Mahaprasad at Jagannatha Puri Temple
BY: SUN STAFF
Nov 17, 2014 CANADA (SUN) A three-part summary of Mahaprasad at Jagannath Temple.
Traditions associated with Mahaprasad at Jagannath Puri Dham can be traced back to the remote past, and stories of Lord Jagannath in His original form of Neela Madhava. The tribal chief Biswabasu in the Nilagiri mountains of Orissa is said to have made daily offerings of fruits to the Deity as part of his worship. In the thick forested area at that time there were no rice paddies or fields of vegetables growing, yet when Biswabasu opened the temple doors in the morning with his meagre offering of fruits, he would find each day huge quantities of rice dishes and delicious curries.
Biswabasu and the local people believed that the demigods came each night from the heavenly planets to have darshan of the Lord, and they were offering these excellent dishes of rice, sabjis and sweets. The spiritual fragrance of this holy food was overpowering, so all knew it had to be of divine origin.
Even today, the taste of Jagannatha Mahaprasad cannot be duplicated outside the temple. Temple devotees tell of their direct experience that inside the temple, when cooks carry the bhoga from the kitchen to the temple, it has no fragrance or sweet aroma. But after offering, when they carry the Mahaprasad from the temple to Ananda Bazaar, where the Mahaprasad is offered to the devotees and the public for sale, it smells divinely sweet.
In the process of puja, the bhoga is blessed by many gods and goddesses, who have themselves taken a part in various aspects of the preparation, and of course the foodstuffs are blessed by Lord Jagannath Himself, who receives the offerings and gives His remnants as Mahaprasad. While the bhoga is being offered, only the three priests doing the puja are allowed to be inside the sanctum, as Lord Jagannatha is taking His food at this time.
In the 1800's, a British Collector in Puri by the name of Armstrong questioned a worshiper about the sacred process of Mahaprasad. He offered 108 Magaja Laddus to Lord Jagannatha, but when the sevaka returned, all 108 were still there. So the British Collector doubted Lord Jagannath even more. It was suggested that Armstrong take note of the weight of the offering next time. Sure enough, when it was returned, the weight was 4 or 5 kg. less, and Armstrong became a great believer in Jagannatha Mahaprasad.
In the temple precints, it is actually Mother Laksmi Devi who is said to cook all the bhoga to be offered to the Lord. All kitchen servitors consider themselves to be Her servants. Because she is not attentive to the cooking on the days when Lord Jagannath is sick before the Ratha yatra, the foodstuffs are said to be less tasty at that time. During the period each year when Lord Jagannath goes to Gundicha Temple, likewise Laksmi Devi is of no mind to cook, and the food is found to be totally tasteless.
The kitchen fire of Puri temple is called "Vaisnava Agni. The fire is never put out. Charcoals are kept burning day and night by one worshipper, known as Akhanda Mekapa. It is considered to be a great blessing to be a worshiper of Lord Jagannath in the temple. When a devotee dies, the relatives take fire directly from the temple kitchen to burn the body at the cremation ghat.
In many ways, Jagannatha Mahaprasad becomes an intimate part of the day-to-day life of the worshipers. It is taken and distributed at the time a child is born, and at every holy ceremony throughout the devotee's lifetime, including the time of death. One of Oriya's most famous poets, Banamali das, tells of the last wish of a worshiper in this song:
marana kalare tama chhada mala,
mukhare thiba tulashi.
mane mane muhin,
ghosi heuthibi tume hey, niladribasi!
"Please grant me this,
oh Lord Jagannath,
at the time of death.
May your used flower
garlands be beside me,
and your Tulsi Mahaprasad be in my mouth,
Uttering the name of Niladri Vasi,
The One who resides on the Blue Mountain,
Let me die."
From compilations by S.R. Swain and other sources.
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