By Sandeep Sahu and Swetaparna Mohanty
It is now official: a major reason for the nearly 12-hour delay in the Brahma Parivartan, that most important ritual in the grand religious festival called Nabakalebara which all of Odisha is looking forward to with such eagerness, was an unseemly fight between the Daitapatis over who should or should not go in and touch the Brahma Padartha (celestial substance) that was transferred from the old idols of the deities to the freshly carved ones.
First the dalapati (team leader) of the Daitapatis and Badagrahi (body protector) of Lord Balabhadra Haladhar Das Mohapatra and then the chief administrator of the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) Suresh Mohapatra confirmed on Wednesday that a fight did indeed break out at the holiest of holy places on this most auspicious occasion. As a result, the ritual that is mandated by the scriptures and temple traditions to be complete before daybreak got over when evening was just about setting in.
While the chief administrator admitted the part about the dispute between Daitapatis, the badagrahi of Lord Jagannath Jagannath Swain Mohaptra helpfully explained that such disputes were ‘normal’ when so many people were involved. But neither of them bothered to explain why there were more than 100 Daitapatis inside in the first place when only the four badagrahis were supposed to do the Brahma Parivartan?
No answers are forthcoming either from the SJTA or the Daitapatis on why the patali (burial) of the deities, the parswa devatas, the horses and so on was on long after the Daitapatis came out of Koili Baikuntha on Tuesday evening.
But then such questions have dogged the first Nabakalbara of millennium from the very beginning. The scriptures have been mocked, centuries-old temple traditions mauled and gross violations of established practice brazenly justified (as one worthy sought to do on television arguing that the 12-hour delay in the completion of the Brahma Parivartan, in fact, did not constitute any violation since the place where it was all done is pitch dark even during daytime!)
Let us start this seemingly never-ending violation of both the letter and the spirit of this unique tradition going back several hundred years in time from where it all started: the Banajaga Yatra.
A bitter dispute started even before the start of the Banajaga Yatra which threatened to split the Daitapati Nijog right down the middle. The bone of contention: the quantum of ‘compensation’ to be paid to Daitas for the ‘losses’ they suffered due to devotees not being allowed to mount the chariots during the Rath Yatra last year as per a High Court decree. While one group threatened non-cooperation with the temple administration and the government, the other was more accommodative.
Hardly had this stand-off been resolved when another dispute arose: this time over the formation of the Banajaga Committee. It reached a stage where the Nijog was on the verge of a split. Mercifully, good sense prevailed and the warring factions came back from the brink in the end.
Haladhar Das Mohapatra was named for the key position of dalapati (team leader) of the Banajaga team. The selection of two other key positions – Vidyapati and Biswabasu – also went off without too much of a hitch.
But when it came to selecting the upadalapati (deputy team leader), all hell broke loose. Rather than choose one, as mandated by tradition, and risk displeasing the other contenders, the temple administration took the easy option out of the mess by naming no less than four upadalapatis, tradition be damned!
Right from the time when the Daitapati team started on the Banajaga yatra, time-honoured traditions were trampled under their feet at every stage. The bije niti (moving out) ritual of the Sudarshan Chakra before the scheduled time for the commencement of the Banajaga Yatra marked only the first of a series of deviations from established practice.
The rule book was thrown out of the window and the austerity and sanctity of this holy ritual sent for a six as these new age Banajaga Yatris, mandated by the scriptures to set out on foot in search of the holy darus, moved about in fancy SUVs flashing their high-end mobile phones and i-Pads. They not only stayed in touch with family and friends, but even posted pictures taken during the journey and after on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp!
[It may be worthwhile here to mention that Banajaga Yatris are supposed to remain completely out of the reach of their family members lest their attention is shifted from the prime task of finding a suitable daru for the idols of the Lords. Why, Daitapatis even offer shradha to their pitrupurusha before leaving on Banajaga Yatra just in case they fail to return home since they take a vow before starting to return only with the darus for the new idols of the Lords!]
Every tenet of austerity was flouted by the Banajaga Yatris which, in turn, was condoned by an indulgent administration eager to keep the former in good humour lest they revive their boycott threat and embarrass the government. The team was provided with all modern facilities at the Sabarapalli during the felling of darus for the new idols in clear deviation of the principle of austerity that is supposed to govern their conduct.
Instead of the austere havisyanna, the Banajagis allegedly feasted on delicacies. Even during the consecration of the darus, when they are supposed to be on a nirjala (sans water) fast, there were credible reports from the ground of mineral water bottles and glucose sachets vanishing from the nearby shop and ending up at the Sabarapalli.
Daana boxes were placed by the Daitapatis at the daru sites where devotees donated generously. The offerings kept pouring in all through their elaborate journey back to Puri on sagadis (bullock carts) peaking periodically at places where they camped for rest along the way.
The collections, according to reliable reports from the ground, amounted to lakhs of rupees – some of it in the form of cash, but most by way of gold, silver or other valuables. There were reports of SUVs ferrying the goodies to their homes in Puri on a daily basis. There were also reports of some members of the Banajaga team members fighting over their share of the offerings in gold and silver made at the mahayagna sites by devotees. One senior Daitapati actually boasted on television that each member of the team, by the end of the Yatra, stood to make a cool Rs 5 lakh!
As if all this was not enough, there were reports of charuanna or yagnaanna being looted during the mahayagna held at the daru sites.
But the mantle of the biggest of all controversies this Nabakalebra has to go to the selection of the darus for the making of the new idols of the deities. The weird term ‘daru fixing’ gained rapid currency after three out of the four darus were found in a small area in Jagatsinghpur district. No one, except the most gullible, was willing to buy the theory that it was just a ‘coincidence’; more so because the media had reported the precise locations where the darus of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra would be found at least a fortnight in advance. This when the temple adminsitration had barred the media from speculating about the possible sites and insisted that it would make the annoucement after a formal communication from the dalapati. Everyone thus knew about the location of the sites long before they were announced by the SJTA. [ Television channels had positioned their camera crews at the designated spots well before the announcement!]
The dalapati of the Banajaga team Haladhar Das Mohapatra fuelled public suspicion about the supposedly spiritual experience of ‘Swapnadesh’ (Maa Mangala coming in the dalapati’s dream and telling him the exact location of the daru) when he openly admitted in a television interview that there was, in fact, no ‘swapnadesh’. Realising the damage potential of this statement, a senior Daitapati described him as ‘mad’ the next day. [It is musing to think that it was under the leadership of this ‘mad’ man that not just the Banajaga Yatra, but also the Brahma Parivartan ritual was completed!]
What lent credence to reports of ‘daru fixing’ was the fact that at least two of the three darus did not meet the strict criteria laid down in the temple manuals for the selection of the darus. While one of them had nails stuck in it, the other had an owl family perched on one of the branches, both of which were a strict no-no as per the criteria.
The worst fears came true when it was found later that the darus of Lord Jagannath and Devi Subhadra were hollow inside and their idols had to be carved out deviating from established practices as prescribed in the scriptures.
Curiously, the servitors sought to explain away every deviation from tradition, every departure from established practice and every irregularity in the rituals as “Leelamayankara Leela” (The Lord’s Will). Even the 12-hour delay in the Brahma Parivartan !