[June 4, 2023 is Snāna-yātrā, the holy bathing festival of Lord Jagannātha in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt from a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on June 9, 2014 and June 20, 2016. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
Today is Snāna-yātrā, the holy bathing festival of Lord Jagannātha [also known as Deva-snāna Pūrṇimā]. It is also the appearance day of Lord Jagannātha. [As per the Skanda Purāṇa, when King Indradyumna installed the Deities, he arranged for this bathing ceremony.] Many throng to witness this event, so much so that there is no place even to stand comfortably. Earlier I used to go, but now I have stopped, as I don't have the strength.
There is one local adage – ‘On Snāna-yātrā it will definitely rain and on Ratha-yātrā it won’t.’ The candratāpa (awning) on the top of the bathing platform where the Deities are kept during Snāna-yātrā has many holes in it, so that even the demigods can get an opportunity to bathe Lord Jagannātha. How else could the demigods participate in the bathing of Jagannātha? Also, on the day of Snāna-yātrā, Jagannātha wears the same outfit He wore during His marriage ceremony [with Rukmiṇī on Nirjala-Ekādaśī]. Only on this one occasion, does Jagannātha wear the same outfit twice, never otherwise. This is why despite having thirty-six different kinds of servants, Lord Jagannātha does not have a laundryman.
On regular days, Jagannātha takes only darpaṇa-snāna [Endnote 1]. But today is the holy bathing festival, mahā-snāna of Jagannātha. Everything is conducted as per the rules. Any paṇḍā or servitor of Jagannātha, can offer only as many pots of water for Jagannātha's bath as he is eligible for. Today, Jagannātha is bathed with 108 pots of water. [Endnote 2] The ceremony begins with the King of Purī, the chief servitor of Jagannātha, offering eight pots. Then the rest of the pots are distributed among the paṇḍās and each pot is offered by four paṇḍās together. This is the procedure for Jagannātha’s snāna-sevā.
JAGANNĀTHA OBLIGES ONE PURE HEARTED SOUL
Also, later today, Jagannātha will be in the 'Gaṇeśa-veṣa', dressed as Gaṇeśa. Locals call it the Hātī-veṣa (the elephant costume). Once, Gaṇapati Bhaṭṭa, a brāhmaṇa from Karnataka, who was a devout worshipper of Gaṇeśa, learnt from a scripture [Brahma Purāṇa] that Sadāiśvareśvara Bhagavān is splendidly residing in Puruṣottama-kṣetra [in the transcendental form of dāru-brahma]. So he earnestly made his journey to Purī, but upon taking darśana of Lord Jagannātha, he was dissatisfied. [Because he was convinced that dāru-brahma should have a face resembling an elephant] Disturbed, he thought, ‘If Lord Jagannātha indeed is sarveśvara i.e. the Lord of all lords, then my worshipable Deity Gaṇeśa should also have been present within Him, but I did not see Gaṇeśa within Him.’
Unable to resolve this mystery, he went to Āṭhāranālā and began to fast and thought, ‘I am an offender and so it is improper for me to maintain this life.’ As Gaṇapati Bhaṭṭa commenced his fast [unto death], Jagannātha manifested the form of Gaṇeśa while sitting on the bathing platform.
Meanwhile, people were urging Gaṇapati Bhaṭṭa to take darśana of Jagannātha saying, “From tomorrow Anavasara will begin and you will not get darśana of Jagannātha for so many days!” [Jagannātha personally inspired a representative of the King to call Gaṇapati Bhaṭṭa for darśana saying, “All your desires will be fulfilled.”] Ultimately, when he came to take darśana, he found Gaṇeśa before his eyes. His joy knew no bounds! [That day, he made a special request, “O my Lord Gajanānā, Dāru-brahma, Gaṇapati, Lord of everyone; now I am satisfied to have Your darśana. All my doubts are dispelled. I have one request. From today onwards, whenever you come to the snāna-maṇḍapa on this day, please manifest this form and give Your darśana to everyone.”] Gaṇapati Bhaṭṭa was also instrumental in creating a fund in the temple to meet with the annual expenses for the Gaṇeśa-veṣa. [This fund is still prevalent]
THE PASTIMES OF THE LORD ARE NOT EASILY UNDERSTOOD
Some have difficulty in deciphering the pastimes of the Lord. Jagannātha’s bathing festival in Purī takes place on the day of pūrṇimā. But according to the scriptures, Śrī Kṛṣṇa took bath in Brahma-sarovara at Kurukṣetra during the solar eclipse (amāvasyā). When pratipadā (the day after amāvasyā) mixes with amāvasyā, then there is a solar eclipse. After the eclipse, Kṛṣṇa fell ill and stayed there, and the gopīs served Him while everyone else returned. The solar eclipse occurs on kṛṣṇa-pakṣa [dark fortnight] and on the second day of the bright fortnight, śukla-dvitīyā, the Ratha-yātrā begins.
