The Ratha Yatra Festival of Sri Jagannatha-deva takes place in the city of Puri, Odisha, India. It is considered to be an extremely attractive and meaningful celebration for all people of the whole world. The life and soul of all Gaudiya Vaisnavas, Sri Gauranga, appeared with the complexion and mood of Srimati Radharani. During his sannyasa pastimes in Puri Dhama, Sri Gauranga, along with his internal associates, celebrated this Ratha Yatra Festival through the congregational chanting of the holy names in a most glorious manner.
Let us first discuss the origin of the Ratha Yatra festival.
Indradyumna Maharaja of the Sun Dynasty used to rule from his capital city of Avanti, Malava Desa (present day Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh). He was a great devotee of the Supreme Lord. He was extremely anxious to personally see the Supreme Lord. We know that the Lord is situated in the hearts of all living entities as the super soul (Paramatma); He, Himself, fulfills the innermost desires of His devotees. When Indradyumna Maharaja was deeply desiring to see the Supreme Lord, the Supreme Lord personally sent His supreme devotee to Indradyumna Maharaja to inform him about the glories of the Nila Madhava deity. However, that devotee did not inform Indradyumna Maharaja which about the whereabouts of the Nila Madhava deity. Indradyumna Maharaja sent his assistants in all directions to search out the location of Nila Madhava. Almost all of the men returned to Indradyumna Maharaja failing to locate the deity. However, when the royal priest, Raja-purohita Vidyapati, became tired having searched for Nila Madhava in so many places, he suddenly arrived at a tribal kingdom by the desire of the Supreme Lord. Vidyapati was given accommodations to stay at the house of the tribal chief. Having traveled far distances and having spent much time in search of the deity, Vidyapati arrived and began living in the tribal chief’s home. The tribal chief’s name was Visvavasu. Visvavasu had a young, unmarried, daughter named Lalita. Having stayed for some time at Visvavasu’s house, Vidyapati fell in love with Visvavasu’s daughter, Lalita, by the will of the Lord. Having fallen in love, they were bound to get married and eventually did so.
After marriage, Vidyapati continued living in his father-in-law’s house with Lalita. Vidyapati began to notice that Visvavasu used to go somewhere at the end of the night and return home at mid-day. Vidyapati notices that whenever Visvavasu used to return home, an aromatic fragrance of camphor and sandalwood used to emanate from his body. Vidyapati asked his wife, Lalita, about Visvavasu’s daily journey and Lalita told Vidyapati all of the details. She explained how her father, Visvavasu, daily goes to worship the deity of Nila Madhava. Having serendipitously found out about the whereabouts Sri Nila Madhava, Vidyapati experienced unending bliss. Vidyapati expressed his desire to see the Nila Madhava deity to Visvavasu through his wife, Lalita. Visvavasu first disagreed but being bound by fatherly affection for his daughter, finally agreed to take Vidyapati to see Nila Madhava. However, there was one condition. Vidyapati would be blind-folded on the way from the house to the deity’s deity. Lalita was very intelligent. In order to have her husband to be able to recognize the path for the future, she gave him a handful of mustard seeds which he could drop on the path.
In accordance with Visvasu’s condition, Vidyapati was blind-folded and taken to the Nila Madhava deity. Vidyapati dropped the mustard seeds all along the way as he was walking behind Visvavasu. Vidyapati was totally overwhelmed upon seeing the stunning deity of Nila Madhava and began offering many prayers in praise of the Lord. At this time, Visvavasu left Vidyapati with Nila Madhava and went to pluck forest flowers and fruits for the worship of Nila Madhava. Vidyapati saw a small pond nearby the deity of Nila Madhava and saw an amazing event. A crow was sleeping on a tree and fell into the pond. Within a few seconds, the crow took on the form of a four-armed Visnu (sarupya-mukti) and entered into the Vaikuntha. Seeing this event, Vidyapati thought to himself that he would immediately jump into the pond and enter into Vaikuntha. However, a celestial voice resounded therein – Vidyapati, if you jump into the pond and go back to the spiritual abode receiving sarupya-mukti, who will inform Indradyumna Maharaja about the whereabouts of the Nila-Madhava deity. Hearing this celestial voice, Vidyapati controlled himself. Meanwhile, Visvavasu returned to Nila Madhava and NIla Madhava directly spoke to Visvavasu – I have accepted your service of forest flowers and fruits for so many days. Now, I must go to Indradyumna Maharaja to accept royal service.
