The eastern horizon reddened with the first rays of sun. The night was giving way to day. The sun was smiling as it ascended on its journey trying to bring a cheer in every object its rays touched. The birds started chirping and Hari Naam Sankirtan could be heard in Gambhira in Puri, where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was residing. But not everything was same that day. The day before was Snana Purnima, the full moon day in the month of Jyeshtha which is considered to be the birth anniversary of Lord Jagannath. It was a day when the devotees were allowed to have darshan in the Snana Mandapa. Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra along with Lord Sudarshan were brought out from their sanctum sanctorum to the Snana Mandapa located in Ananda Bazaar inside the temple complex. In the midst of vedic chanting, blowing of conch shells and sankirtana, the deities were given a bath with 108 pitchers full of water. After the bath they were dressed up in Gajanana (Elephant) Besha. What a sight that was! The atmosphere was charged with the constant chanting of the devotees who were crying their hearts out of joy.
But that was the day after Snana Purnima when the Anasara period had started and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would not be able to have darshan of Lord Jagannath for two weeks.
gopi-bhave virahe prabhu vyakula haiya
alalanathe gela prabhu sabare chhaḍiya
- Chaitanya Charitamrita
(Due to separation from Lord Jagannath, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu felt the same great anxiety the gopis feel in separation from Krishna. In that condition he gave up all association and went to Alaranatha.)
The Alarnath temple is in Brahmagiri, around 25 km from Puri. According to a legend, Lord Brahma worshipped Lord Vishnu here on top of a hill in Satya Yuga. Lord Vishnu pleased with his devotion, instructed him to make a four-armed deity of Vishnu holding shankha, chakra, gada, and padma (conch shell, disk, club, and lotus) from black stone. Lord Brahma did so and the place got its name Brahmagiri (Brahma's hill). It is believed that the present-day temple was built about eleven hundred years ago and associated with the visit of Saint Ramanujacharya to Odisha. Since South Indian brahmins, also called alvars worshipped the deity, He came to be known as Alvarnath (Lord of the Alvars) which with time became Alarnath.
During the Anasara period when Lord Jagannatha took rest in isolation after suffering from fever as a result of Snana Yatra, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu went to Alarnath to feel the Lord’s presence.
Alarnathanku dekhi bhave pranamile
Krushna Narayana sakshat bheda na dekhile
Gauda bhaktagana suni kale agamana
Swarupa Damodara ra pulakita mana
- Sri Chaitanya Chakada
(He bowed down in front of Alarnath who was not different from Krishna and Narayana. His devotees followed him and arrived there. Swarup Damodara, one of his close associates, was elated.)
There is a stone slab in front of the deity which bears impressions from Lord Chaitanya’s body. When Lord Chaitanya first lay in full respect in front of Lord Alarnath, the stone below Lord Chaitanya melted from His blissful touch. Even the Shila over which Mahaprabhu used to do Sankirtan is still present there.
Lord Alarnath is an ancient four-handed Vishnu deity who holds his right hand in the abhaya mudra. At his feet kneels Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s eagle vehicle in prayer pose. Alarnath’s consorts Sri and Bhu also accompany him. A beautiful deity of Goddess Lakshmi with four arms is also enshrined inside the temple. The Temple features small deities of Sri Krishna’s queens Rukmini and Satyabhama too. Bas reliefs of Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva grace the ceiling of one of the halls leading up to main chamber.
In Alarnath temple, during this period (from Snana Purnima to Netrotsava) the temple servitors offer sweet porridge (rice pudding sweetened by jaggery), known as 'Kheer', to the Lord. Thousands of devotees visit Alarnath temple to get the blessings of Lord Alarnath and to taste a pot of the famous holy 'Kheer'.
According to a legend, a child devotee once prayed with great devotion and offered hot kheer to Shri Alarnath. Being in a hurry to partake of the sincere offering of the small child, Lord Alarnath dipped his fingers into the pot of kheer, thus scalding the fingers of his upper right hand. The burn marks on the body are still visible on the deity of Alarnath.
As per another legend Lord Alarnath’s chief priest once had to be away and handed the responsibility of the deity’s rituals to his 8-year-old grandson. The boy would offer kheer as an offering to the deity with utmost love and devotion. When the boy would return, he would always find the Prasad plate completely empty. After several days, when his mother heard about it, she asked her son to check inside the Garva Griha if anyone else was eating the Prasad. The following day the child discovered a small dusky boy eating the kheer. Doubting her son’s revelation, the mother went in herself and was stunned to know that it was true. These stories proclaim how irrevocable faith, unsophisticated prayers and pure, naive devotion brings the Lord down from His pedestal. The Kheer prasad in Alarnath Temple is very famous and even today devotees carry back potful of this prasad.
Shri Alarnath at Brahmagiri
Image Courtesy: Batagopal Tripathy