Car Festival: The Symbol of Universal Brotherhood
World’s biggest phenomenon, the Car Festival or the Rath Yatra is going to take place on Ashadha shukla dwitiya (the 2nd day of the bright moon in the month of Ashadha), i.e. on the 10th of July this year. People from different parts of the world, lakhs in numbers, will throng into Puri to take part in the ‘Ghosha Yatra’ or the Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath. I am not going to describe here about the Car Festival. My effort is only to highlight as to how, rising above the narrow considerations of caste, creed, sect & religion Lord Jagnnath, His temple, the Sri Mandir or ‘Bada Deula’ & the Car Festival stand for the universal brotherhood of mankind.
The legend of Shreya, the pariah girl
The temple of Lord Jagannath is called Sree Mandira, denoting the ownership to Sree or the goddess Laxmi, the consort of Lord Jagannath. The pragmatic or modern idea of denouncing the practice of untouchability, which was unheard of, unthinkable & unbelievable at a time a few centuries ago, was first propagated by none other than Sree Laxmi herself & was endorsed by the Lord of the universe, Sri Jagannath Himself.
The legend, according to Laxmi Purana by the devout poet, Sri Balaram Das goes like this…. Once goddess Laxmi, pleased by the devotion & cleanliness of Shreya, a so- called low born sweeper woman (a chandalini, as per the popular usage), visited her hut & accepted her humble offerings of flowers & prasada. But by doing so, she incurred the wrath of Balaram, the elder brother of Lord Jagannath on two counts. First she did not take their prior permission before stepping out of the Sri Mandira & secondly she committed the grave mistake of visiting the house of a low caste sweeper woman. On the insistence of his elder brother, Lord Jagannath who although knew the correctness of Laxmi’s actions, still expelled her from the temple, branding her as a chandalini, a low caste woman, with an intention of ultimately proving her actions as right.
Laxmi took a vow to teach them a lesson. She cursed them that one day, being unable to bear the pangs of hunger; they would have to accept food from the very hands of a chandalini, whom they had shunned. It so happened that after the expulsion of Laxmi, the temple became devoid of its “shree” or the grandeur. Lord Jagannath & his elder brother Balaram had to leave the temple in search of food to fill their stomachs. Driven by the pangs of hunger, Lord Jagannath tried to sell the gold ring on his finger, so that they could buy some food. But they were insulted for trying to sell a ring which; as if by some magic, had turned into a fake metal. Hunger & desperation drove them to beg for food. But luck was also not there with them. Looking at their healthy & robust figures, people, not only refused to give them alms but also scolded them for begging instead of trying to earn their livelihood. They ridiculed them, as good for nothing shirkers.
Roaming like vagabonds on the streets, empty bellied & drained of their energies, at last they met success, when at one end of the city, the maid of a palatial mansion situated on the shores of the sea offered them food, on condition that they would have to cook on their own, as the mistress of the house is a chandalini; and she did not wish to commit a sin by feeding such high caste Brahmins like them. They had no other option than to accept the maid’s offer. But when all their attempts even to light the fire of the oven failed, they broke the earthen pots meant for cooking in a fit of rage. Blind with hunger, they begged to be fed by the low caste mistress of that palatial mansion.
After they took their bath at the behest of the maid, they were seated on beautiful asanas (mats) & were served with a sumptuous meal of fifty six verities of food, the usual fare that they used to have every day in Sri Mandira. Half way through the dinner, Lord Jagannath realized that the food tasted like the food cooked by Laxmi. Unable to control his emotions, he could not eat any more. Then Laxmi revealed her identity & told them that as they had eaten food offered by a chandalini, they had also lost their caste & had become chandals. Balram realized his mistake and Jagannath promised to Laxmi that hence forward, there would be no discrimination of caste in the Shree Mandira and the “maha prasada” would be partaken by all from the same leaf plates, irrespective of their births, high or low, without the fear of losing their caste by touch.
