Lord Jagannath & his temple at Puri are shrouded in innumerable tales of eternal love, devotion, faith, perseverance and strength of human character. It is my pleasure to be able to write from my limited repertoire of knowledge about Sri Hari/ Sri Jagannath on this auspicious occasion of Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival). Ratha Yatra is one of the biggest Hindu festival that occurs in the beautiful eastern state of Odisha, India. The Puri temple is the permanent residence of Lord Jagannath ( Jaga meaning Universe & Nath meaning Master).
It is said that one look at Lords Chaka Nayana ( round eyes) invokes profound divine love. Bhakta Salabega (a Muslim devotee of the Lord) is immortalized in stories for his immeasurable love for the Lord Jagganath. The Lord, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu is addressed by his devotees lovingly by numerous names like Kalia ( the black one because of his complexion) and Jagabandhu ( Friend of all entities). Ever since childhood I have visited Puri, (my maternal grandparents) house innumerable times. I was fortunate to experience the immense power and love of the Lord. During the evening prayers when the sounds of ghanta and dhola (traditional Instruments) played by the Pandas (Temple Priests) filled the air, everyone present inside the main temple premise is mesmerized by the electrifying magic of Lord’s divine love pervading through the air. All present fall into a trance, eyes turn moist as the body vibrates with unexplained devotional current flowing though every ounce of cell. I haven’t visited Puri since about 4 years now, but I can remember the sense of tranquillity one feels once the feet has crossed the Singhadwara (main gate). Watching the Ratha Yatra was a highpoint in our life as kids. We had the VIP seat or at least it felt that way sitting with my grandfather, cousins, some close friends of my grandfather and uncle, aunt, mom and dad at my grandfather’s clinic by the side of Badadanda( wide street leading upto the temple). It was quiet a spectacle watching throngs of people clamouring to pull at the ropes of the Rathas (chariot). Grandfather would order for ginger tea, chocolates and satvik (Onion & Garlic free) Samosas ( Most delicious Odisha fritters). We would hear stories about the Lord, how he reincarnated himself into his form of Jagannath, why he travels to Gundicha temple in the Chariot every year, why the Puri Raja (King) becomes the chariot sweeper and does Cherapahanra (Sweeping of the chariot) for the Lord and dedicates himself to his service. We would hang onto every word of the intriguing stories served out to us. Later as teenagers and adults our logical side would question some instances while our spirituals side would begin to understand the true significance of the fascinating stories.
In 2016 while on a short visit to my native town Bhubaneswar I got the opportunity to participate in the National Level Women’s Art Camp organized as a collaborative effort of Odisha Lalit Kala Academy & Odisha Culture and Tourism department. I was very sceptical to do a live painting since I did not have any proper art materials with me. Another factor augmenting my fear was the theme given by the art camp. I had to paint something on Lord Jagannath. My artwork had always been experimental tending towards modern art. I had never painted on spiritual theme before. I was encouraged by my inimitable mother and Hali Uncle to give it a shot.
I started out by researching about the Lord. I was faced with two very strong feelings that kept augmenting- one of being overwhelmed by the volume of information & the other of shame that I knew so little. The three deities go through Nabakalebara in the year in which the adhikmasa falls. The deities are carved out from neem wood (daru brahma) cut from special trees bearing certain specific symbols. The daru or log of Lord Jagannath is cut from a dark barked neem tree having 4 main branches. The bark should have the likeliness of Shankha (conch) and Chankra (disc) on it. The tree itself should be free of bird’s nest and surrounded by other trees and near a river or pond. There should be a snake’s nest or snakes living near the foot of the tree. The concept of the artwork thus found life in the tradition of Nabakalebara of Lord Jagannath.
When I landed at the camp on the first day I discovered that most artists had already started working on their canvas. Some were loitering around catching up on each other or looking at other artists work. These were seasoned artists and professionals who had solid concept in mind already based on the theme. Each of them knew exactly how much time they will have to put on the canvas, how to prepare the canvas, what brush to use, how much paint and soon. I panicked at their casual confidence. I knew the media would be there to cover the pre and post artwork scenes and the thought that my artwork and concept wouldn’t be good enough tortured me to no ends. Since I was a last minute entrant I had no clue how big the canvas was going to be. I had just got a small acrylic paint box mix and two brushes along with it. When I saw the canvas I just froze. I somehow gathered my wits and discovered a used discarded plastic card in my purse which I as brush to fill up the big areas in the canvas. From then on I knew I had to think on the feet and go with the flow till I complete the task in hand.
The Art camp was huge success with many talented national level artists participating, distinguished guests and dignitaries like the then Odisha Culture and Tourism Minister Ashok Kumar Panda and Secretary of Odisha Tourism and Culture Arvind Padee among those attending. Spanning over a period of 3 days the camp proved to be was a huge learning experience. Observing artists at work, forming and reforming their process, understanding their concepts as they shared their idea and interacting with them all added volumes to my knowledge bank.