Updated: Jul 10, 2022
As Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Led The Lord Along
As the sweltering summer heat would begin to be washed away by the first droplets of monsoon every July, we would all sit together, our eyes glued to the television screen to watch the live transmission of the one and only Ratha Yatra. Millions of people thronged the temple town of Puri to have darshan of the Lord of the universes, Lord Jagannath, adorn His chariot Nandighosha, following His brother Lord Balabhadra mounted on Taladhwaja, His sister Devi Subhadra and Lord Sudarshan on the chariot Devaddalana on their annual retreat to the Gundicha Temple. The devotees had been allowed to participate this year after a gap of two years due to Covid pandemic. The atmosphere reverberated with the sounds of a thousand conches blowing and devotees gathered in sankirtana groups chanting the name of the Lord continuously with the roaring beats of mridanga, huge cymbals and gongs. Devotees dressed up and danced along the path as their offering for the entertainment of the Lord.
Ratha Yatra is a much-awaited day and the celebration has been continuing from time immemorial. Five hundred years ago, when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was residing in Puri, King Prataprudra Dev allowed him and his closest associates to witness the Pandu Vijaya ceremony. During this ceremony, Lord Jagannath leaves His throne to make His way on to his chariot. It was still dark and even the sun hadn’t arisen when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his personal associates woke up, took their early-morning baths and arrived at Sri Mandira. Three huge chariots stood at the gates of Sri Mandira and a vast crowd packed the streets. Inside the gates, Sri Chaitanya watched Lord Jagannatha, surrounded by powerfully built bearers, proceed from His throne to His chariot. Having taken permission from Goddess Lakshmi, the Lord came out to ride on the Ratha for the pleasure of the devotees. Stout cushions led across the courtyard like steppingstones, and the bearers, with their muscles and veins bulging, lifted the large and heavy form of Jagannatha from cushion to cushion. While carrying the Deity of Lord Jagannath, some of the dayitas took hold of the shoulders of the Lord, and some caught His lotus feet. Lord Jagannath was bound at the waist by a strong, thick silk rope. From either side the dayitas caught hold of this rope and raised Him. As Lord Jagannatha moved toward His chariot, Lord Chaitanya called out to Him loudly but his voice was drowned by the roaring sounds of the musical instruments.
King Prataprudra Dev had long desired to meet Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu but hadn’t been successful. As a member of the renounced order, Sri Chaitanya avoided any connection with worldly men. But that day Sri Chaitanya saw Maharaja Prataparudra, the King of Odisha, bending over with a gold-handled broom, carefully sweeping the road in front of Lord Jagannatha. When Sri Chaitanya saw the head of state performing this menial service for Lord Jagannatha, his heart flooded with happiness and compassion.
As the chariots started moving, Sri Chaitanya organised his close followers into seven groups for Sankirtana. Each group had two drummers, a dancer, a lead chanter and five others to respond in chorus. Sri Chaitanya placed four groups chanting the Lord’s name in front of the chariot, one on each side, and one in the rear. As the wheels of Lord Jagannatha’s chariot started to turn, fourteen drums began pounding together. Nearby, the King stood with his confidant, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, and together they watched as Sri Chaitanya began to dance before Lord Jagannatha in ecstasy, raising his long arms high over his head. As Sri Chaitanya danced, he faced the steadily advancing chariot and kept his eyes fixed upon the Lord, always moving towards him. Sri Chaitanya began to sink deeper and deeper into a emotional ecstasy elicited by this Ratha-Yatra journey of the Lord.
Lord Jagannatha rode in His car and when He saw all the beauty on both His sides, His mind was filled with delight. As Sri Chaitanya danced, Lord Jagannatha watched with great pleasure. King Prataparudra, together with Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, was also intently watching both Mahaprabhu’s intense devotion and Lord Jagganath’s fond reciprocation and became stunned with ecstatic love.
