A collection of Indian tales of wit, wisdom, humour, bravery, devotion and lots more...

Tag: Puri

Gods in quarantine

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!

Sakshi Gopal

Sakshi means Evidence or Witness in Sanskrit and Sakshi Gopal is the story of Gopal – the beloved Lord of Vrindavan having come as Sakshi or witness for the sake of his devotee.

In ancient India, there was a place by name Vidyanagara in the south of India. In this village there lived an old man who was extremely rich. In the same village lived a youngster who was very poor and uneducated, but was extremely good at heart. Once, a group of people from this village prepared to go for a yatra or pilgrimage to North India and visit places of religious importance. The rich man and the poor youth also joined the group and they started their journey. In those days of lack of transportation, people had to walk or go by bullock carts carrying their belongings and provisions in case they desired to cook on the way. Else they would eat and take shelter in choultries or public halls meant for this and run by charitable persons. They did not have any means to communicate to their family back home and therefore their return was not known to the family and their return was certain only when they actually came back.

Now, this group started from Vidyanagara and visited places like Kashi and Gaya. They were proceeding to Vrindavan when the old man fell ill. The place where they were was an unknown place and the old man did not know where to seek help from. He was running high temperature and could barely stand up. The group members tried helping him by providing him whatever home remedies they had brought with them, but it was of no avail. The man was getting no better.

The group members lost patience. “We cannot wait indefinitely” said one. “Yes, and what do we do if something happens to him? We will have to do all the rituals!” said another. The words came like a sword and pierced the old man’s heart. It was then that he felt, that he may not even make it back home. He was feeling very depressed and down when he heard the young man’s voice. The man was addressing the crowd. “You may all go on if you want” said he. “I will stay with this gentleman and come with him when he is cured”.

The old man was pleasantly shocked. He did not expect a total stranger to show this kind gesture. The other people were happy that they got rid of the ‘burden’ and carried on their pilgrimage. The youth, as promised stayed on with the old man and called a doctor and treated him properly. Money was not an issue as the old man was carrying enough. He helped him bathe and cleaned his clothes, fed him, gave him medicine on time and did all the help which is usually rendered only by a nurse, to help him get back to normalcy. The old man could not express his gratitude in words. Tears of joy were rolling down from his eyes. The young man was unperturbed the reaction of the old man. “I have done what a human being should do. How can one let a person lie sick and proceed as if nothing has happened? Come Sir, We shall also go to Vrindavan and see the Lord” he said to the old man and they proceeded to Vrindavan.

All the way, the old man kept expressing his gratitude and at one point he said, “I do not know how I am going to repay my debt to you. I have decided I shall marry off my only daughter to you!” The young man thought that the old man had gone mad. “Sir”, said he, “Please do not speak thus. You are a wealthy person, whereas I am poor in both wealth and knowledge. I think you are very emotional and so are talking like this. Even if you want, none of your family members including your daughter would like this idea. So please do not talk about this”.

The old man however had made up his mind and said to the youth, “I am hereby promising you that I shall give my daughter in wedlock to you and you alone!” By that time they had reached Vrindavan and had good darshan of the lovely Gopala in all his splendour.

Then the youth said, “Well Sir, if you are making a promise, I would like you to do it in front of this Gopala here!” The old man did not hesitate for a moment and looked at the Lord’s statue and said, “Hey Gopala, I promise to give my daughter in marriage to this young boy who has taken care of me like a son!”

They stayed in Vrindavan for a couple of days and then left on their journey back to Vidyanagara. The old man told his family in detail, the ordeal he went through when he fell ill and how this young man was more than a son in taking care of him and also about the promise he had made to the young man. He expected his family to acknowledge his action and support him.

“Are you out of your mind?” his elder son asked him. “Did you not think of our status and level in the society before promising such things? We are so wealthy and that fellow is a rustic idiot who has no means for even one square meal a day. He must have seen the money you carried and coerced you to give such promises. Rogue!”

The old man’s other sons staunchly supported the elder brother. The old man’s wife was also totally unhappy. “I have brought up our daughter in luxury all along and you want her to suffer by marrying a poor fellow? I will commit suicide if you do any such thing!” she screamed and started sobbing uncontrollably.

