An explaination of different pastimes of Lord Jagannatha

(Based on a talk given by the author on 13 July 2008, in Berkeley, California, USA)

Snan Yatra of Jagannath ji It is a great honor, privilege, and pleasure to be here, in New Jagannatha Puri-dhama, on the auspicious occasion of Snana-yatra.

According to the Skanda Purana, the history of the installation of the Jagannatha Deities in Puri goes back about a hundred and fifty-three million years. Although there is a history of how the Deities came to be carved in the shapes in which They now appear, actually Lord Jagannatha and His associates are eternal. His being carved is just a pastime to facilitate His manifestation on earth. As Prabhupada explains, “Fire is already present in wood, but by a certain process, fire is kindled. Similarly, God is all-pervading. He is everywhere, and since He may come out from everything, He appeared . . . Lord Narsimha appeared from the pillar of Hiranyakashipu’s palace, Lord Varaha appeared from the nostril of Brahma, and Lord Kapila appeared from the semen of Kardama, but this does not mean that the nostril of Brahma or the pillar of Hiranyakashipu’s palace or the semen of Kardama Muni is the source of the appearance of the Lord. The Lord is always the Lord.” (Bhag. 3.24.6 purport)

Lord Jagannatha is eternal, just as Krishna is eternal. Although Krishna had His appearance pastime in the prison house of Kamsa, He is eternal. He resides eternally on His spiritual planet, Goloka Vrindavana, and He eternally manifests His pastimes within the material world. Lord Jagannatha also has an eternal planet in the spiritual sky. He is the source of all incarnations, and He appears in whatever form His devotee wants to see Him. Sometimes in Puri the pujaris dress Him as a demigod, such as Ganesha, with an elephant’s trunk. That is also to confirm the philosophical principle that by worshiping Lord Jagannatha Krishna one worships all the demigods automatically. All the demigods are included in Jagannatha, and all the expansions of Godhead are included. But Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers, Gaudiya Vaishnavas, see Lord Jagannatha as Krishna. When Caitanya Mahaprabhu would see Jagannatha in Puri, He saw Krishna, Shyamasundara.

The appearance of Lord Jagannatha is mentioned in the Skanda Purana. There, Lord Jagannatha tells King Indradyumna, who had the first Jagannatha Deities carved and who built the first, great temple for Lord Jagannatha in Puri, that He appeared on the full moon day of the month of Jyeshtha, being pleased with the king’s devotion and sacrifices. It is on this very date every year that Snana-yatra, the public bathing of Lord Jagannatha, is held. (See picture on opposite page)


For the Snana-yatra in Puri, Lord Jagannatha is brought into public view and bathed on a rooftop, or terrace, of the great temple. Then, as it is said, the Lord catches a cold and is removed to His private quarters the quarters of Laksmi, the goddess of fortune, who for two weeks serves Him hand and foot. Of course, that is another question, about His hands and feet. A disciple asked Srila Prabhupada, “We are told to meditate on the Deity beginning with the lotus feet, but how do we begin our meditation on Lord Jagannatha? He doesn’t have feet.” And Srila Prabhupada replied, “You can meditate on whatever you can see.” (Advanced devotees can see Lord Jagannatha’s lotus feet.) There are philosophical principles and specific pastimes that account for why He has no feet or hands or why they are not visible. The Upanisads say that the Lord has no legs but that He can overcome all others running. “He has no hands or feet” really means that He has no material hands or feet. He has spiritual hands and feet. Still, in ecstasy, He sometimes withdraws His limbs-and widens His eyes.

Krishna had so much love for the residents of Vrindavana that even in Dvaraka, in the middle of the night; He would sometimes call the names of the cowherd boys and cows, or Srimati Radharani and the gopis, or His mother and father, Nanda and Yashoda. Sometimes He would be so overwhelmed with ecstatic love for the residents of Vrindavana that He would not eat or sleep. It was a mystery to the residents of Dvaraka: “What is this special place, Vrindavana? And who are these special people? What happened when Krishna was there in His  childhood that makes Him so attached to Vrindavana?”

One person in Dvaraka had been present in Vrindavana for Krishna’s childhood pastimes: Mother Rohini, the mother of Balarama. The residents of Dvaraka, wanting to hear about Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavana, asked, “Who are these special people? What is this special place?” She said, “I will tell you, but no one should disturb me while I am speaking.”

