On the full-moon day in the month of Shrabana, the birth day of Balabhadra is celebrated by performing special Nitis. Lord Baladeva (Balabhadra) is the presiding Deity in the Baladeva Jew Temple at Kendrapara in the heart of Tulasi Kshetra, although the three Deities Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannath are enshrined there. The name of the temple is such given that the temple of Jagannatha at Puri is named after Lord Jagannath. According to Prof. Prabhat Mukherjee, in about 5th century A.D. Sankarasana and Vasudeva came to be known as Jagannatha and Balarama in Orissa. Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira (6th century A.D) enjoins to place Ekanamsa [Subhadra] between Baladeva and Krshna.

Meghasthenes, the Greek ambassador in the court of the Maurya Emperor Chandragupta, also refers to the satvatas and the worship of Vasudev-Krishna. Historian R.G. Bhandarkar observes thus, “If the Vasudev-Krishna worship prevailed in the time of the first Maurya, it must have originated long before the establishment of Maurya dynasty, and my assertion that it owes its origin to the stream of thought which began with Upanishads and culminated in the east in Buddhism and Jainism and arose about the time of the latter, is conformed.” [2] So we find that the cult of Vasudev-Krishna and Sankarshan (Basudeva) came into being long before the 4th century B.C

A Ghusundi inscription mentions Pujasila Prakaro narayanavatica, which has been translated as “enclosing wall of the stone (object) of worship called Narayana Vatika (compound)” [3] and dedicating the same to Sankarsana Baladeva, who was Lord of all. Hence the indication that indications of worship of only two forms (or Vyuhas), Sankarsana and Vasudev, and not the four (Sankarsana, Vasudev, Pradyumna and Aniruddha) had developed by this time. Moreover Sankarsana has been mentioned first and evidently been given a prior position (cf. Sankarsana-Vasudevabhyam). Above Ghosundi, which is near to Nagari in the Chitorgarh district of Rajasthan (Rajputana), was also a seat of the Bhagavat religion. A stone image of Balarama, which is now preserved in the Lucknow Provincial Museum [4], is a sure proof that his worship was prevalent in Mathura during the Sunga period (2nd century B.C). The Deity holds club (musala) in his right hand and plough in the left.

Balabhadra is known as the elder brother of Vasudeva. His sixteen other names are: Balabhadra Rebati Raman, Talanka, Musali, Hali, Kamapal, Kalandi Vedan, Pralaghna, Achutagranja, Bala, Rohineya, Nilambara, Sirapani , Halayudha, Baladeva, Balarama and Sankarsana. [5] He is the God of Destruction for which strength (Bala) is necessary, so his name is Sankarsana, Balaram, Balabhadra and Baladeva for his vigour.

Not for the strength of the destroyer but for his wisdom, Balabhadra is the ‘Siva’ of the Universe. In the Agama (Tantra) sastra, Siva is the Paramaguru. When Siva describes the essence of tantras, he is knowledge, called Dakshina Murty. Balabhadra is white, as if He is powdered by Bhasma. So he is the incarnation of Siva. [6] In the 12th century A.D., Kavi Jayadeva of Orissa also described him in Gita-govinda as:

Bahasi Bapusi Bishade Basanga Jaladavang
Hala hati viti milita Jamunavang Keshaba dhruta
Haladhara rupa Jaya Jagadisha Hare

Lord Balabhadra was worshipped during 4th-5th century A.D. in Uttar Tosali. The entire ancient Uttar (northern) Tosali is named as Tulasi Kshetra, but the present Tulasi-kshetra is the modern Kendrapara. [7] The area extending from the Bay of Bengal in the east, the high hill of Lalitagiri as well as the Assia mountain range in the north-west, River Baitarani in the north and River Mahanadi in the south, is the part of north Tosali or UCHA (UDRA) of Hiuen-Tsang. The present Kendrapara district is surrounded by three major rivers of Orissa forming a deltaic region. The low delta region is submerged by sea water and river water during extreme rainy seasons, leaving high silt.

