The temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri, a coastal town near Bay of Bengal popularly known “Mahodadhi” occupies a distinct place in the entire religious world. The word “Puri” has been derived from “Purusottam Puri”, which is the fundamental and original essence of Hindu philosophy. Both the temple and the Lords have a deep impact on the social life of people.

The social life of Srikshetra is more or less spiritual and cultural based. There are hundreds of rites and rituals and festivals in the Jagannath Temple during the whole year such as Snana Yatra, Hativesha, Anasar, Chakata Bhog, Pana Bhog, Fulurilagi, Osua and Khalilagi, Sandal paste offering, Raja Prasad, Khali and Khadi prasad ceremony, Netro Utchhaba, Pahandi Bije, Rath Yatra, and Sweeping or Chherapahara ceremony.

In addition there are Hera Panchami, Gundicha Rahas, Rath returned festival, Adharpana, Niladri Bije and sleeping Ekadasi, Garuda sleeping Ekadasi, Dakhinayan Bandapana, Chitalagi, Golden Pendant studded with diamond, sapphire, blue gem and blood-stone and emerald, Nrusing Yatra, Jhulan, Birthday of Balabhadra, Sri Sudarsan’s four Ashram journeys, Rahurekha ceremony, Birth day ceremony of Sri Krishna, Nanda Utsav, feast of Jungle, plum selling ceremony, killing ceremony of demons (Asuras), i.e. Baka, Argha, Dhenuka, Pralamba, and Kekesi, Kaliyadalan, Mathurahato, Bastra Haran (stealing of sarees) Debagni, Nikunjalila blind game, Dahalila, killing of Kansa, birth day ceremony of Baban, Indradhwaja puja, Indra Chandro Govind Elephant puja, Durga Madhab Yatra, gambling, Dasahara, Rajavesha, Weapon Worship, and Radhadamodar vesha.

Further still are Hariutthan Ekadasi, Sarato Rahasa, Dipa offering, Shradha, Pusa Abhishek, Makara and Dhanumuan Odana, Padmavesha, Fire ceremony and Dola Yatra, Ashoka Astami, Birthday ceremony of Nrsingha and Sri Rama and all His activities and plays from childhood to killing of Ravana, Akhyayatrutia and boating ceremony and marriage of Lord Jagannath with mother Laxmi.

Of all these, only twelve festivals are considered to be most important. These are observed one after another. Twelve months are fixed for twelve yatras. In the month of Jyestha, the marriage ceremony of Sri Jagannath takes place on Ekadasi day with Goddess Laxmi, who writes a love letter expressing her desire for association with the Lord. Then begins the ceremony and on full moon day, the grand bathing ceremony, which starts on Snana Vedi.

In Ganesh Vesha, the Lords appear very attractive and Anabasar day begins for fifteen days. In the month of Ashadha, Ratha and Bahuda Yatras are celebrated. This Yatra (festival) is the greatest and most important among all festivals. It attracts pilgrims from all over the world.

In Skanda Purana, the festival has been described as Mohavedi Mohoschhaba Yatra. It was the pious wish and order of the Supreme Lord to king Indradyumna to arrange this festival in every year and to drive Him to the holy land of Sri Nrsingha. In three chariots, namely Taladhwaja for God Balabhadra, Devidalana for Goddess Subhadra and Nandighosa for God Sri Jagannath, all the Deities are carried. In Devidalana, the Sudarsan wheel designed as a log of wood is seated on Lady Subhardra’s left side. The movable Deities Sri Balaram and Srikrishna in Taladhwaja and Sri Madanmohan dev in Nandighosa are also carried.

All sects join in this festival. Lord Jagannath is Supreme Bramhan and Purusottama. The greatest psychic impact, i.e., sense of unity, integrity and brotherhood, bind all pilgrims together. The social life and spiritual life become one and the same. After Bahuda Yatra, when the Deities are carried into the temple in Pahandi, the last door closing ceremony is observed in the inner sanctum of the main temple. The door opens by the order of Laxmi after getting nine satisfactory answers from Sri Jagannath.

In the month of Shravan – the Golden Pendants, studded with diamond, sapphire, emerald, blood stone, and blue gem, etc. are placed on foreheads of the deities. This is called Chitalagi and the birthday ceremony of Balabhadra is also observed.

In Bhadrava – birthday of Sri Krishna is observed. The Yatra begins from birth till killing of Kansa Asura. During the entire period, Nandoatchhab, Kolibika, Kaliyadalan (Defeat of Blacksnake by Sri Krishna), Killing of eight demons (generals of king Kansa), stealing game and Kansa’s death etc. are observed for nineteen days. In these rites and rituals, the local inhabitants of ancient streets (Sahis) take part directly. They used to hold meetings and decide democratically as to who will act as a demon. One person from each Sahi on each appointed day is dressed and decorated as a demon to display his game and lila, as per custom and tradition. The movable representative Deity of Sri Jagannath, i.e., Sri Madan Mohan, after being permitted by Lord Jagannath takes part in this festival.

