Orissan Vaisnavism Under Jagannath Cult


Orissan Brahman
Hand-colored Engraving by Solvyn, c. 1807

Feb 26, PURI, ORISSA (SUN) — Vaisnavic customs of Orissa are meticulously discussed in the Dharmasastra-Nibandhas of Orissa, from which a special characteristic of Orissan Vaisnavism are determined. In the Dharmasastra-Nibandhas like Nityacharapradipa of Narasingha Vajapeyi (c.1525-1580A.D.), Kalasara of Gadadhara Rajaguru (c.1700-1750A.D) and Kalasarvasva of Krishna Mishra (c.1750- 1850 A.D), this has been recorded with full evidence and historical citation. A humble attempt is made in this article to evaluate the degree of influence of the Dharmasastras upon the Vaisnavic customs of Orissa, concentrating on those three works.

Both the followers of Smarta-tradition and Vaisnavic tradition are advised to observe the Chaturmasyavrata without fail. But regarding the beginning day of this Vrata for Vaisnavas, the tradition differs from that of the tradition of the Smartas. We find three categories of this tradition in Orissa. In one category, the Chaturmasyavrata begins from the full moon day of Asadha (June-July). In the second category, the same Vrata begins from the eleventh day of bright fortnight of Asadha. In the third category, the beginning day of Chaturmasyavrata has been considered to be the Karkata-Samkranti. From these three categories, the followers of Smarta tradition resort to the first category whereas the followers of Vaisnavic tradition have shown their inclination to abide by the other two categories.

In this context, Gadadhara Rajaguru in Kalasara (1971, Cuttack, p.25) tries to connect Kartikavrata with the Chaturmasyavrata. He cites a lot of textual evidences in support of the above said three categories. Quoting the text of Mahabharat, he opines that the Chaturmasyavrata is to be started in the very eleventh day of bright fortnight of Asadha, i.e. Asadha Suklapakhya Ekadasi. Depending upon the text of Varaha Purana, he writers in support of other two categories. Taking recourse to the view of Skanda Purana, he is of the opinion that a person who is not capable of observing the full course of Chaturmasyavrata takes the month of Kartika as the alternative. However, with this kind of categorization, the problem is not solved.

Although the beginning day of Chaturmasya differs according to different categories of tradition, still in Orissa, we find some sort of significant tradition in Vaisnavic lore. In Orissa we find two categories of Vaisnavas who worship Krishna as the Supreme God. In one category the Vaisnavas, who accept Lord Chaitanya as Krishna, are regarded as Gaudiya Vaisnavas (Bengali Vaisnavas). In the second category, the Vaisnavas who adore Lord Jagannath as Krishna are regarded as the Uddra Vaisnavas (Orissan Vaisnavas). For the Gaudiya Vaisnavas of Orissa, the Chaturmasyavrata is to be started with effect from the eleventh day of bright-fortnight of Asadha and concluded on the same day of the month of Kartika. In the same way the Kartikavrata is to be started from the eleventh day of bright-fortnight of Asvina and concluded on the same day of Kartika by them.

For the Orissan Vaisnavas, the Chaturmasyavrata is to be started with effect from the full moon day of Asadha and concluded on the full moon day of Kartika. Here, both Ekadasi and Purnima are marked to be the two factors for making a difference between the traditions of Gaudiya Vaisnavas and Uddra Vaisnavas. In this connection, Gadadhara Rajaguru is of the view that if Chaturmasyavrata or Kartikavrata is to be concluded on Kartika- Shukla-Ekadasi, the person who undergoes this Vrata has to observe Parana (taking usual food after fasting) on the very day of Ekadasi. But the Vaisnavas, to whichever seat they may belong, have to strictly observe fasting on the very day of Ekadasi. Therefore, in no way the Vaisnavas are advised to conclude Chaturmasya-vrata or Kartikavrata on the very eleventh day of bright fortnight of Kartika with this sort of argument and analysis of the texts or Sastras.

Gadadhara Rajaguru opines that the Vaisnavas have to extend their Chaturmasyavrata or Kartikavrata up to the full moon day of Kartika, in spite of the fact that they start it on different days. This is very much customary in the Temple of Jagannath.

We find a number of references in support of observance of Chaturmasyavrata at Puri and Bhubaneswar. The Sastrakaras advise that the Smartas, Vaisnavas, Saivas or whoever they may be, should take the vow to remain at Puri or Bhubaneswar during Chaturmasya (Sravana-Bhadrava, Asvina and Kartika). The persons who chose to reside at Puri have to start this Vrata with effect from the eleventh day of bright fortnight of Asadha and conclude on the full moon day of Kartika. But for the persons who chose to remain at Bhubaneswar, the beginning date of Chaturmasya or Kartikavrata as the Ekadasi is not mandatory since it is a pilgrim center of the Saivites: Saiva-kshetra.

