Jagannath- Dharma is a compendium of, probably, all
existing and possible facets of spirituality. Its autochthonous
richness combines and absorbs within its fold all cross-cultural
spiritual philosophies, and, at times, transcends these. So, "cult"
is misnomer and "religion", of too narrow dimension to connote it.
"Jagannath- Dharma" is the appropriate way to name this eternal (sanatana)
concept of spirituality. It is not merely intellectual conformity or
ceremonial piety. It is not an amalgam, but a spiritual synthesis.
It is expansive and constrictive, pluralistic and sectarian. Its
lesson is that religion must be construed not in terms of any
particular belief but simply as a way of lacking at the world of
human - experience as a whole.
Jagannath was called "Purusottama" since his origin at Puri or
Purusottam - Kshetra (the abode of Purusottam) since pre-historic
times. The Rig Veda refers to him as the Daru (sacred log of wood)
of Purusottama, afloat on the eastern sea. The name "Jagannath"
(Lord of the Universe) is invariably a collective representation of
the Triad (Jagannath - Balabhadra - Subhadra) and has been in use
since the dawn of the last millenium.
Jagannath - Dharma believes in the Rig Vedic concept of the Supreme
Truth. The Triad, conceived as one, represents the three attributes
of creation, maintenance and destruction. The use of "OM" in the
worship is a reflection of the Vedic strain. Sudarshana, the Jyoti
Brahma, represents the formless and along with the Triad is
conceived as one. The Supreme is formless and with form, He is with
qualities and beyond qualities. The Supreme is shown as transcending
contradiction in his infinite perfection.
He has multiform manifestations. He is Siva or Bhairava and goddess
Vimala is Bhairavi. Saivism and Saktism are fused in him. The use of
"Klim" mantra in worship gives him a tantric image.
The Triad is deified by the Jainas as manifestation of the Jaina
"Tri-ratna" (three gems of Jainism) representing right knowledge,
right thought and right perception.
Jagannath is identified with Buddha. His iconographics
representation without hands and feet is approximating to the
meditating Buddha. The Triad is depicted as Buddha, Dharma and
Sangha - the three gems of Buddhism, some Buddhists even find
discernible affinity of the car-festival with Buddhist festivals.
The Tooth-relic of Buddha is supposedly inside the images of the
triad and is known as "Brahma-Padartha" (Divine-Matter).
Christian authors like Sylvan Levy and sources like the Aquarian
Gospel have established that Puri was visited by a Christian Apostle
during the times of Jesus Christ. The Christian concepts of love,
compassion, charity and fellow-feeling are almost exact
reproductions of the value- endowed Vedic paradigms of humanistic
tradition that PurusottamaKshetra signified in those remote times.
Initial animosity and ignorance of the Muslims had seen many
attempts at desecration of the Jagannath Temple during early period
of Muslim rule. A gradual moderation in the fastidious Muslim
outlook brought them to reconcile with Jagannath Dharma. Even the
Muslim broke through Islamic Thackles to visit the Temple and eat
the Mahaprasad (food-offerings to the Triad) with the Hindus
jointly. The Mahaprasad brotherhood continued long and this
tradition transcends inter - religious barriers. visitors like Amir
Ali, writers like Niamatullah, Ahmad Razi, Asgar Ali, Malik Mohammad
Jaisi and poets like Osman of Gazipur attest to it. Salabega, a
Muslim of Orissa, consecrated his life to devotion of the triad and
his mystic yearnings and pleas before Jagannath still reverberate.
His tomb on the path of the Car-festival bears testimony to it.
Interestingly, tradition has it that Kabir visited Puri and was
enamoured of the Triad. A monastery was set up by him at Puri which
still goes by the name of Kabir- Chaura, Till now, Hindus and
Muslims visiting Puri have to go there first and jointly eat food
and drink (Torani) there. The inter- religious fusion is more than
just a tradition. The human race cannot be vitiated by religious
distinctions in the larger contexts of spiritualism is the supreme
message. It is unique, and is not to be found elsewhere.
Similar is the tradition of "Guru Ka Langar" at Bauli and Mangu
monasteries set up to commemorate Nanak's visit to Puri. A universal
mode of spirituality and religious tradition irrespective of time,
clime and country, being craved for by Nanak, was at last found by
jim in the Jagannath Dharma during his visit to Puri. This tradition
of the founder of Sikhism was so rich that devout sikhs continue to
adore the Triad. Even Maharaj Ranjit Singh wanted to present the
Koh-i-noor diamond to Lord Jagannath.
Adi Sankaracharya visited Puri and set up his monastery (Govardhan
Math) at Puri under his disciple Padma padacarya. Sankara stood for
the philosophy of Advaita (non-duality). For redemption of soul, one
must learn the Vedas and cap it by personal mystic experience
through Laya (complete absorption) in Brahman. This is the path of
mystic trance (samadhi) for the Jivanmukta. The other path is
vyutthana or reversion to common life when the spectacle of the
world returns but does not delude him since he has already realized
its metaphysical falsity. At Puri, Sankara found in the Jagannath
Dharma a magnificent blend of both. He understood that divinity
should not be held apart from humanity. The crest of Bhagavatism
which Sankara was riding then converged with the Jagannath Dharma
which he realized as the summum Boonum of every spiritual and
metaphysical pattern. The head (Mahant) of the Govardhan Math at
Puri is a house-holder, unlike the other three set up by Adi Sankara.
The tradition still continues.
Tradition of pilgrimage brought other savants to Puri, The Jerusalem
of Hinduism' Vaisnavism was championed by Narahari Tirtha at Puri
till the visit of Ramanuja, the 4 saint of vishistadvaita
philosophy. He preached the gospel of self surrender, got royal
approval to start the "Pancaratra" mode of worship, introduced
goddess Lakshmi and the offering of cooked rice, and put a premium
on chanting of the holy name. He found in Jagannath- Dharma a
harmonious combination of absolutism with personal theism along the
Vedantic line of "Prasthanatraya". The Emar Math and the tital mark
on the temple bear his testimony.
Nimbarka the vaishnavite saint of south India visited to introduce
the concept of Radha and Krushna. The saint poet of Orissa, Jayadeva
was to take it up through his monumental work "Geetagovinda". The "Devadasi"
(virgin consecrated to God) was introduced. Yet, not until Chaitanya
would such a concept gain ground. Vishnuswami of South India was
another illustrious savant. Madhvacharya introduced "Rama" cult in
Keeping with the rich spiritual tradition, King Kapilendra Deva
proclaimed Jagannath as the "King" and himself as His first
servitor. The "Chhera Panhara" tradition is its supreme
manifestation. The resurgent Brahminical tradition was kept in
effective check and the synthesis of tribal- Aryan tradition since
the legendary king Indradhumna was kept alive as a tradition of
caste-less, spiritually egalitarian society. The role of the Sudras
as an integral part of the categories of temple servitors blends
well with Caste - less Mahaprasadbrotherhood till today.
Ramananda, the mentor of Chaitanya, believed in devotion but
Chaitanya apotheosized it through ecstatic trance. Ganapati Bhatta
saw Ganesha and Tulsidas saw Rama in the Triad.
Indeed the Triad represents the supreme divine consciousness,
epitomsing Sat, Chit, and Anand. Such a powerful conception of
synthesis and regenesis is unique in the entire world.