This deltaic region is very fertile for the production of agricultural goods. People here worship the God of Agriculture and oxen/bull. The Lord Balabhadra of Kendrapara was first enshrined by Gopal Siddha das, a cowherd boy of that area. It is very interesting to note that Siva is represented as a cultivator who ploughs his fields, sows seeds, takes out weeds, cut grass and carries it home on his head, as he appears in the medieval Bengali literature. [8]

Regarding the festival, it is stated that “In the half-Buddhistic and half-Saivite Gambhira and Gajan festivals, which appear to have originated at an early date and must have preceded Ramai Pandit’s work, there are references to the agricultural role of Siva on the Ahara puja, a feature common to both Gambhira and Gajana festivals. Cultivation by Siva is represented by bhakatas or devotees before the spectators.” [9] We know that the wisdom of Balabhadra is the Siva of the Universe, hence Siva-Balabhadra as the God of Agriculture has been worshipped since ancient times.

Iconographic representation showing the relation between Vaisnavism and Saktism is not uncommon in India, or in Orissa. The earliest representation so far available of the holy triad of Krishna-Vasudeva, Subhadra (Ekanamsa) and Sankarsana-Balaram is preserved in the Karachi Museum, Pakistan (2nd century A.D.). [10] Here, a two-armed Balarama is in standing pose and holding a colossal plough (hala) in his right hand. The utter absence of snakehoods above his head is to be noted with great interest. The association of Krsna-Balarama in a few Jaina reliefs from the Mathura Museum, datable to the Kusan period, are also worth taking note of. [11]

It is said that after the death of Baladeva, his dead body was transformed into a stone image which was worshipped by Devatas at the door of Patalapuri, which is identified with Lalitagiri in Dwarpa Yuga. The area extending from the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Lalitagiri and Assia mountain range in the north-west, River Baitarani in the north and River Mahanadi in the south are called part of Patalapuri (nether world) in the Puranic literature.[12] When Kali Yuga appeared and Buddha Dharma (Buddhism) spread over the area, the Devatas kept the image of Balabhadra in disguise, hidden underwater in the River Madhusagar, which is now called the River Gobari. After Gopal Siddha das discovered the image of Balabhadra near Siddha Sarovar, he worshipped him at Kendrapara.

There are also some examples which state that Balarama worship was prevalent in other parts of India and even in the heart of Buddhist sites like the ancient site of Nalanda. An inscription of King Devapal is engraved on the pedestal of a bronze image of Baladeva discovered from there. So it appears that this Brahmanical Deity was worshipped at Nalanda during Devapal’s reign. [13]

Another interesting carving of Balarama belonging to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. had been discovered from the Gwalior area at Tumain (ancient Tumbavana). Thus the locality of Gwalior state came under the influence of Vaisnavism at least by the Saka-Kusan period, or the early centuries of the Christian era (i.e. 3rd century A.D). [14]

In the 5th-6th century A.D., the Pancharatra System of the Bhagabata Cult, which accept Sankarsana-Baladeva and Krsna-Vasudeva as the supreme Deities, was followed by the Sarabhapuriya kings of Western Orissa. [15] It is a very interesting fact that one inscription on the wall of the Nrusingha temple in the campus of Sri-Jagannatha temple Puri was discovered by late S.N. Rajguru. The said inscription is fixed in the southern wall at a floral-base under the Varaha shrine. It records that in the 37th Srahi of Anangabhima-III (i.e. A.D. 1241), a Mahamandalika had donated lands for Amrta Manohi (bhoga) of two Gods, namely Balabhadradeva and Kamalakshadeva (Sri Krsna). Hence it is noted that Balabhadra upasana was given prior importance even in Sri-Mandir, Puri. [16]

Kandarasura, a demon king and a destroyer of yajnas, was ruling over the area surrounding Lalitagiri and the Assian mountain ranges. Tulasi Kshetra Mahatmya [17] reveals that he lived near Lalitagiri-Alatigiri, and was terrifying the local people. Lord Balarama defeated him in a fight, as a result of which he left the place and went to Kapilash Mountain near Dhenkanal, where he lived in disguise in the nearby mountain ranges, as he was an ardent devotee of Lord Siva. Lord Baladeva thoroughly searched every nook and corner of the hill and lastly ploughed the hill with his plough (hala), as a result of which one perennial spring emerged from the hill. This is now called Langal Siar Jharana (spring of the plough). After persuading him from Kapilash, Lord Baladeva killed the wicked demon Kandarasura in a fight and threw his scattered body all over the nearby places.

