Revival of the Car Festival of Lord Jagannatha
BY: SUN STAFF
Oct 01, 2010 CANADA (SUN) A Special Reference to "Srikrsna-bhakta-vatsalya-caritam" by Dr. Trinath Hota.
Lord Jagannath is called Patitapavana, the redeemer of the fallen. It is to make himself easily approachable to the common men that the compassionate Jagannatha, Lord of the Universe comes out of the mysterious dark chamber of the great shrine once in a year during the car festival. As a matter of fact, the festival may be considered as a quintessence of the whole cult of Jagannath. The people from the nook and corner of India and also from abroad come to Sriksetra, Puri to redeem their rebirth by seeing Vamana (the incarnation of Visnu) inside the car -- rathe tu vamanam drstva punarjanma na vidyate. 
He is also called Purusottama, the highest self as propagated in the Bhagavad Gita and different puranas. But he is not really so much a god for the saints as for the common men, because he has allowed himself to evolve solely for the needy people irrespective of caste, colour, creed and sex. From imperial times to these days of democracy, the great chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are dragged by the devotees, the common folk, the eager pilgrims themselves. The car festival is foremost among the twelve festivals of Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of Purusottama Kshetra, Puri. It is the biggest and most important celebration in eastern India.
The observance of the car festival of Lord Jagannath dates back to the age of the Puranas. Vivid descriptions are found in Brahma Purana (12th century). Padma Purana, Skanda Purana (13th-14th century) Yatra-tattva (16th century), Kapila Samhita (18th century), Niladri Mahodayam (16th chapter) etc. Shankaracharya, Guru Nanak, Sri Chaitanya and many other notable poets have composed a number of devotional poems showing their devotion towards Lord Jagannath. Shankaracharya visited Sriksetra, Puri in about 8th century A.D. and established Govardhan Pitha near the present Swargadwar. Shankara revived the tradition of Sankrit learning and literature with the introduction of Advaitavada. In this age of revival just after a few years of Shankara's visit to this place, the Orissan poets and dramatists have composed many poems and dramas in utter devotion of Lord Jagannath. Particularly, the Sanskrit dramas composed by Orissan poets have contributed a lot for the propagation of the cult of Lord Jagannath. Here the One-Act play Srikrsna-bhakta-vatsalya-caritam of Gajapati Ramachandra Deva-I is discussed as it conveys the revival of car festival of Lord Jagannath.
The car festival could not be observed due to the absence of the wooden Deities of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra in the temple since the sacrilege committed by the Muslim General Kalapahar in 1568 A.D. after the death of Gajapati Mukunda Deva. Regarding this matter the temple chronicle Madalapanji  declares --
sedinu kataka raja kehi rahi na parile. Mugala pidha kari madirahile. Dibyasingha pattnaik thakuranku ghenigale. E golare paramesvaranku chhapalihathi padare patali karithile. Tahinki Volikalapahada jai thaba kala, muhana pari hoi gala. Setharu paramesvaranku hathire pakai anila.Vanakoti bhandara sethare jura kala. Vadadeula ainela sarijae bhangaila. Jete devatamana pitula mana sabunku hi khuna kala. Kalapavata kholai pakail. Ghodanandi puroi nian lagaila. Sri Jagannath mahaprabhunku gangakula tanda jae nela. Katha kudhai agnire puroi jalidela. Tene pathana deha khanda khanda hoi phatila. Eha suni taharapua paramesvaranku gangare meli dela. Se daru bhasi asante amura gotie jail katha bolidhari taha varire pakaila srijagannatha mahaprabhunku nevavele Bisara Mohanty jaithila. Vaisnava hoi snge godaithila athamasa rahi vadypana kari daru magila bramha khola kari mrdange puroi gheni aila. Kujanga gadare ani pravesa kala Khandaitaolia uparaduithakure rahile.
From the above said source it is learnt that Kalapahara's desecrated the Jagannath temple. When the servants of the temple heard Kalapahara's designs on the temple, they took the images of the temple and hide them in an island of the Chilika lake. But Kalapahara learnt of this and brought the images from the island to burn them on the bank of the Ganges. A Vaisnava devotee Bisar Mohanti, followed Kalapahara and managed to rescue remnants or the inner contents of the burnt images and brought the same back to Kujanga. There he worshipped Lord Jagannath in the form of daru.
