Tale of a Tantric

What happens when a seer uses his occult powers to violate the rules of the Jagannatha temple?

When Lord Jagannatha is bathed with a hundred and eight pots of sacred water on the occasion of the Snana Jatra, he falls ill with a fever. And so he is unable to grant his sight, darshan to his devotees. This period is called the Anasara in Odia, corrupted form of Sanskrit Anavasara. It is during this period that devotees throng to the famed Alarnath Temple at Brahmagiri. Meanwhile, they can see Pattachitra Paintings of the Triad in the temple sanctum. After treatment from the traditional Ayurvedic Vaidyas, the Gods recover after a fortnight.

This story precisely touches on the topic of Anasara. With an magical angry tantric, this is one of those mystical legends that still amaze people.

Anasara Patis of Puri, edited image.

The Story

Part 1

“How can the supreme have a fever? What is this rubbish? People believing in this can not be true followers of Jagannatha. By doing this, not only are you sinning by disbelieving him, but also by denying his sight to millions of anxious devotees. Open the door.”

The angry Tantric was fuming with anger. His name was Karnama Giri. A muscular man, he wore a humble cloth and held a cloth bag with his ritual paraphernalia- his piercing eyes refused to take a ‘no’ for an answer. Vermillion smeared all over his face and ashy matted hair- he looked like a masculine manifestation of Shakti herself.

One man from the crowd that had flocked there, amused by his frightening appearance asked-”It hasn’t even been a day since you arrived here, and you dare to question the rituals of this centuries old temple? Who are you to challenge the way of the Gods?”

Another of the crowd said, “It has been said- the deities are sick with fever. Let them rest. Why do you try to interrupt their sleep?

But the sadhu was stubborn. In his years of rigorous learning, he had come to realise that the Brahma is supreme. And when he comes to gaze at the formless being’s form, here are a bunch of stupid people who believe that the Brahma can catch a fever. What fools! How arrogant!

While the ascetic was lost in his thoughts, a man from the crowd sarcastically said, “If you are so confident that what you hold is the truth, then why don’t you go to our King, the Gajapati, and convince him to change the system? Only he has the power to alter what has been for centuries. And with strong evidence.”

However, Karnama didn’t see the humour in it. He asked for the Gajapati King’s address and set out. Not for a moment did he stop for fifty miles. Such was his mastery over Tantra that he could replenish his lost energy in a snap.

This is an incident of the 12th century, when Odisha was ruled by the Gangadynasty. The King was then in Sarangagada, and it took no time for the ghastly, emaciated sadhu to reach the fort’s entrance.

The King was amused at the sight- and even more at his demand. He patiently explained the sadhu that it was not possible for him to change what has been for years. Moreover, the Anasara Puja is the most secret ritual- no one knows what happens inside those closed doors. Not even the King. Only the Daitapatis, said to be blood-descendants of the Tribal King Bishwabasu who originally worshipped Jagannatha, do. And the secret was not to be revealed, for what is hidden must remain hidden. When the guest argued that this was a great hoax, the Maharaja was forced to concede to his demands, though partially. First the sanyasi had to prove what he claimed, and then the Maharaja would do his bit.

The invigorated sadhu said, “Let us depart for P uri. There I shall reveal to you the secret behind the Anasara Room.”The King gave him a few chickpeas. He watched the sadhu proceed towards a banyan tree and climb atop it like a madman. The ancient sadhu shut his eyes and remembered his revered deity, Karnameshwara, a form of Shiva. He ordered the Banyan tree to take him to Puri. The tree uprooted itself and flew like an aircraft. The Raja stood there, speechless with wonder. This was no ordinary mortal. He was an elevated being.

(I know I know, hard to believe because we know science. But stories are not science. You listen to it or you don’t.)

Part 2

Karnama popped them into his mouth, one by one. By the time he flung the last bit towards his mouth, the tree landed in Puri.

He went to the temple. All he had to do was get behind those closed doors. Nothing difficult for him. He gathered his yogic powers and tried to walk past those huge doors. When he shut his eyes and peeked inside in his mind, Karnama saw thousands of roads. Which was the right path that would lead him to the Anasara Chamber? Confused, he withdrew. He had to think of some other method.

This time he used Tantra. He turned himself to a bee, and flew through the narrow slit in the darkness. Immediately behind, he saw a huge lotus flower. It had eight petals. Eight enchanting maidens sat around it, each with a petal. Now, Karnama, having taken the form of a bee, was drawn towards the lotus. As much as he tried to resist his temptation, he could not. As an accomplished tantric he could withdraw effortlessly from carnal desires, but as a bee, he could not control himself. The heavy scent of the flower pulled him towards it. He flew towards the flower and fell inside. The tiny bee got drenched in the lotus’ irresistible scent.

Panicking, the sadhu remembered his adored BhairavaKarnameshwara was the only one who could save him. Oh, how many years of practice had made him perfect in the Tantras. Countless hours in terrible graveyards, heart-chilling Tantric rituals, beasts and ghouls and ghosts- all of these tests he had passed unscathed. Not once had he quivered- by the grace of Karnameshwara. And now, when he puts his art into use, it fails him! The deity at whose feet he has spent his life- that very deity is now unable to protect him! Here he is, as a bee, helplessly flapping his wings to escape the cursed flower.

Why, Jagannatha was none other than that being whom the Tantras worship.” Oh Jagannatha, won’t you pull me out of this cavernous flower?” prayed Karnama. Gathering all the life left in him, he tried as hard as he could to escape. Escape, and never return. Go away from this wretched fate. Somehow, he went through a hole in the door. Ah, how he had escaped alive! Who wanted to know what is inside that room? Life was more precious.

Now safe, Karnama wondered to himself, “How strange is the aura of this place that all my accomplishments fail me! How great is the deity that presides over this land that my god fails me! What would I not achieve by his sight!”

The thought energised Karnama. He wanted to try again. Who knows if what he would see could change his life! How many people would bless him, how the King would thank him for uncovering the fact.

They said that only the descendants of the Tribal King Bishwabasu had access to the Lord. Why, was that man more knowledgeable! He himself was inferior to none. Excited, he used his prowess, this time to make himself invisible. He waited for the Daitapatis to enter the room. He would enter it behind them, and no one could harm him this way. Soon, the said servitors arrived. They entered the secret chamber, and Karnama went behind. He became blind for a moment before his eyes could adapt to the darkness. As the darkness faded away to the dim light of a flickering lamp, he saw something very strange.

What he saw was an empty throne. The temple’s Ratnasinghasana was empty. No one sat on it. No Godly image was present. Suddenly, he noticed eight maidens at the four corners of the temple. What heavenly beauties! They sat surrounding the temple in an octahedral shape. A bit later, he realised that he was swaying away from his goal. He ran his eyes across the room again, but could find no God. Where was that great deity?

The eight ladies turned. They looked at him and at each other, and chuckled. Karnama felt he was being mocked. He could never find what he had ventured out to.

The defeated ascetic left. He returned to that Banyan tree. When the King arrived, he would make it clear- no one could tell what lay behind those doors. While leaving through the gates of the temple, he bowed down his head in obeisance to the Lord of this Land, Jagannatha- the great Lord of the Tantras before whom his life’s accomplishments had failed.

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