By Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
I had the rare opportunity of witnessing the celebrations along with my family.
An epitome of Oriya nationality at this end, Srikanta Nayak, as every year since commencement of this festival in 1991, invoked Lord Jagannatha to commence the Car Festival for human beings, belonging to no religion or any religion whatsoever, to be able to pull the Car forward in the mission of one-world-one human-society, which lies at the core of the cult of Jagannatha, literally meaning the Lord of the Universe.
Dr. Lipishree Nayak supplemented by saying that the three individual colors of the Trinity – Sri Jagannath in black color, Sri Balabhadra in white color and Sri Subhadra in yellow color – represent people of all colors of the world, thus justifying the universality of Lord Jagannatha.
Amongst others, M/s Sabyasachi Rath, Pratap Pradhan, Pratap Das, Rathibhai Patel and Baibaswat Nayak actively participated in making the festival successful. Pandit Mahasrunga Pani performed the Puja and also led the Sankirtan.
Devotional tradition melted in emotional oneness with their motherland Orissa lying far away in India as every Oriya present on the spot was in ecstasy to touch the sacred Car of the dearest Deity, who is the only Deity that despite having been transformed into a male Deity is still resembling the female torso and retaining the lifestyle of a female with all the rituals starting with Snana Yatra after Raja (ceremonial bath on menstruation) to Anasara Nibasa (secluded living during menstruation) to Naba Jouvana Darshan (public appearance for social appreciation of suitability for marriage) to Ratha Yatra decorated with Naka Chana, Kanaphula, Hara et cetera (journey into the midst of seekers bedecked with female ornaments and costume) that reflect the custom of tribal society in respect of a nubile girl from her menstruation to journey in search of her lover, the Dahuka (ceremonial attendant) continuously and loudly chanting highly sex-provocative litanies through out the journey. (Sri Jayadevanka Baisi Pahacha by Subhas Chandra Pattanayak: Bharata Bharati, Cuttack). Unique is this festival that carries matriarch tenets of Buddhist Tantra and unique is this Deity that embodies the universality and world outlook of the best son of the soil of Orissa, the beloved Gurudev Buddha.
A sheer coincidence it may be, but interesting it is to note that Maryland’s icon of knowledge, the University of Maryland, has the tortoise as its protector of advancing knowledge (testudo); when the inner campus of Lord Jagannatha in Srimandira of Puri, Orissa, is called Kurma Bedha, literally meaning the tortoise-Compound that acts also as its testudo with the tenets of Tantra such predominant that not only the nasty facet of Hinduism – the caste-supremacism – is laid powerless in this compound, but also, in front of the seat of the caste-supremacists – the Mukti Mandap that argues that procreation is factored by the God – worship of Anangatura (a concupiscent female) is performed to show that not the God, but sexual union is the factor of procreation.
Instead of tenets of the Vedic scriptures, tenets of the Tantra thus prevails in the Kurma Bedha.
Despite all out attempts of Brahminism to transform Sri Jagannath from Buddha to Krishna in order to convert him into Hindu deity Vishnu, the Kurma Bedha makes one feel that the Lord has remained Lord Buddha, the greatest ever leader and benefactor of the people of Orissa, His Motherland.
This Kurma Bedha is such a testudo against casteism that the people of Orissa belonging to non-Brahmin castes had, in a decision taken here during the reign of Gajapati Prataparudra Dev, thrown away the idols of Adi Samkaracharya and his disciple Padmapada, whom he had appointed as the first Sankaracharya of his mission branch called Gobardhan Math at Puri, from the Ratnasinghasana (podium) of Sri Jagannatha in the strongest possible protest against caste-supremacism propounded by him and his followers.
In fact, the proponents of Brahminism did not belong by origin to Orissa. They were imported from Kanyakubja by Yajatikeshari to destroy Buddhism in its birthplace and to spread Hinduism.
Ekamra Purana has described that the non-Oriya kings, patronizing Brahmanism, were giving sumptuous gifts and gold coins to Pasupat Shaivas (fanatic followers of Hindu God Shiv) as rewards for butchering Buddhist Monks.