“We will also commit suicide” said the sons much to the agony of the old man. The man was in a dilemma. He was neither ready to give up his promise nor go against the wishes of his family.

The next day, the young man came with great hopes to the old man’s house. The moment the sons of the old man saw him, they chased him away with a stick, accusing him of brainwashing their father to usurp his wealth. The young man was very sad and went and met the elderly villagers of the village and told them the whole story and sought justice. They were sympathetic to the plight of the young man but they had to hear the other side of the story too and therefore a Panchayat was called the very next day. Panchayat was the form of a local court, in those days where a group of respectable elders (like a jury) heard the cases and delivered judgments which had to be followed failing which the family was ostracized.

The old man was informed to appear before the Panchayat and he came with his sons. The young man had no one to accompany him and he came too. The elders asked the old man whether he had promised his daughter to the young man. The old man had been tutored by his sons to vehemently deny this fact and the old man dutifully did the same, as he was under terrible pressure from his wife and sons. The young man however kept insisting that a promise had been given to him which should be honoured.

The Panchayat felt that there was a ring of truth in the voice of the young man. “Was there any witness when this man promised his daughter to you?” they asked.

“Yes there was”, said the young man. “This man promised me in front of Gopal!!” he said with great enthusiasm.
“Who is Gopal and where is he?” asked the Panchayat.

“You do not know Gopal? He is the deity of Vrindavan!” said the man in great anticipation of the case to turn in his favour.

“Then bring Gopal as witness” said the old man’s sons. “We will believe you if Gopal comes as evidence for you. Go and bring him!!” they said knowing that the case would die a natural death with this condition of theirs.

The Panchayat also agreed. “There should be some witness” they said and told the young man that they were in agreement with the old man’s sons.

The old man also said, “Yes, bring Gopal to speak for you”. The man was, in his heart of hearts hoping that the deity would really come as he was still in favour of giving his daughter to the young man.The sons of the old man on the other hand thought that the Lord would not turn up as He was a mere statue!

The young man travelled all the way back to Vrindavan. He stood before the ever smiling Gopal. “Lord”, he said. “You know what happened. I am only sad that the promise made in your presence has been taken so lightly by the man. I feel it as an insult to You. How can you be insulted thus? You are omnipresent and how can anyone deny something that has been done in your presence? Come with me, now, for I want your name not to be tarnished.”

A voice replied, “I have not seen a god walking for the sake of a devotee, young man!”

The man replied, “I have not seen a god talk also thus. Since you have spoken, you can as well walk and come with me!”

Gopal smiled to himself at the boy’s smart reply and said, “Well, if you wish, I shall follow you but on one condition, and that is, you should never turn back and look if I am coming behind you. You will know my presence by the sound of my anklets. Come on, let us go!”

The thrilled young man led the Lord walking to his village. They walked for over ten days he used to cook food on the way and leave it and wait for the Lord to eat and come behind him. He was extremely careful not to turn back though. He could hear the lovely jingle of the anklets “Clink Clink…” throughout the journey.

Once they neared the village, they were walking near the river and suddenly the sound of anklets stopped. The anxious young man, without thinking, turned around and in a flash the Lord had turned into a statue. “Son,” he heard the voice of the Lord, “There was too much of sand near the river that you could not hear the sound of my anklets. However since you have turned back, I will not follow you anymore. But go into the village and bring the old man and I shall remain as a statue here!”

The young man was elated, though sad that the Lord became a statue. He went and called all the people including the old man and they all saw the wonder. The whole village was astonished at the devotion of the young man and his purity of thought due to which Gopala of Vrindavan was there, in their village to see!! The old man and his family apologized for their behaviour and the marriage of the young man was held in pomp with the old man’s daughter. The Lord remained there with a temple built for Him.

It is said that at a later date, the King Pratapa Rudra from Orissa brought this statue to Cuttack after his expedition to the south of India. Later on, the Lord was shifted to near Puri, where He still remains till this day.

As Gopal came for Sakshi (evidence) he is called Sakshi Gopal.

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