Jagannath (Jagannatha) literally means “Lord of the Universe” (derived from “Jagat” meaning Universe and “Nath” meaning Lord) and is a deity worshipped in regional traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism in India and Bangladesh. Jagannath is considered a form of Vishnu. He is a part of a triad along with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. To some Vaishnava Hindus, Jagannath is an abstract representation of Krishna; to some Shaiva and Shakta Hindus, he is a symmetry-filled tantric representation of Bhairava; to some Buddhists, he is symbolism for Buddha in the Buddha-Sangha-Dhamma triad; to some Jains, his name and his festive rituals are derived from Jeenanath of Jainism tradition.
The icon of Jagannath is a carved and decorated wooden stump with large round eyes and a symmetric face, and the icon has a conspicuous absence of hands or legs. The worship procedures, sacraments and rituals associated with Jagannath are syncretic, and include rites that are uncommon in Hinduism. The origin and evolution of Jagannath worship is unclear. Some scholars interpret hymn 10.155.3 of the Rigveda as a possible origin, but others disagree and state that it is a syncretic deity with tribal roots. His name does not appear in the traditional Dashavatara (ten avatars) of Vishnu, though in certain Odia literature, Jagannath has been treated as the Ninth avatar, as a substitute for or the equivalent of the Buddha.
Lord Jagannath is seated along with Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra in an ancient stone temple in Puri, Odisha. These three deities, constitute the basic and fundamental Trinity and are considered to be the forms and manifestations of the omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent supreme power. Sudarshan, who is supposed to be the fourth important divine manifestation, is also worshipped with the celebrated trio and these four are known as the Caturdha murti or the four-fold divine images. Besides, Madhava, a replica of Jagannatha, Sridevi and Bhudevi are also installed in the sanctum sanctorum and worshipped.
Some interesting and unexplained facts about the Jagannath Temple at Puri:
- The origins of this temple cannot be clearly ascertained. There are numerous references to Lord Jagannath and the Puri temple in acient texts and literature dating back thousands of years but the antiquity of Jagannath still remains a mystery. Traditional authorities strongly hold that Jagannatha is perhaps as old as human civilization.
- The Brahmapadartha (Life force or Cosmic substance) is, perhaps, the biggest mystery of the Jagannath temple at Puri. Every 12–19 years, the ritual of Nabakalebara is performed. Nabakalebara (Naba means New and Kalebara means Body, literally meaning New Body) is an ancient ritual associated with Lord Jagannath. During this ritual, the idols of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan are replaced by a new set of idols. This ritual is performed when a year has two Asadha months (Adhika maas of Asadha) according to Hindu calendar. This usually occurs every 12 to 19 years. The deities are made of Daru Brahma (Neem Tree). There are many legends about the Brahmapadartha which is transferred from the existing idols to the new ones. They are transferred by the senior most Daitapatis, in a blindfolded state. Even they claim to not know exactly about it. This service is, therefore, called “Gupt Seva” (secret service).
- The Prasadam prepared in the temple on a single day never gets wasted nor does it ever fall short. It fulfills all the devotees whether a surplus number of people come to the temple or less.
- The temple Prasadam is cooked in earthen pots using firewood. Exactly 7 pots are put on top on one another. Amazing and unbelievable, the top most pot gets cooked first followed by the bottom pots in order.
- The flag atop the temple has been observed to flap in the opposite direction of the breeze.
- Irrespective of where one stands in Puri, it seems to the viewer that the Sudarshana Chakra on top of the temple is always facing him/her.
- Usually in coastal areas during the day-time, the breeze blows from the sea towards the land and during evening hours it blows from the land towards the sea. But in the case of Puri it is the reverse.
- No birds fly above the Jagannath temple in Puri.
- The shadow of the main dome of Jagannath temple is not visible, whatever be the time of day. Maybe an architectural feat or the Lord’s desire.
- After entering the temple from Singha Dwara’s entrance, one cannot hear any sound produced by the ocean, after the first step. But, when one exits, it can be clearly heard. This can be noticed even more clearly during evening. There is no scientific explanation for this. Legend has it that Subhadra Mayi, the sister of the two Lords wished peace and serenity within the temple abode and hence it was made to come about that way.
Official website of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration, Puri: jagannath.nic.in