Visvavasu became afraid that he would lose the service of Nila Madhava and imprisoned Vidyapati. However, due to the heartrending cries of his daughter, Lalita, Visvavasu liberated Vidyapati. In order to fulfill the desire of Nila Madhava, Vidyapati immediately set off for Avanti to convey the whereabouts and desire of the Nila Madhava deity to Indradyumna Maharaja. In order to bring Nila Madhava to Malava Desa, Indradyumna Maharaja proceeded with his convoy of elephants, horses, soldiers and associates in search of the path with the small mustard seed plants. Indradyumna Maharaja reached the temple of Nila Madhava. However, he could not see Nila Madhava. Indradyumna Maharaja became angry, thinking that Visvavasu had hidden the deity, arrested him. We must keep in mind that the Supreme Lord loves His devotees (bhakta-vatsala). The Supreme Lord saw that Visvavasu was very eager to continue serving Him so He decided to become invisible Indradyumna Maharaja. However, in order to respect the eager desire of Indradyumna Maharaj to also render service unto Him, the Supreme Lord said, “Visvavasu is my devotee. Leave him alone. Construct a temple for Me on the top of Niladri mountain. I will very quickly come to you in the form of Daru-brahma (wooden form). However, you will not see Me in the form of Nila Madhava.” After hearing the loving words of Nila Madhava, Indradyumna Maharaja released Visvavasu. Indradyumna Maharaja constructed a wide road from Baulamala to Nilakandara and named the road as Ramakrishna-pura. Rock was brought from Baulamala along the Ramakrishna-pura Road and a huge temple was constructed at Niladri (the present-day Jagannath Puri temple). The temple foundation went down about 90 feet and the height of the temple was approximately 180 feet. A golden waterpot (kalash) and chakra were installed at the top of the temple. Indradyumna Maharaja decided to request Lord Brahma to install the temple. Lord Brahma is the incarnation in the mode of passion of the Supreme Lord. Thus, Indradyumna Maharaja set off for Satyaloka, Lord Brahma’s abode. Upon Indradyumna Maharaja’s request, Lord Brahma agreed to install the temple. When Indradyumna Maharaja along with Lord Brahma returned from Satyaloka, many hundreds of years had already passed on the earth planet and many significant events had taken place. Firstly, the beautiful temple which was constructed by Indradyumna Maharaja had become completely covered by sand. In the absence of Indradyumna Maharaja, Suradeva and Gala Madhava had ruled the kingdom. One day, Gala Madhava saw signs of the temple under the sand and rediscovered the temple. After a few days of this event, Indradyumna Maharaja arrived with Lord Brahma at the kingdom. Thus began a verbal debate regarding the temple. Gala Madhava said that he had constructed the temple. On the other hand, Indradyumna Maharaja said that he had constructed the temple. In order to resolve the debate, a crow named Bhusandi who had been sitting on the kalpa-bata tree situated in the temple premises since many yugas began to narrate the history. This crow used to chant the names of Lord Rama. After hearing the story from the crow, Lord Brahma instructed Gala Madhava to live outside the temple to the west of Indradyumna Sarovar as a form of punishment.
Now, Indradyumna Maharaja requested Lord Brahma to install the temple. Lord Brahma said, “Sri Ksetra is manifested by the internal potency of the Supreme Lord. I do not possess the qualification to create the deities for this holy temple and land. The Supreme Lord, out of His own mercy, resides here at all times. I shall tie a flag at the dome of the temple; whoever sees this flag and offers obeisance to it will undoubtedly achieve liberation.”
Hearing the words of Lord Brahma and having been deprived of seeing Lord Nila Madhava, Indradyumna Maharaja vowed to sleep on a bed of kusa grass, not eat and thereby give up his life. After a few days, Lord Nila Madhava appeared in Indradyumna Maharaj’s dream and said, “Don’t be sad. I will float and come in the form of the wooden Daru-brahma on the banks of the ocean at Chakra Tirtha in a place known as Banki Mohan.” After the dream, the king along with soldiers and many people came to the determined location. Upon reaching there, he saw the wooden Daru-brahma which had marks of the conchshell (shankha), chakra, mace (gada), and lotus (padma). Indradyumna Maharaja was elated. However, even with the help of many people and elephants, it was unable to move the wooden Daru-brahma even an inch. Indradyumna Maharaja became dejected in mind.
