In meeting the Lord of the Universe

[ Uttamang Tathwa-chitan-tanang Manatra-Japati cha Madhyama

Adhamang Puja-archanam Tirtha vhramanti Adhamadhama
]



// The Best spend their time in contemplating Truth, the mediocre engage in chanting mantras, the inferior does ritual worship and the worst wanders from one *tirtha* to another //





"Life is Like a Highway

Soul is Just a Car.

Objects in the Rear-view Mirror

May appear closer than they are."




( Album of Meatloaf)





In a coincidence that strikes our Life rarely but surely, i had to go for a pilgrimage to Jagganath Temple, Puri along with an old friend of mine from Kerala. Mr. Selvam, that's his name was in some kind of Bharat-Prikrama and joined me at Calcutta from Allahabad. We entered the holy city of Puri, 48 hours after the Juggernaut had rolled in its streets, pulled and witnessed by a million people. Presently, he has retired to his auntie's place and will stay there for nine days. We had a darshan, offered sweets to the Lord and had prasadam in Open Air followed by a nice evening bath in Puri beaches where Bay of Bengal touched my skin which for a decade knew the taste of Arabian Sea.



The 65 m high stone Temple was built around 12th century by a king of Ganga dynasty and dominates Puri skyline. With Entrances at four cardinal points, the deities reside inside the sanctum sanctorum which has witnessed 800 years of generations of devotees which also included Sankara and Sree Chaitanya - the great Monist and the Great Bhakta. Lord Jagganath, literally means the "Lord of the Universe" looks more like a graphic art than of human form. It is told that here, in Puri, the Lord decided to be present in Darubrahman (Bramhan in wood) and while the king commissioned his people to carve the idol, an interruption occurred due to too human curiosity and Lord stayed in his half-finished form.



Then there is a beautiful story of Sakshi-Gopal , a small station before Puri. the story goes like this: Once a rich old man was nursed to life by a young man of the same village in Puri while both were in pilgrimage. Out of gratitude, the old man promised that he will give his daughter's hand with Lord as witness. Human memory is short and shorter is the memory of debt. Gratitude is always costly, unfriendliness is seldom.

The young man was insulted and humiliated while he reminded the promise. The young man went straight to Puri, asked the Lord whether he is sleeping, forgetting his promise. Urged by the entreaties of the young man, Lord came along with him, with the condition that the young man should never look back. Only the sound of the nupur of Gopal will be the signal that the Lord is behind, following. When this strange double procession came near *Sakshi-Gopal* , the young man, pushed by the same curiosity that lies between the temporal and divine world, he turned back and Lord, in a great show of humour became immobile and came the Tirtha.. The young man, to the best of my speculation married and lived happily thereafter.



THE LORD'S KITCHEN :



Lord Jagganath, in addition to his other attributes reign over a Kitchen whose daily operation is awesome. Here are some data, collected from a Panda (a kind of an agent in all pilgrim centres of our country. A hereditary profession and a disturbing element also.) :



* 80 maan or 3200 kg of rice per day.



* 56 types of different course. (all vegetarian)



* Around 500 litres of milk per day.



* Cooked by burning wood and in earthenware.



* Cooking done by a technique of "Cumulative Steam collection" where earthenware are kept on top of each other and steam from below goes to cook them.



* Offering varies from six to eight times per day.



* Baro-mase-Tero-Parban - 12 months and 13 festivals.



* The cooked rice is dried and taken far-flung places. Longevity of this prasadam is easily 10 years.



The Kitchen is a big quadrangle with rooms perforated for exhaust. It is not a kitchen in a house but a Kitchen, which has a house.



Considering this as average expenditure per day, we find that food for around 15,000/- people was prepared per day and cost will be approx. 8 lac per day. After that, the amount of land required to produce such amount of rice annually will be at least 300 bighas, considering all climatic and crop-growth factor. A visit to National Library and Indian Museum by Mr. Selvam narrowed the figures. And knowing that the royal patrons of yesteryears gave land produce to the Temple, we arrived at the conclusion that at least 500 bighas in total might have been giving its land produce and land revenue to the the Temple.



Researches at Alipur and Park Street also revealed that during Chaitanya's time (500 years back in Bengal) a prosperous village generally consisted of 100 to 150 bighas and 85% of the land (this we owe to Raja Todormall of Akbar who gave a precise percentage of cultivated land vis-a-vis surveyed land and Gangatic Bengal was one of the most fertile land of India) was cultivatable land. So some 5 to 6 villages were sponsoring on a permanent basis the Great Kitchen. And this was one of the ways, a very indigenous way the public revenue was returned back to Public. Just like Rulers of Rome paid back the taxpayer by promoting arts and crafts, commissioning huge architectural projects and later, in their decadence - Circus and Games.



THE LORD'S BEDROOM:



After such dinners and lunches, the Lord reclines majestically with camphor in tender coconut (a mild poison) as pre-slumber drink and vada made of thur-dal as starter. This dress is naturally and suggestively called Maha-Sringar-Vesh and thus sleeps Jagganath and Maha-Laxmi. In earlier times, there was dance by Devdasis in the Temple and we need not go into the strange workings of human mind and plan which

can give birth to most vilest crimes with the divinity as props. And in Bengali, there is a very suggestive epigram, highlighting the incomplete idol of the Lord as well as his apparant disinterest in acting against those who act most wantonly under his name. Oh, Lord stuck in the middle, Thuto-Jagganath



The great plasticity of which human spirit is capable of has kept all such pilgrim centres alive and in spite of changes they never fail to attract generations of visitors.. And it is told that, Sree Chaitanya went to for a darshan once and never came back.. He merged with the Lord, a living example of the parable of Sree Ramkrishana - The salt-idol while measuring the Ocean, lost himself and became the Ocean itself...



Postscript:



I went to Puri when i was a boy of 12 and that was my first encounter with sea. I also remember a scene, etched in memory. A girl, at the fatal verge of womanhood was bathing and as she came onto the sand, her sunlit limbs, her dark and accusing aureole sent waves of unknown and unknowable melancholy in my heart. She stood with her hands on her waist, her chin up and hair wet as if provoking the virility of the ocean itself and i just murmured inside me, double emotions of physical pain and suffocated boyish desire - "Venus de Milo."



Fifteen years apart, the same Puri water, the same sand and i searched her in the evening crowd.. There were so many "auntie-like" women whose limbs have become harder, broader due to years of support, use and daily rituals and i did not find any trace of my Venus de Milo... Waist deep onto the sea, i felt with horror and sadness that i have been growing old..My innocence is going past.. Venus de Milo of today brings me back the memories of my lyrical youth... Oh, that stupid lyrical youth


Contributor wordsmith is a Calcutta resident and is a Network Manager by profession.