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After the battle of Mahabharata came to end, Gandhari was mourning over her eldest son Duryodhan. She was furious with Lord Krishna as he didn’t agree to her requests to avert the war and the subsequent catastrophe. In the feat of rage, she cursed Krishna that he will die after 36 years along with this kins who would die fighting with each other. Krishna, with a smile said “so be it”.
36 year passed and one day Sambha who was one of the sons of Krishna was playing prank of being a pregnant woman with a group of sages visiting Dwarka. One of the sage Kanva cursed him that Sambha will give birth to whatever he was hiding and the very thing will take the clan to extinction. Sambha was hiding a mace to look like a pregnant woman, so due to the sage’s curse he gave birth to a mace. The elders in the family asked their people to destroy the mace and dispose off. The Yadavas ground the mace to powder, but a small triangular shape which was very hard remained. They threw the powder and the metallic triangle into the sea. Eventually the triangular shaped metal was swallowed by a fish which was caught by a hunter who made a poisonous arrow out of it.
After his elder brother Balaram left for the heavenly abode, Krishna completely overwhelmed due to grief retreated to the bushes. The hunter who took the left foot of Krishna to be the ear of a deer, shot the poisonous arrow he made out of the triangular piece of metal he got out of the belly of the fish. This hunter was said to the reincarnation of Bali of Ramayana, killed by Rama who was another incarnation of Lord Vishnu. After the demise of the lord, his spirit (Bramha) took the shape of a small stone.
The stone was later traced by a tribal king called Biswabasu who could realise its divine nature. So he established the stone inside a cave and started worshipping it as Neela Madhaba. Neela is Blue and Madhaba is another name of Lord Krishna.
There was a king named Indradyumna from the Lunar dynasty who heard about Neela Madhaba from a pilgrim who informed the Lord was being worshipped in Neelachal (Blue Mountain) in Udra pradesh (present day Odisha), near the river Mahanadi. The king then sent his people to locate the lord. One of his people, a bramhin called Bidyapati met the tribal king Biswabasu who offered him to be his guest. Bidyapati fell in love with the beautiful daughter of the king named Lalita. Eventually they got married and started living in the forest for some time. Bidyapati noticed the tribal king going out every day before break of the dawn and asked his wife about the secret. She says her father goes to worship Lord Neela Madhaba who is inside a cave up in the mountain. Bidyapati requests Lalita to convince her father to take him to the lord which Biswabasu doesn’t agree. Bidyapti denounces food till the time he could have a glimpse of Neela Madhaba. Finally the tribal king gives in and agrees to take Bidyapati to the cave, however under the condition that he will be blindfolded throughout the route. Lalita, the clever wife of Bidyapati put some mustard seeds in her husband’s pocket which dropped throughout the way to the cave. Later they helped Bidyapati to find the way to the cave.
Bidyapati eventually returns to king Indrudyumna and briefs him in details about Neela Madhaba. The king upon hearing the story leaves for Udra pradesh to worship the deity along with his priests and Bidyapati. However upon reaching the spot, the king realised the lord had disappeared and the area was covered with golden sand of the coast. The disappointed king and started his fast on to death. He was advised to conduct Ashwamedha and build a temple for the lord. The king agreed to the advise and was told in his dreams that a log with divine signs will be found ashore which needs to be made into four idols Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan Chakra. Then these idols need to be place inside the temple built by the king.
The king as per the divine instruction took the log to make the idols. A very old and frill looking sculptor offered to make the idols, but under the condition that nobody would disturb him till he is done with his job inside a sealed chamber. The king conceded with the sculptor and allowed him to work on making of the idol inside a closed chamber. After few days the queen while passing through the chamber couldn’t hear any sound from inside. She became anxious and informed the king. She requested the king to open the chamber and see if the old man was alive. Indradyumna was reluctant but upon insistence of the queen, finally opened the doors to find the lord of architecture Bishwakarma making the idols. But as the king broke his promise, Bishwakarma left immediately leaving the half-built idols behind. The king took it as the god’s will and installed the idols in the Jagannath temple of Puri. once in every twelve to nineteen years, the bramha is placed inside the new idols and the old ones are buried in the temple premises. The ceremony is called Nava Kalebara which in Sanskrit means “new body”.