In the 15th century AD, present day Odisha was ruled by King Purushottam Deva of the Gajapati Dynasty. This king, apart from being a brave and handsome person, was a great devotee of Lord Jagannatha of Puri.
Once, he went on a trip to Southern India. There, he was the guest of the King of Kanchi (who was perhaps one of the chieftains of the Vijayanagara Empire) for a few days. He chanced to meet the King’s daughter Padmavathi who was a very beautiful maiden. Purushottam and Padmavathi liked each other and the King of Kanchi put forth the proposal of her marriage with Purushottam Deva to him.
Purushottam was overjoyed and accepted the proposal and after a few days returned to his kingdom. The Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannatha was upcoming and he being the King and a great devotee of the Lord he had to make preparations for the grand event. While leaving, Purushottam invited the King and his family and ministers to come for the Yatra and witness the grand celebrations.
Rath Yatra is an annual event held at Puri when the Lord Jagannatha (Krishna), his brother Lord Balabhadra (Balarama) and their sister Subhadra along with Sudarsana (Deity of the Lord’s wheel of flame) are all taken out in a magnificent procession (Yatra) in separate chariots (Rath). The Raths are as huge as 45 to 50 feet high and are constructed anew every year. This Yatra has been there from times immemorial and it is said that even the Puranas have vividly described the Yatra. It is usually in the month of Ashaada (July- August).
Coming back to the story, the King of Kanchi could not make it to the Yatra and therefore sent his minister to attend the celebrations and also officially put up the wedding proposal to the King Purushottam Deva. The minister went to Puri and was accorded a warm welcome by the King and had good arrangements to stay and witness the Yatra.
Next day, the Yatra commenced. The whole city was in a festive mood. Just before the Raths started moving, people were in a frenzy. Bells were ringing, conches were being blown, drums were being beaten and groups were singing bhajans and dancing. The minister had never witnessed such a huge celebration and was awestruck at the magnificence of the Raths, their beautiful colours and sculptures engraved on them and the imposing idols of Lord Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra.
Just then, he noticed a strange thing. He saw King Purushottam Deva on the chariot of Lord Jagannatha, holding a broom in his hand and sweeping in front of the Lord. He was totally aghast. In those days, sweeping was considered a very menial job fit to be done by the lowest rung of people in the society. But here, the King was not only holding broom but sweeping the chariot too.
There is this very significant ritual associated with the Rath-Yatra known as the ‘Chhera Pahara.’ In this ritual, during the festival, the King used to wear the dress of a sweeper and sweep all around the deities and chariots. Chhera Pahara meant sweeping with water ritual and the King used to clean the place before the deities and also road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkle sandalwood water and powder with utmost devotion.
Even though the King is considered the person with the highest social status in the kingdom, he still rendered the menial service to Jagannatha signifying that under the lordship of Jagannatha, there is no distinction between the sovereign of the Kingdom and a person doing a menial job.
The minister, not knowing of this ritual or significance was watching with great consternation with a frown on his face and to his dismay, the King got down and started sweeping around the chariots. The minister could bear it no more. He went back to the place of his stay and not informing anyone, packed his belongings and went back to Kanchi.
After reaching Kanchi, he immediately sought an audience with the King and told him about the scene he saw during the Rath Yatra.
“It is extremely disgusting your Highness!” he said. “I cannot imagine our dear princess marrying a sweeper. He is doing the job which is done by the lowest caste with no shame! Hmph! It is better you arrange for the wedding of Padmavathi with someone else!”
The King of Kanchi was also equally angry and felt cheated. “It is good that I sent you during the Yatra”, he said to the minister, “or else, I would have been cheated of marrying off my daughter to a sweeper. I shall arrange for a Swayamvara for Padmavathi. Let her choose a king worthy of her stature. Invite all kings except Purushottam Deva”, he instructed the minister.
Accordingly, the King of Kanchi was making arrangements for holding a Swayamvara. Meanwhile, Purushottam Deva had noticed the unceremonious exit of the Kanchi minister and sent his spies to find out what the matter was. He got the news that a Swayamvara was being planned for Padmavathi and that he was not going to be invited for it.
“I will wage a war on him!” he said with great anger to his minister. “I will capture him and his daughter. Prepare for war!”
Accordingly in the next few days, the army of Purushottam was marching to Kanchi and a battle raged among the two kings. Purushottam lost heavily and his camp was set to fire and he had to beat a hasty retreat to escape being captured. He was very depressed and ran back to his kingdom with a heavy heart.
