good feelings is
it that even anger is not anger, and sadness is not
sorrow. The main Gopi of Krishna's childhood
days, Radha, was the foremost example of this
love. When Krishna left Brindaban for Dwaraka,
He did not return. Four days became four years
and more, although He had promised to return.
Radha one day tells her friends like this.
"Krishna is now busy in Dwaraka. He is
not coming. I will die one day. Please, my dear
sisters, you can do this one thing for me. At that
time, carry my dead body on the path where He
once walked. Over it you throw a cloth on which
is written only Krishna, Krishna, and Krishna.
Write His name on my breasts. If by chance the
sound of a sweet flute is heard, turn my head so
that its sweet music will enter my ear. This is my
last prayer to you, my dear sisters. Let my dead
body also be content that I have been with Him,
and let all remember that here is a lady who liked
Him so much."
In Vaishnavism complex rituals are not at
all necessary. The essential thing is only this
Radha-Bhava, the Love of Radha for Sri Krishna,
and Anurakti, the feeling that Radha had of being
inseparable from God. This Anurakti is the feeling
of treating God as a man; no third party is required.
There is just the devotee and God, not a God
made of wood or brass, but alive and one, we
can talk to in a human way. What is true to us is
true to Him also. A true Vaikuntha or Heaven is
not far away, but right here in the midst of the
home. God is with us like a member of the family.
Krishna Himself said in Bhagavat Geeta.
"Mada Bhaktra Jatra Gayanti
Tatra Tisthami Narada"
"I do not live in Vaikuntha or Dwaraka,
but where My devotees sing and remember Me,
I am there."
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A true Vaishnavite is a selfless servant and
surrenders to this almighty, before acting. He
does not believe in his own strength or worldly
power or wealth. To him, his body and the whole
world consist of only two things. Chetana and
Achetana." Achetana" means non-awareness and
refers to the physical transient blood and bones
that make up the body. "Chetana" means
awareness and refers to the invisible and Supreme
Purusha, or Divine Being residing within this pure
shell. When a Vaishnavite surrenders, he forgets
the misery of "Achetana" and communicates
directly with the invisible God dwelling inside
Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Adishankar,
Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, they all had glimpses of
Godhood. Their ways and means were different,
but their goal was the same. But Sri Krishna came
to be the symbol for Vaishnavism.
If a devotee thinks of God to be his inner
master, closer than the eyelid to the eye, Krishna
comes as Krishna Chandra; as friend,
Golakchandra; as divine child, Balkrishna; as
lover, Gopikrishna; as cowherd boy, Gopal
Krishna, as the one who steals all hearts, Chitta
Chora; as the most attractive in the world, as
Krishna Himself. The word "Krishna" means to
attract, and from the derivative word of Krishna,
"Karsayati iti Krishna." His name also means the
excuser of all mistakes. Taking anyone name and
its substance, a devotee can reach Krishna. In
such a way was He a peculiar and unique Avatar
to the world.
Many divine souls and Avatars have come
to the world, but only Sri Krishna was called the
"Poorna Avatar", the full Avatar having all 16
kalas, or divine arts or attributes within Him. They
are as follows:
1. Daya - Compassion
2. Dharjya - Patience
3. Kshyama - Forgiveness
4. Nyaya - Justice
5. Nirapeksha - Impartiality
6. Nirasakta - Detachment
7. Tapasya - Meditation and spiritual powers
8. Aparchitta - Invincibility
9. Danasheel - Beneficience, Bestower of all
wealth in the world and nature.
10. Saundarjyamaya - Beauty Incarnate
11. Nrityajna - Best of dancers
12. Sangitajna - Best of singers
13. Neetibadi - Embodiment of Honesty
14. Satyabadi - Truth itself
15. Sarvagnata - Perfect master of all arts, such
as poetry, drama, painting, etc.
16. Sarvaniyanta - Controller of All
So eventhough many sages and seers have
come, having divine attributes, such as
Compassion, Dharrna, Sacrifice, which have
helped the world, none was having the spiritual
power of Sri Krishna.
Krishna is Brahmanda Pati, "Lord of all the
universes, of which this world is only a small part.
There are numerous universes not even seen or
knowable. Narada tells that for this reason alone
all should take shelter in him".
