Guru Nanak & Lord Jagannath

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The "Bhakti-Cult" and its exponents had the goal of uniting the human race through true devotion to God. Gathering momentum in mediaeval India, this socio-religious movement rejected casteism, pilgrimage etc. and emphasized the oneness of God.

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) started it in Punjab and was on a mission to explain it to all the countrymen. The other members of the cult were Ramananda and Kavir in Uttar Pradesh; Shri Chaitanya in Bengal; Namdev, Tukaram and Ramdas in Maharastra.

As an exponent of this new cult, Nanak travelled throughout India. While on his mission, he reached Jagannath Puri where Ballavacharya and Sri Chaitanya were his contemporaries.

One evening, he entered the temple reciting the Lord's name. On the very entrance to Nata Mandir, he was suddenly charged with divine ecstasy. He originally believed in the formless worship of the Lord. But the symbolic image of Lord Jagannath was neither of any "Akar" nor was it "Nirakar". Seeing this "Kimakar" (of which form ?) image of the Lord, he was simply astonished and was overwhelmed with deep reverence for the Lord. He understood the universalism of the Lord and believed in the symbolic cult of Jagannath. He started the 'Namakirtan' of the Lord in his own way.

Basically, Nanak believed in the formless worship of 'Nirakar' Bramha and hi motto was 'Ek Omkar Satnam'. It means that he believed in 'Omkar' or 'Pranava Brahma' which has no form and stressed on the 'Satnam' or the true Namakirtan of the Lord. So, in his teachings, there is a blending of Vedic thoughts with the idea of the Namakirtan of personal God.

But, after seeing Jagannath for the first time, he could not reject him on the ground that he was incompatible with his philosophy. The 'essence of the Vedas', as He is called, appeared to Guru Nanak in the Pranava form and he could only start the Namakirtan. Just at that time, the Arati ceremony had started. All devotees stood up and gazed at the Lord with great devotion. But Nanak was so charged with ecstasy that he could not mark these reactions of the people. With great pleasure, he was seated in his previous posture and tears were rolling down his eyes.

A section of the priests marked this indifference of Nanak. They whispered to themselves as to his credibility and devotion to the Lord. When the Arati was over, they met with Nanak and asked him why he did not stand at Arati time. They further opined that mere rosaries and a garb don't make a monk. In their view, his actions had amounted to disrespect for the Lord.

Guru Nanak had by that time understood the real potentialities of Lord Jagannath. He had seen the touch of universalism and Vedic symbolism manifest in the wonderful image of Lord Jagannath. So he replied to the priests :

"Dear brothers ! Does our Jagannath only exist here and in this wooden image? Is He not dazzling in the aura of his own greatness, inside all of all creation."

While uttering these words, he became highly emotional and looking at the Lord, he started to sing a few stanzas from a Sikh composition. The meaning of the stanza reveals that he had a broader view of the Lord and that he considered Jagannath as the manifestation of the Divine Power.

The English translation of the stanza follows:

"Oh Jagannath, the Lord of the universe,
the entire sky is the plate of your Arati, the Sun
and Moon are two lamps, which are burning there.
The stars are the flame dazzling with sparks,
the Sandal wood fragrance caused due
to Malaya wind is your Dhupa, the wind
bearing its fragrance is flaming your fans. Oh
Lord of Light, the trees are offering flowers
for your Arati, oh Lord the liberator, this Arati
of yours is undescribable. The bells of this Arati
are only sounded through the Anahat Dhwani (relentless sound)."

As Nanak was originally a preacher of the Bhakti cult, he universalised Jagannath after realising his true potentialities. The Sadhus, the priests and the general public were stunned to hear such devotional songs of the Lord from Guru Nanak.

This instance points out Nanak's analysis of Jagannath from a broader and universal outlook. It further signifies that Nanak had established Jagannath in the inner chamber of his heart.

In this land of Jagannath, Nanak met the Sankaracharya of Puri and discussed various shastras with him. The 'Sri Chaitanya Bhagabat' of Iswar Das also deals with Nanak's meeting with Chaitanya at Puri and his interactions with him. As Nanak and Chaitanya had the common aim of integrating humanity through Bhakti or Devotion, both of their preaching had tremendous impact upon the minds of the people of Orissa. During Nanak's stay at Puri and Cuttack, Udatta and Ramananda remained with him as friends and participated in Nanak's Namakirtan throughout. The book, entitled 'Prachina Utkala' of late Jagabandhu Singh also mentions about Nanak's entry to Jagannath temple. Accordingly, when Nanak entered the temple, the worshippers unknowingly drove him thinking that he was a Muslim. Nanak, being humiliated, went to the seashore and meditated on Jagannath.


'Bauli Matha'

This particular place is called 'Bauli Matha' where the famous 'Dedhasura Bhai Bohu' well is a monument of Nanak's miracles at Puri. The previous error of the priests was however regretted by the priests, when Lord Jagannath addressed to the king Prataparudra Deva in dream that he was listening to Nanak's Bhajana at the 'Pitru Stambha' of the 'Swarga Dwara'.

The Lord further said that the worship etc. should be stopped during morning and evening to enable him to listen to Nanak's Bhajans. After this dream, the king rushed to Nanak and the priests apologised for their misbehaviour. Nanak and the Sikh followers entered the temple and prayed to the Lord. After Darshan, Nanak came back and sat under a tree near the temple. Today the place where Guru Nanak sat is called the 'Mangu Matha'.

At this place, Nanak preached his philosophy to the people. He showed his palm and there the Trimurti of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra were found drawn on the surface. This incident occurred when the priests couldn't recognise Nanak and his Sikh followers.

The previous incident, described earlier had also occurred during his short stay at Puri. After these incidents, no one ever disallowed Nanak or any of his followers to enter the temple. The tradition continues till today and many Sikhs visit the temple for the Darshan of the Lord. It is said that after twenty- four days halt at Puri, Nanak started his return journey alongwith his followers. The king bade farewell to him with great devotion and accompanied him to the Grand Trunk Road. Though a member of 'Bhakti Cult', Nanak could not see that degree of idolatry in the image and worship of Jagannath as he had visualised it elsewhere. He found that Jagannath was not an idol of particular 'Akar' nor he was 'Nirakar'. His 'Kimakar' swarup surprised him to such an extent that tears rolled down his eyes. Thus, the assimilating culture of Jagannath has also accepted Nanak into its fold. This integrating impact of the Jagannath cult has proved that it can attract all towards the universalism of the Lord, expressed symbolically through the forms of Jagannath, Balaram, Subhadra and Sudarsana. It is no doubt an indispensable factor for uniting the heterogeneous elements of the multi-dimensional culture of India.