The view of Madalapanji is also supported by Abul-Fazal i.e, "Kalapahara, the general of Suleman Karani on his conquest of the country, flung the image into fire and burnt it and afterwards cast it into the sea."  The activity of Kalapahara gave a tremendous shock to the entire Hindu society and was deemed as a great victory of Islam by its followers. After its desecration, Puri 'the strong hold of Jagannath was made into the Home of Islam' and it became the seat of Muslim Governor.  In the meantime Gajapati Ramachandra Deva-I  (Son of Janardana Vidyadhara, the Prime Minister and General of Govinda Vidyadhara (1533-41 A.D.) established the Khurda fort in about 1571-72 A.D. three years after the death of Mukunda Deva in 1568 A.D. A brief account about the accession of Ramachandra Deva-I is given in the Madalapanji  i.e.
"Jaduvamsa rajee ene udita hoile danei vidyadharanka pua totami gadare thile. Ramacandra deva raja hoile vada pratapiraja hoile. Khurudha na adare Jagannathpure kataka kari rahile varunai parvata tale.
According to the local chronicle Chakada 
"Tanhi uttaru daksina diga khandaite ramachandra rautara mahapatranku raja kale… .kataka purusottama madhyastha kholapala suddhasauri vala vikrama simhara kharadha voli palli gotie thila raja Vikramsimhaku magi taha nama Jagannathpura kataka voli subha dele. Se valavikrama simhara mundadati vada avakasa bhadratale potile."
The establishment of the fort of Khurda by Ramachandra Deva is also depicted in two inscriptions  found at Srijanga. The relevant portion is thus cited here:
(a) "Caluki Mukundadeva ante javanabhoga varasa 26 ekavara-patisa hei rajaputa manasimgha raja kateka pachhameparanga khuruda thita kateka sudra gajapati raja ramachandra drva 34 anka srahi."
(b) "Caluki mukunda deva ante javanabhoga varasa 26 ekavara-patisa hei rajaput manasimgha raja amala odisa raja Kariva kateka pacchime paranga khuruda, thita kateka sudraraja gajapti ramachandra deva 37 anka."
The above discussions make it clear that after establishing the fort in Khurda, the king Ramachandra Deva-I named the place as Jagannath Pura Kataka after the name of Lord Jagannath. Destruction of the shrine and nonexistence of the deities tormented the heart of the king. He first turned his attention towards Jagannath temple. His first and foremost duty was to build the Ratna Simhasana and to reinstall the images of Lord Jagnnath, Balabhadra and Subhadra in the temple without waisting a single moment. Out of many reference the statement given in Maladalapanji  is cited here.
"a 9 nke rajakujanga gadaru brahma anile. Khurudha kataka vanayaga kri sumurati karaile a 11 nka kakada di 18 na sravana sukla navami dina purusottama vadadeule ratnasimhasane vije karaile Brahma anila bisara mahantinki poranaik kale."
It means the King Ramachandra brought the Brahma, the most sacred portion of the Jagannatha image from Kujanga (a place in the Mahanadi delta) in his 9th anka and got the images of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra constructed and consecrated in Khurda kataka after performance of necessary sacrifices. The images were installed on the Ratnasimhasana of the Jagannatha Temple on the 18th day of Karkata which was Sravana Sukla Navami in his 11th anka. "
According to the astronomical calculation such a combination occurred on Sunday, the 17th July, 1575 A.D. which was the 18th day of Karkata, the tithi was sravana sukla dasami instead of navami.
This atmosphere created immense pleasure in the mind of King Ramachandra Deva- I. As a able statesman he took full advantage of the situation and revived the worship of Lord Jagannath to give pleasure and inspiration to the Hindus all over India. Further Madalapanji  informs:
"Paramesvara ma 4 sa jae nisankhudi manohi karu thile. Bhayare raja sankhudi na karaile. Brahmana santa Bhatta misramananku svadesi panditamananku gheni vichari pacari paramesvaranka gahane upasthita hoila. Se sevakamananku gheni sankhudi bhoga manohi karaile. Sakala dhupa manohi vadhila uttare khecedi mahaprasada kakhare kari sri Ramachandradeva maharaja Jaya vijaya dvara kalapahaca upare ubha hoi samasta bhatta misramane patoara karuthile. Samastanku cannile. Ramachandra bhatta, govardhanna praharaje, misra gosain tiniloke rajanka hataru ucchudi mahaprasada seva kari mundare hata volile. Hari savada kari samasta sannyasi brahmacari bhatta misramane mahaprasada paile. Samasta sannyasi brahmacarimane sriramacandradeva maharajanku duti indradumana voli sadhi deli."
