In days of yore, Indradyumna ruled over a vast territory. He had conquered niany lands and had earned great fame, but he always felt the urge to do something different, something more lofty.
At last he decided to baild a large temple. He sat down with his architects and made a plan for the building But unless there was a genuine, living deity to dwell in the temple, what was the use of building it?
One night he had a remarkable dream. He saw a small hill in the interior of an unknown forest. There was a cave in the hill and in the cave dwelt a beautiful deity, who represented the Lord of the Universe, or Jagannath.
Indradyumna did not know where the hill was, but he was most anxious to find out. So he sent four Brahmins to trace the hill and the deity.
Months passed. One of the wandering Brahmins, a young man named Vidyapati, reached a wooded land inhabited by die Sabaras, an ancient tribe. He arrived at the house of their chief, Viswavasu, seeking shelter. Viswavasu was very pleased to play host to Vidyapaa, who was a wise scholar and a charming personality.
Vidyapati intuitively felt a spiritual atmosphere in that part of the forest He decided to live there for some time.
Viswavasu had a beautiful daughter called Lolita. It so happened that Vidyapan earned not only the affection of the chief, but also the love of Lolita. Soon he married her and continued to live there.
During the course of his stay, Vidyapati observed that Viswavasu went out into the forest everyday before dawn and came back after sunrise. Even a storm would not prevent him from doing so.
"Where does your father go early in the morning?" Vidyapati asked Lolita one day.
"0 my husband, though I am not supposed to reveal this to anyone, how can I hide anything from you? My father goes out to worship Nilamadhav, inside the cave in Nilachala," she replied.
Vidyapati was thrilled to hear this. At once he had a feeling that what he sought was here! "Where is Nilachala? Won't you take me there?" he pleaded with Lolita. Soon Viswavasu same to know of his son-in-law's eagerness to see Nilamadhav. He reluctantly agreed to take Vidyapati there, but only on the condition that the latter's eyes were covered.
While Vidyapati was led to Nilachala blindfolded, he scattered mustard seeds on the way, un-noticed by Viswavasu. After a few days, following a shower of rain, leaves sprouted from the mustard seeds and it was not difficult for Vidyapati to find the way to the cave.
One day Vidyapati took leave of Lolita and Viswavasu to pay a visit to his home. On his way, he stole the idol from the cave and hurried to the court of King Indradyumna. Viswavasu was not to know of his loss until the next morning.
Indradyumna was very happy when he saw the image of Nilamadhav. But his joy did not last long. When the Sahara chief saw that his deity had been stolen, he was about to end his life in grief. Knowing his devotee's love for him, the deity mysteriously disappeared from the palace of Indrayumna.
Expecting to find the idol in the cave of Nilochala, Indrayumna hurried there. But the cave was about to torture him when he heard a voice telling him to first build a temple in which to house the deity. Only then would the deity come to him.
The king now devoted all his energy, imagination and wealth to build a majestic temple.
Many years later, when the temple was complete, the king was told in a dream to go to the seashore and collect a floating log. The image of Jagannath would be carved out of it and in this new form, would dwell Nilamadhav.
The king rushed to the seashore and saw a log floating nearby. But in spite of all his efforts, he could not bring it ashore. The king in utter despair, decided to kill himself. At night, however, he was directed in a vision to seek the help of Viswavasu.
The king sent a messenger to Viswavasu and requested him to come there. As soon as Viswavasu
touched the wood, it proved light. Thus did the deity prove his love for both his devotees - the king and Viswavasu.
However, there soon arose a fresh problem. No craftsman could be found who would undertake to carve the image of Jagannath out of the wood. Just when the king had started to despair again, an old man appeared before him and offered to do the job. He was a very old man, but there was something extraordinary about him which impressed the king. The stranger however, laid one condition: nobody should open the doors of his room until 21 days were over. That was the time he needed to finish the work.
The old man then started his work inside a closed room. Every day, the queen pressed her ear against the door of the room and heard sounds made by the mysterious craftsman. But after a fortnight, she stopped hearing anything. This went on for a few days. One day she lost all patience. She thought that the old man was dead!
She pushed the doors open suddenly. The old man cast a look at her and disappeared, leaving the three images of Jagannath, his brother Balarama, and their sister Subhadra, incomplete, as they are seen to this day.
The old man was none other than the godly architect and sculptor, Viswakarma.
The king, however, assumed that it was ordained that such should be the forms of the deities. Viswavasu too, was delighted to see them. His old deity was put inside the form of Jagannath.
Till today the descendants of Viswavasu, the Sahara chief, are among the priests of the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri.
Another legend says that after the temple was constructed, it lay forgotten, buried under sand for hundreds of years. One day, while King Galamadhav was galloping across a sandy stretch of land, his horse faltered as its hoof struck something hard. The king got down and examined the object. It seemed to be the top of a temple. At the king's command the sand was removed and the wonderful monument, 58 metres in height, was discovered.
According to historians the temple of Jagannath
was built in the 12th century by the Ganga kings of Kalinga. It required great vision, great dedication and a great amount of wealth. All these were present with the Ganga kings particularly Choda Ganga Dev, the greatest of them all.
Magnificent is the temple for its varied sculptures as delicate as the traditional filigree work of Orissa.
About 200,000 people flock to Puri every year in the month of June to witness or participate in the famous Car Festival of the deities. Jagannath, Balarama, and Subhadra are taken on three huge wooden chariots with 16 wheels each, to another shrine about two kilometres away from the main temple. The festival commemorates Krishna's journey from Gokula to Mathura. It is said that the relics of Krishna are contained in the image of Jagannath. Perhaps what Viswavasu treasured and worshipped as Nilamadhav are the relics of Krishna.
Some people believe that Buddha's tooth is also there. Chaitanya dev, the great prophet of Vaishnavism, is said to have disappeared while concentrating on the image inside the temple. "Thus, Jagannath is associated with many traditions.
No wonder that of all the Hindu seats of pilgrimage, Puri draws the largest number of pilgrims.
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