Residing on the shore of the great ocean, within a large palace situated upon the crest of the brilliant, golden Nilacala Hill, along with His powerful brother Balabhadra, and in the middle of them His sister Subradara, Lord Jagannatha bestows the opportunity for devotional service upon all godly souls. May that Jagannatha Swami be the object of my vision.
In the course of history, the world has known many culture and civilizations, but few remain alive and flourishing for more than a few hundred years at a time. Consider the Vikings, Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, Greeks, Romans, the Pharaohs of Egypt, or even the land of Atlantis mentioned by Plato. Considering these cultures, one is compelled to question how the worship of Lord Jagannatha has continued to blossom despite centuries of wearing time and violent oppression from foreign invaders.
I began seriously researching this ancient religious culture sometime during the later part of 1988. One sunny winter day I stood atop the Raghunandana Library photographing massive temple of Lord Jagannatha, when I heard a sarcastic voice declare, "You're a fool."
"Excuse me?" I asked, surprised by an Indian man who was also viewing the temple from the same rooftop.
"You worship a God who won't even let you into His temple," the man asserted in a British accent. In one sense he was right. Because of the cultural heritage in Puri, entrance into the temple is restricted only to those born in Hindu families.
"You see, chap," he continued more politely, "I've just arrived from England. I'm not even Hindu; I am a Christin, but because my ancestors were Indian, they let me into the temple thinking I'm also a Hindu. What do you can't even go into the temple, but because I book like a Hindu they let me in, even though I don't follow the Hindu religion."
This gentleman wasn't just idly conversing with a foreigner, the way many people in India do; I sensed a hint of interest on his part, and his thick British accent added an air of aristocracy that attracted my attention.
"The people of Orissa are steeped in ancient traditions," I replied, "and no doubt the temple management is a bit out of touch with today's world. But I've seen Lord Jagannatha in many places: Paris, London, Florence, Chicago, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Atlanta. I don't agree that its foolish to worship Lord Jagannatha. The fools are those who are ignorant about God and His unlimited potencies."
Our conversation took place at the beginning of my research, when it wasn't really clear to me exactly why foreigners weren't allowed inside. It seemed odd that meat-eating drunkards were allowed into the temple if born in Hindu families (or with brown-skinned bodies tht only looked Hindu), whereas those following more closely the Hindu religious codes were considered outcastes simply because of their birth.
Having to deal with Hindu orthodoxy in Puri and not being allowed into the temple, however, were only my first obstacles. One can hardly imagine the legends, theories, fantasies, folklore, myths, strange rituals, and speculations that have cropped up over the ages. Sifting through the labyrinth of informative resources gradually became an extremely tedious, arduous task - far more difficult than I had anticipated.
As my investigation slowly progressed over the course of several years, two paths of acquiring information surfaced. One source was scholars and historians; I found numerous publications filled with details and evidence supporting each writer's views of the culture, with many contradictions between them. Most scholars present historical information beginning from the seventh century A.D., with vague references to the spiritual writings of ancient sages. Of course, most of these thinkers consider religious texts mythology and their followers sectarian.
Next were the spiritual, religious texts. These writings, mostly complied in a bygone age, declare that Lord Jagannatha appeared on earth millions of years ago in the age of Satya-yuga. Followers of these teachings consider materialistic historians and scholars to be groping in the dark, speculating and theorizing but never ascending to the transcendental region by such mental gymnastics.
I had to choose: scholars or spiritualists. Scholars and historians derided religionists as sentimental and sectarian, whereas spiritualists claimed that scholars and historians cheat the public with useless the ories that constantly contradict one another. Who are we to believe?
I chose both - sometimes. From the scholars I learned of various kings and their exploits, many of whom were devoted to Lord Jagannatha. Naturally, the pious rulers kingdoms influenced the citizens to serve the Deity, and accounts of these rulers lives enhanced my appreciation for the depth of this religious culture.
Spiritual writings were enlightening but also mind-boggling. Many religious texts appear to contradict one another, and different religious sects view Lord Jagannatha according to their own orthodoxy. I came across numerous beliefs about who and what the unusual Jagannatha Deity really is.
The most practical way to put all this together was to synthesize relevant information, then condense it into a palatable presentation. I decided to tread the difficult middle path where scriptures and historical accounts corroborated one another and in this way present a kind of bird's-eye view of the culture.
Lastly, I'd like to note that my desire to examine Jagannatha worship arose while writing the very last chapter of my first book, Vrndavana Dhama ki Jaya! That chapter discusses the exalted love of the gopis for the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna. The gopis Love is considered to be the zenith of love of God, the very pinnacle of rasatattva. After enjoying amorous loving affairs with the young damsels in Vrndavana, however, Krsna left His rural village and moved to the palatial cities of mathura and Dvaraka. This thrust the young gopis into intense feelings of separation from the Lord. Indeed, they cried night and day for His return, thus elevating their loving emotions to an even higher plane.
Those same spiritual feelings of separation, called vipralambhabhava, were exhibited by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Jagannatha Puri from 1510 until 1533. Reading about this uncommon and intense love of God in the Caitanya-caritamrta awakened my desire for further understanding. I wanted to go to Puri, where Caitanya Mahaprabhu spent His later years and delve into the mysteries hidden there. I hoped to further realize why the Supreme Lord chose Jagannatha Puri, of all places in the entire universe, to exhibit His quintessential pastimes. After excavating numerous treasures from the unlimited mine of esoteric topics, I share in this book the essence of what I discovered.
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