Jagannath dham (Temple) is one amongst the four dhamas (abodes)/ prime religious pilgrimages of India dedicated to Lord Jagannath. The word Jagannath means Jagat k nath (lord of the world).
This name is ordained to him because he is said to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who is otherwise known as the palan karta (nurturer) of the world.
There are two sides to the story of the origin of Jagannath temple, yet the part that explains the unique nature of the Jagannath temple at Puri which sets it apart from other temples around the world; lacks historical clarity even though mythologicaly acceptable.
Whereas the presence of the Nila Madhav temple at Kantilo at Nayagarh district of Odisha fortifies people’s beliefs about the mythology behind the origin of the Jagannath temple being true.
History is incomplete without Mythology
History elucidates that King Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva, first of the Eastern Ganga dynasty was the one who began the construction of Jagannath temple in the 12th century C.E as suggested by the Kendupatna copper-plate inscription of his descendant Narasingha deva II.
However, it does not clarify the reason behind Vishnu’s incarnation as lord Jagannath and the role of King Langula Narasingha Deva-I in such discovery. All the writen historical facts points out that the temple has been rebuilt quite many times since the 10th century C.E; that is the reign of King Langula Narasingha Deva-I.
Albeit mythology lacking the proof of existence; describes ordinately the journey of lord Vishnu’s incarnation to lord Jagannath beginning from being originally worshipped as Lord Neela Madhaba by a Savar king (tribal chief) named Viswavasu to King Indradyumna of Avanti (currently-Malwa) leaving his kingdom inorder to settle down in Puri (formerly known as Purusottama) spending the rest of his life in devotion and service to Lord Jagannath.
As history is concerned, The Jagannath Temple is said to have been constructed by King Anantavarman Chodaganga, and the Ratha (Chariots) were made during his reign as well; yet that is the only information historic proofs are able to provide. Rest, everything revolves around the mythology that is believed by severals and everything turns back to the temple chronicals.
Legend Behind Jagannath Temple
The legend says that there was once a king of Avanti named Indradyumna who worshipped Lord Vishnu ordinately. One night where in he had a dream where he heard a voice enunciating information about Lord Vishnu nesting in a mountain in the form of Nila Madhaba.
A priest named Vidyapati was immediately sent by The king to search for him. While travelling, Vidyapati reached a place where Savaras were residing. Viswavasu who was the king of Sacaras invited Vidyapati to live with him.
Viswavasu had a daughter named Lalita and Vidyapati married her in order to come close to Viswavasu. As he came to know that Savar king Viswavasu worshiped Nila Madhaba everyday and he is the only person who knows where he resides. Several days after marriage, Vidyapati asked his father-in-law to take him to Nila Madhava.
A petrified Viswavasu with the suddenness of his request, blindfolded him and took him to the cave. Clever Vidyapati took some mustard seeds with him which he scantily dropped on the way to grow into shrubs, so as to remember the route to the cave. Days later, Vidyapati leaving behind a promise to Lalita of returning soon went back to fulfil his duties towards his king.
He rushed to the king and informed him about the abode of Lord Nila Madhaba but to their disappointment the deity had disappeared by the time they reached at Nilagiri mountain at Odra Desha (Odisha).
The king again had a vision where he was ordered to wait for a huge log to arrive at the sea shore, from which he should make the idol of the Lord. After they found the log, Naradmuni visited the king with the information that lord wants to be worshipped in the form of four idols.
Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. Where Lord Balabhadra represents the allegory of his partner who has always protected him during all his incarnations, as Seshnag with Lord Vishnu, as elder brother Balaram with Lord Krishna and as younger brother Laxman while he was in the form of Lord Rama.
Devi Subhadra is his only sister whom he loves and cherishes in all his forms. Third and the most important, Lord Jagannath representing Lord Vishnu himself; and fourth will be the Sudarshan Chakra, his most potent weapon. Now the only issue with the king was how does these four idols look like.
Many carpenters from various places were called by the king to make his dream come true but, not even a scratch in the log was possible by any. While the king and the rest of the devotees were losing faith, an old man came to visit the King.
He introduced himself as a carpenter liable to make the idols. Impressed by his confidence, the king permitted him to make the idols but, the old man had a condition. He requested to be locked in a room completely undisturbed with the wood and his tools for 21 days. The desperate king agreed to his conditions. But just after two weeks, the Queen became very anxious and suspecting.
She took the brittle carpenter to be dead as no sound resonated from the temple, losing her patience she requested the king to open the door. With the doors open the carpenter vanished into thin air; therefore, the idols are said to be incomplete. The idols doesn’t have ears, nose, hands or legs. It flabbergasted the king and everyone around him.
Naradmuni came to rescue his mind from the hustle and guilt of committing a sin as he felt. He told the king that the idols are not unfinished but that’s the exact way god wants to be portrayed. The eyes watch over the world 24/7 describes nill eyelashes. The hands wide open to accept every mortal as their devotee irrespective of their caste or creed.
With the place gifted by the King Narasingha Deva and the idols being ready, King Indradyumna put his men at work for the construction of the chariots and the famous Jagannath temple.
The Queen (Rani Gundicha) suggested to make a makeshift sanctum where the idols shall be put at until the grand sanctum is finished. That temple is currently known as Gundicha temple/ Mausi maa temple. Before the queen died she requested Lord Jagannath to visit her temple once in a year after being re-located at the Shree Mandir.
Hence, the Ratha Yatra festival is conducted once in a year where god step out of the temple along with Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Sudarshan Chakra; they are taken to their respective chariots Nandighosha of Lord Jagannath, Taladhwaja of Lord Blabhadra and Darpadalana of Devi Subhadra.
On the way from the Singhadwara through Bada danda to the Chariots, the Lord has allowed every being to touch him and be blessed. People in huge numbers visit from all around the world to have the opportunity to pull the huge and heavy chariots from the Jagannath temple to the Gundicha temple.
Before the Lords were well established on the main temple, King Indrdyumna went on a spiritual journey to visit Brahma dev at Brahma lok in order to summon him for the Mandira Pratistha (Opening Ceremony).
As the tale goes on, it is believed that the grand sanctum of the famous Jagannath temple of Puri was established and christened by the creator of the universe, Lord Brahma himself.
During his time on Brahma lok, Brahma did warn him that the time there runs slower than that on the Earth. Hence, many years were passed until he went back and by the time the temple has suffered a gargantuan storm during the reign of Anangabhima Deva-II and got burried in dunes of sand.
King Anangabhima Deva-II later discovered the temple during his walk in the beach and rebuilt it. Therefore, the historic facts mentions him as the founder of the temple and his descendants are responsible for the well being of the temple.
Finally when King Indradyumna returned from brahma lok and explained the whole story to the king, was when Lord Jagannath were finally placed on his throne on the temple, sanctifying the place into one major abode where today many devotees visit in search of moksha (salvation).