In the month of Aswina, the Durga puja festival is celebrated for sixteen days. Sri Madhab, otherwise known Balapurusottam and Goddess Durga, together get united for the entire period. Durgamadhab Rath Yatra is observed for nine days and golden Rajavesha is observed on Dasahara day.

In the month of Kartika, a special Bhog called Balabhog is offered and different Veshas and decorations are made. Among those, Radhadamodara vesha continues from Dasahara Ekadasi day to the next tenth day. After the new moon and up until full moon, on every Monday, Harihara vesha is observed for the Deity Sri Balabhadra. Harihara vesha makes the Lord half-black and half-white. Sri Jagannath is decorated and dressed in Laxminarayana vesha, which begins from Dasahara Ekadasi day. On the twelfth day, Baman or Bankachuda vesha, on the thirteenth day Tribikram or Dalikia vesha, and on the fourteenth day Laxmi Nrushingha vesha are performed and celebrated.

In the month of Margasira, Dipa Dana ceremony and Pitrushradha are observed. A tree is artistically erected on the ground in the inner sanctum below, Ratnasinghasan with sun-dried rice. After it is purified, ghee earthen lamps (dipa) are placed on different portions of said tree and then other customary rituals follow. The outer part of the temple is also lightened with earthen lamps and prayers are offered to the Almighty for restoration of peace, security and prosperity of the King and his kingdom. In this month Ghodolagi begins. It means covering of body with clothes to protect from winter.

In the month of Pausa, Pahilibhog ceremony is observed throughout the month. A special cake is prepared out of black gram flour and cow’s ghee. On the full moon day, the Deities are decorated with Golden Rajavesha and a coronation ceremony is also observed. On this day, Sri Rama’s coronation ceremony was celebrated at Ayodhya in the Ramayana days.

In the month of Magha, Padma vesha and Gajauddharana vesha are performed. In Falguna, the famous Dola festival of the Lords begins. After getting permission, Sri Saraswati, Sri Laxmi, Sri Dolagovind and Madan-mohan come to the Dolavedi (alter), where the Deities play with red colour powder called Fagu or Abira.

In the month of Chaitra, the birthday ceremony of Sri Rama is observed. The movable representative Deity Sri Rama, after getting permission from Sri Jagannath, takes part in such rites and rituals. All activities and plays from His childhood, till killing of the demon king Ravana, are customarily and traditionally observed. In this cultural yatra, there is also the active participation of local inhabitants.

In Baisakha begins the Chaitra Gundicha Yatra, i.e., the Chandan Festival, for 42 days. Out of these days, only twenty-one days are observed outside the temple in the sacred Narendra Tank. Two decorated boats are used for the boating ceremony. In the first boat, Sri Balaram and Sri Krishna and five famous Sivas of Srikhetra such as Jameswar, Lokanath, Markandeswar, Kapalamochan and Nilakantheswar, were seated. In the second boat Sri Madanmohan Dev, representative of Sri Jagannath, along with mother Laxmi and Saraswati sit together.

After the first phase of boating, the Deities are carried to a small temple inside the tank. Inside the temple there is a small, sweet scented water tank. Together Sri Madan-mohan, Laxmi and Saraswati used to have secret play and enjoyment for some hours. None are permitted to see this bathing ceremony. The doors remain closed under lock and key. Other Deities used to take bath in different tanks openly. On the beginning day of the boating ceremony, the Ratha preparation is being permitted by the Lords with the performance of rites and rituals.

Thus, the above twelve festivals are observed for the Lords in twelve months. Harmony and balance have been maintained in all rites and rituals and in all festivals in order to properly worship Their Lordships, and to establish a sense of unity among all castes, sects and religious faiths.

Lord Jagannath is Purusottama. This has been well narrated in the first line of Bhismadeva’s answer to the six questions of Judhisthira, as mentioned in Visnusahasranama. He has been addressed as Atmayoni and Swayamjata, which means that Almighty Purusottama has no mother. He Himself is the Creator and Destroyer and Operator as mother. Thus He is both mother and father. He is both thesis and synthesis. The cultural values are unity, uniformity and universality.

Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra are an inseparable part of Sri Jagannath. That is why He is the main residing Deity, recognised and worshipped by all sects and devotees of all religious faiths. His Bhoga mahaprasad is world famous, and it has established socialism by de-recognising the casteism, colour feeling, creed and special privilege. Nowhere in the religious arena ever exists such a culture as unique and incomparable as this.

Banamali Suar is an Advocate who lives at Dolamandap Sahi, Puri. He is also a Sevayat in Lord Jagannath Temple, Puri.