Jagannath culture/ cult
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From Puri to Bengal, Bangladesh, Nepal: the spread of the Jagannath cult
The seaside town of Puri, one of the 'char dhams' or four abodes of god according to Hindu belief, is also known as Sri Kshetra.
The people of Odisha's neighbouring state Bengal consider a place called Mahesh in Hooghly district another Sri Kshetra. Like Puri, in Mahesh and Serampore on the banks of the Bhagirathi too, preparations for the return car festival have reached fever pitch. Serampore is home to the sibling deities' 'mausima'.
Just as in the case of the 12th century shrine in Puri, the history behind the setting up of the 14th Mahesh Jagannath temple is also fascinating. Legend has it that a Bengali sadhu called Drubananda Brahmachari was once denied his wish to offer bhoga to Lord Jagannath in Puri by the servitors. Dejected, he decided to fast until death. On the third day, Jagannath came in his dreams and asked him to go to Mahesh. The lord told him that he would find a neem trunk there from which he could carve the idols of Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra.
The Mahesh temple has two sets of idols. The original 600-year-old images are not taken out during Rath Yatra, which was first held here in 1397. For that, the other set is used. Another major difference with Puri is that only one chariot is used in Mahesh. It's a four-storeyed structure with nine towers and 12 wheels made of iron and wood. The present rath is being used since 1885. Mahesh also celebrates Nabakalebara at an interval of eight to 12 years.
The Mahesh temple also testifies to the fact that the Jagannath culture had spread to Bengal before the arrival of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In fact, Chaitanya deva visited the Mahesh temple and made his disciple Kamlakar Piplai its head priest.
But Bengal's biggest contribution to Jagannath culture is a beautiful folk narrative tradition called 'Balabandhak Pala', or the episode of the pawned armlet, that is built around the temple at Mahesh.
According to folklores, Lord Jagannath had himself gone to Mahesh all the way from Puri to taste its famous 'mihidana'. But when the sweet maker asked for money, Jagannath said he did not have any. But he was not ready to go back without having 'mihidana'. He then pawned an armlet that he was wearing to buy the sweet. When he returned to Puri, pandas found the armlet missing. He told his badagrahis about the episode. They then went to Mahesh and returned with the 'bala'.
Apart from Bengal, Jagannath culture also spread to Bangladesh and Nepal. The Jagannath temples at Tantibazaar in Dhaka and at Durbar Square in Kathmandu bear ample testimony to that. The king of Nepal is considered a sevak of the Puri temple. He has the special privilege to perform rituals on the 'Ratna Vedi' inside the sanctum sanctorum.
Jagannath culture/ cult
Puri, the pilgrimage (main page)