Padmavathi was also not happy at the turn of events and was praying that she should get to marry Purushottam who she had liked in the first instance.
Purushottam went to the temple and stood before Lord Jagannatha. He prayed fervently to Him. “I served you and that was being mocked at”, he said to the Lord. “You have let me down badly. Is this the reward I get for serving you with my body, mind and soul?”
He was praying with his eyes closed, deep in thought when he thought he heard a voice say, “Come on Purushottam. Get up and go for war again. I will be with you this time!”
Startled and puzzled, he looked around and could see no one. But something in him said that now he had divine help and he got the courage to go again to war. He started garnering the army and preparing to leave in a few days.
The day before he left his Kingdom, Lord Balabhadra and Lord Jagannatha, assumed the form of soldiers and went riding on horses to Kanchi. Balabhadra rode a white horse and Jagannatha rode a black one. After riding for quite some distance, Jagannatha was thirsty and they both saw an old lady by name Manika selling buttermilk. The brothers rode up to her, got down from the horses and asked her for buttermilk. She gave them the two pots full of buttermilk she had and they both drank it heartily. When she asked for money, Jagannatha removed his ring and gave it to her and said, “Manika ma, we are both going to Kanchi to help the King in the war. Tomorrow, our King will be passing by this route with his army. Show this ring to him and take the money for this buttermilk you gave us”.
So saying, the brothers left.
The next day, as told by the brothers, King Purushottam leading his army went by the same route as told by the Lord. At one point, he was stopped by the old lady Manika.
“Victory be to the King!” she hailed. Purushottam Dev stopped his chariot and asked her what she wanted. She flashed the ring given to her by Lord Jagannatha and said, “Your Majesty, two of your soldiers went by this way yesterday. They bought buttermilk from me and drank and gave this ring to me. They told me to show this to you and take money from you.”
The surprised king took the ring from her wondering who had the audacity to tell him to pay for the buttermilk they drank. To his pleasant surprise, he found that the ring was of his beloved Lord Jagannatha and he was overwhelmed by the Lord’s mercy and became extremely confident that he would win this war.
When he reached Kanchi, again a bloody war raged and this time, Purushottam captured both the King of Kanchi and his daughter.
Looking at the King with anger and scorn he said to him, “Oh, you had decided to marry off this daughter of yours to someone else since I was sweeping the Lord’s chariot eh? Now that I have captured you and your princess, I shall get a real sweeper and marry her off to him IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES”
The king of Kanchi could do nothing but cry silently at his destiny.
Purushottam took his captives back to his capital. He told his minister to get hold of a good sweeper to whom he could marry off Padmavathi.
The minister, though unable to refuse the order of Purushottam was feeling very bad that Padmavathi should be punished for no fault of hers. He knew that Purushottam was very adamant and would not change his mind with any amount of advice.
Padmavathi was also crying silently in agony at her fate. “I shall consume poison and die instead of bearing this humiliation” she said to herself.
Days passed and whenever Purushottam asked his minister, the minister kept telling him that an ‘eligible’ sweeper was not yet found for Padmavathi.
A year rolled by and it was time for the year’s Rath Yatra and yet again it was time for celebration. Princess Padmavathi and her father were brought in chains to witness the Yatra.
The sweeping ritual started and Purushottam Dev had finished sweeping the chariot of Lord Balabhadra and just as he was going to sweep the chariot of Lord Jagannatha, he saw his minister coming swiftly from a distance followed by Princess Padmavathi whose hand were tied.
“My Lord, Wait… wait” he cried.
As Purushottam looked at him puzzled, he said, “I have found the sweeper for Padmavathi. We can conduct the marriage right here now”.
Purushottam looked at him and said, “Let the Rath Yatra be over, my dear minister. I do not have the time now to see Padmavathi’s groom. Let me continue my service”
So saying as he bent down to sweep, the minister announced in a loud voice to the public, “Dear people of this land, our King Purushottam had entrusted to me the job of finding an eligible sweeper to marry off this beautiful princess Padmavathi whom he had captured from Kanchi. I have found the most eligible sweeper now and he is none else that King Purushottam himself! He is the most eligible sweeper at this moment and therefore let us all request him to marry this beautiful Princess” he said pointing at the Princess.
Both Purushottam and Padmavathi were pleasantly shocked and so was the King of Kanchi who had by now realised his folly. Purushottam had been outwitted by the minister but all is well that ends well and Purushottam married Padmavathi in the presence of his dear deities Balabhadra, Jagannatha and Subhadra with their blessings.
It is said that Purushottam reigned over his kingdom for over three decades.