Time has witnessed the passing of many cultures and civilizations over thousands of years just as the sky witnesses the passing of clouds. The Vikings, Mayans, Greeks, Romans, Pharaohs of Egypt are just a few to name. But the Vedic civilization, also known as sanātana-dharma, has existed since time immemorial and is still current. In fact, the name sanātana-dharma means ‘eternal occupation’. The sanātana-dharma is a God-centered civilization where the entire spectrum of activities of thoughts, words and deeds are expressions of devotion to God. It is not simply based on sentiments but on sound philosophical footing. The corpus of Vedic scriptures contains the most extensive knowledge not only of this material world, but beyond it as well. Unlike mundane literatures, it is not a product of research but is received directly from God and as such there is found to be no fault in its statements.
Unlike the usual idea that God was never seen or heard and cannot ever be done so, the Vedic scriptures reveal God as a very approachable person although He is unlimited. In fact, the Vedic scriptures and corollaries are replete with various historical records of the Lord’s transcendental descent into this world and His walking among the humans and even other species.
One may question as to why God would come amongst the humans. The reason is His extreme mercy upon us. We have forgotten and forsaken God and entered this material world in a hopeless quest for happiness. But here, we only meet suffering at every step. The Lord, being the most well-wishing friend of everyone, comes to this material world and displays his ever victorious pastimes in the company of His devotees in order to inspire us to leave this miserable world and return home, back to Godhead. When one thus becomes attracted to the Lord and consequently becomes completely freed from all vice, he becomes eligible to enter the kingdom of God.
But one of the most extraordinary, and often the most misunderstood, feature of the Lord’s mercy is His appearance in the Deity form. It is not idolatry as is often misconceived. In our present state it is not possible to see the infinite God in His spiritual form owing to our imperfect senses. We cannot even see the spiritual form of the infinitesimal souls that we are. Our perception and movement in this world are limited by so many conditions. Therefore we are called baddha-ātmā or conditioned souls. In order to extend His association even to us imperfect conditioned souls who are not free from vice, the Supreme Lord accepts a form made of the dull material ingredients like stone, wood, metal, earth, etc. that we are accustomed to perceive and thus becomes ready to be served by us. These forms are called arcā-vigraha and are the self same Supreme Personality of Godhead in all respects.
Looking at it from a philosophical angle, we can understand that everything is the creation of the Lord and therefore His energy. He is the energetic and all the energies emanate from Him and since the energy and the energetic are intimately related, they are inseparable. So the forms made of elements like wood, stone, metal, etc. cannot be different from Him. Moreover, by His omnipotence, He has already entered every single atom of the creation and He can therefore manifest Himself fully in even a material form if He desires so.
Nowadays, it has become a trend for people to come up with ideas like ‘helping hands are better than praying lips’ and even in India, movies like PK and Oh My God are inculcating godlessness in the minds of the public by ridiculing temple worship in more ways than one and promoting mundane welfare activities without the concept of God consciousness.
The first thing we need to get straight is that the Supreme Lord is the maintainer of everyone’s welfare and He is quite competent to supply an unlimited number of living entities. The sufferings of humanity are not due to any imagined incapability of the Lord but are due to our forgetfulness of Kṛṣṇa as the supreme enjoyer, the supreme proprietor and the supreme friend. Therefore, to act to revive this consciousness within the entire human society is the highest welfare work. A person engaged only in administering the physical welfare of human society cannot factually help anyone. Temporary relief of the external body and the mind is not satisfactory. The real cause of one’s difﬁculties in the hard struggle for life is found in one’s forgetfulness of his relationship with the Supreme Lord.
Once the Lord is satisfied with our devotion, there shall be no restriction of supply and everyone will be easily maintained in this life and be liberated in the next. So life should be so molded that one is conscious of the Lord at every moment.
Śrīmad Bhāgavatam’s verdict of a civilized life is given as follows:
ataḥ pumbhir dvija-śreṣṭhā
Translation: “It is concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve by discharging the duties prescribed for one’s own occupation according to caste divisions and orders of life is to please the Personality of Godhead.”
Much has been said about this in the scriptures. We would like to now present to you a living culture that actually practises these principles and how they are flourishing by doing so.