It is observed that for the Orissan Vaisnavas, the beginning day of Chaturmasya vrata or Kartikavrata may differ, but the concluding day must be the full moon day of Kartika, i.e. Kartika Purnima. This is being practiced in the Jagannath Temple at Puri signifying the influence of Smarta-tradition upon Orissan Vaisnavism under the Jagannath Cult. In Puranic Smarta tradition, the Vaisnavas of Orissa are advised not to take the Naivedya of deities who are different from their Istadevata. This has been corroborated by citation from Krishna Mishra by the text of Skanda Purana, quoted in Kalasarvasva (Puri, 1997.P.379).

We find some sort of liberalism in this tradition of Orissan Vaisnavism. In this connection, Narasingha Vajapeyi and Krishna Mishra express their views differently. From the views of Narasingha Vajapeyi it is understood that the Naivedya offered to any deity can be accepted, if it is offered according to the prescribed rules of any sect. But Krishna Mishra in Kalasarvasva (p.380) refutes this view of Narasingha Vajapeyi. He is of the opinion that this kind of Naivedya is prohibited for the Vaisnavas, even though it is offered to any deity according to the prescribed rules of Vaisnavic Sastras.

Apart from this view of Vajapeyi, attention of scholars may be drawn towards his second view. According to him, if a Vaisnava, in the daily worship of his Istadevata, offers Naivedya and takes it subsequently, thus demerit (pratyavaya) of some sort in worship is created under the notion that anything dedicated to the deity is not to be taken back. But Krishna Mishra in Kalasarvasva (p.380) opines that the merit created in taking Visnu-naivedya after offering is greater than that of the demerit created by taking Visnu-naivedya in daily worship.

It is observed that although these two views differ from one another, still in practice they are followed under certain conditional option (vyavasthita-vikalpa). Any Vaisnava householder belonging to any sect does not take the Naivedya of the Istadevata of his own which is offered in daily worship. But the Vaisnava Sannyasi and Vairagis are in favour of taking Naivedya even though it is offered in honour of their own Istadevata, i.e. Jagannath-Vishnu. This is maintained with the influence of the Dharmasastras upon the Vaisnavism of Orissa under Jagannath Cult.

It is an accepted tradition all over India that Naivedyas of Siva are not to be taken even by the Saivites. But we find an exception in the case of Naivedyas offered in honour of Lord Lingaraj at Bhubaneswar as recorded in Kalasarvasva of Krishna Mishra. According to him the Naivedyas offered to Lord Lingaraj is considered to be the Siva-naivedya. The Vaisnavas are inclined to consider it as Visnu-naivedya. Here Lingaraja, although a Siva, is treated as a devotee of Lord Visnu. Since Vaisnavas or devotees of Visnu take the Naivedyas dedicated to Visnu, therefore, Lingaraja, being the devotee of Vishnu, is supposed to take Visnu-naivedya as a matter of fact. That is why anything offered to Lord Lingaraja is first dedicated to Lord Visnu (i.e. Jagannath) and subsequently offered to Lingaraja. This conception in respect of acceptability of Naivedya gives encouragement to the Vaisnavas of Orissa to be liberal. On the basis of this, the Smarta-Vaisnavas show their inclination to take Lingaraja (Siva) as Visnu and his naivedya as Visnu-naivedya. This peculiarity in Orissan Vaisnavism has been corroborated by Krishna Mishra with the help of Ekamra Purana quoted in Kalasarvasva (p.381)

It is an accepted custom in Vaisnavic life in general that the Vaisnavas decorate their body with the signs of Visnu-ayudha, i.e. mace, disc etc. and in order to remind the life of Krishna-Visnu to the public for the reason that they can recall the very theme of Krishna's life as well as the name of Krishna. It is noteworthy that Visnu smarana is one of the attonements of sins. As the sacred thread is used daily, similarly the signs of mace, disc etc. are decorated on the body. This sort of work has been included in the list of Vaisnavic nityakarma. But attaining nature's call, one has to wash off those signs decorated on the body and new signs of those ayudhas are to be drawn once again. We are told by the Dharmasastra-nibandhakaras that the old signs of the Visnu-ayudha are to be washed off and new signs along with tulasimala are to be taken before sandhya-bandana, i.e. evening worship. Therefore, the Vaisnavas of Orissa decorate their bodies with the help of gopi-chandana twice daily.

Narasingha Vajapeyi records this tradition in Nityacharapradipa (vol. I, p. 358) which has been followed by Krishna Mishra in Kalasarvasva (p. 384). From the standpoint of Kalasarvasva, it is observed that Krishna Mishra fails to corroborate this tradition of Orissan Vaisnavas from the Sastras. Moreover, he tries to vindicate this tradition from the local customs of Orissa using the very term "ata eva bruddhah".

According to the Vedic Smarta-tradition, the Brahmins are entitled to enter into sannyasa ashrama. Others are not allowed for the same. They are allowed only up to the vanaprasth ashrama. In Vaisnavic tradition all are allowed to follow sannyasa ashrama according to Agamic provision, irrespective of castes. This way the sannyasis, initiated in Vaisnavic diksa, are divided into four sects namely, Sanaka, Sri, Brahman and Rudra. In Orissa the sannyasis of Sanaka sect are the worshippers of Krishna. The sannyasis of Shri sect are marked to be the worshippers of Laksmi and Narayana or Sita and Rama. Unlike those, the sannyasis of Brahma sect are the followers of Madhava. In Orissan Viasnavic tradition, the householder Vaisnavas belong to the Shri sect.