In the Oriya version of Bhagavata, it is told,
"Brahmanda mala mala hoi /
To lomakupe jhuluthai //"
"Whole universes are revolving around me, I am
here to care for all."
In the last part of Mahabharat,a mysterious
connection is made. Sri Krishna told Arjuna,
Orissa Review June - 2009
"Now that the war is over, hear what I want; I
wish to take rest in Seealee Lata, a distant forest
of creepers. I know all. There while I sleep, I will
be killed by site of Jagannath Puri, as stated in
"Ato Jutta daru Plabate
"Ato" means here, "Jutta" means that, "Daru
means wood, Plabate" means floating,
"sindhupare" means that side of the ocean,
"apuruseya" means not manmade.
"Something will be carved from a log of
wood floating on the ocean here (describing the
origin of the Murti of Lord Jagannath along the
beach of Puri) that cannot be manmade".
About that dense forest more details are
given in the ancient Sanskrit text of Jagannath
Temple, called Niladri Mahoday, in which the
origin of the temple and the basic outline of the
Puja systems are described. It is stated that the
great Niladri Temple of Lord Jagannath was once
on a huge blue hill surrounded by a dense forest.
The inhabitants worshipping Lord Jagannath here
were tribal people called Dayitapatis. Even today
a street of the temple community bears their name,
Lord Krishna came here and while resting
under a tree, the hunter Jara Sabara appeared he
thought the two feet of Sri Krishna to be the ears
of a deer, so soft red in color they were. When
he realized he killed this Krishna with his bow
and arrow, he tried to burn the body. But it was
the body of Deva Purusha Himself; it could never
be burnt. So he left it at a place by the sea in Puri
called Banki Muhana. It becomes a fossil of wood.
This marked the beginning of Kali Yuga. After
some thousand years passed, King Indradyumna
of Nepal had a dream and in the dream, he was
told to find the log of wood there in Banki Muhan,
carve an image from it as he saw in this dream,
and install it in the great Jagannath Temple of Puri.
Thus Sri Krishna became Lord Jagannath for the
modern age, and all of His Leelas and past times
continue today in the Sri Kshetra of Puri, as they
once did in Brindavan.
According to the epic Indra Neelamani and
Niladri Mahodaya, it was this same image of Sri
Krishna that was being worshipped by
Bishwabasu, the tribesman who met King
Indradyumna's minister, who had been sent to find
the divine Murti.
The image was called Neela Madhava or
Nilakanta Bigraha. 'Neela'means the colour of the
sky and Kanta' means beautiful. This 'Bigraha'.
or deity was none other than Ghanashyam, or Sri
Krishna Himself. On reaching the tribal man' hut,
the minister was fed a sumptuous meal, which he
called 'Mahaprasad', or the food of the gods.
Wonderful rice preparations and exotic fruits were
offered to him. The minister wondered how such
a poor man, who himself ate not a grain of rice,
could offer or find such food ! The tribal man
said it was the Prasad, or blessing of his beloved
Lord. All the gods and goddesses of the world
bring with them the best foods to offer at the feet
of the Murti. The minister begged Bishwavasu to
take him to this strange god. But after the minister
saw the deity, it vanished. He could only give a
description of it to the King.
Thus the birth of Lord Krishna is observed
every year in Jagannath Temple, alongwith many
holy days connected with His life. Chandan Yatra
in the spring is a festival in which the images of
Jagannath as Gopi Krishna with Radha, and
Madan Mohan, two dancing Krishnas, are taken
in procession in Vimanas or Palanquins, to a
reservoir and floated on boats for 21 days. This
celebration is said to be in remembrance of the
loving boat journey of Radha and Krishna on the
Orissa Review June - 2009
river Yamuna. One of these dancing Krishnas is
worshipped every day inside the main temple
beside Lord Jagannath Himself. Only for Rath
Yatra, the great Car Festival of Puri, does the
deity of Lord Jagannath emerge from the temple.
For all other holy days, it is in His image of Sri
Krishna that He comes out.
