The story of Neela Madhaba

The story of Neela Madhaba


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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 MadhabaNeela 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 Purionce 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”.


Chhera Pahnara: Legend behind the ritual

The Ratha Jatra (Car Festival as the English media calls it) is going on. Many of us who watched the live telecast or seen it in person, would have noticed the various rituals performed before the main event. One of them is Chhera Pahnara (“ଛେରା ପହଁରା” in Odia) which is an interesting ritual involving the King (descendants of the royal family of Odisha) sweeping the floors of the chariots with a broom with a golden handle and sprinkling sandalwood water. There is a beautiful story behind this ritual which goes as follows.

King Purushottam Dev of Odisha (erstwhile Utkala) during a visit to South India, fell in love with the beautiful princess of Kanchi, called Padmavati. King of Kanchi was happy to give the consent for the marriage. However one of the ministers from Kanchi who paid a visit to Puri during Ratha Jatra time, saw King Purushottam Dev sweeping the floors of the chariot and informed this to his master. Hearing this the king of Kanchi declined for the marriage and organised a Swayamvar. He didn’t want to give his daughter’s hands in the hands of a sweeper, so King Purushottam Dev was not invited. This annoyed  the King of Odisha and he launched attack on Kanchi.

In the battle, Purushottam Dev lost badly and retreated back to Odisha. He then went to the Jagannatha temple in Puri and expressed his grievances of having a humiliating defeat in spite of being an ardent worshipper of the lords.  The Lord himself asked him to raise the war again and assured him victory. The king conceded to the divine voice and planned for the war again.

One day before the king left with his troops, Lord Jagannatha and Balabhadra in the guise of two horse-borne soldiers set out for Kanchi. On the way the younger sibling was thirsty, so they stopped an old women selling milk and drank some butter milk from her. In return they gave a ring to the lady called Manika and asked her to hand it over the same to the king who would pass by the route and get her dues in exchange. The lady agreed. Next day while Purushottam Dev was passing by, Manika showed the ring to him and asked for her dues. The king recognised the ring which belonged to Lord Jagannatha. He was overwhelmed with the kindness of the lord, gifted a village to the old lady and declared it to be named after her as Manikapatana.

After a fierce battle, Kanchi was defeated. Both the king and the princess Padmavati were held captive and brought to Puri. As a vengeance, the Odia king decided to get Padmavati married to a sweeper in presence of her father and asked his minister to find one.

In the meantime Ratha Jatra came and as per tradition, the king was sweeping the  floor of the chariots with a broom. The clever minister immediately offered the king to marry Padmavati as there could be no better sweeper than the king himself. The king was impressed and married the princess of Kanchi right in front of the deities.

Little bit of Jagannath in our lives

Little bit of Jagannath in our lives
Baara maase tera parba” (13 festivals in a year) is a common saying in average household of Odisha. Festivals are part and parcel of everyday life. There are numerous occasions which are celebrated in different parts of the state as a part of the festivities. The social fabric is closely knit by these festivals where people get closer to each other. Be it the Makara Parva in Mayurabhanja, Nuakhai of Sambalpur, Push Punei (“Pausa Purnima”) of Koraput, Bali Jatra of Cuttack; all of them are as vibrant and colourful as the Odia culture. Many of these festivals where one or the other deity is worshipped is an opportunity for socialisation irrespective of cast and creed.
Few of these festivals are restricted to specific areas in the state. However there is one festival Ratha yatra (“Car festival”) which is celebrated across all parts of the state with equal devotion and excitement. Many places across Odisha, the Raths (Chariots) are pulled by enthusiastic devotees. Puri which is known as “Shri Kshetra” has the highest significance with respect to the Ratha Yatra. However the same festival is equally colourful and full of excitement in Koraput which is otherwise called “Shabara Shri Kshetra” (The Shri Kshetra of the hills). Baripada which is a town in northern part of Odisha has the custom of all women chariot pullers who pull the Rath of Goddess Subhadra.Jagannath culture is in the mainstream of Odia culture. Many of the day to day rituals, social functions and festivals are centered around the round-eyed god. Being an Odia, I am proud because there is a little bit of Jagannath in our lives. Do you feel proud too?