Followers of this sect usually worship Laksmi and Narayana and that is why the householder Vaisnavas are advised to take initiation from a particular sectarian guru who is a householder Vaisnava himself. In case of a householder life, if the husband is initiated into a Vaisnavic faith and the wife desires to take initiation subsequently, she has to take permission from her husband. Krishna Mishra corroborates this tradition by quoting a Puranic smriti-text quoted in Kalasarvasva (p. 369)

In case of a widow, the tradition goes in a different way. Under the rule of Sri sect the widow can take Narayana-mantra through a Vaisnavic initiation and becomes eligible to worship Salagrama Narayana. In Orissan Vaisnavism, the widow initiated to Vaisnavism is treated as a sannyasini belonging to kutichara-category. The widows who belong to Sri sect are entitled to worship Krishna also, along with Radha. But if they are initiated in Sanaka sect, they are allowed to worship Vasudeva Krishna instead of Gopinath Krishna or Radha-Krishna. In this way the householder life for Vaisnavas in Orissa differs from sect to sect. For the Vaisnavas of Brahma sect, the paraphernalia of the Madhava school are to be followed. Although the Nibandhakaras have taken much pain in framing rules for Vaisnavas under Smriti principles, still they have taken Bhagavata Mahapurana as their chief authority.

Taking recourse to this sort of endeavour, Mitra Mishra the celebrated author of Viramitrodaya has compiled a volume devoting this area designating it as Bhakti Prakasa. For rationalization of Vaisnavic tradition in Orissa, Krishna Mishra has written Bhakti Sarvasva like Bhakti Prakasa, incorporating all the dicta meant for Vaisnavism, the lines of which are found quoted in Kalasarvasva. But unfortunately, Bhaktisarvasva has not been discovered so far. This way many facts of Vaisnavism in Orissa under the Jagannath Cult are traced in the Dharmasastra works of Orissa.

It is submitted that:

    (a) The Orissan Vaisnavas have accepted Lord Jagannatha as Krishna;

    (b) the Orissan Vaisnavas very prominently mark the association of Hari with Hara in Dola Yatra, as a result of which Saivism has been amalgamated in Vaisnavism and vice-versa; and

    (c) in Orissan Vaisnavism worship of Durga has been accepted. Here Visnu or Krishna is designated as Madhava. In this way Durga-Madhava worship has been evolved over course of time. During Dussehra, in the month of Asvina, Durga-Madhava Yatra is observed.

These three points show a surprising degree of influence of Smritis on the Vaisnavism of Orissa.

It is suggested that an attempt should also be made to trace out the inter-relationship of Vaisnavism, Saivism and Shaktism under Jagannath Cult.


1. Asaktah Kartike masi Vratam Kuryat puroditam//Kalasara Cuttack, 1971.P

2. Caitanyamatanuyayigaudavaisha Vaistu asvinasu Klaikadasim yavat Vratamacaryate. Tara sukdaikadasyam parne samyak pramanam na drsyate. It tatpaksepi purnimaparyantam Vratacaranam samicinam. Tatha cacarasya sripurusottamaksetre jagannathaprasade darsanat Kalasarvasva p.25.

3. Bhuktvanya devanaivedyam dvijascandrayanam Caret. Kalasarvasva, Puri, 1997, p.379.

4. Yadyapi vajapeyibhir Vidhinaivedyamapi dvijabha & samuktam tathapi tad vaisnavanisiddham. Kalasarvasva, p.380.

5. Ibid.

6. Yadyapi svapujakratavisnunaiveddyam pujavaigunyaya svabhaksymiti vajapeyebhinuktam, tadapi tadvai gunyalpadoso visnunaivedyasanaphalabhumna kupakhanakan..eva. Kalasarvasva, p.380

7. Yo manarcya naro bhunkte bhavita tasya gaurava m' itye kamrapurne bhubanesvaranaivedyasya Visnudeyatvat 'na lingam bhuvavesvarah' iti tasya sivatvanisedhapurvaka visnutvati desacca lingarajanaivedyam smartavaisnavabhaksyam Pratiyate. Kalasarvasva, p.381.

8. At eva brddhah-yanopavitabaddharyah samkha cakradikam malamutradau promckhayanti idamanusandhaya singhavajapeyibhirapi Snananantaram sandhyatah singhavjapeyibhirapi snananantaram sandhyatah purvam tulasipadmaksa-didharanamuktumiti dik. Kalasarvasva, p.384.

9. "Strinam Visesat dadyat patibhaktismanvitam" patyanujnakrtam diksamityarthah. Kalasarvasva, p.369

10. There are four grades of sannyasins namely Kuticara,bahudaka,hamsa and Paramahamsa. The window-sannyasins of Orissa are considered to be Kuticura category in Vaisnavic tradition.

Dr. Swain is the Upacharya in the Post Graduate Dept. of Dharmashastra in Sri Jaganath Sanskrit University.


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