During Jhulana Yatra, the Festival of swings
during the rainy season, the images of Radha and
Krishna are set on a flower decorated swing in
front of Lord Jagannath. The love songs of
Jayadeva's immortal poem, The Geeta Gobinda,
are sung before Them for seven days. On smaller
Jhulanas the same is done in many monasteries
and Ashrams of Puri during this period. An
inscription on the great temple reads that only the
songs of Krishna as written in Geeta Gobinda must
by tradition be sung nightly in the temple. They
were sung by Kokila, the last living Devadasi, or
temple dancer, before Lord Jagannath while the
deity was being dressed for bed. Earlier in the
evening, the Bhagabata, recording the childhood
pastimes of Sri Krishna and the Gopies, is sung
inside the main temple and every tiny street temple
of Puri as well.
The name of Sri Krishna is not directly
associated with Jagannath, but Subhadra is the
same sister Subhadra of Dwapara Yuga, and
Balabhadra is called Balaram also, the name of
Krishna's elder brother. No epics depict such a
Trinity; their names associated only with the
glorious life of Sri Krishna. However, in describing
Lord Krishna, Narada gave Him the epithet of
"Jagannath". "Jagat" means universe and 'Natha'
means Lord. Narada says He is the Lord, the
directing force behind the Universe. The entire
universe proceeds from Him and rests in Him. In
Vaishnavism, too the supreme Lord has been
described as having two shapes, one with form
and the other formless. He is "Akshaya"
imperishable, beyond birth and death and
"Akshaya", the universe itself having 100,000
forms. The universe is His dress, His Vishwarupa.
He is the uppermost and the nearest. The entire
universe is pervaded by Him, as it proceeds again
into Him. As is said in Brahma Sanhita,
"Eksada bipra Bahudha Bhabanti"
"From one, I have become many".
Mind, which ever flows like a river and
whose speed exceeds even that of wind, is ever
drawn to Him, held to me, the one who attracts
all, like an iron is drawn to a pure magnet. His
five-coloured garland, known as Baijayanti Mala,
is the garland of the senses. All the senses, or
Indriyas, the five outer ones meant for service to
man and the five inner ones for god realization,
are held by Him as arrows. The Lord who has no
shape assumes shape, out of his great love, His
prema, for the good of created beings.
He is Prema Swarupa, the essence of all
Vedas. He is fully self-contained and free from
destruction of any kind. He knows no birth, no
motive, no cause or effect. He is ever mysterious
and about whom the only thing that can be said is
that He exists always. He is called Basudeva, as
is stated by the ancients in the Puranas. "Basu" is
derived from the root "Bas" which means to exist."
Deba" is derived from the root "Dib", to glow.
Thus "Basudeva, as" means the lustre that exists.
His lustre is everywhere and in everything.
Everything rests in Him and proceeds from Him.
This is how Basudeva, as is described by those
Basudeva, also means Lord Krishna, the
illustrious son of Basudeva, or Basudeva
Nandana, in the "Krishna Avatara", as the
mysterious bond between the form and formless
is ever present 'He alone", Narada says. It is to
be known, Surya Sanhita states that those who
were Tapi, sages or seers in Satya Yuga, become
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Kapi, monkeys with Rama in Tretaya Yuga, and
Gopi, cowherd companions of Sri Krishna in
Dwapara Yuga, and now Sevakas, or
worshippers of Lord Jagannath in Kali Yuga. At
least that is the feeling of persons born into families
of worshippers in Jagannath Temple, how blessed
they are to again be connected with and serve Sri
Krishna. Not only do they feel themselves to be
gopies, but the three main worshippers of the three
deities are bound by tradition to wear their hair
long. They do Puja as a lady before the Supreme
Purusha. Not even a day went by that the Gopies
were without Krishna, so for the Sevakas not even
a single day can go by without going to Lord
Jagannath in the temple. They think of Lord
Jagannath for everything, from birth and naming
ceremonies, to marriage and death." He is life and
death to us, without him what are we to do". Such
was the feeling of the gopies. All worshippers in
Jagannath Temple may not be true seekers, but
the feeling is universal among them that "Lord
Jagannath gives us everything".
There are four types of devotion. First, a
devotee remember God in times of troubles. This
is Artee, or danger. When he faces a tiger, he is a
devotee and calls on God. But when the tiger is
gone, he forgets, Droupadi called on Krishna
when she was in distress in the Kaurava's Court.
Krishna heard and gave her a Sari of such length,
no one could disrobe her.