The Deities of Kendrapara

It is every interesting to note that the present place names surrounding Kendrapara are known according to the names of the fallen body parts of the demon king. Asureswar is derived from the fallen cut head (Asura Sira) of the demon, Balagandi is derived from the fallen gandi (trunk) of the demon (i.e. Kandara padi), Kamar Khandi is derived from his fallen kamar (waist), and Navi Khanda Lahakhanda is derived from the fallen navi (Naval) of the demon. Besides these places, Lord Baladeva founded some Siva’ temples over the other fallen parts of the demon, like Swapneswar Siva temple at Kantia, Lankeswar Siva temple at Gualisingh, and Biuleswar Siva temple at Kajala, where demon’s body parts like feet, neck and part of the waist respectively were fallen. The demon’s body (gandi) is buried at Balagandi, which is Kendrapara proper. [18]

Some research scholars have the opinion that Kandarasura, who lived near Chandikhol, was not a demon but an ardent Buddha arhat (follower of Buddhism) and a tantric, and that he was a leader of an aboriginal race like the Kondha (Kondharasura). According to his name, the place name ‘Kandharapara’ or ‘Kendraparah’ has been derived. But other scholars think differently, that the name ‘Kendraparah’ is derived from the word ‘Kendra’ (a kind of musical instrument made of from the gourd) and ‘para’ means pada, or hamlet of a village.[19] This instrument is played by some sects of people called Natha Jogi (Yogi), who makes his livelihood by playing Kendara and by moving from door to door for alms.

After the advent of the new Nathism, some sects of people adopted Nathism and called themselves Natha or Natha yogi. It is worth mentioning here that an ancient stone image of Machhendranatha, one of the chief preacher of the Natha cult, is worshipped at Rajanagar (Pattamundai). It is understood from an inscription on the body of this image that the Natha cult was prevalent in Kendrapara area during the 9th century A.D. [20] Descendants of Natha family are now living in the area surrounding Kendraparah at Icchapur (Kendrapara), Choudakulat, Taradipal (Pattamundai) Chandiapalli (Aul), Nikirai, Kashati, Chandol, Rajanagar, Derabisi, etc. Kendraparah, being its Kendra (centre), the name derived Kendra-Pada or Kendraparah.

Kandharasura, the destroyer of Yajnas was finally killed by Lord Balabhadra. His head was cut five times, but again appeared, which indicates the Pancha-skandha of Buddhism, i.e., Rupa, Bedana, Sangya, Sanskar and Bijyan. This legend describes the culture of Buddhism. It is a conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism.

At last the Brahmanism (Tulasi) won the battle. Lord Baladeva married Tulasi, the daughter of Kandarasura on the 12th day of the bright-fortnight of the month of Magha. This Magha Sukla Dwadasi day is observed as Tulasi Bihaba day (Marriage day of Tulasi) with great pomp and ceremony every year.

The war of Lord Baladeva with Kandharasura indicates the war of religious understanding. From the early times, worship of Nagas (snakes) was prevalant in Orissa, and Naga Puja mingled with Brahamanism. During archaeological excavations at Paharpur in Rajshahi districts of East Bengal (now Bangladesh), they discovered one gray sandstone sculpture of Lord Balaram, one of the ten incarnations of Visnu, depicted with plough (hala) and under snake-hood. [21] As this image is dated to the 9th century A.D, it is proved that the Balabhadra Upasana was fully developed from at least the 9th century A.D. in the neighbouring province of Orissa.

In the 13th century A.D., King Anangabhimadeva-III of Ganga dynasty constructed one temple for the worship of Lord Baladeva near the present Kacheri of old Kendrapara town, which is about 60 hands (28 metres) high, for the worship of Lord Baladeva Jew in the heart of Tulasi Kshetra.