It is very perplexing to reconcile these two events. Though the occurrences are the same - the Lord takes His bath and falls ill later – there is a difference in the tithis. In Kurukṣetra this happens on amāvasyā [during the solar eclipse], and in Purī it happens on pūrṇimā.
In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.33.38, it is mentioned - brahma-rātra upāvṛtte- one night of Brahmā lasting 4.32 billion years had passed during the rāsa-līlā, so how to reconcile this?
Also when Brahmā stole the calves, Kṛṣṇa had told his cowherd friends to continue with their lunch while He carefully brought back all the calves. At that time, Brahmā stole the cowherd boys also. Yet, after one year had elapsed [which is one moment on Brahma-loka], Brahmā noticed that the cow herding was going on as usual in Vṛndāvana. Perplexed, Brahmā, who has four heads, checked inside the cave of the Sumeru Mountain, thinking that the calves and the cowherd boys that he had stolen and hidden there, might have been freed. To his astonishment, he found them sleeping there as well. While in Vṛndāvana he saw the cowherd boys having lunch! The entire year had passed, but the cowherd boys said, “Kṛṣṇa, You came back so soon. We haven’t even eaten a mouthful yet!” In the one year that passed by, the food that was in their hands and on their plates had not become stale or rotten. It remained just as fresh as before. How is it possible? It is only possible because Bhagavān said – janma karma ca me divyam evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ– who can know My birth and activities? They are all transcendental. They are not ordinary.
Similarly, during the Ratha-yātrā, Sri Caitanya-deva divided His sevakas into seven groups or sampradāyas. In each sampradāya there was one lead singer, two chorus singers, two mṛdaṅga players and one dancer. In this way, He allocated them all. Four groups were in the front of the Ratha, one group on either side and one at the back of Jagannātha’s chariot. Caitanya Mahāprabhu Himself danced and sang moving from one group to the other. But when He desired, He appeared in all the seven kīrtana groups simultaneously. But everyone thought, ‘Mahāprabhu likes our group's kīrtana and He does not go anywhere else.’ They did not see Him in the other groups. This is Bhagavān’s bhagavattā – His Godhood. Whosoever He desires to give darśana to, only they can see Him. Who saw Him? Only King Pratāparudra, Kāśī Miśra and Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya could see the Lord in all seven groups simultaneously. One was gesturing to the other saying, 'Look! What a wonderful pastime of Prabhu!'
[Previously] All the devotees had requested Mahāprabhu to give darśana to King Pratāparudra, but Mahāprabhu had denied them this. Finally He said, “Only if Dāmodara Paṇḍita tells Me, I will give him darśana.” Dāmodara Paṇḍita replied, 'Why should I say? You will not only give Your darśana, You will even touch the King and I will see this. The King has devotion for You, and You are subjugated by devotion. So the King's devotion will make You touch him.' Dāmodara Paṇḍita had predicted this much before it happened. What was the reason for Mahāprabhu’s grace to flow? Mahāprabhu’s heart had melted seeing the King humbly sweeping the road before Jagannātha’s Ratha while sprinkling sandalwood water there.
In this way, the only way to attain the mercy of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is:
sneha-leśāpekṣā mātra śrī-kṛṣṇa-kṛpāra
sneha-vaśa hañā kare svatantra ācāra
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 10.139)
[Lord Kṛṣṇa’s mercy is dependent only on affection. Being obliged only by affection, Lord Kṛṣṇa acts very independently.]
That is, prema-yuktā sevā, prīti-yuktā sevā, the affectionate service of the Lord. It is said that the Lord's mercy is ahaitukī, causeless, but then, here, there is a cause. We sing the kīrtana, 'ahaitukī bhakti hṛde jāge anukṣane' But it is not easy to understand the words of the scriptures.
HEAR FROM THE SELF-REALIZED VAIṢṆAVAS
Hence it is said,
"yāha, bhāgavata paḍa vaiṣṇavera sthāne
ekānta āśraya kara caitanya-caraṇe
"If you want to understand Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam," he said, "you must approach a self-realized Vaiṣṇava and hear from him. You can do this when you have completely taken shelter of the lotus feet of Śrī CaitanyaMahāprabhu." [Śrī Caitanya–caritāmṛta Antya 5.131]
caitanyera bhakta-gaṇera nitya kara ‘saṅga’ tabeta jānibā siddhānta-samudra-taraṅga
Svarūpa Dāmodara continued, “Associate regularly with the devotees of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, for then only will you understand the waves of the ocean of devotional service. [Śrī Caitanya–caritāmṛta Antya 5.132]
By doing this, it is possible to understand, otherwise one cannot. What will be the result of doing this?
THE REAL MEANING OF 'AHAITUKĪ'
What is 'ahaitukī'? What does the sound vibration 'a' imply? The sound vibration 'AUM’ comprises all three – Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Mahesh. The dictionary meaning of the word 'a' is Viṣṇu or Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Ahaitukī means Viṣṇu haitukī. In other words, that which is done for Viṣṇu or Śrī Kṛṣṇa, whose one and only hetu (objective) is the pleasure and satisfaction of Śrī Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu. This is called 'ahaitukī bhakti'.
