As the infection due to Corona virus is spreading in India also, there is lot of talk and practice of social distancing and quarantine, being alone in isolation. Even today, we are all under self-imposed curfew on this 22nd of March 2020.
Surprisingly, being in quarantine and isolation when sick is not restricted to human beings. There is an age old practice of “Anavasara” practiced in Puri, at the Jagannath temple, where the gods are ‘quarantined’ for fourteen days to help them recover from illness.
I thought it relevant to write about this now and so am just giving a brief write up on that today and not a full-fledged story.
Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra happens every year during the months of June- July and you can read more about it in my story Purushottam and Padmavathy by clicking here.
Eighteen days before the Rath Yatra, the full moon day of the Hindu month of Jyeshta is believed to be the birthday of Lord Jagannath. On this day, there is a ritual called ‘Snan Yatra’, where the Murtis of the Gods Balabadhra (Balarama), Jagannath (Krishna) and Subhadra (sister of Krishna and Balarama) are brought from the sanctum sanctorum, in a grand procession with the accompaniment of cymbals, drums, bells and bugles to the ‘Snanabedi’ or bathing place within the temple premises near the Sithala temple.
There, these Murtis are bathed with 108 pitchers of cool scented water with the accompaniment of chants and music. Thousands of devotees come to witness this, as they believe their sins would be washed off by having a glimpse of the Gods bathing. This day is also known as ‘Deva Snana Poornima’ (Full moon day when the Gods bathe).
After the ritual bath, the Gods are initially dressed in the normal fashion. Later in the evening they are dressed in a grand manner resembling Ganesha and it is called ‘Gajabesha’. The huge crowd witnesses all the rituals. That day, the food for the Gods are also offered to them in full public view and after all this fun, at night, when it is time for them to go back to the sanctum sanctorum, the Gods are diagnosed to be sick, with a cold and fever!! Too much of cold water bathing in the hot and humid climate has done them harm, people believe.
The Gods cannot go back to their place in the temple!!
So Balabhadra, Jagannatha and Subhadra are taken to their private apartment, a place called “Anavasara Pindi” within the temple. This place is the ‘quarantine house’ for the Gods for the next fourteen days. No devotee is allowed to see the Gods. Only the ‘Raj Vaidya’ (the doctor) is allowed to see the Gods and ‘treat’ them for their illness. There are special servants (Daitapatis) akin to the nurses of today who ‘treat’ the Gods with special oils which are steeped with herbal extracts. These oils help in protecting the Murtis from insects since the Murtis are made of wood. They are also given a new coat of paint.
Interestingly, the Gods are offered only fruits, nuts and seeds in contrast with the ‘Chappan Bhog’ – the 56 types of food items offered to them on other days.
A representative picture (Pata Chitra) of the Gods is kept in the temple for people to worship. They are still there for the devotees even though physically not there. (Gods working from home??)
At the end of the fourteenth day of isolation, after all Ayurvedic treatments are over, the Murtis are believed to have gained “Naba Jouvana” or ‘new youthful vigour’ and they get ready for the Rath Yatra the next day.
This firmly drives in the fact that all activities need rest in between. Distancing and isolation is essential for returning back with renewed vigour!
Let us pray that this world overcomes this crisis and comes back with renewed vigour, by the grace of Lord Jagannath!