July 14, 2021, 3:27 p.m. by Dr Gayatri Mohapatra ( 503 views)
"Knock, And He'll open the doorVanish, And He'll make you shine like the sunFall, And He'll raise you to the heavensBecome nothing, And He'll turn you into everything."Jalal Ad-Din Rumi
When I was a child, a popular Odia folk story was adapted into a feature film in 1977 by the name “Bandhu Mohanty”, directed by Nitai Palit, Gopal Chotrai penned the dialogue of the film and music was by Prafulla kar.
The film was a huge success as it centred around Lord Jagannath & his devotee, Bandhu Mohanty.
The Jagannath cult is a way of life for the ordinary Odiya, an emotional bond and phrases like 'Jaga Kalia Mangala karantu’(may the Lord grant you well-being) are common utterings in the life of an Odia.
Odias take the utmost pride in their Lord Jagannath and he is the central figure in auspicious events like marriage, engagement, sacred thread ceremony etc.
For the people of Odisha, ‘Jagannath’ is ‘Jagata ra natha’, meaning the Lord of this Universe.
He is omnipotent, sacred and at the same time made of sweat and blood. He is a friend and a guide, and hence lovingly addressed by different pet names as ‘Madhabha’, ‘Jaga’ or ‘Kalia’, 'Chaka Akhi'.
It is an ageless tale about a timeless value of faith and surrender to the almighty.
In the early 16th century, in the town of Jajpur, lived a man called Bandhu Mohanty who was very poor. No one knew what his real name was but as Bandhu considered the Lord of the universe as his best friend, everyone called him bandhu.
Bandhu lived with his wife and two sons. He and his family survived on the alms given by the villagers. Despite all the hardships, Bandhu remained content with his lot.
He knew his closest friend, his Lord, was there to take care of him and always said Chaka akhi always walks before you (to make a way); walks beside you (to keep you strong), and walks behind you (to catch you if you fall).
It is said, "Beautiful souls are shaped by ugly experiences" and Bandhu was one such example.
Within our struggles lives our strength, within our trials lives our triumphs. A gem cannot be polished without friction and so neither a person without hardships.
Soon, Jajpur was affected by a severe drought and crops started withering, people had nothing to eat. There was hunger and starvation all around. Many died, others fled in search of food and water. Bandhu and his family found it difficult to survive and unable to bear the agony of her children, Bandhu’s wife told him, “You keep chanting about the rich, prosperous, kind and generous friend of yours who lives in Puri. Why don’t we go to him instead of starving here?”
Now Bandhu’s wife had no idea that her husband’s friend was none other than the Lord of the Universe, ‘Chaka Aakhi’ himself.
She only knew he was someone who was wealthy and powerful and would hopefully not say no to her husband’s appeal for help. After all, they were bosom friends.
The family set forth for Srikhestra and on reaching Puri found huge crowds thronging the road leading to the temple, known as ‘Bada Danda’. The temple was also crowded and the temple guards didn't allow them to go inside the 'Bada deula'.
So they took darshan of Patita-Pavana, the deity of Lord at the entrance of the temple's eastern gate(Purab Dwara). Then Bandhu Mohanty went towards the southern gate(Paschim Dwara) near Peja Nala, where all the starch from the cooked rice from Lord Jagannath’s kitchen gathers. Bandhu Mohanty was very tired. He sat down there near the south gate. His wife said, “Why are you sitting here? It is getting late, let us go to your friend’s house to meet him and eat something. We all are very tired and hungry. Where is your friends’ house?” At this time all the children also started to cry, saying, “We are very hungry."
Bandhu told them that as his friend had many important guests it would be indecent to disturb him and they would visit him in the morning. He got some gruel from the drain in a broken clay pot, fed his family, after which they all huddled to sleep with tiredness.
Suddenly, Bandhu heard someone call his name and woke up with a start. It was pitch dark all around. His family was sleeping peacefully. ‘I must have been dreaming. Or else who would know me here,’ Bandhu muttered to himself and lay down once again.
“Bandhu,” the voice was distinct this time. There was no doubt someone was actually addressing him.
Bandhu got up and looked all around.He saw a dark-skinned Brahman standing with a big plate in his hand.
“Bandhu, your friend has sent Mahaprasad for you and your family. He has also said that in the morning all arrangements will be made for you,” with these words the dark Brahman handed over the plate laden with delicious Chappanbhog.
Bandhu woke up his family and they had the most delicious meal of their lives.As he saw his children eating happily, savouring every morsel, tears of gratitude welled up in Bandhu’s eyes.
After polishing off the delicious food, Bandhu washed the shiny plate and went to give it back to the Brahmin. He searched for him in vain, but the Brahmin had disappeared.
Bandhu wrapped the plate in a rag and put it beside him. He then thanked his dear friend for his kindness and happily went to sleep.
The next morning there was a furore in the temple. It was discovered that the big gold thali in which bhog is offered to the Lord was missing. The thali was kept in the Ratna Bhandar which was locked securely.
Who could have committed this dastardly act?
The news of the theft spread all over Puri. Gajpati Pratap Rudra, the King of Khurda, dispatched his soldiers to Puri as well as neighbouring areas and soon the golden thali was found, Bandhu arrested and put in prison. As he was dragged to the prison, huge crowds gathered to see the criminal who had not spared even the Lord’s Ratna Bhandar. People competed with each other in hurling abuses and throwing stones at the unfortunate Bandhu.
In spite of being subjected to immense humiliation and torture and his poor family enduring untold miseries, Bandhu’s faith in his friend Lord Jagannath did not waiver one bit. He confidently prayed to his lord to give him the courage to face the exacting situation and waited patiently for the Lord to save him and his family and prayed "May He Who has helped me by doing other and more difficult things for me help also in this: in His mercy, I put my trust".
That night, Gajapati Pratap Rudra had a dream.
Lord Jagannath had flown to his palace on his mighty Garuda. He had appeared before Gajapati and narrated the entire story about the unfortunate and innocent Bandhu Mohanty.
In his dream, Lord Jagannath ordered the King to release Bandhu Mohanty immediately.
The Lord said to the King "he is my devotee and now my guest" so treat him with respect and bring him to me.
The next day, the King bowed down to Bandhu Mohanty and asked to be forgiven. Bandhu was given a royal reception and taken to the Ratna Bedi for darshan of Lord Jagannath.
He was also given the work of a cook in the temple.
Even now, descendants of Bandhu Mohanty are counted amongst the main cooks in the temple kitchen and they offer Mahaprasad to Lord Jagannath on a golden Tray.
The story of Bandhu Mohanty was recorded in Madala Panji, the temple record book in 1818 AD and illustrates the emotional bond between Jagannath and his devotee and he is known as 'Bhakta's Bhagvan'.
In times of distress, Kalia Saante, the Lord of the universe leaves his Ratna Singhasan to reach Out to his devotees.
God shapes trials, tribulations, and frustrations to make you succeed.
There are innumerable stories of how ardent devotees of Jaga Kalia have been saved by the two brothers, Balaram & Jagannath.
Be it the story of Salbeg or Dasia bauri, Raghu Dasa or Ganapati Bhatta, Balaram Das, Bhima bhoi each one of them faced many trials and hardships before attaining salvation. It is always darkest before dawn.
In the prism of faith, every crisis looks shallow and as Ramana Maharshi said "God never forsakes one who has surrendered" (mam ekam saranam vraja).