LORD JAGANNATHA: an apostle of humanism

Centuries of myths, legends and history have all mingled into a grand composite culture centred round Jagannatha, the Lord of the Universe, one of the most revered deities of the Hindu pantheon. He is not only the Lord of the Hindus or Indians but also the Lord of the suffering humanity, the deliverer and the redeemer of the entire human civilisation in all ages and times. We find the earliest references to Lord Jagannatha in the Puranas and ancient literature though the details of His Origin and evolution are still shrouded in mystery. According to legendary sources, Jagannatha was originally worshiped by a tribal Shabar Biswabasu in the form of Neelamadhab. The most important evidence of this belief is the existence of a class of Sevakas known as Daitapatis who are considered to be the tribal lineage and who still pay a dominant role in the various services to Lord Jagannatha in His temple. The Cult of Jagannatha is not a sectarian religion, but a cosmopolitan and eclectic philosophy. In course of time, the cult of Jagannatha took an Aryanised from and various major faiths like Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, Jainism and Buddhism have been assimilated into this cult. Thus Jagannatha cult stands as an all-pervasive and all-inclusive philosophy symbolising Unity in Diversity. In Jagannatha Temple, Jagannatha is worshipped as Purusottama or Vishnu, Balabhadra is worshiped as Siva and Devi Subhadra is worshiped in the form of Adyashakti Durga. Finally, the fourth one Sudarsana Chakra symbolizing the wheel of Sun’s chariot attracts the Sauras to the Centre.
Some scholars like Pandit Nilakantha Das are of the opinion that the three main images of Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra represent the Jain Trinity of Samyak Jnana. Samyak Charitra and Samyak Drusti.
While others believe that three images represent the Buddhist Triad of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It is also believed that the soul of Jagannatha most secretly hidden within the image of Lord Jagannatha, is nothing but the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. The philosophy of Tantra which in course of time became an integral part of Buddhism has also significantly influenced the rites and rituals of the Jagannatha temple. ³This one temple in its premises arranges a wonderful meeting of different combinations with one goal of life which can be attained by one way, unchanged for all times to come´. Whatever may be the origin of this cult, it has been admitted both by the scholars as well as persons belonging to different religious traditions and faiths that this culture is the centre around which in course of time divergent currents and cross currents have revolved.
The philosophy of Lord Jagannatha thus defies all definitions and is yet comprehensive enough to perceive Unity among beliefs of all sects and castes. Jagannath cult symbolises humanism. The main aspects of humanism are deeply implanted in the institution of Lord Jagannatha.
Jagannatha is the God of His devotees. Salabeg, the Muslim poet, Dasia Bauri, the lowest of the low, Balaram Das, the poor saint and Bandhu Mohanty, a wretched beggar have got His blessings.
Historians say that Kabir, the famous Bhakti-saint also visited Puri, There is a Kabir Math in Puri. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak visited Puri and established his Math which is situated near the Swargadwar of Puri town. Besides Kabir and Nanak saints like Sankar Dev of Assam also visited Jagannatha temple. It may be pointed out that two great saints like Sankaracharya and Ramanuja had not only visited Jagannatha temple but also established Sankaracharya Math and Emar Math respectively.
Jagannatha’s offering, popularly known as Mahaprasad bears testimony to a classless and casteless society which is main aspect of humanism. It is through Mahaprasad that friendship is established among all castes high and low, Brahmins and Chandals can take Mahaprasada from the same plate without any hesitation. Prof. U.C. Mohanty has rightly opined Mahaprasad relationship is considered the most sacred and highest type of relationship, not only between man and man, but also between tribes and clans, between village and village, a principle of fraternal love, respect, reciprocity and co-operation.
Some scholars have gone to the extent of saying that the three colours of the deities (Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra) represent the three basic races of the world namely, black, white and yellow. Hence, the Trinity of Puri represents the mankind.

In the daily rituals and various festivals of Lord Jagannatha, people from both high and low castes participate on equal footing. It is to be borne in mind that during ANAVASARA (a particular ritual in which Lord Jagannatha is supposed to fall ill). It is Daitapatis (the descendants of the tribal Shavara Clan) and not the Brahmins who perform the rituals of Lord Jagannatha. This bears testimony to the human aspect of Lord Jagannatha.
The humanization of Lord Jagannatha is manifested in His Car Festival which is popularly known as Patitapaban Yatra. In this festival, people without distinction of caste, colour and creed join together and pull the chariots with great enthusiasm. Various rituals during the Ratha Yatra like the PAHANDI, CHHERAPAMHARA by the Gajapati Maharaja of Puri, the stopping of the Lord’s chariot enroute at his aunt's place to partake his favourite rice cake (Podapitha) and quarrel between the Lord and Mahalaxmi when the Lord returns to the temple bear testimony to the humanization of Lord Jagannath.
From Cradle to Grave, Lord Jagannatha is the friend, philosopher and guide of Odias. He holds a unique place not only in the history of Odisha but also in the lives and culture of its people. On the auspicious occasion of marriage in the family the householder will never forget to invite Lord Jagannath. He first of all sends an invitation to the Lord Jagannatha believing that He (Lord) will bless the young couple. Surendra Mohanty has rightly opined ´He may be Lord of Universe, the highest Supreme Deity, the Purusottama, to the countless millions of the Hindus living in India and outside, but his relationship with Odisha and the Odias is almost overwhelming.
Jagannath is the most democratic God. His philosophy bears a significant message to the modern civilization which has been fragmented by all kinds of barriers on the grounds of caste, colour, creed, religion and sex. However, Jagannath cult can tackle these problems very nicely because Lord Himself stands as symbol of equality, fraternity and progress of the entire human civilization.
 Dr. Siddhartha Kanungo

Courtesy Orissa Review.

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