The word ‘causeless’ has no existence anywhere. This is the implied meaning and this is what is approved by the Vaiṣṇavas like Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī and Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, so one has to understand the word ‘ahaitukī’ in this manner.
The only qualification to understand the language of the realm of love is love. Only those who possess love in their hearts will understand, not others. Even in this material world, not everyone can understand the language of love. Though difficult for the ordinary to understand, it is possible for those who possess a loving heart. In the realm of love, 'Yes' means 'No' and 'No' means 'Yes'. [When Rādhārāṇī tells Kṛṣṇa, “Don’t You dare touch Me!” It actually implies the opposite. “You please touch Me.”]
An Assamese King Godapani was once attacked by the tyrannical Muslim King Lola Roja. But somehow King Godapani managed to escape and hide in the forest [other sources claim that he stayed incognito in Vaiṣṇava monasteries]. So they imprisoned his Queen, Joymati. While in the forest, the King became so emaciated that, coupled with his ragged clothes, nobody could even recognize him. One day a passerby remarked, 'We had perceived the King to be very noble, but he did not turn out like that. He escaped to save himself, leaving the captive Queen in a very pitiable condition. Now no one knows of his whereabouts.” Upon hearing this, the King immediately visited his palace where the Queen was held captive. He told the guards, “I am her spiritual preceptor. Please arrange for me to meet with her.” They duly obliged him. Accompanied by two soldiers, he came in the presence of the Queen, and upon seeing him, she turned her face, dismissing his claims of being her guru. She said, “He is not my guru! Take away this cheat from my vision this very moment.” So the soldiers immediately slapped the King and kicked him away. [Eventually as the Queen refrained from disclosing the whereabouts of the King, she was subjected to continuous inhuman physical torture by the Muslim King, until she passed away fourteen days later.]
With the help of the locals, Godapani eventually ousted the tyrannical Muslim ruler Lorā Roja through a revolt and eventually ascended the throne to restore peace and tranquility in the society. The Queen’s eldest son, who ascended the throne after his father, built a massive tank by the name Joysāgara and a temple of Viṣṇu by the name Joydol in honor of the memory of his mother. In the state of Assam she became immortalized by the name 'Satī Joymati'.
Satī means chaste. Why was she considered chaste? The same woman who turned her face the moment she saw her husband, calling him a cheat and had him kicked out, on whose words her husband was even slapped by the soldiers - why was she glorified as ‘chaste’?
Her real intention was - ‘Although I am unhappy and suffering as a convict of Muslims, I do not want you to remain here even a moment because I will be more unhappy and troubled if the soldiers find out that you are the King and imprison you as well.’
Besides this, the Queen knew that the King was the only one capable of ending the tyranny of the Muslim rulers by creating a revolution. Because the King had a loving relationship with the Queen, he could understand the inner meaning of her words and actions. But the soldiers could not, due to the absence of love. Hence it is not easy to understand the language of love.
Similarly, only the unalloyed devotees of Bhagavān know the intrinsic meaning of the descriptions and narrations about Him given in the scriptures. So if one is desirous of knowing them, they should hear from the unalloyed devotees otherwise one will not be able to understand.
Endnote 1 (Source: www.shreekhetra.com)
Three Puṣpalaka sevakas perform this snāna-vidhi (ritual) in pañca upacāra paddhati sitting on the floor below the ratna-vedī [where the Deities are kept on the altar]. They sprinkle water mixed with camphor, curd, amla and candana (sandal wood paste) on three brass mirrors (darpaṇa), each about two feet high, symbolizing the bath. Before that they also show tooth sticks and tongue scrapers to the Deities symbolizing the brushing of Their teeth. During this activity, the Temple astrologer (jyotiṣa) reads out the tithi and other astrological details of the day to the Deities. After this is completed, Garuḍa in the Nata-maṇḍapa takes bath for which the Garuḍa/Chunara sevakas perform the snāna-vidhi.
Endnote 2 (Source: www.shreekhetra.com)
On this auspicious day the Suaras and Mahāsuaras go in a ceremonial procession to fetch 108 pots of water from the Golden Well ('Soṅā Kūpa'). The holy water is drawn from this well on this day. During the entire process, they all cover their mouths with a piece of cloth so as not to contaminate the water even with their breath. Then all the pots filled with water are carefully brought to the bhoga-maṇḍapa. Then the priests purify the water with haldi (turmeric), java (whole rice), sandal (candana), flowers and perfumes. The filled and purified water pots are then carried from the bhoga-maṇḍapa to the bathing platform by the Suaras in a long single line queue. This ritual is called 'Jalabhiṣeka'. 'Jalabhiṣeka' consists of two words 'jala' (water) and 'abhiṣeka' (bath). This abhiṣeka is accompanied by the chanting of Vedic mantras by the priests, kīrtana and the blowing of conch shells.