Jagannatha, also pronounced as Jagannath, or Jagannaath, or Jagannaatha, is the universal deity form of Lord Krishna. Especially the Vaishnava community
revered Jagannatha as Krishna’s merciful form. Lord Chaitanya too was
a great devotee of Lord Jagannatha.
Jagannatha, a Sanskrit word, is widely
used in order to describe a deity form of Krishna. The word can be broken into
two terms: nath which means master and jagat signifies universe. Together Jagannatha
signifies "Lord of the universe". Jagannatha is one of multiple names
of Krishna that were mentioned in the ancient Vedic scriptures of India.
Scholars have come up with an interesting
finding. According to them, the English word, juggernaut, widely used to describe
an ‘unstoppable’ has been derived from Jagannatha.
Myths are popular amongst the people that centered on the origination of Lord
Jagannatha. According to a story, once Krishna eavesdropped while the ‘gopis’
spoke about him like His pastimes, and how much they loved him. Sister Subhadra
was given the responsibility to keep an eye ensuring that Krishna should not
be seen nearby while they spoke to Krishna.
However Subhadra was so engrossed in
listening the stories that she absolutely paid no heed that her brothers Krishna
and Balarama have already approached. As the brothers listened, their hairs
stood straight, their arms pulled in, their eyes grew larger and they smiled
broadly out of elation. That is why Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra look very
similar to each other.
The ancient most as well as most popular
Jagannath deity is enshrined in the city of Puri, in Orissa, India. Interestingly
many people like to refer the city as Jagannath Puri where each year the famous
Rath Yatra festival used to take place in great festivity. Jagannath is worshipped
by Hindus through out India.
The Jagannath Temple in Puri is regarded
as one of the four most sacred Hindu pilgrimage places in India. Although the
deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra (Balarama) and Subhadra (Krishna and Balarama's
sister) are worshipped in the temple.
During the Hindu month of ‘Ashadha’,
they are brought out onto Puri’s main street and then taken to procession
by traveling three kms to the Gundicha Temple (also called to be the abode of
Krishna's maternal aunt), allowing the devotees to have ‘darshan’
of the deities. This festival is known as Ratha Yatra.
There are two interesting stories associated
with this deity. First is the story of how Krishna appeared to a great devotee
of the lord, King Indradyumna and ordered him to carve a deity from a log he
would find washed up on the sea shore. King Indradyumna found a mysterious old
Brahmin carpenter to carve the deity, but the carpenter insisted that he not
be disturbed while he was carving the deity. The king waited anxiously outside
his room, but after some time, all sound stopped. The impatient Indradyumna
worried what had happened and assuming the worst, opened the doors - only to
find the deity half-finished and the carpenter gone!
The mysterious carpenter was none other
than Vishvakarma, the heavenly architect. The king was distraught as the deity
had no arms and legs. Utterly repentant that he had interrupted the carving,
the king was only pacified when the muni (sage) called Narada appeared and explained
that the form the king now sees is a legitimate form of the supreme personality
of godhead. The second story here was narrated to further explain and remove
any doubts and confusion.
The second reason for Lord Jagannath's
appearance is the story of how Krishna was eavesdropping on the gopis as they
spoke amongst themselves of His pastimes, and how much they loved him. Sister
Subhadra was instructed to keep watch and ensure Krishna wasn't nearby while
the gopis spoke of Krishna. But after a while Subhadra was so overwhelmed by
the gopis' devotion and their stories that she became completely engrossed in
listening. She didn't see the brothers Krishna and Balarama approaching. As
the brothers listened their hairs stood on end, their arms retracted, their
eyes grew larger and larger, and they smiled broadly in ecstasy. That is why
Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra look like they do.
This form is worshiped by Vaishnavas
as the abstract form of Krishna. The deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra (Balarama)
and Subhadra (Krishna's sister) are usually worshipped in the temple, but once
in every Asadha Masa (Rainy Season, usually June or July), they are brought
out onto the main high street of Puri and travel (3 km) to the Mausimaa Temple,
allowing the public to have Darshan (holy view) of the deities as they pass.
This festival is known as Ratha Yatra.
The Rath carts themselves are huge wooden
structures built new every year and are pulled by the millions of pilgrims who
turn up for the event from all parts of the Globe. The festival commemorates
Krishna's return to His home in Vrindavan after a long period of separation
from the people there.