A WOODEN PUPPET THAT SPEAKS By Sukanta Rout
He is, devotedly, hailed as living deity, even though sculpted out of a dead log. Unbelievable, yet true, a wooden puppet possessing a pulsating heart. But his legs and, also, his hands from elbow down, have never shaped up,...neither the nose and nor the ears...a weird half-built body he is, yet so exquisite and delicate a sight that could mesmerize the whole world! All adorably call him Jagannath.. the Lord of the Whole Universe.
Scriptures tell an exciting story that the celestial sculptor Biswakarma set to model the image out of wood, alone, inside the shrine, only after bringing the King Indradumna round to promise to keep the doors shut for twenty-one days he would need to get it finished. Just the sound of strokes of chisel on wood could be heard outside, for first few days. But with each passing day, it grew fainter until one day well before the deadline it fell quiet. Gundicha, the beloved queen of the King, who was more concerned about the construction of God, feared that they had been fooled; no work was in progress inside, she apprehended. On her behest, King, also suspicious, unlocked the door and explored a half-built body where no legs, hands, nose and ears had emerged. While the royal couple cursing their luck, they heard a voice from heaven, “I went back since you went back on your words” and the voice from the void asked them not to bemoan, assuaging that he had installed the essential part of the body, the eyes.
Yes, the eyes where lies an irresistible spell that lures all whoever looks at them.
He throws his arms effusively around the necks of them who turn to him for succour from suffering or for pleasure of having an audience with him. Suffering soon evaporates and pleasure, steadily, condenses. A majestic and peerless conjuror he is , has conjured this wondrous world just out of fun and fancy. This adorable deity of Odisha-a province in India, designated as Jagannath, waves a magic wand and stashes away all the cobwebs of disparity and eccentricity ensnaring races, religions, faiths and followers that merge into blissful revelation of a new religion the grand human religion.
Strange as he looks, Stranger are the ways he lives. He likes being socialist, so share the offering with his sister Subhadra and brother Blabhadra sitting alongside with him, on an altar decked with jewels. Beyond the boundaries of religions he is secular by making room for Pantheon of gods from across the faiths on the premises of his shrine called Bada Deula.
Adorning his abode in Puri, an ancient city sprawling on the shoreline of the Bay of Bengal since the pre-Vedic era about 4,000 years ago, this fond friend of all, persistently makes it a point to pull off his car on the way of hi annual ritualistic visit to his maternal aunt’s house, at the grave of Salabeg, one of his greatest devotees from the Muslim fraternity. Salabeg, son of Lalbeg, a Moghul Subedar at Cuttack from 1607 to 1608 AD, suffered from the fatal incurable disease of leprosy invoking social stigma in those days. HIs mother, a convert into Islam after her marriage as a Hindu widow to Lalbeg against her will, asked him to go on a pilgrimage to Puri and appeal wistfully to Lord Jagannath who could, alone, scour purulent blemishes out from all over his body. But horribly the doors of the Lion Gate of his shrine fastened with the latch of orthodoxy and eccentricity did not open for him. Turned out from his door, he squatted on the edge of Bada Danda (Grand Road) and wailed his heart out with strains of hymns and prayers. Lord Jagannath is as much concerned and careful about his dear devotee as they are about him. One day he waked up and saw to his surprise that all the scars from his body vanished. In a hearty gratitude to his Lord, he spent the remaining days of his life on the Grand Road penning and singing songs in praise of His glory till his death. His grave now stands where he used to sit and sing for prayers.
The blissful aura of the lord held sparkling fascination for faithful and sinners, infidels and admirers, alike, who visited him over the ages receding back and back into the hoary past. Buddhists, Jains, Saivas, Saktas, Vaishnavas, Ganapatayas, Sauras, Nathas, and all sects enticed by the more humane aspects of his cult have ultimately embraced it. Noted saints like Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhavacharya, Tirtha, Kabir, Nanak and Chaitanya had taken fancy to live in His close proximity. The traces of their visitation are still there in the mutts and institutions they had built.
The majestic shrine that we see today was built by Ananta Barman Chodaganga Dev during his reign in the twelfth century AD. In this era, this cult rose as a common faith for all Hindus integrating Saivism, Saktism and Vaishnavism into its own self.
Jagannath cult copying the everyday life of Odiyas also cultivates a culture of equality of status. The king of Odisha, revered as a living deity, serves the God as a sweeper sending a sweet message that nobody is small or big in his eyes. The large open dining yard on the premises of the shrine presents a rare picture of the entire world dining together as a family. It preaches Basudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning the world is one family, which is the essence of Hinduism. One can eat from anybody’s plate without being looked down upon and everybody is eager to oblige others with a morsel of mahaprasad from his plate. A delicious meal sends out a delicious message that nobody is untouchable and intolerant in God’s world.
The daily life of the Lord is a reflection of the life of Odiyas. He eats, drinks and suffers like any other worldly man. He is served Sathie Pouti or sixty delicacies for dinner every day. Recitation of Gita Govinda, spiritual verses in Sanskrit composed by Saint poet Jayadev, is a regular evening chore performed by dancing girls called Devadasis to entertain him.
The Jagannath culture, the culmination of every faith and belief that Indians follow, is a Gana Dharma (religion of the masses) signifying one common religion for all to embrace. Odiyas devotedly call him Wooden Deity.
About the Author
Sukanta Rout was born on 13th June, 1965 at Jajpur, Cuttack, Odisha. After completing his Master’s degree in English from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, he pursued his Diploma Degree in Screen Playwriting from UP Govt Film Council. Currently, he teaches English Language and Literature at Choudwar College, Odisha. He was a compere for Youth Programme YubaVani, AIR, Cuttack from 1984 to 1988. He owns a Theatre Troupe named Shadows and has written, directed and performed plays in National and International Theater Festival across India. He has written and directed dramatized version of our Odia classical stories such as Revathi, Sariputa, Budha Sankhari, Andharua, Patadei,Gopapura, etc. and also directed and written his own Odia plays such as Haripur Chaka, Vote, and Jajapuria Bandhu. As a theatre activist, he conducts theatre workshops throughout the year and a regular at Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar. “Novella” is his first short novel. He has worked as a sub editor for a quarterly tabloid named "The Indus Valley Times" published from Bhubaneswar and contributed articles on art, culture, tradition, vocation, and film to the magazine "Stet" published from Delhi. He lives in Cuttack.