Jagannātha Purī is located on India’s eastern seashore about three hundred miles south of Kolkata, in the state of Orissa. The central attraction of Purī is the Śrī Mandira, which is a massive temple that serves as a spiritual vortex for the entire town’s activities.
This temple is dedicated to Lord Jagannātha (Lord of the Universe). Lord Jagannātha who is Kṛṣṇa himself, resides in the temple as a huge wooden deity along with the deities of Lord Baladeva (Kṛṣṇa’s immediate expansion, and also lovingly taking the position as His elder brother) and Śrīmatī Subhadrā-devī (The internal potency of the Lord known as Yogamāyā, taking the position as the younger sister of both Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma). They are colored black, white and yellow respectively, and They are the most worshipable trio in the town of Purī. Chronicles of Lord Jagannātha and the town of Purī are found in the Vedic scriptures. Specifically, the Puruṣottama Kṣetra Mahātmya section of the Skanda Purāṇa has the most extensive and detailed records on this subject matter.
Puruṣottama Kṣetra is the ancient Vedic name of the town of Purī as found in the scriptures is the ancient Vedic name of the town of Purī as found in the scriptures. Puruṣottama Kṣetra is formed like the silhouette of a śaṅkha (conchshell), and as such it is known as Śaṅkha Kṣetra as well. It is understood that during the bygone ages, the land of Śaṅkha Kṣetra was very pure and pristine, filled with the beauty of nature. There was also a very powerful and exquisite deity of the Lord known as Nīla-Mādhava who resided there, and over time had disappeared from the vision of everyone due to some natural phenomenon.
As a result, the Lord manifested himself as Lord Jagannātha replacing the position of Nīla-Mādhava, not reduced in any amount of the unlimited potency that He has always possessed and the unlimited causeless mercy that He has always bestowed. Even powerful kings of the human society have accepted subordinate positions such as a menial servant in the service of the Lord, out of love, respect, awe, adoration and devotion for the Lord. This devotion to Lord Jagannātha has been strongly displayed by the kings of Purī from then till date.
As per ancient maps found in authorized scriptures, the temple of Jagannātha is located right in the centre of the town of Purī. The tall temple structure has a huge Sudarśana cakra at the top of the main tower. The city is planned in such a way that this cakra which is known to be the symbol of the invincible discus weapon of the Lord, is visible from any part of the town. Beholding this cakra is as good as beholding the Lord Himself. This is a perfect example of spiritual city planning.
In Purī, the worship of Lord Jagannātha is performed in great opulence and grandeur. The statistical department of Orissa estimates that about 30,000 people of Purī depend on their work with the temple for their livelihood. Many of them have been engaged in the service of the Lord from the very beginning, with their families engaged in a particular area of service for generations. In fact, they become specialized in that service and present it to the Lord generation after generation, to ensure that the services to the Lord continue with perfection.
Dressing The Deities:
Just as how we have the natural tendency to dress in a certain manner for various occasions, our creator is the original person who has this inclination. Indeed Kṛṣṇa is known to be a meticulous dresser and enjoys being decorated by his devotees. The devotees gain much pleasure from dressing the Lord in various pure silk or cotton garments, bedecking him with many precious jewels and sparkling ornaments and offering him fragrant flowers and garlands, just as how one would love to dress their loved ones beautifully.
In Jagannātha Purī, the Lord is dressed in various styles known as veṣas or costumes. Some popular veṣas include rāja-veṣa (royal costume), hāthī-veṣa (elephant costume), padma-veṣa (lotus costume) and suna-veṣa (golden costume).
The devotees are absorbed in thoughts of the Lord’s variety of dressing and by regularly dressing the Lord or meditating on His dress, one will eventually forget to exquisitely dress one’s own body. Our undue attraction for this miserable material body is the cause of our entanglement in bodily relationships and at the time of death, we are transported by higher arrangement, into a body according to our thoughts at the end of our lives. But if we die thinking of Kṛṣṇa, then we go back to Godhead. So even such a simple act of dressing the Deities has such a profound effect on the devotees.
Cooking for the Lord:
Lord Kṛṣṇa enjoins in the Bhagavad-gītā (3.13) as follows: “The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered ﬁrst for sacriﬁce. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” And what are the foods that can be offered to the Lord in sacrifice? Lord Kṛṣṇa answers in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.26) as follows: “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a ﬂower, a fruit or water, I will accept it.”
