Asit Mohanty & Sib Kumar Das
No temple in India except the Jagannath temple witnesses the funeral of its deities. After the transfer of ‘Brahma padartha’, the old idols are considered lifeless. ‘Brahma padartha’, considered the soul of the deities, gets transferred to the new idols. This metaphorical representation of birth, death and reincarnation is followed by a funeral of the old idols.
‘Daitapati’ servitors bury the old idols at ‘Koili Baikuntha’. ‘Kothasunasia’ servitors dig up a pit of around 25 feet in length, 20 feet in width and 10 feet deep. Along with the departing idols, other wooden idols mounted on the chariots during the Rathyatra – among them ‘sarathi’, horses, ‘parshwa devatas’, ‘olata shua’ and ‘dwarapala’ – are also buried in this pit. This process is called ‘patali kriya’.
The question that inevitably follows is: if Nabakalebara rituals depict birth and death of humans, then why are the idols of Sri Jagannath temple buried and not burnt? Many feel burning is the only mode of funeral in Hindu tradition. But burial is not exactly foreign to Hindus. While bodies of grown-ups are burned on the funeral pyre, small children and sanyasis do get buried after death. This again is a spiritual metaphor.
Everything in this world, including ourselves, is considered to be a manifestation of a single Brahma. We do not feel the equanimity of omnipresence as our perception is cocooned in our body and ego. Funeral rites are an attempt to make our gross body disintegrate into the subtle elements of nature. Our ancestors had accepted fire as the easiest medium For this disintegration.
One who has reached the state of ultimate equanimity or has experienced eternal omnipresence in nirvana was considered different from the rest. It was thought that bodies of these realized entities can directly disintegrate into subtle elements of nature as they had realized the omnipresence. Similarly, small children were considered divine as they are not bound by their body consciousness or ego. Similar is the state of animals. During initiation of ‘sanyas’, one has to perform his own funeral to rise above consciousness about the body. So, persons who have reached enlightenment, small children, animals and sanyasis are buried after death. Sri Jagannath is considered the representation of eternal Almighty. That is why it is believed that funeral of divine idols and other things attached to them do not need any medium like fire. So, they are directly buried under the soil.
Sri Jagannath temple is the only temple that houses a funeral ground – ‘Koili Baikuntha’ – within its premises. On the outskirts of Puri, at a small distance from Markanda pushkarani pond, there is a large funeral ground. It has five demarcated regions. Bodies of children under 12 years of age are buried in its southern part. Destitute are buried in the north. There is an earmarked space for the funeral pyres of the masses. A portion of this funeral ground is used only to bury dead animals. To its north is the ‘Shiva Udyan’ region where saints and sanyasais are buried.
The manifestation and disintegration of the human body is depicted through a ritualistic process of the funeral of the old idols of Sri Jagannath temple. According to experts, ‘daru’ idols of Sri Jagannath temple are not single pieces. They are six pieces joined together. It is believed that after removal of the ‘Brahma padartha’ , old idols are dismantled into six pieces for the burial process. The details of the funeral and burial process of these four idols is still a closely guarded secret. Except for the ‘daitapati’ servitors involved in the process, no one knows what exactly happens during this ritual. The burial of the old deities takes place at ‘Koili Baikuntha’ within Sri Jagannath temple when no one except ‘daitapati’ servitors and ‘pati mohapatra’ remain within the temple premises.
As per Yoga and Tantra, our body manifests and survives due to materialization and unified existence of six lower ‘chakras’. Out of them five are in our spinal cord and the sixth one is the ‘ajna chakra’ or third in the brain. They are said to be manifestations of he energy of seventh chakra at the top of the brain named ‘Sahasrar chakra’ also said to be the state of Jagannath. Manifestation and integrated existence of the six lower ‘chakras’ is the cause of materialization of most living entities like we humans. At the time of death, these ‘chakras’ disintegrate and our consciousness again tends towards its ultimate formless existence. If disintegration of idols into six parts before burial is true, then it points to the subtle spiritual truth related to life and death.