So, they all assembled in a large hall in Dvaraka, and Subhadra was posted at the door to make sure that no one entered. But she also wanted to hear about Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavana, so she put her ear to the door. Hearing Krishna’s pastimes, she became ecstatic, and in her ecstasy her eyes opened wide, her mouth smiled broadly, and her limbs withdrew. She assumed the features that we see today in the deity of Subhadra.

Then Krishna and Balarama came and saw Subhadra with her ear to the door in that ecstatic feature. And They thought, “Let Us also hear what is being said inside.” So They put Their ears to the door, and They too became ecstatic and assumed Their own particular features, with Their limbs withdrawn and Their eyes open wide and Their mouths in broad smiles. So that is how Their Lordships came to assume these special forms.


The Ratha-yatra begins at the Jagannatha temple in Nilacala and proceeds to the Gundicha temple in Sundarachala. Nilacala represents Dvaraka, where Krishna lives as a king and is worshiped in opulence, and Sundarachala represents Vrindavana, where Krishna is loved simply as a cowherd boy, the son of Nanda and Yashoda. During the year, the Gundicha temple (named after the wife of King Indradyumna) is empty, and naturally dust and dirt accumulate. The day before Ratha-yatra is Gundicha- marjana, and on that day Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates thoroughly cleaned the Gundicha temple. As described in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu gathered thousands of men, and together, they cleaned the temple. First, with thousands of brooms, they swept it twice and then they washed it with thousands of pots of water. They didn’t have hoses then only pots. They filled thousands of pots with water and washed the temple, inside and out, just to make the temple fit for the Lord.

Metaphorically, the cleansing of the Gundicha temple is the cleansing of the heart to make it a fit place for the Lord. Such cleansing is effected by hearing and chanting about Krishna.

srnvatam sva-kathah Krishnah
hrdy antah-stho hy abhadrani
vidhunoti suhrt satam

When a sincere devotee (satam) hears the messages of Krishna, all the dirty, inauspicious things (abhadrani) in the heart (hrdy antah) are cleansed (vidhunoti). Similarly, by attentive chanting and hearing of the holy names of the Lord sankirtana one’s consciousness is also purified (ceto-darpana-marjanam). Thus Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers cleaned the Gundicha temple to make it a fit place for the Lord to reside.

And, as Srila Prabhupada often said, “When you clean the temple, you clean your heart.”


Four Armed Vishnu

When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who was in the mood of Srimati Radharani in separation from Krishna the highest level of ecstatic love in separation was unable to see Lord Jagannatha for two weeks, He almost went mad. When He had first arrived in Puri and entered the temple and seen the Deity of Jagannatha, He had thought, “Here is My Lord, for whom I’ve been searching.” He had run to embrace the Deity of Jagannatha Krishna and fainted, in the ecstasy of pure love. So for Him to have achieved the Lord of His life and then lost Him-when Jagannatha went into seclusion-was intolerable. He could not remain in Puri. And so He walked fourteen miles west to Alalanatha (Alarnath), in an area called Brahmagiri, which is named after Lord Brahma because Brahma is said to have come to earth and installed the Deity of Lord Narayana worshiped there.

This is also very mysterious. Lord Alarnath is Narayana, with four arms. Radharani knew no one other than Krishna, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu was in the mood of Radharani. So how could He get solace by going to Alarnath to see a four-handed Deity of Lord Narayana? Further, when Caitanya Mahaprabhu first saw the Deity and offered prostrated obeisances, the stone slab on the temple floor beneath Him melted. In the Jagannatha temple there is a pillar called the Garuda-stambha, where Caitanya Mahaprabhu used to stand to have darsana of Jagannatha. There are imprints of His fingers on the pillar and of His lotus feet on the floor where in great ecstasy He would behold Lord Jagannatha. But in Alarnath we find the impression of His entire body, which melted the stone when He prostrated Himself only once, in extreme ecstasy which is unprecedented.