From the above temple chronicle it is clear that the Gajapati King Ramachandra Deva-I revived the sanctity of the Mahaprasad. The leading persons like Bhatta Misra, religious mendicants and disciples gladly accepted the Mahaprasad from the hands of the king near the Jaya Vijaya gate of the Jagannath Temple. For this noble and praiseworthy work the religious persons honoured Gajapati Ramachandra Deva-I with the title of Second Indradyumna. Gajapati Ramachandra Deva-I also got a scope to expose his literary talent by composing an One-Act play named Srikrsna-bhakta-vatsalya-caritam for the entertainment of devotees assembled on the occasion of the car festival of Lord Jagannath. The Madalapanji informs that the worship of Lord Jagannath and the re-establishment of the Mahaprasad could be possible by Ramachandra Deva-I. But the drama Srikrsna-bhakta-vatsalya-caritam makes it clear that Ramachandra Deva-I also revived the car festival of Lord Jagannatha. This drama was staged at the time of the car festival of Jagannath as a mark of great rejoicing because this festival could not be performed for some years due to non-existence of the deities in the temple since 1568. From the version of the stage manager it is also known that the king was entitled as Abhinava Indradyumna. This one act play corroborates the statements given in the temple chronicle Madalapanji. The stage manager  declares thus:
Kamala nivisesa caranakamalasya Kamalamukha Kamalatula-madhvika lubdha madhubratasya nilasaila siromaneh bhagavatah sripurusottamasya kenapi karanena anavasara rasaprayuktahrdayasya sampratam abhinava-indradyumna gajapatau Srirama ramyacaranakamala rolamba ramachandra deva koti janmarjita sukrtaprabhavati krpavasiatah prakatita darumaya madhuramutth pundarikaksasya gundicamahotsavoyam tadanantara samstham bhaga-vantm alokya janma saphalayami.
In another place Sutradhara also expresses:
Marisa pasyasi paramasya punsah prakata daru Kalevarasya surasura maulimandana nilamanesh srijagannathasya rathayatra mahetsavam.
From the version of the Sutradhara it is known that the spectators were eagerly waiting to see the navakalevara of Lord Jagannath on the occasion of car festival. The poet Ramachandra Deva-I has dramatized the episode narrated in chapter 263, Aranyaka-parvan of the Mahabharata in a befitting manner. But unfortunately the critical edition has dropped this portion. This episode is also narrated in the Sarala Mahabharata  (Vanaparva-Durvasacarita). But the donation of the particular vessel by the Sun God to Draupadi is not described in the Sarala Mahabharata. The dramatist might have referred the Odia Mahabharata but the main source of this One-Act play is Sanskrit Mahabharata. The subject matter runs thus:
"A particular vessel donated by the Sungod is with Draupadi. This particular vessel provides food of all shorts as long as Draupadi has not taken her meal. Therefore, the Pandavas are used to provide food to the innumerable guests who come to them. To put Pandavas into trouble Duryodhana sends the sage Durvasa to beg for food in an unusal time. Durvasa reached along with millions of disciples and demands food. In the mean time Draupadi tells Yudhisthira that the metal vessel is not in a position to provide food as she has already taken her meal. By this time it is evening. Along with disciples Durvasa goes for evening prayer. To get rid of the curse of Durvasa the devotees (Pandavas) with folded hands address Lord Krsna:
"Samsara sindhu tarani caranam pranamami te."
"Trilokitilakah krsnah karuna varunalayah"
In the meantime Draupadi meditates upon Srikrsna who at once arrives there. Srikrsna asks Draupadi whether anything is left in the vessel? Draupadi replies that a bit of vegetable is left over in the vessel. When Srikrsna takes it and expressed his great contentment Durvasa along with his disciples cry out in pleasure that they are satisfied to their hearts content. They no more desire to take any food. At last Yudhisthira prays:
Karnau krtarthau vacanena caksusi, Sudhabhisikte lalitangasobhaya. Manah prasannam smaranena tedhuna Bhayam villinam rucirena karmana. (Verse No.51.)
