The oldest and most famous Jagannātha deity is in the city of Puri, in Orissa, India (the city is known to many as Jagannātha puri after the Jagannath Temple) where each year the famous Ratha Jātrā festival takes place. Jagannātha is worshipped by Hindus all over World. The Jagannātha Temple in Puri is regarded as one of the four most sacred Hindu pilgrimage places in World.
Simhadeba (1987 : p. 317) affirms that the first record of Jagannatha in literature is by the Mahasiddha Indrabhuti, the Vajrayana adept of Buddhadharma, in his famed work, the Jnana Siddhi :
- "N. K. Sahu emphasises Indrabhuti, the Raja of Sambhal (Sambalpur), who has been assigned to have ruled during the dark period of the history of western Orissa by the author to have been the propounder of Vajrayana Buddhism. He was the first Siddha to identify Buddha with Jagannath and he was the worshipper of Jagannatha whom he prays at several places of his famous work Jnana Siddhi. In Sanskrit literature Jagannath as a deity is unknown before Jnana Siddhi, Jagannath mentioned in the Shantiparva of the Mahabharata of Bangabasi edition and even in early publication of Bangabasi edition is an interpolation as this is not found in the Poona edition of Kumbakonam edition ...".
There are two interesting stories associated with this deity. First is the story of how Krishna appeared to a great devotee of the lord, King Indradyumna and ordered him to carve a deity from a log he would find washed up on the sea shore of Puri. He searched for a carpenter to make the deities. King Indradyumna found a mysterious old Brahmin carpenter who appeared and took the responsibility and took a few days to accomplish that. Surprisingly the carpenter insisted that he would not be disturbed while he was carving the deity and started working behind a closed door. Everyone including the King and his Queen were very much anxious and came every day to the closed door and there was sound of working. After 21 days of waiting anxiously outside his room, but after some time, all sound stopped. The impatient Indradyumna's Queen worried what had happened and assuming the worst, opened the doors - only to find the deity half-finished and the carpenter vanished. The mysterious carpenter was none other than Vishvakarma, the heavenly architect. The king was distraught as the deity had no arms and legs. Utterly repentant that he had interrupted the carving, the king was only pacified when the muni (sage) called Narada appeared and explained that the form the king now sees is a legitimate form of the supreme personality of godhead. The second story here was narrated to further explain and remove any doubts and confusion.
The second reason for Lord Jagannath's appearance is the story of how Krishna was eavesdropping on the gopis as they spoke amongst themselves of His pastimes, and how much they loved him. Sister Subhadra was instructed to keep watch and ensure Krishna wasn't nearby while the gopis spoke of Krishna. But after a while Subhadra was so overwhelmed by the gopis' devotion and their stories that she became completely engrossed in listening. She didn't see the brothers Krishna and Balarama approaching. As the brothers listened their hairs stood on end, their arms retracted, their eyes grew larger and larger, and they smiled broadly in ecstasy. That is why Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra look like they do.
This form is worshiped by Vaishnavas as the abstract form of Krishna. The deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra (Balarama) and Subhadra (Krishna's sister) are usually worshipped in the temple, but once in every Ashadha Masa, shukla paksha dvitiya,with the star pushya in asterism, (Rainy Season, usually June or July), they are brought out onto the main high street of Puri and travel (3 km) to the Mausimaa (Gundicha) Temple, allowing the public to have Darshan (holy view) of the deities as they pass. This festival is known as Ratha Yatra. The Rath carts themselves are huge wooden structures built new every year and are pulled by the millions of pilgrims who turn up for the event from all parts of the Globe. The festival commemorates Krishna's return to His home in Vrindavan after a long period of separation from the people there.
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