Sri Daru-brahma appeared in Kind Indradyumna’s dream that night and instructed, “Bring My previous tribal servant, Visvavasu, and prepare a golden chariot.” According to the instructions of the Supreme Lord, a golden chariot was made ready. Visvavasu held the Daru-brahma on one end and Vidyapati held the Daru-brahma from the other side. They easily lifted and installed the Daru-brahma on the golden chariot. Along with help of an extremely energetic and ecstatic self-manifest sankirtana, they brought the Daru-brahma on the chariot to the temple and Lord Brahma began the fire sacrifice (yajna). It is said that Lord Nrsimhadeva was present on that sacrificial platform (yajna-bedi). Presently, the Nrsimhadeva to whom we offer obeisance in Jagannath temple, to the left of the Mukti Mandapa was present during Lord Brahma’s fire sacrifice.
Indradyumna Maharaja called the best artisans to carve the deity of the Lord. When all of these artisans tried to carve out the deity from the Daru-brahma with their instruments (batali, haturi), all of the instruments immediately broke upon touching the Daru-brahma. Finally, the Supreme Lord, Himself, in the form of an old brahmana named Ananta Maharana told Indradyumna Maharaja, “Oh, Indradyumna Maharaja! I will carve this deity. However, the door of the temple cannot be opened for 21 days. Until this deity is completely carved, nobody can enter into the temple.” Even the king could not enter; only Ananta Maharana would be allowed to enter. the old brahmana, Maharana, impelled Indradyumna Maharaja to agree to his conditions and began carving the deity. For 14 days, it was possible to understand that carving work was going on inside the temple. However, after those 14 days, Indradyumna Maharaja could not understand if carving work was going on or not. He was extremely anxious. Everyone expressed that he should not enter the temple but despite their advice, Indradyumna Maharaja forcefully entered into the temple. The Daru-brahma was carved into three most wonderful deities. However, the hands, feet and fingers were not manifested. Now, Indradyumna Maharaja, thinking himself to be an offender, lied down on a bed of kusa grass and prepared himself to die by giving up all food. In the middle of the night, Sri Jagannatha-deva came in the dream of Indradyumna Maharaja and instructed him, “I eternally reside in this form as the Daru-brahma in Sri Purusottama Dhama, Nilacala – apanipado javanograhita (svetasvatara upanisad 3.21) – I am the personified form of all of these statements of the revealed sruti scriptures. Even if I evidently do not have hands or feet, I accept all of the items offered in service to Me by My devotees. The pure devotees will see this handless and footless form of Me to be the ever-youthful, sweet, dancing Syamasundara. If you have the desire to worship Me with opulence, then create hands and feet for Me made of gold and silver. However, you should know My divine body to be the ornament of all ornaments.”
Indradyumna Maharaja became blissful upon hearing the direct words of Sri Jagannatha-deva in his dream. Thereafter, Indradyumna Maharaja joined his palms and offered his prayer to the Lord – Please have the family members of that old man who carved You be present for carving Your chariot, age after age. Hearing Indradyumna Maharaja’s prayer, Sri Jagannatha-deva slightly smiled and said, “All activities will be carried out according to your desire.” Sri Jagannatha-deva continued, “Visvavasu’s descendants will be My most dear servants known as the Dayita-sevakas. The descendants of Vidyapati from his brahmana wife will worship Me (archan). The sons of Visvavasu’s daughter, Lalita, will cook for Me.” Indradyumna Maharaja lowered his head in reverence and accepted the order of Lord Jagannatha. He offered his prayer to Lord Jagannatha from the core of his heart – Oh, Supreme Lord! I beg that the doors of Your temple be closed for three hours. The rest of the time, I want that You be constantly fed. I want that Your hand never becomes dry. Sri Jagannatha-deva spontaneously accepted this request of Indradyumna Maharaja.
After this incident, Sri Jagannatha-deva asked Indradyumna Maharaja, “Ask a boon for yourself.” Indradyumna Maharaja replied, “Oh, Supreme Lord! Bestow upon me the following boon. In the future, let no one individual claim this temple to be his own property. May I have no children.” Sri Jagannatha-deva accepted this wish of Indradyumna Maharaja and then became invisible.
Yours in the service of Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Mission,
(Sri Gopinath Gaudiya Math)