How a famous Deity of Lord Krsna came
to be worshiped in a remote Bengali village.
Mayapur, West Bengal, the birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, is home to the largest center of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In 1978, ISKCON Mayapur assumed responsibility for the worship of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra in a nearby temple.
The unique deities of Jagannatha (Krsna, "the Lord of the universe"), His brother, Balarama, and sister, Subhadra, have been worshiped in Puri, on the coast of Orissa, for thousands of years. According to tradition, five thousand years ago, when Lord Krsna was present on earth, Krsna, Balarama, and Subhadra were once transformed in spiritual ecstasy on hearing a devotee relate Lord Krsna's adolescent pastimes. The sage Narada, who happened by, became enthralled by their ecstatic features. He asked that they allow worship of deities of them as they were now appearing. Those deities Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra now reside in a magnificent temple in Puri and attract pilgrims from all over India, especially from Orissa and Bengal.
The following narration tells how Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra came to be worshiped in Mayapur.
MANY HUNDREDS of years ago, in what is now the Indian state of Orissa, a wicked man named Raktabahu destroyed temples and created panic in the hearts of pious people. When the devotees of Lord Jagannatha in Puri learned of Raktabahu's rampage, they became fearful and approached Lord Jagannatha.
"O worshipful One," the devotees prayed, "we are in great anxiety on hearing that evil Raktabahu is destroying temples and Deities. He is traveling this way and may come at any moment to attack Your temple. If that happens, we will have to give up our lives, because we'll never be able to tolerate any action against You. Please save us from this danger by arranging to protect Your divine form and the temple, O almighty Lord."
That night, Jagannatha appeared in the dream of the head priest and told him, "I am overwhelmed by the ardent love and devotion of My devotees. You all love Me more than your own self. No one can harm My divine form or My temple. Just by My will I can keep all nondevotees away. But to bless My devotees and reciprocate with them, I often willingly accept what appear to be hardships, and so My devotees' love and attachment for Me increases many times.
"Tomorrow, therefore, please remove Balarama, Subhadra Devi, and Me from the temple and set out for Bengal. You should take the path through the jungle to avoid Raktabahu, who is coming by the main road. Do not fear. I will always protect you."
The Lord then disappeared from the dream. The priest woke up and spread the message.
The devotees at once began to arrange the Lord's journey. The traditional system in Jagannatha Puri is that devotees from different sections of society are assigned specific services for the Lord. Devotees from the group known as the sabaras always carry the deities when they leave the temple to attend certain festivals. So when the Lord's message reached the sabaras, they arranged to travel the next morning.
The sabaras walked with the deities all day, and just before dusk they settled in a suitable place. They collected fruits, flowers, and leaves from the jungle and worshiped Their Lordships. The next morning, after worshiping the deities, the sabaras started for their next destination. In this way they spent eleven days. On the twelfth day they arrived in Simantadvipa, one of the nine islands of Navadvipa Dhama, the holy land of Lord Caitanya's pastimes, in West Bengal.
That night, Lord Jagannatha appeared in the dream of the sabaras and expressed His desire to settle on that very spot. It was a most suitable place, He said, transcendental in all respects. The sabara devotees fulfilled the Lord's desire to remain there.
The Deities Discovered
The sabaras served the Lord for generations. But gradually the deities and the temple disappeared. The Lord never left the place, however, as was revealed later, five hundred years ago, during the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
At that time, a devotee named Jagadisa Ganguli lived in a small village near Mayapur. Jagadisa was a highly elevated devotee, and even though very old, every year he would walk nine hundred kilometers to attend Lord Jagannatha's Rathayatra ("chariot festival") in Puri.
One day Jagadisa was stricken with a disease that left him blind. When he realized he could no longer see the divine forms of Lord Caitanya and the Jagannatha Deities, he became depressed. Worse yet, his friends considered the annual pilgrimage to Puri too long and dangerous for him and refused to take him with them. Jagadisa stayed home in constant lamentation and despondency.
Then one night Lord Jagannatha appeared to Jagadisa in a dream. The Lord told him that the next morning, when he would go for his daily bath in the Ganges, a log would touch his head and restore his vision. The Lord said that Jagadisa should take the log and go to a nearby village where a devotee-carpenter lived. He should ask the carpenter to make a Deity of Lord Jagannatha. The Lord said that the carpenter would refuse the work because he was a leper and had deformed hands. Jagadisa would have to insist and convince the leper-carpenter to do the work. And when the job would be finished, the Lord assured him, the carpenter's leprosy would vanish.
Just as the Lord had predicted, when Jagadisa bathed in the Ganges the next morning a log touched his head and restored his vision. He took the log to a nearby village, where he searched until he found a leper-carpenter. Jagadisa implored the leper to carve a Deity of Lord Jagannatha from the wood, but the carpenter refused.
The leper showed Jagadisa his deformed fingers and asked him, "How can I carve the divine form of the Lord with these hands?"
But Jagadisa insisted. He told the leper that his leprosy would be cured once he finished the carving. Finally the leper agreed.
Jagadisa stayed with the leper as he worked and saw him suffering terribly. Blood and puss oozed from the stumps that were once his fingers, and he kept wanting to quit the work. But Jagadisa encouraged him and enabled him to forget his agony long enough to finish the Deity of Lord Jagannatha. The moment he finished, his leprosy disappeared.