As the procession moved forward, Lord Chaitanya moved from one sankirtana group to another, now dancing in the midst of one, now the other. The King and Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya looked on in wonder as they saw Chaitanya Mahaprabhu twirling in the centre of all seven groups at once. The devotees in each group were overwhelmed thinking that Mahaprabhu was dancing with them in their group. Sometimes as seven, sometimes as one, Sri Chaitanya danced before the chariot and sometimes all the groups came together in front of Lord Jagganath to form a circle around Sri Chaitanya.
Then Lord Chaitanya would dance with greater and greater energy. Roaring like thunder, leaping higher and higher, he hurled himself in a circle so swiftly that he looked like the single incandescent ring formed by a whirling firebrand.
uddaṇḍa nṛtya prabhu kariyā huṅkāra cakra-bhrami bhrame yaiche alāta-ākāra
(When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu danced and jumped high, roaring like thunder and moving in a circle like a wheel, he appeared like a circling firebrand.)
All throughout the parade, the chariot would suddenly stop and start again, go slow or go fast, as if it had a will of its own. Sometimes the car would stop and refuse to budge, even though the ropes were pulled with much force. Then, inexplicably, it would start to go forward again. As Sri Chaitanya danced before the motionless chariot, physical transformations induced by ecstasy appeared on his body. His skin erupted with goosebumps, and the hairs of his body stood on end, teeth chattered and his body flowed with perspiration. His voice was choked and tears sprang from his eyes. Sometimes he would be stunned, crashing suddenly to the ground and lying immobile, scarcely breathing and the next moment he would suddenly leap up again, tears and perspiration flying from his golden body.
Then his ecstatic mood suddenly changed. His close associate Swarupa Damodara could instantly read the feelings of Sri Chaitanya, and he began to sing a particular verse repeatedly,
yaḥ kaumara-haraḥ sa eva hi varas ta eva caitra-kṣapas
te conmilita-malati-surabhayaḥ prauḍhaḥ kadambanilaḥ
sa caivasmi tathapi tatra surata-vyapara-lila-vidhau
reva-rodhasi vetasi-taru-tale cetaḥ samutkaṇṭhate
- Chaitanya Charitamrita
(The One who stole my heart during my youth is now my husband, my master. Here is the same moonlit night of the month of Chaitra, the same fragrance of Malati flowers, the same sweet breeze flowing from the Kadamba Forest. I am the same lover but I am not happy here. I yearn to go back to that place under the Vetasi tree on the banks of Reva.)
This seemed like a verse describing the recounting of meetings of a young girl with her lover but Sri Chaitanya, in the ecstatic state of Shrimati Radharani at Kurukshetra, wanted to say that she was the same Radha meeting the same Krishna but desirous of going back to the banks of Yamuna and listen to the enchanting notes of Krishna’s flute. Sri Chaitanya, in the mood of Radharani, began to dance moving further and further in front of Nandighosha, Lord Jagannath’s chariot, and the chariot followed.
Sri Chaitanya mimed the pastime at Kurukshetra as if reminding the Lord of the meeting at that place. Lord Jagannatha and Lord Chaitanya again enacted that sublime pastime of transcendental love on the road to Gundicha. Sometimes Lord Chaitanya danced out in front of the chariot, and so, in the role of Radharani, tried to lead Krishna back to Vrindavan. Out of her love for Radha, Jagannatha moved forward. Everyone was astonished by the dancing of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and even Lord Jagannath became extremely happy to see him.
Ratha sthira kaila āge nā kare gamana animiṣa netre kare nṛtya darasana
(The car came to a complete standstill and remained immobile while Lord Jagannath, with unblinking eyes, watched the dancing of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.)
And in this way, Lord Chaitanya led Lord Jagannath to Gundicha, and satisfied Him fully. Upon seeing the dancing and ecstatic love of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, everyone became astonished and their hearts became filled with love of Krishna. Watching the dance of Sri Chaitanya, everyone was overwhelmed with divine bliss.
Image Courtesy: Truptika Pattnaik