In strict accordance with this injunction, the cooking at the Jagannātha temple is done with utmost care and attention even at a colossal scale. It is recorded that more than 5,000 cooks are engaged on a daily basis to prepare at least 56 pure vegetarian dishes to be offered to the Lord.
The offerings are prepared fresh and in a very hygienic manner in the 9 kitchens of the temple compound, which houses an astounding 752 wood-burning stoves called chūlas. In fact, the chefs and servants in the kitchen cover their nose and mouth so as to not smell the preparations or accidentally expectorate upon the offerings.
Food is the most important ingredient for the upkeep of the body. Food offered to the Lord in love and devotion, known as prasādam, not only assures the maintenance of the material body but also provides us with spiritual nourishment. Partaking of prasādam helps us to control our senses. Prasādam is provided to all pilgrims who come to the Jagannātha temple. According to authorized sources, the Jagannātha temple contains the largest non-mechanized kitchen in the world and can supply prasādam to at least 100,000 people at any given time.
The prasādam can be purchased at a small donation to the temple. Wealthy people sponsor annadānam (free food distribution) and the poor are fed in this way on a daily basis on a massive scale. As a matter of fact, in the olden days, there were no restaurants. Temples used to sell prasādam and people used to purchase it and maintain themselves spiritually and materially. In this way, the temples can also get some income to maintain the continuity of their services.
Lord Kṛṣṇa advises in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.27) that “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform – do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me.” In this way, all charitable activities must be done as an offering to Kṛṣṇa. Then there will be no scarcity.
There are over 60 official festivals performed each year in Jagannātha Purī. Some of the popular ones are the Ratha Yātrā (chariot festival), Snāna Yātrā (bathing ceremony), Jhūlana Yātrā (swing festival), Candana Yātrā (Sandalwood-paste-anointing festival), Śrī Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭami (Lord Kṛṣṇa’s appearance day festival), etc.
There are other festivals like Navakalevara, etc. which are performed once in a certain number of lunar years. It would be impossible to give a complete account of services offered to the deities during all these festivals, but to roughly get the idea of the diverse range of services offered to the deities, the Ratha Yātrā festival can be analyzed.
Traditionally Ratha Yātrā is celebrated on the second day of the waxing moon in the month of āṣāḍha (June/July). This festival of the Lord’s chariots is the most glorious and colourful celebration of the entire year.
The transcendental Trio travel about 2 kilometres from the main temple (Śrī Mandira) to the Guṇḍicā temple in Their respective grand chariots pulled by hundreds and thousands of devotees. A staggering two million people attend the Ratha Yātrā festival in Purī.
Almost four months prior to the festival, wood for building the massive chariots is collected from the Raṇapūra forest in Orissa. Hundreds of skilled carpenters, painters and labourers are provided with the necessary materials to build the massive chariots.
The work begins on the auspicious akṣaya tṛtīya day, where there is no bad omen found during the whole day. New chariots are constructed every single year and due to the expert craftsmanship and devotion that these servitors have for the Lord, they are able to recreate the 3 splendid chariots in the exact same way every year.
Following traditional specifications, these chariots are built according to strict measurements. The most astonishing thing is that not even a single nail is driven into the wood during the construction of the chariots. After the chariot festival, the wood is used in the temple kitchen for cooking.
The chariot of Lord Jagannātha is 50 feet high and is known as Nandīghoṣa, having 16 wheels with 16 spokes each. The Nandīghoṣa flies a flag bearing the Garuḍa holding a snake in his beak and its canopy’s cloth is yellow and red. The chariot of Lord Baladeva is 47 feet high and is known as Taladvāja, having 14 wheels with 14 spokes each. The Taladvāja flies a flag bearing the emblem of a ploughshare and its canopy’s cloth is green and red.
The last chariot will be that of Subhadrā-devī which is 43 feet high and is known as Padmadvāja. It has 12 wheels with 12 spokes each and flies the flag with the symbol of a lotus flower. The canopy’s cloth is red and black. All the wooden parts of the chariots are made in specific numbers: 832 for Jagannātha’s chariot, 763 for Baladeva’s and 593 for Subhadrā’s.