Jagadisa took the Deity to the site of the present Jagannatha temple in Mayapur and established His worship there. A few nights later, Jagadisa had another dream. This time Lord Jagannatha told him to have the same carpenter make neem-wood deities of Balarama and Subhadra Devi. Jagadisa did so and installed them in the temple next to Lord Jagannatha.
A New Temple
After Jagadisa passed away, the worship of the Deities diminished over the years. Eventually Jagannatha, Subhadra, and Balarama were forgotten, and their temple fell down around them. Some sixty years ago, residents of the nearby village noticed a beautiful unique blue flower growing on top of a termite hill. When they went near the hill, they heard a voice calling, "Please give Me water. I'm thirsty."
The villagers unearthed the deities of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra. Although the deities had been residing in the middle of a termite hill, their wood was unharmed. The worship started again.
In 1978 Lord Jagannatha's aging pujari (priest) felt unable to go on for long with the worship of his beloved deities. He gave the temple and property to ISKCON, which built a gorgeous temple surrounded by flower gardens and mango groves.
The managers of the temple invite all pilgrims to Sri Mayapur to visit the temple of Lord Jagannatha. The scriptures say that Jagannatha Puri is eternally manifest in this holy place, and by visiting it one gains the same benefits as visiting Jagannatha Puri.
Lord Jagannatha's Pastimes
The Vedic scriptures tell us that the Lord appears in the form of the Deity to accept our worship and service. So the Deity is not different from the Lord Himself. It is not surprising, then, that the Deity sometimes does things that a mere statue could not.
The Vedic scriptures and histories of many temples tell of Deities speaking, walking, appearing in dreams, and so on. Some Deities gain a reputation for reciprocating with Their devotees in directly perceivable ways. Lord Jagannatha in Mayapur is one such Deity. Pankajanghri Dasa, the head priest of ISKCON Mayapur, related the following pastimes during a festival at the Jagannatha temple.
Lord Jagannatha Goes for Walks
The people living in the first house here said that Lord Jagannatha would go for walks. They never actually saw Him, but they could hear Him, especially Saturday nights. They would see a glow coming from the temple, they could hear the jingling of ankle bells, and a sweet fragrance would fill the air.
Why Go to Puri?
Once a pilgrim traveling from the north on his way to Puri to worship Jagannatha fell asleep on the train. The Lord spoke to him in a dream.
"My dear devotee, you need not go all the way to Puri, because I reside very near here. Just get off at the next station and walk northwest. There you'll find a temple where you can have My audience to your full satisfaction."
The pilgrim did as instructed and happily found his way to this temple.
Lord Jagannatha Refuses to Leave
Some brahmanas from another village felt they could worship Lord Jagannatha better in their village, so one day they stole Him from the temple. While carrying the Lord across the fields, they all suddenly felt the need to answer nature's call, so they put Him down. Upon returning, they could no longer lift Him. They brought more men to help, but they just could not budge the Lord.
They finally realized He didn't want to leave, so They returned to the temple and regretfully told the priest, "Your Deity is out in the field and wants to come back."
So two priests went and picked Him up and carried Him back home.
The Lord Brings Medicine
One time there was a severe epidemic in this area. A lot of people were getting sick, and some of them were dying. Lord Jagannatha appeared in a dream to the pujari and told him of a medicine that would cure the disease. In the morning the priest called all the villagers and told them to gather the ingredients to make the medicine. But they were missing one ingredient, which doesn't grow in this area.
Later in the day, a small boy came with a branch and gave it to the priest's wife. When the priest returned and saw the branch, he became very exited.
"Oh! That's just what we needed. Who brought this?"
"A very charming little boy brought it," the wife replied. "I don't think He was from this village; I've never seen Him before."
The villagers made the medicine, and everyone was cured. From that day Lord Jagannatha has earned great respect here, even from the non-Hindus.
Missing Tulasi Leaves
When the temple was first handed over to ISKCON, we used to bring the deities' noon meal from Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir [the main ISKCON temple]. At that time we didn't have enough devotees to keep cooks here. Riding a bicycle, the pujariwould carry the meal here and offer it to Lord Jagannatha.
One day, while setting the meal before Lord Jagannatha, the pujari realized he had forgotten to bring tulasi leaves, which must be placed on each dish.
"What should I do?" the pujari thought. "Should I go and pick some tulasi leaves and put them on the dishes? Since the door is broken, if I go then a dog or some children might come in."
Thinking like this, he apologized to Lord Jagannatha for not being able to offer any tulasi leaves.
After making the offering, he sat outside the door and chanted mantras while the deities ate. Upon opening the doors, he saw in the middle of the plate of rice a big branch of tulasi leaves.
"They Have Nice Prasadam Down There"
When ISKCON was first given this temple and land, there were many joint owners, and most of them had already signed it over to us. But [ISKCON Mayapur leader] Jayapataka Swami stressed that he didn't want full worship to begin until everyone had signed the deeds.
Unknown to him, the pujari had already been offering meals brought from the main temple. So upon hearing this instruction, the pujari stopped the offerings. But the next night he dreamed that when he was going to wake the deities, he found they were not there. Frantic, he ran outside and spotted them walking across the fields.
"Jagannatha! Baladeva! Subhadra!" he shouted, "Where are You going?"
"You are not feeding us, so we are going to the Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir," they replied. "They have nice prasadam there, lots of prasadam."
When Jayapataka Swami heard about the dream, he instructed the pujari to continue taking the Deities their meals.