From the subject matter it is clear that:
(i) This One-Act play conveys not only the revival of tradition of car festival of Lord Jagannath in about 1575-76 A.D. but also it depicts the indescribable devotion of Oriya people towards Lord Visnu. Historically speaking, the wooden image of Jagannath was reinstalled by Adi Sankaracharya possibly by 8th century A.D. , which presupposes that worship had been in vogue then. Historians tell us that Yayati (922- 955 A.D.), who built a temple for Jagannath introduced the worship of the Trinity with Sudarshana. It is quite probable that the three rathas were introduced at that time.
(ii) The subject matter centres on a vessel donated by the Sun god to Draupadi which provides food to the innumerable guests who come to the Pandavas as long as Draupadi has not taken her meal. But when Durvasa reached along with millions followers for food, at that moment it was beyond the capacity of the vessel to provide food. But Lord Krsna listened the prayer of his devotees and took a bit of vegetable left in the vessel which satisfied Durvasa along with his disciples. This event co-relates the sacred Mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath revived by Ramachandra Deva-I. Mahaprasad is the main offering of rice in the Jagannath temple. Only Mahaprasad can be taken altogether by people, whatever their religion or race may be even on the same banana leaf. Mahaprasad  originated in the remote past when Lord Jagannath was worshipped in his original form of Nilamadhava. That is known as kaivalya or naivedya. So it is told in Sabdakalpadruma:
padodakam nirmalyam naivedyam ca visesatah, mahaprasada ityuktva grahyam visnoh prayatnatah.
(iii) The title of this One-Act play Srikrsna-bhakta-vatsalya-caritam justifies that the great love and affection of Srikrsna i.e. Lord Jagannath is solely meant for his devotees.
Srikrsna-bhakta-vatsalya-caritam may be a small work based on the epic the Mahabharata. But from the historical point of view it is very important for the scholars to present the historicity of car festival of Lord Jagannath although other sources are there. This is a great contribution of Orissan Sanskrit literature, because it still conveys the memory of the Hinduism i.e. the car festival of Lord Jagannath in Orissa after the first terrible Muslim onslaught in 1568 A.D. The version of Sutradhara makes it clear that the revival of the worship of Lord Jagannath in the great temple at Puri by King Ramachandra Deva-I enhanced his prestige and popularity among the people of Orissa in particular and Hindus of India in general and he was hailed as a great national hero of this memorable achievement. The One-Act play, Srikrsna-bhakta-vatsalya-caritam of Gajapati Ramachandra Deva-I, a powerful Hindu king, is not only remembered for its literary value, but also for its historical information i.e. revival of car festival of Lord Jagannath.
1. Skanda Purana, Utkala Khanda.
2. Mohanty, Artaballabha, Madalapanji (Prachi Samiti, 1932), Orissa Sahitya Academy, Bhubaneswar, 2001, pp.40-41.
3. Ain-i-Akbari, vol-II, p.128.
4. Muntakhabu-t-Tawarish, Vol.II, pp.166-177
5. (i). Mahapatra, K.N., Gajapati Ramachandra Deva-1, The Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol-VI, No.4, 1958, pp.227-250.
(ii). Mahapatra K.N., A Descriptive Catalogue of Sanskrit Manuscripts of Orissa, Vol-II, 1960, pp. Lxxiv-v.
(iv). Ibid, Vol-I Smrti Manuscripts, 1958 pp. Lxxviiviii.
(v). Panda, Harihar, History of Orissa,1997, p.167
(vi).Pradhan, A.C., A Study of History of Orissa, 1985, pp. 125-26.
6. Mohanty, Artaballabha, Madalapanji, p.41
7. Mahapatra, K.N., Gajapati Ramachandra Deva-I, OHRJ, Vol-VI, No.4, 1958, p.232.
8. Ibid, p.233.
9. Mohanty, Artaballabha, Madalapanji, Orissa Sahitya Academi, 2002. p.41.
10. Ibid, pp. 41-42.
11. Introductory Verses to the Srikrsna-bhakta-vatsalya-caritam .
12. Sarala Mahabharata, Vanaparvan, part-2, Durvasa Carita, pp.351-360. Department of Culture. Govt. of Orissa, 1970.
13. Vijaya Makaranda, 31, 13, Sri Jagannath. (ed) Pramod Ranjan Ray, op.cit.p.5.
14. Khuntia, Somanath, The Mystery of Mahaprasada, Orissa Review, July, 2002, p.43.
Dr. Trinath Hota is a lecturer in Sanskrit, Acharya Harihar Mahavidyalaya, Bhubaneswar, Orissa. Article source, the 'Orissa Review'.
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