Today is the “Ratha Yatra” a day when a large number of Hindu devotees gather in the holy city of Puri in the Indian state of Odisha. On this day devotees draw the ratha’ or the chariot of the Gods Jaggannath, Balaram and their sister Goddess Subhadra.
Lord Jaggannath is thought to be one of the forms of Lord Vishnu. There is an interesting tale about the beginning of this tradition of worship mentioned slightly differently in the Padma Purana and the Bhagwat Purana. This deity is singularly different from other forms of Lord Vishnu in its form and stands for concepts that can easily be interpreted on absolutely secular terms.
Let us first take a look at the legend. It is said that after the battle of Kurukshetra in which the Pandavas defeated the Kauravas and established their kingdom at Indraprastha (near the modern city of the Indian Capital city, Delhi). Krishna had gone back to his kingdom at Dwarka and one day went to stroll in a forest. He had climbed a tree and was resting on it with his beautiful blue feet sticking out of the thicket. A tribal hunter mistook the blue hue to be that found on a peacock and fired a poisoned arrow. The wound invariably caused Krishna’s death. According to customs, his dead body was prepared for the funeral pyre. The Pandava Arjun however suggested that the body simply be buried at sea. Arrangements were made to that end and the earthly remains of this Avatar of Lord Vishnu was set out in the waters of the ocean. Having covered some distance in the waves of the sea, the body solidified and transformed into a rock which eventually found its way to the Nilgiri Hills. The local Shavar community dwellers found the rock and discovered it had divine properties. They began worshipping it.
The king of Kalinga, Kharavela in the 2nd century B.C.E had a dream. In it, Lord Vishnu told him to erect a magnificent temple in his honour. He was also told that he would receive the raw material for the construction of the deity from the sea and that Vishwakarma (Artisan of the Gods) must be summoned to build the sculpture. Trees from the Nilgiri Hills arrived intact over the ocean, replete with their leaves and roots. The King employed all his army, horses and elephants but failed to get the trees out of the waters. Then, by the suggestion of a sage, they decided to go to approach the trees not as soldiers or Brahmins or Shavars but as a united people, without any social bias or differentiation. Surprisingly, the trees became lighter than expected and were easily carried into the temple. Vishwakarma arrived and instructed the king to not interrupt his work for if he was disturbed he said, he would leave the figurine unfinished. The King agreed but when days on end passed the King grew curious and went to see the progress of the work. Viswakarma left the temple immediately leaving the statues unfinished.
Now if we look at the whole legend in unison we realize a few things very clearly. As one of the most sacred temples of the Hindus, this temple is singular in its policy of allowing people of all castes and creed to offer worship; in keeping with the tradition set that required the united effort of all the people to get the trees out of the water in the first instance. Since then every twelve years fresh tree wood arrives at the spot the first set arrived and the people go together to draw them out of the water.
During the Ratha Yatra, the deities’ chariots are drawn by millions of people every year and it happens without considering the social or economic status of the individual devotees. In a multicultural, globalized world like ours, the message of a transcendental unity of all mankind is a welcome image and particularly relevant. Going beyond the bars of religion, caste, race or gender, Lord Jaggannath expects only devotion and earnestness from his devotees. A secular reading of that very same expectation may simply be the message that everyone ought to sincerely introspect and in earnest try to be compassionate toward fellow living beings without developing personal biases based on any preconceived socio-economic and political differences.
source : sakshatexperience.com