The Snana Yatra or Deva Snana Purnima, a ceremonial public bath ceremony of the three deities– Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra– is an important event in the run-up to the Rath Yatra or the Car Festival. But is it just a ceremonial bath for the ‘humanised gods’ or does it go beyond its ritualistic and puranic features ?
The day, the full-moon day of the month of Jyestha, is considered to be the birth-day of Lord Jagannath.
According to the Skanda Purana Raja Indradyumna, who installed the wooden Deities, introduced the idea of giving them a bath.
‘Niladri Mohadaya’, a religious text in Odia records the rituals of the Snana Yatra festival in some detail. Sriharsa in his ‘Naisadhiya Charita’ also refers to this ritual bath of the Puri trinity.
The deities are bathed by 108 pitchers of water drawn from a well situated near the Sitala temple in the confines of the Jagannatha temple.
There is a view that like all other major festivals in Odisha, Snan Yatra has direct links with agrarian calendar of the state and that the ritual bath signifies the onset of monsoon.
Seetal Sasthi, the popular festival in western Odisha, is also believed to have been a monsoon-related celebration, held to invoke the Rain God to soak the parched fields and ready them for ploughing for the next sowing season.
A day before the Snana Yatra, the three deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra along with the image of Sudarshana are taken out from the sanctum sanctorum in a procession to the Snana-Bedi or the Snana Mandap within the temple precinct. The bathing platform is at such a height that visitors standing outside the temple can easily get a good view of the deities and the ritual bath.
After the bath, the deities are dressed up in the Gajanana (elephant) or Ganesha Vesha and their daily food offering or Bhogalagi is made on the Snana Mandap, in full public view.
After the Snana Yatra, the three deities keep away from public view for 15 days and this temporary disappearance is called the ‘Anasara’ period. The popular belief is that after the ritualistic bath the deities develop fever and therefore do not return to the sanctum sanctorum.
However, it is during this period that the ‘washed’ wooden deities get a fresh coat of colour before they appear in public in their new-look ‘Naba Joubana Besha’, a day before they set out on their chariots to the Gundicha temple. The Anabasara, therefore, appears to have been a ritual that allows the repainting of the wooden idols before they move out of the sanctum for their public ‘darshan’ on the day of the Rath Yatra.