The original temple was demolished by Khan-i-Dwina (1660-1667 A.D.), the then Subedar of Orissa during the time of Moghal Emperor Aurangazeb. [22] He constructed a Masjid on the foundation of the dismantled temple in the year 1663 A.D.

Devotees took the Deity in disguise in a boat through the river Govari by boat and kept the Deity secretly near Baranga (Chhedara) Jungle. Afterwards it was shifted to Balarampur village near the Luna River at Samkhi Bata, so this place is also sacred for Vaisnavas.

Because the original stone image (Manibigraha) of Lord Balabhadra was found in the Tulasi forest by the cowherd boy Gopal Siddha das, the name of the presiding Deity Lord Baladeva is “Siddha Baladeva Jew”.

In 1761, the present Baladeva Jew temple was constructed at Ichhapur (Kendrapara) during the Maratha rule in Orissa. It was constructed by the king of Kujanga, Raja Gopali Sandha and Zamindar (landlord) of Chhedara killa, Sri Srinivas Narendra Mahapatra. One saint Santha, Gopi das, and Sairatak Giri convinced the then Maratha King of Janoji to construct the Jagamohan, Bhoga Mandap, etc. of the main temple of Gundicha and the compound wall. The viman and Jagamohan are built in pidha style of temple architecture. Afterwards Mukti Mandap, Ananda Bazar, Bhandarghara (store), Gouranga temple, Basudeva temple and Garuda pillar were constructed inside the compound wall.

Painting of some Hindu iconography was done on the roof ceiling and inner wall of Jagamohana. The entire area surrounding the Baladeva Jew temple is traditionally known as Tulasi Kshetra. The image of Tulasi Devi was worshipped in a temple near village Gochha on the northern side of the road from Kendrapara to Ichhapur. The stone image of Lord Balabhadra and wooden Forms of Jagannatha, Subhadra and Sudarsana are worshipped according to the rituals of the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri. Tulasi Kshetra (Kendrapara) is very near to Lalitagiri, Udayagiri and Ratnagiri, where the famous University of Puspagiri and Buddha Vihar Buddhist flourished since 2nd-3rd century B.C. So the entire deltaic area from Lalitagiri to the River Mahanadi and the sea is full of scattered Buddhist antiquities. Other important places are Pancha Varahi (Satavaya), Laxmi-varaha (Aul), Chandra Mayuli (Chandan nagar), Rama Chandi (Ramanagar), Patharakani (Barua), Satavauri (Panturi) Maa Kalinaguni (Gangapara-Sanamanitia) and Gramadevaties.

The zamindar of Chhedara was worshipping one Buddha image in a temple facing north [23] in the deep forest of Baranga (Kendrapada), where the present shrine of Lord Balabhadra and other deities were worshipped. The same Buddha image is now worshipped inside the compound of the Valadeva Jew premises as Basudeva (father of Balarama). The present Tulasi Kshetra and its adjoining areas were once a great centre of Buddhist and Saivite cultures. Some of the Buddhistic and Brahmanical images recovered from here have been preserved in the Indian Museum at Kolkata. [24]

Besides Viraja Kshetra and the Assia mountain ranges, the upper Baitarani river valley was also influenced by Buddhistic and Saivite cultures. One Siva-Nataraj image found at Asanapat (Keonjhar), which belong to the 4th century A.D, is kept in the State Museum at Bhubaneswar. Inscribed in the lower portion of the image is a description of the devotion of Maharaja Satru Bhanja towards Siva. [25]

A single copper plate grant was discovered from Deogaon (near Anandapur) Kosaleswar Siva temple. The donor is Sri Ranabhanja Deva of Bhanja king of Khijjinga kotta, who is described as Parameswara, which denotes that he was a devotee of Siva. [26] There is an ancient well in the campus of Kosaleswar Siva temple at Deogaon which is identical to a well found at the Buddhist site of Udayagiri. An Abalokiteswar (Padmapani) image was also found from there, from the Bhaumakar dynasty period. The Kosaleswar Siva of Debagram (Deogaon) was established by Jajatikeshari during the 10th century A.D. [27], hence the area between River Baitarani and Mahanadi were influenced by Buddhism, Saktism, Tantric Buddhism and Saivism, side by side in the past.