Another incident that high lights the communal harmony is as follows:
Bhakta Sal Beg, the Muslim devotee of Lord Jagannath
Bhakta Salbeg was born in the year 1607/1608 A.D. He was the son of a Brahmin mother & a Muslin father. His father Lalbeg, who was a Mughal subedar, once during his military expedition, saw a Brahmin widow taking her bath in a pond in Danda Mukundapur village near Puri. Enamoured by her beauty, he forcibly married her and Salabeg was born to them. When he was old enough to take part in battles, he began to take part in the campaigns from his father’s side. Once during a battle, he was mortally wounded. His mother advised him to chant the holy name of Lord Jagannath, the incarnation of Sri Krishna. He did likewise and was cured miraculously. He was thrilled and feeling greatly indebted, he went to Puri in order to have a “darshan” of Lord Jagannath. But he was refused entry into the temple because of his Muslim birth. Disappointed he went on foot to Vrindavan. There he lived like an ascetic in the company of sadhus, singing ‘bhajans’ in praise of Lord Jagannath. After spending one year in Vrindavan, he decided to return to Puri to see the Rath Yatra festival. But on his way he fell ill. It was very difficult and nearly impossible on his part to travel such a long distance by foot. He felt helpless and realising that he would not be able to reach Puri in time to witness the Rath Yatra or see Lord Jagannath on the chariot, he offered prayers to Him begging him to stay on the “Nandighosha” (His chariot) until he arrived.
It so happened that on the day of the Return Car Festival (Bahuda Yatra), despite the efforts of thousands of devotees who were pulling the cart, the chariot of Lord Jagannath, after reaching Balagandi square, did not move any further. The use of force by the elephants, which were also employed to push the chariot from behind also failed to produce any effect. It remained stationary there until the arrival of Salabeg. It was only after Salabeg reached Puri & was able to have a darshan of Lord Jagannath; the chariot began to move with little effort.
Salabeg used the very place, where the chariot remained stationary in order to enable him to get a darshan of Lord Jagnnath, for composing bhajans in His honour. After his death his body was also cremated there and a Samadhi was built over it. The Samadhi still stands there at the Balagandi square on the Grand Road (Bada danda). Every year during the Car Festival the Chariot of Lord Jagnnath halts there for a while in memory of his devotee.
The ritual of Chhera Panhara
‘Chhera Panhara’ is a ritual which is performed by the Gajapti Maharaja, the King of Puri, during two occasions; one being on the occasion of Snana Purnima, when the deities (Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra & Devi Subhadra) are installed on the Snana Mandap and the second is on the occasion of Rath Yatra (Car Festival) & Bahuda Yatra (the Return Car Festival). ‘Chhera’ means the sprinkling of holy water mixed with sandal paste & ‘Panhara’ means sweeping. Previously the King of Puri used to sweep the streets, on those occasions, with a golden broom from his palace gate to the temple. But since long, the practice of sweeping the street has been discarded & now the ritual of ‘Chhera Panhara’ is restricted only to Snana Mandap & the Rathas.
‘Chhera Panhara’ or the sweeping performed by the king in front of Lord Jagannath on the occasion of the Car Festival symbolizes that in the eyes of Lord Jagannath there is no difference between a lowly sweeper & a mighty king. Everybody, rich or poor, lowly or highly placed, holy or unholy, pious or sinner, is equal before Him. All barriers of caste, creed, sect, belief, religion & colours of the skin become blurred during His Ghosha Yatra. He embraces all with open hands and showers His blessings without any discrimination.
The three incidents I have cited above highlight the fact that Lord Jagannath, His Car Festival & the holy city, Puri Dham have risen above the discrimination of caste, creed and religion, since a time when lowly born were considered to be untouchables and shunned so much so that even their shadows were considered to have the power to pollute the high castes and also at a time when Muslims were considered to be jabanas (heretics). A Muslim ‘samadhi’ in the heart of a holy city of the Hindus & the respect it commands from them, also bear testimony to the religious tolerance & harmony of the place & its people who prove right Lord Jagannatha’s another name ‘Bhavagrahi’, “the acceptor of ‘bhava’ or feelings”.
It is no wonder that the Car Festival attracts millions of people from all over the world to come, mingle & bathe in the nectar of love & universal brotherhood. Nowhere in the world, can one find a festival, like the Car Festival that glorifies the philosophy of universal brotherhood in such a grand & magnificent way.
Post your comment