While the entire world is gripped in the clutches of the coronavirus pandemic, terms like quarantine, social distancing, and self-isolation have become a part of our lives. While these terms, from a medical perspective, may sound western to many, the concepts have been a part of our culture and rituals since centuries.
One of the best examples of these practices is the fourteen-day ‘Anasara’ ritual that is practised in the Shri Jagannath Temple of Puri, Odisha every year. Anasara means a 14-day period during which the three deities of the temple, Lord Jagannath, and his siblings Lord Balabhadra, and Devi Subhadra are confined to the sanctum sanctorum because they suffer from a fever after the festival of Devasnana Purnima.
The bathing festival – ‘Devasnana Purnima’ or just ‘Snana Yatra’ is a festival dedicated to Lord Jagannath. The much-revered tradition is observed on the Purnima or the full moon day of the Jyeshtha month of the Hindu calendar and is also considered to be one of the oldest festivals associated with the temple.
Devasnana Purnima is a ritualistic bathing ceremony of the deities of the Jagannath Temple, Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra, and Lord Balabhadra. This year, Devasnana Purnima or Snana Yatra was celebrated on Friday, June 5. The idols of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra, and Lord Balabhadra are taken out from the Jagannath temple and are brought to the ‘Snana Bedi’ or the bathing altar in a procession known as ‘Pahandi’.
A few rituals are performed by the priests just before the bathing ceremony starts. The deities are bathed with 108 pitchers of holy water, a mixture of herbal and aromatic water. The water, used for bathing is taken from the golden well or ‘Suna Kua’ inside the temple.
During the process, the priests cover their mouths with a piece of cloths to avoid contaminating the holy water. The priests purify the water with turmeric, whole rice, sandal, flowers and perfumes. The deities are then dressed up in Sada Besha after the bath.
At night, the three deities – Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra are carried back to ‘Anasara Ghara’ to keep them away from public darshan for about 14-days. As the belief goes, the deities, after the prolonged ‘Snana’ or bath, are ill with fever.
Anasara or Anabasara: The two-week isolation period
During this Anasara or Anabasara period, the devotees are forbidden from seeing the idols of the Lords. According to mythology, the three deities are believed to have developed a fever after the prolonged bathing on Devasnana Purnima day.
The deities, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath, are kept in the ‘Anasara Pindi’ where they are ‘treated’ with natural herbal medicines, and specially prepared oils. The ailing deities are only offered only fruits and water, mixed with cheese and ‘Dasamula’ (herbal) medicines while Daitapati Sevayats (the priests who carry out holy rituals) now perform secret rituals to cure them.
During the ‘Anasara’, “Patti Dian”, or the traditional Pattachitra paintings of the three deities are worshipped as a proxy to the original idols since the doors of the sanctum sanctorum are closed and devotees are forbidden from darshan. In the Pattachitra paintings, Shri Ananta Narayana is worshipped in the place of the Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra is worshipped as Shri Ananta Basudeva and Devi Subhadra is worshipped as Maa Bhubaneshwari.
Kalinga TV’s chief editor Soumyajit Pattnaik had today shared a video of the worship of “Patti Dian”, at the Jagannath Temple.
Puri Shri Jagannath Temple….11th June morning pic.twitter.com/xeATLRbX8x— Soumyajit Pattnaik (@soumyajitt) June 11, 2020
The three deities under ‘treatment’ in the Anasara Pindi will be offered ‘Pana Bhoga’ by Pati Mahapatra to help them heal. The natural medicines and other herbs are also offered to the deities by the Daitapatis. A special oil ‘Phuluri Tela’ prepared for the deities, will be applied on the wooden idols on the eighth day or ‘Ashtami’ to protect them.
It is part of the faith that on the Dashami, the deities regain their balance and strength. The next day, the deities are painted in a new colour to protect the wooden idol from damage.
The Anasara ritual is, in a way an annual maintenance ritual for the wooden idols, because the wooden idols of the three deities are changed only once in twelve years, in another mega festival known as ‘Naba Kalebara’. The all-organic, all-natural oils and preservatives are a part of the twelfth-century shrine’s ancient traditions.
On the Amavasya, the 15th day, the deities are dressed up in Nabajoubana Besha. During the Nabajoubana Darshan, the devotees are allowed to see all the three deities. These traditions bring an end to the annual quarantine of the deities, who are now believed to be cured from all illness and are back to their usual health and beauty. The deities are now prepared for a grand Rath Yatra.
Two days later, on the Dwitiya of the Ashadha Shukla Paksha, the Puri Rath Yatra is celebrated with all the pomp and splendour. All the three deities, along with Sudarshana are brought out in huge chariots for the devotees to have Darshana or the holy view of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra, and Lord Balabhadra. The deities then travel to the Gundicha temple in the chariots drawn by devotees.