During the 16th century, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited the old temple of Baladeva Jew and remained there for five days. He took new rice (nabarna) at Chhedra. [28] As regards the spread of Vaisnavism in that period, we know that the religious movement was divided into two sects: Baikhanasa and Pancharatra. The sect of Baikhanasa depends on the Vedas, whereas the Pancharatra sect depends on Agama (Tantra). According to Pancharatra tradition, Lord Visnu has four Swarupas: 1) Para, 2) Vyuha, 3) Bibhaba, and 4) Antaryami. [29]

1.Para Swarupa – Lord Visnu is known as Parambrahma, Parameswar, having six virtues: Jnana Bala, Aiswariya, Virya, Sakti and Teja. But in some other text it is stated [30]: Jnana (knowledge), Virya (heroism), Aiswariya (divinity), Yasas (fame), Sri (prosperity), and Vairagya (renunciation).

2.Vyuha Swarupa – Lord Visnu has four Swarupas, including: Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, Aniruddha. Here Vasudeva is understood to have possessed the six attributes as above, so he is regarded as God Himself. Sankarsan has Jnana (knowledge) and Bala (power) Pradyumna has Aiswariya (divinity) and Virya (heroism). Aniruddha has Sakti and Teja. Here, according to Vyuha Swarupa, Jagannatha is Vasudeva and Balaram is Sankarasana. Jayadeva’s Gita-Govinda from the 12th century A.D. shows a new movement of Vaisnavism in full development on the soils of Orissa.

So in a very extensive area of the State of Orissa as well as India and abroad, the Lord Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannatha were worshipped in the temple called Baladeva Jew temple. These are several Baladeva Jew temples in Orissa, including Siddha Baladeva Jew of Kendrapara, Sri Baladeva Jew of Jignipur near Salepur, Sri Sri Baladeva Jew of Patapur under Dharmasala (Jajapur), Sri Baladeva Jew of Garadapur (Patakura), Sri Baladeva Jew of Indupur and Kanikagarh (Kendrapara district), Sri Baladeva Jew of Agarpada, Baladeva of Gud village, Sri Sri Baladeva Jew of Manjuri (Ranajit village) in Bhadrak district, Baladeva of Kupari hill (Balasore), Baladeva Jew of Keonjhar, Siddha Balaram of Dhenkanal, Baladeva of Dasapallah (Nayagarh), and Sri Balaram of Tumantara (Balipatana). This testifies to the prevalance of extensive Baladeva worship in the deltaic region and its suburb areas of Orissa.

The Car Festival of Lord Balabhadra in the Tulasi Kshetra is celebrated on the 2nd day of the bright fortnight in the month of Asadha just like the festival of Puri. He moves in a magnificent chariot called Taladwaja, which is 39 feet (12 mtrs.) in height and 24 feet (7.5 mtrs.) in diameter, having 14 wheels. Two black and two white horses are fitted in front of the chariot.

In the past the zamindar of Chhedaragarh was performing all royal duties of Puja like Chherrah Pamhara, etc., but now these duties are performed by the successors of Zamindar late Radheshyam Narendra of Kendrapara. Bhoga like Rasabali is famous in Baladeva Jew temple. Besides this, the festival of Makar Sankranti, Mahabishuva Sankranti (Pana Sankranti), Chandan Jatra and Snana Purnima, Shravan Purnima (Baladeva Janma) and Maghasukla Dwadasi (Tulasi Bibaha) are some of the main festivals observed in the Baladeva Jew temple at Kendrapara with devotion to Lord Baladeva:

Barsanam Bharata Shresthah Desanam Utkal Tatha, Utkale Shrestha Tirthani Krushnak Parvati Harah. Yatrayam Halayudha Gachheta Tulasi Kshetre Tisthatah, Utkale Pancha Khetrancha Badanti Muni Punga Bah. (Brahma Tantra)