Apart from this, there are various other services offered by various people during Ratha Yātrā, according to their capacity. There are those who cook the meals for the offering, dancers performing Odissi for Their Lordships’ pleasure, artists who decorate the path of the chariot procession with various artistic and intricate raṅgolis (color-spread patterns on the road/pathway), musicians who play the traditional instruments while chanting the holy name of the Lord, priests who conduct the necessary rituals, poets who glorify the Lord and the list just goes on.
In this way, with so many festivals connected to the Lord, the inhabitants of Jagannātha Purī and pilgrims from all parts of the world are immersed in thoughts of the Lord. This is a replica of Vaikuṇṭha life where an akhaṇḍa-utsava, or a continuous festival in glorification of the Lord is celebrated.
This is a world apart from the modern materialistic way of life. In today’s world, people are engaged in work which is taxing and is directly or indirectly supporting the four sinful activities of meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication and gambling. Then, in order to get relief from the stressful work life, people indulge in one or more of the aforementioned sinful acts as a means of recreation thus accelerating towards hellish life both in the present and in the future.
In a Vaikuṇṭha civilization like that of Jagannātha Purī, the work and recreation and everything else is connected with the Lord and thus liberates the people thus engaged. None of the activities of the materialist is denied by the devotee of the Lord but a devotee engages in all such activities in relation with the Lord. This is Vaikuṇṭha life.
One may wonder as to how such a massive establishment is run. All that needs money. Yes, most definitely so. For this reason, apart from the donations by pious people, the Jagannātha temple owns much land in the area of Jagannātha Purī. So by renting them out, there are sufficient funds to maintain its operations. The grains, vegetables, spices and cow’s milk are bought from the local farmers and traders. Some are also donated by pious wealthy people.
The worship and service to Lord Jagannātha is an ideal way of living. It is a practical example of how one should live his life remembering that he is an eternal servant of the Lord. Indeed, serving the Lord becomes the central activity of life. This makes the population very much satisfied at heart and also assures their comfortable life with all their worldly necessities fulfilled as well. This is the perfect arrangement of how one should engage in their occupational duty for the satisfaction of the Lord.
An extrapolation of this unique concept of civilization can be made to an unlimited scale if it is practiced in all parts of the world. Just as so many skills and talents are being used in Jagannātha Purī to serve Lord Jagannātha, all the modern advancement in science and technology can be employed in the Lord’s service.
Scientific and technological advancement is not condemned but its widespread use for sense gratification is certainly to be condemned. Such intense sense gratification only throws the population in a miserable situation as is evident with the world today. But the same technology, when used in Kṛṣṇa’s service can uplift the entire human civilization from all material miseries even in this life and reinstate them in the kingdom of God just after finishing this life.
It was Lord Jagannātha’s will that His worship be expanded beyond the borders of India and He has therefore sent His dearmost devotee into this world. That devotee is His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, fondly known by his disciples as Śrīla Prabhupāda. Beginning from his childhood, he celebrated Ratha Yātrā in his neighborhood with his friends and seventy years later, he brought the worship of Jagannātha along with the grand Ratha Yātrā festival outside the borders of India and spread it throughout the whole world.
Śrīla Prabhupāda brought about the system of daivī-varṇāśrama to the whole world by introducing this Kṛṣṇa Consciousness movement to the English-speaking countries. Following the instructions of his spiritual master, he went to the United States in the year 1965. He had only two trunks full of his English translations of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and forty Indian rupees which meant nothing in America.
Over the next twelve years, he opened more than 108 temples, farm communities and gurukulas. He taught the highest knowledge found in the Vedic scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and spread Kṛṣṇa Consciousness throughout the world. In the course of introducing the movement, Jagannātha worship also naturally followed as Jagannātha is Lord Kṛṣṇa himself.
One of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s western disciples namely Jayānanda Dāsa deserves notable credit as he put in tremendous effort in making the first Ratha Yātrā a possibility and a grand success. The first Ratha Yātrā outside of India, took place on the streets of San Francisco on July 9, 1967. Ever since, the Ratha Yātrā is being celebrated annually in many important cities and towns all over the six continents. By the mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda, we at Sri Krishna Mandir are able to host the Ratha Yātrā festival in Singapore. (End)