Largest Jagannatha Deities in the World Arrive at the Bhaktivedanta Ashram

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One of the Puri Temple administrators
standing with Lord Baladeva.

This month the Bhaktivedanta Ashram was blessed with the arrival of our newly made deities of Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva, Subhadra and Sudarshana. For more than one year, work on these deities has been carrying on under the guidance of Puri temple priests so that every detail of the process was done strictly according to the Puri tradition and the scriptures. The deities were made as exact replicas of the original deities in Puri, incorporating the traditional procedures undertaken for the navakalevara festival (the change of Lord Jagannatha’s body held every 12 years in Puri). Work on the deities was carried out in Puri, next to the famous Jagannatha temple, in the courtyard where the Oriya saint Sri Jagannatha Das composed the Oriya Bhagavatam 500 years ago.

The first stage was to locate proper trees for the carving of the deities. According to the traditional system, only those trees bearing the necessary symbols of Vishnu can be used for sculpting the deities of Lord Jagannatha. In Orissa no one will cut down neem trees or use them for mundane things (such as cooking or building) as they hope that one day their neem trees may be used for making deities of Jagannatha. As such, you can find many large neem trees in the countryside that are hundreds of years old. But still it was a very difficult task to locate trees that were large enough to make the deities (who are over 7 feet tall), and which also contained the necessary auspicious symbols of the Lord. After an extended search, properly matching trees were located, but due to the age of the trees government approval was needed before the trees could be cut. By Lord Jagannatha’s mercy one of our devotees, while purchasing supplies in the bazaar, had accidentally met the nephew of the Minister of Environment and Forests, a few days prior to locating the trees, and spoke to him about our plans to make these deities of Lord Jagannatha. Being a devotee of Lord Jagannatha, he was very supportive and called his uncle so that all government permission could be granted for this purpose.

Worship was performed to the sacred trees and then they were cut with a special axe, which would be the only tool allowed to be used in the carving of the deities, from beginning till completion. After the trees were cut, the logs were taken to the Matha of Sri Jagannatha Das, next to the Puri temple, where work went on for the last year.

As per the system for navakalevara, after carving the wood into the proper shape the deities are then wrapped in layers of cloth. Each layer is treated with a paste of medicinal herbs consisting primarily of sandalwood paste and neem powder. After completing the first layer of cloth, the deities were transported from Puri to our Ashram in Bhadrak, Orissa where the remaining layers of cloth will be applied. The day after the deities arrived at our Ashram in Bhadrak, a large white cobra around 7 feet in length was seen next to the temple where the deities were staying, and in subsequent days two other cobras were seen around the same area. In 20 years we have never found cobras in this area, but due to the arrival of the Lord, the Nagas have come for the Lord’s darshan.

For the wrapping of the deities, a total of seven layers of cloth will be added, with each layer being covered with the medicinal paste made from sandalwood and neem. Once the seven layers of cloth are finished, a special stone is used to rub the body of the deities for several days, to smoothen the surface before the final painting is done.

Over the next several months, shilpis from Puri will continue the work of preparing the deities at our Ashram in Bhadrak. Installation of the deities (prana pratishtha) will be conducted in February-March of next year by 54 priests from the Puri Jagannatha temple, in the pressence of Sri Gajapati Maharaj (the King of Puri) and many other devotees.

During the prana pratishtha ceremony, the Nabhi Brahma will be placed inside a special compartment in the deities chest. Several secret items will be installed within the deity, accompanied by special salagrama shilas covered in gold. Earlier this year, devotees from the Ashram had gone to Muktinath in Nepal to search for the necessary shalagrama shilas on the banks of the Gandaki river.

Besides the main Jagannatha deities, four other deities will be cast out of Ashtadhatu (a combination of eight metals). The deities will include the two Lakshmis who sit at the Lord’s feet in Puri (Sri Devi and Bhu Devi), as well as Garuda and Vimala Devi. Each deity will be approximately 2 feet tall and weigh around 100 kilograms.

In the courtyard where saint Jagannatha
Das composed the Oriya Bhagavatam.

Lord Jagannatha being brought to the Lorry by tractor.

Devotees trying to lift Lord Jagannatha into the Lorry.

Lord Baladeva arrives at the Bhaktivedanta Ashram in Bhadrak, Orissa.

Visitors try to help move Lord Jagannatha to receive His blessings.

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