Iswar Das in his Bagavata (Stanzas 61-65 in Chapter 148) has described how a Keshari king had massacred 667 out of 752 Buddhist monks in the Saatapaata area or Kurma Pataka Pur on river Prachi spread up to Puri through Konarka forcing the rest of the Siddhacharyas belonging to the monastery at village Chaurashi in the same region go underground.
Thus Orissa was taken over by Hinduism and Jagannatha metamorphosed into Vishnu. But, to the Buddhist world, she was the only place where Buddhism was all through predominant for ages. Rev. J.Long has recorded, “Antiquarian enquiries in Nepal, Cylone and Chaina show that the Buddhism, so noted in its regard for enlightening the masses and opposing caste, was for ages predominant all through Orissa both among rulers and the people, though Orissa be now the garden of the Hinduism and Jagannath its Jerusalem” (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1859, No.III, Vol.XXVIIII,pp.185-87). In this essay, he has given a narration of Jagannatha’s Buddha identity. “Even Jagannatha itself stands on the site of a Buddhist temple and contained the celebrated tooth of Buddha, which was kept there till the 4th century AD, when it was carried for a short period to Patna, the ancient Palibothra, then the capital of north India. It was soon after brought back to Puri. But on an invasion of the country, it was conveyed in AD 311 by a king’s daughter concealed in her hair to Ceylone, which was then becoming a place of refuge to the Buddhists from the Brahmins’ rage” (Ibid).
There are innumerable description of Jagannatha as Buddha in ancient Oriya literature.
Buddha had his most intimate followers in the Kurma pataka region where by and during the time of Indrabhuti, the founder of Vajrayana and Sri Jagannatha, many centers of Buddhist Tantra had flourished.
Sri Jagannatha has his entire physical entity in this region.
His Nava Kalebara rests entirely on orders of Mangala of Kakatapur of this region and is performed in the Tantric manner.
When Veda was the avocation of the caste supremacists, the lower caste people, to whom Buddha was the redeemer, were followers of Tantra evolved from agro-magic and promoted by Buddhist philosophers of Orissa like Indrabhuti and Laxminkara. These lower caste people in Orissa are called ‘Pataka’. And, seven prominent centers of Bauddha Tantra in the region of Buddha’s birthplace were called Sapta Pataka Pur, which, in Iswar Das Bhagavat is shown as Saatapaata.
Like today, the turtles in those days were visiting the Orissa coast, specifically through the Prachi estuary in huge numbers and they being known as Kurma, the area was eventually known as Kurma Mandala and the Patakas were called Kurma Patakas and a very important monastery of Buddhist Tantra was even named after Kurma. Discovery of remnants of this monastery at village Kuruma – corrupted from Kurma – strongly indicates how the Buddhist ‘pataka’ (Buddha’s followers belonging to lower castes) were known as Kurma Pataka and the area of their inhabitation was called Kurma Pataka Pur on river Prachi. Chaurashi Siddhacharyas belonged to this area, with whose cooperation, Indrabhuti had established Vajrayana and propitiated Gurudev Buddha as Jagannatha in Gnanasiddhi that had begun with “pranipatya jagannatham sarvajinavararchitam / sarvabuddhamayam siddhibyapinam gaganopamam//” (Jnanasiddhi: i, 1). He had created the first temple of Jagannatha Buddha with the help of the Pataka people of Kurma area, who, though earmarked as lower caste people by the Brahmins, were in reality casteless, being the Buddhists.
After invaders of Orissa succeeded in transforming Jagannatha from Buddha to Vishnu, the shrewd practitioners of Brahminism have changed Indrabhuti of history to an imagined king called Indradyumna and have created legends of Indradyumna tank linking the turtles therein to Kurma pataka just to obliterate from history the role of Indrabhuti in establishment of Jagannatha and thereby to establish reign of the upper castes in Jagannatha temple.
Yet, the inner campus of the temple has remained named as Kurma bedha and remained casteless like the Kurma Pataka people. The Kurma Bedha reminds us that Lord Jagannatha of Puri has his root in Kurma Pataka Pur and therefore tenets of Tantra still prevails in Sri Mandira and in his intimate rituals.
Specifically for this, it was a pleasure in watching the Car Festival of Sri Jagannatha in Maryland, where coincidentally, Kurma or the tortoise remains the permanent testudo to protect the advancing knowledge. And, as we all know, knowledge is casteless.
(Photography: Saswat Pattanayak)