The second type of devotion is Artharthi,
or worldly desires like to be a loan officer in a
bank, one submits an application before God and
prays for this or that to be given, be it wealth,
health, fame, or a good marriage. Arjuna sought
Krishna's help to win the war and regain the lost
The third type of devotion is a Jignasu, a
true seeker, one eager to know of Jagannath, what
is divinity, this world, what is the meaning of life.
Krishna's companion in Dwaraka, Udhava, was
a true seeker and Krishna sent him to Brindavan
to learn realization from Gopies.
The forth and final type of devotee is a Jnani,
one who knows God, who has some direct
experience of him. Sankaracharjya was such a
one, but so were Radha, and Yashoda, Krishna's
foster mother, and all the Gopies. When Udhava
asked them about Krishna, Yashoda simply cried
and the other Gopies were silent and could not
utter a word finally Radha said.
"He has not gone from us. He is Kalia Kamala,
The black lotus; He is the dark rain cloud.
How can He leave us ? He is the very Life Force
in us; He is never apart from us".
Just as Sri Krishna was to the Gopies in
Dwapara Yuga, Lord Jagannath is now to Sevakas
and devotees alike in Jagannath Puri. On first
meeting, or sight, He is Abyakta, unknown. Seeing
his strange form and manner, one may not like it
and may be full of doubts. But after some time,
Jagannath becomes Byakta, known. The devotee
or Sevaka has felt something, some divine touch,
and divine intervention. He thinks as if he knows
Jagannath. He feels Him, he slaps his own cheeks
in front of Jagannath for all his stupid mistakes.
He closes his own ears, to block out other's
doubts. However, again after sometime, it
becomes the daily habit to go for Darshan of
Jagannath in the temple and Lord Jagannath
becomes again Abyakta, unknowable. He is again
full of mystery, but now there is no doubt, only
inexpressible joy in beholding Him.
These feelings of Byakta and Abyakta are
the day to day experiences of a devotee with God,
just like the ever changing movements of the ocean
and its waves, or the play of light and darkness,
or the indescribable beauty of clouds passing
across the sky. Worshippers in the temple take
Jagannath to be their Lord and Master, as an
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woman takes her husband. They sing lines from
Adishanker's poem "Kadachit Kalandi Tata
Bipina", as the cars move down the Grand Road
on Rath Yatra days.
"Jagannath Swami Nayana Pathagami
"Oh Lord Jagannath May our eyes ever follow in
This sort of Gopi-Bhav develops from
childhood as the father teaches his son how to do
his hereditary Seva in the temple. It is strange how
in the modern world Sevakas maintain their
families. Some have outside careers, but for their
temple service they receive no salary. They rely
solely on Jagannath Himself to maintain them. If
food offered to Jagannath, called Mahaprasad
from its earliest origins, is not arranged, no
marriage ceremony in the temple community can
be performed. This holy food of Lord Jagannath
must be distributed, or no rites are sanctified.
This is the attachment of Radha with Sri
Krishna. As Radha had only Krishna to see,
touch, and to daily, so the worshippers of the
temple have only Jagannath in their lives. In
previous generations fathers knew only two places,
the home and the temple. So during Car festival
days, when Jagannath left the main temple for nine
days, the worshippers also left their houses for
the same period and slept on the road beside the
huge cars and ate only Prasad of fruits thrown to
Jagannath. This is again the feeling of Radha, as
She, her house, her husband, everything, when
she heard the call of Krishna's flute. If there are
sorrows and difficulties, it is his wish. If it is His
wish, we will also be saved.
The word Radha, or Radhika, is composed
of "Radhika" "Ra" means beauty, strength, deep
meditation, and devotion. "A-dhika" means more.
So "Radha" means the most beauty, the most
spiritual power, the most communions with God,
as well as deep devotion. The Gopies and Radha
Herself had been great sages in the past, who
desired to get Krishna as God. The worshippers
of Jagannath Temple think themselves to be
Radha. For them, "not this, not this" or "nasti"
which is the attitude of Netibada or nihilism is not
present. Such persons tell that God is not small,
not great, not tall, not white, or black, not having
any shape at all or any symbol. All this felt to be
not true. Rather Lord Jagannath is felt to be all
this. In the half-formed black Murti of Jagannath,
God is felt to be very much alive and aware. With
His huge round eyes, called Chakadola, He sees
everything, with His handless arms, He embraces
all and does all. This same God, this same
Jagannath is also ever present in every house of
Puri. If a worshipper or devotee of His had
hundred percent faiths, He will even manifest
Himself in ordinary piece of stone, where no Puja
has ever been done. His presence is felt to be allpervading,
in everything, and so all is to be
worshipped as His form.