In 1918, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, Srila Bhakti-siddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, went to Alarnath. What I am about to say is very confidential, but because today is a special occasion and we are in a special place, I will tell you. One morning Srila Bhakti-siddhanta went into the forest. His followers assumed that he had gone to answer the call of nature, but when some time passed and he did not return, they began to look everywhere for him. (In those days that area was thick jungle.) Eventually they found him. He had had a vision of Krishna, and had been searching for Him. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was a strict follower of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, a pure devotee of Radha and Krishna. Why should he experience that extreme ecstasy in Brahmagiri, where Lord Narayana is worshiped in His four-handed form? And why should Caitanya Mahaprabhu go there, feeling intense separation from Krishna, to see a four-handed Deity of Narayana? There is a confidential answer, which relates to Krishna-lila.

Once, during His rasa-lila at Govardhana Hill in the springtime, Sri Krishna disappeared from the scene, suggesting that He wanted to be alone with Sri Radha. He hid in a secluded bush, waiting for Her to pass by, but in the meantime the other gopis, cowherd girls of Vrindavana, came looking for Him. They all were in the mood of separation, mad in separation from Krishna, mad in love for Krishna, having been attracted by His transcendental beauty, His charming gestures, and His loving words. They were searching all over Govardhana for Him, and finally they sighted Him in the bush. Krishna, when He saw them, became struck with emotion. He could not hide Himself, and so He assumed His four-armed Narayana form. When the gopis saw Lord Narayana they said, “Oh, He is not Krishna. He is Lord Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” They had no interest in Lord Narayana; they were interested in Krishna. So they offered Him respects and prayed, “Please bless us with Krishna’s association.” Otherwise, they had no use for Him. They went on searching for Krishna. Then, when Srimati Radharani came, Krishna wanted to maintain His four-armed form to joke with Her, but although He tried His best, He was unable to do so. The influence of Her ecstatic love forced Him to return to His original two-handed form. He couldn’t maintain His feature as Lord Narayana. He was conquered by Srimati Radharani’s love and so revealed His original form as Krishna.

rasarambha-vidhau niliya vasata kunje mrgaksi-ganair
drstam gopayitum svam uddhura-dhiya ya susthu sandarsita
radhayah pranayasya hanta mahima yasya sriya raksitum
sa sakya prabhavisnunapi harina nasic catur-bahuta

“Prior to the rasa dance, Lord Krishna hid Himself in a grove just to have fun. When the gopis came, their eyes resembling those of deer, by His sharp intelligence He exhibited His beautiful four-armed form to hide Himself. But when Srimati Radharani came there, Krishna could not maintain His four arms in Her presence. This is the wonderful glory of Her love.” (Ujjvala-nilamani, Nayika-bheda 7)

Transcendentally, Alarnath in Caitanya’s lila in Puri is compared to Paitha at Govardhana. It is a place of intense separation. The gopis, in separation from Krishna, roamed the forest there looking for Him. And it is the place where Lord Narayana wasn’t really Lord Narayana. He was actually Krishna assuming the form of Narayana to play a joke on the gopis and to bring out their exclusive love for Him. Thus, although the external form of the Deity of Lord Alarnath is that of four-armed Narayana, internally He is Krishna. And the pujaris of Alarnath admit that in their worship they recite very confidential mantras to Krishna, the lover of Srimati Radharani.

During those fourteen days, called anavasara, when Lord Jagannatha retires to His private quarters and receives service from Laksmi, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in separation, went to Alarnath. So, there are many deep feelings connected to Ratha-yatra. This whole pastime like all the pastimes of Jagannatha in Puri is very deep and full of separation. Jagannatha Puri is Vipralambha-dhama. Vipralambha means “separation.” Lord Jagannatha, in His opulent temple, feels separation from Srimati Radharani and His other pure devotees in Vrindavana. And Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in the mood of Srimati Radharani after Krishna left Vrindavana for Mathura and Dvaraka, also feels separation. So Jagannatha Puri is a place of crying. But that crying is ecstasy. That separation is ecstasy. It is not what we experience in the material world.

After this period of separation, when Lord Jagannatha finally leaves His private quarters, He emerges from the temple and mounts His chariot and for the first time in two weeks Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the other devotees are able to see Him. So they become ecstatic. And in the Ratha-yatra, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is in the mood of Radharani bringing Krishna back to Vrindavana.

(This year Snana-yatra falls on 7 June).

Giriraja Swami joined the Krishna consciousness movement in 1969 and accepted sannyasa in 1978. During the mid-seventies, under Srila Prabhupada's supervision, he helped guide the construction of ISKCON’s temple complex in Mumbai.