Yesterday, we read about the legends and myths associated with the Lord Jagannath, Lord of the universe, and the chariot procession. Today we will read about its origin and the cult of the Jagannath worship.
The legend of King Indradyumna is taken from the Skanda Purana, besides the same being referred in many other Puranas like Padma Purana, Brahma Purana and Narada Purana amongst some of them. We are also told that Lord Jagannath is mentioned in the Vedas and King Indrayumna was some Vedic figure. The Rig Veda has some hymns which refer to the floating of a wooden log from which was carved out the idol of Jagannath.
What is interesting is the idols of the triad. Usually the idols of all gods in the Hindu pantheon are well defined and perfectly carved or painted. But the idols at Jagannath temple are not so. It is not shapely and is like a wooden stump with large round eyes, painted in dark garish colours and the lack of body. However, all this has been associated with the story of the unfinished idols. But at the end of the day, it has looks which defy its association with the prevailing Hindu gods and goddesses.
|A Savara couple|
Many scholars have opined that the worship of Jagannath has tribal origins. In the myths discussed yesterday, there has been mention of a Savara tribe, who were considered to be the earliest inhabitants of the Odisha. The Savaras were a tree worshiping tribe, which was a very common mode of worship (tree or stumps which resemble a tree-like structure), for many tribes in the world. The Savaras used to worship trees, and singing and dancing in front of their god, Jaganata, was part of the rituals. The scholars feel that with the migration of the Aryan communities in such areas, the ritual harmonised into a common festival and the tribal Jaganata soon metamorphosed into the aryanised Jagannath, with Vedic and Puranic attachments.
Another very interesting aspect of this is the sudden emergence of a triad from the single god. All myths begin with a single god, be it Nilamadhava or Jaganata. But somewhere the single god transforms into a triad. One of the versions given by scholars was that in the earlier days the Lord Jagannath was seen with his consort, Lakshmi. Somewhere, to appease a section of the Shaivas, Balabhadra or Balarama was added to the couple, but this posed another problem. According to the Oriya convention, the elder brother could not see the face of the younger brother’s wife. This convention made the consort make way for the sister, Subhadra in this case! Such things happen to accommodate more deities or could even be an act of appeasement of other communities or tribes in the widely followed cult.
|Nila Madhava Temple at Kantilo|
According to some British scholars, the association of the colour blue, Nila, in the myths of Nilamadhava and Nilanchal, could be ascribed to the common use of the easily available blue coloured stones which were usually used for making idols during the ancient times. In the earlier days, the gods were offered raw and uncooked food. With the slow aryanisation, the rituals of worship has become more Brahminical and cooked food is offered to the deities today. But a close scrutiny of the rituals will reveal that a lot of practices of tribal origin still prevail. It is pertinent to mention here that the worship of the original Nila Madhava is prevalent in the hill-top region of Brahmachala, on the banks of the River Mahanadi at Kantilo, in Nayagarh district of Odisha even today!
Finally, the worship of Jagannath is performed by a tribal community who are the hereditary servitors of the Lord. They also observe the funeral rites of the Lord during the Nava Kalevar and also own all responsibility of the yatra. What is further interesting is that these priests are non-Brahmin, which goes on to show that though the Aryans went on to own the deity, the tribal community continued to own the rights to serve the deity.
The Jagannath worship is a classic example of synthesis of two different cultures and background and a harmonised association of both coexisting in modern times. A perfect coexistence of Vaishnavite and Tribal cults. This could be one rare instance of a tribal deity being given such prominence in the Hindu pantheon, even though its prominence has Vedic and Puranic leanings.
If you know of any more, please let me know.