The Worship of Lord Jagannath


The Ratha Yatra issue in Odisha has started a debate. Should we indulge in "child's play"? Lord Jagannath must be happy as whether through love or criticism, it is He who is being remembered and discussed!

I remember in my childhood how life in Odisha centered on Lord Jagannath. Even the thieves started out on their jobs by remembering and bowing down before Him! The farmer would count the bales of paddy he recovered from his field by counting the number one as Jagannath. The people woke up in the morning remembering Him and went to sleep after raising their hands to the head honoring Him.

The Lord also appeared to the people in their dreams and then people would find time to visit the town of Puri to have his Darshan. There would be many who would be eager to visit but would not be able to despite trying. That led people to surmise you could have darshan only if He willed it.

The Lord united the people of Odisha and the sure way to win people's heart would be to initiate a discussion surrounding Him. Every evening the rural people would collect at designated spots to hear the tales of the Lord, both as Krishna and Jagannath.

Others may not know but Lord Jagannath is the official king of Odisha. The kings acted as his subjects. Even today the descendant of the king, the Gajapati Maharaj remains the humble servant of the Lord.

The town of Puri is a delight to visit. I have roamed around it extensively finding delight in the many temples and maths that have existed since antiquity. The residence of Lord Chaitanya and those of his devotees, the ashram of Swami Totapuri, the naked vedantic saint who lived for nearly 300 years, and the Sankaracharya Math remain my favourites.

Among the modern giants, Swami Yogananda, Swami Yukteswarananda, Mata Anandamoyee, the Holy Mother Sharada Devi, and Swami Brahmananda have lived in and visited Puri and set up ashrams there that are the solace for many. If you visit Puri you get the full picture of how Indians and Indian society revolved around the search for God and the Self. All the sects are represented and the worship of Lord Jagannath is the amalgamation of all paths.

Should we believe in an external God? The apex of Hinduism is Vedanta. It is a system of inquiry that leads to the conclusion that there exists only the infinite consciousness. All else is an illusion. The world is a dream where that infinite consciousness plays in adopting various illusionary forms; so why other forms of worship? Why not base everything on this?

That question was answered by Sri Ramakrishna. He said would you like it if in a concert only one tune was played? You need the entire range of tunes to make the concert an entertaining success. Therefore the devotees of God approach him using all paths available. They find different ways of entertaining their Gods and thus proceed on their path while partaking fully in his divine play.

He also said the Mother knows that the taste of her children differs. So she prepares different recipes for each. What they want they could take. Thus religion is not a boring concept in India. It is a limitless form of art and what it has produced needs several lives to comprehend in full.

Sri Ramakrishna was that rare soul who wanted to travel in all the paths and he succeeded in each of them. At the end he found that same Supreme Consciousness. Therefore he taught that all religions lead to the same destination. This realization has resulted in true secularism that the country has practiced since ages.

India is a spiritual land. The Buddhists believe that it is the land where the adept come to practice and be free. Therefore they practice the esoteric knowledge of how to be reborn in India. They are terrified of the idea they could be born elsewhere.

The mind is an infatuated monkey that must be kept busy to control it. Our religion tries to fix it at the feet of the Lord. Life is a journey through a materialistic world and spiritual practices are necessary to relieve the load and to remind us that we are the spirit that alone exists.

There is no such thing as reality. Believing that it is everything is like falling for a mirage and expecting it will yield water and quench our thirst. The world is an ever changing illusion. We must make the world a livable place through right conduct and attitude keeping the ultimate goal always in front of us. In India reforms are a very important part of religion. Every spiritual leader that appears brings reforms that do away with dross and harmful practices and provides new life to religious and spiritual practices.

What has the present secular world (defined as divorced from God) given to us? Unchecked materialism has destroyed everything and we are on the brink of extinction. Human beings have descended to a level worse than animals. Sex has replaced the spiritual quest. The social fabric has gone. Money and intense selfishness have become the goal. Dirty politics fascinates us because we seek selfish power and riches. We delight in our own destruction unmindful of a huge sadistic power that will soon have us in its grip.

Sri Ramakrishna described the world as a dog's tail. However much you try it remains bent. Thus it is very important to seek a way to stop the transmigration. He also said the ordinary human being is like the camel that loves to eat thorns. The thorns lacerate its tongue but it cannot stop. Our imagination of the ultimate physical pleasure drags us along like an ever repeating dream.

India is a place where you learn the ultimate truth that hides within each one of us. If we forget that and engage in other pursuits that take us away from that path then we lose the objective of being born in this sacred land that has taught the value of spirituality to the world.