Puri, sacred land of Shankha Kshetra, divine earth where the Lord Jagannath resides has come to become a part of me, it is what I call my home. Yes, this spiritual vagabond has found her home, previously at Tarapith, and now at Puri.
Divine intervention or providence, I don’t know... and I frankly have stopped thinking. All I know is, when I get a chance to come to Bhuvaneswar, I can’t go back without setting foot into Puri to meet the Lord. After all its He who calls me all the time without fail. It’s been three visits, and there is no stopping this force from calling me. And each visit has had something new to offer. Somehow with these swelling emotions of devotion he just cares too much and takes care of everything, from permanently fixing a good panda who is genuine, giving me anytime access to the Lord to a meal, the maha prasad, before I leave. He has just been so real, so vibrant, pulsating in every breath of mine, now he just makes my heart melt. I can hardly think beyond him at the moment.
Where do I start, how do I explain the impossibility of the trip, the lack of any chance to go to Puri, and yet He made me do it... against all odds to just book my return tickets a day later and not worry about the repercussions. I have not felt such levels of fearlessness and yet I seemed to have sailed through, not just unharmed... but protected as well.
Well, I made the time but I was not quite ready for the next hurdle. It’s the time of Pongal/Shankranti and the temple is swarming with people, packed beyond capacity. I was blissfully unaware of what I was getting into. I just knew, I had to meet Him, with or without crowds, with or without company, nothing mattered, I had to go. But there was a catch, I wanted to submit my work of art, my manuscript at his feet, in my way and spend a few good silent moments with Him. I guess he knew that too. I have worked for this moment, not just waking up at 3:30am every morning in the last 3 months, but for the last 10 years, to close this work and reach my moment, my Jayadeva moment. I have grown, in my spiritual journey and He has taught me well. But nothing was possible without that last push and for that I realize now why I ended up visiting Him so often these last few months. He just made sure, I completed this manuscript, not in my way... but in His way.
I barely wrote those words, but they stemmed from his consciousness. I barely strung them together, but the sweet fragrance of divinity was sprinkled by Him. I barely managed to complete it by noon, but He had devised His plan for me. It was truly accidental and while I tried to get my coordinates together, a friend walked in asking me if I wanted to visit Puri by night. It was unthinkable, 9:00 pm for a temple visit... does it even work? He was certain it did. But, none the less, “Yes” was my answer, and the divine excitement of meeting my Jagannath started to rise again, intensely, strongly leaving me speechless. This was not going by my plan, this was His plan and I was given a way to follow and sure enough, even the panda confirmed it was a better idea to finish it tonight.
We hit the road, with strange hope and even stranger anticipation of how the evening was going to unfold. So thick were the thoughts that I hardly realized when I reached Puri and we were hastily rushing to the temple, the panda had already called us thrice to figure out where we were. He caught us at the gate and we rushed in, as I carried the loose sheets of my manuscript packed into newspaper. I loved the ambience in the evening, the silent raas lila of Krishna Jagannath hummed in the air, in the winds. We lit lamps at smaller shrines, meeting Ganesha, Kasi Vishwanath, Ma Bhuvaneswari, Ma Mahalakshmi, and soon after headed towards the inner sanctum.
There He was, my sacred world, my Jagannath adorned in silks, seated, looking back at me with a big smile on His face. We were ushered to a corner where I stood, staring at Him while the panda went ahead and kept the loose sheets of my offering at the Great Lord's feet. My Jayadeva moment had arrived. I stood speechless, feeling the warmth, feeling my emotions seek Him... I walked inside, around the sacred passage completing my pradakshina as I turned to Him again, this time closer, much closer. Everyone was warm, the pandas didn’t push me, and no one said a thing. I bowed to Him, looked at Him endlessly and thanked Him for calling me by night. Bowing down to Ma Subhadra and Balarama, I spend few silent moments there with them. There were no crowds, no noise. Just Him and me, silence outside, silence inside. He gave me what I had wanted.... He never disappoints.
We headed back around 12:00am, along the peaceful stretch from Puri to Bhuvaneswar, as I reflected on the evening. Unplanned, fantastic, He had granted me my wish. I had planned to go there the next day, I did it anyway. I hit the road again at 6:30 catching the morning sun. This trip was about Him, everything else was incidental, a part of my karmic to do list. This was the real thing.
Jagannath Puri, was filling up fast as I entered the temple, bhajans rang on one side, queues lined up everywhere and people thronged to the temple looking for hope, seeking faith, feeling his divine power. It was one of those moments of ultimate freedom on earth, where I am alone and I am just sitting on the steps of Lakshmi Mandapa staring up at the pinnacle of this magnificent 10 Cen AD architecture. Three good hours of bliss at the sacred shrine, practically spent with japa and silence as the crowds just buzzed around me. Its possible to feel the silence of Lord Jagannath in the middle of a lakh audience pushing each other to get a glimpse of Him.
My panda was back, just like the genie in Aladdin, :) to magically help me through the crowd. And believe me he did it so amazingly well. The main door was shut down, the paths were packed with people and police yelled at poor folk who didn’t toe the dotted line. Can you believe the impossibility of this darshan when I hadn’t even gotten into line yet! I was blissful in the mystical world of Jagannath, hardly aware of the millions criss-crossing my way as I headed closer to the shrine. Close was not "close", we had access up to the second door way, two chambers away from the shrine. A couple of police men opened a corner door, as we walked through and sealed it immediately and we moved in swiftly. The crowds were crazy, a potential stampede was building up and in this sheer people force the panda said, bend down under the blockade and sit on the steps. Was it the panda or the divine intervention of Lord Jagannath, I don't know, but leaving the sheer madness of the crowds an inch behind, I sat at the steps for another 2 minutes, staring at Him, in my mystical silent world before I walked out. The sheer human force got me out of the temple as I found my footing again. I left the temple, almost breaking down into tears, it is possible to bypass the sheer volume of people if the Lord wishes it so. Before I left, the panda came back with a piece of red cloth, "this is a flag from the temple finial, this is for you". I opened the flag, it had the sacred mark of Chandra Bindu on it. Lord Jagannath had spoken to me, wished me well and gifted me his victory flag.
Naachke Aye Natakhat Giridhar...He truly came dancing into my heart.