When a worshipper of Jagannath Temple
is about to die, he has two last wishes, one is to
taste Mahaprasad the holy food offered to Lord
Jagannath, in his last hour. The second is to hear
at that same time Bhagavata, where Radha's love
for Krishna is described. Thus in his last moments,
the form and the formless merge into one.
Banamali, a famous Vaishnavite poet of Odisha,
expresses it in this way.
"Jagannath Yasoda nandana
Shreemati Chitta Chatak nutan Jaladhar
Laban Jaladhitata Niladree nama Prakat".
Mother Yashoda's dear foster son,
Your Radha is like the Chataka bird,
Drinking only the pure rain drops
You shower as Your grace".
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As stated at the beginning of this chapter,
rituals are not at all necessary for a Vaishnavite.
If the heart and mind are pure and one-pointed
towards God, spontaneous devotion will flow.
However, to help arouse such sublime feelings,
rituals are performed. To purify the mind, the
body, and the place, rituals are done daily in all
temples and churches. In giving a garland to God,
the heart becomes filled with joy and the disturbed
mind becomes redirected.
The rituals of the great Jagannath Temple
of Puri may appear complex and obscure at first
glance, as in comparison with even those of the
Catholic Church. Because of the long history
associated with temple, tinges of Tantric Mother
worship of Buddhism and Saivism can be found,
in addition to pure Vaishnavism. It is said in Manu
"Jatha dehi, Tatha debe".
"What is true to man ?
Is true to God also".
Unlike the temples devoted to the Mother,
where there is blood and animal sacrifice, and
complicated Yantras to be followed exactly, or
Shiva temples, which are dark places of austere
meditation, Vishnu temples, such as the great
Jagannath Temple of Puri, are felt to be the Lord's
own earthly home. The powerful hand gestures
performed during Puja and the Sanskrit Slokas
recited must be memorized and understood, but
their meaning is simple. They simply invite the Lord
to come, to sit close, and take the food offered,
and then to bless all present. They act as a
powerful medium to draw God to us, to humanize
Him, so we can feel him, feel His divine energy,
talk with Him, and serve Him. Our minds, like
the raw iron drawn to the pure magnet, are
transformed by this association with him.
Secondly, even in daily life we have our
little personal rituals to perform for ourselves, such
as washing, dressing, and putting scent and make
up. But we never think of these as rituals. So too
worshippers in Jagannath Temple give the deities
daily bath, change their cloth, brush their teeth,
feed them, and put them to bed at night. They
never think these to be imposed rites, but the
natural things to do for a loved one.
However, discipline in the Puja must be
strictly followed. Each family of worshippers has
the right to serve, but only to do the one duty
given to him by hereditary tradition. The man who
carries flowers to Jagannath offered by devotees
cannot decorate him with them. This is the sole
Seva of another family of worshippers. Why is
this discipline imposed ? Perhaps the words of
the great Vaishnavite saint Sri Chaitanya
Mahaprabhu best express it,
"Only when man feels himself to be
Lower than a blade of grass
can then see the glory of God".
On Rath Yatra day, thousands of Sevakas
must help to bring the deity of Lord Jagannath
out of the temple to the awaiting cars, each one
doing his allotted Seva only. One has the vision
of a great black elephant being moved by
thousands of tiny ants. By discipline and rituals,
Ahamkara, the feeling of ego, is slowly eliminated.
Noone alone can carry Lord Jagannath, but only
by all working together. The way of life in the
temple must be like that of a very large family.
Then it becomes a power-house of love and
peace, and it blesses the whole world. Such is
the grace of Lord Jagannath for the entire modern
world whether one lives in Jagannath Puri itself,
or in some far off region of the globe, if one lives
under His influence, there is peace in one's home.
Somanath Khuntia lives at Manikarnika Sahi, Hazuri