In my life, I always see Him walking along holding my hand and showing me the light. It may sound like a miracle but then I have experienced it; the reason why I firmly believe in His existence and feel that I share a secret and special bond with Him.
I remember it was the Bahuda Yatra of 2005. Along with two of my friends Ritesh and Mahesh, I was on a mission to pull the sacred rope of all the three rathas. After Taladhwaja and Darpadalan, we headed towards Nandighosha. The crux of pulling Nandighosha is that, once it starts moving, it stops at its own wish. It is believed that no one has any command over it.
Over excited and with loads of courage when we headed towards Nandighosha, I looked at the big black eyes from a distance and felt as if those were calling me. I was exhausted by that time as I had also danced for hours with the sankirtana mandalees but looking at Him, I felt re-energised. While pulling the Nandighosha, a mishap took place and there was a stampede. However, Nandighosha kept moving on its own making all the noise. I saw two huge men next to me, almost stepping over three to four middle-aged women who had fallen on the ground and were struggling to escape. I tried my best to lift them up with one hand. Somehow they managed to escape but I fell on the ground. I realised I was a part of the stampede and was being literally dragged on the Grand Road.
My friends tried to help me but in vain. I was lying on the ground. The Nandighosha was still moving and I was almost sure these were my last few moments. I closed my eyes and surrendered myself to the Lord. The next thing I felt was someone trying to wake me up, holding my hands. A few seconds later, when I finally opened my eyes, I found my friends Mahesh and Ritesh lifting me up and the next moment I found myself holding the rope once again. The Nandighosha was still moving at its usual speed, making noises, amidst the chants and sound of the ghanta and I could feel few drops of tears rolling down my eyes. I knew I was reborn.
There have been many such incidents in my life where I have felt that the Lord has come to my rescue, lending His hand to me. My connection with the Lord, the temple and the festival of Rath Yatra is therefore very special. It can be hardly expressed in words.
My first formal meeting with Him was in 1996, during the last Nabakalebara. Although I was a kid then, I have fond memories of the grand event. It was during that time that I had made Him a friend and though 19 years have passed, our friendship continues. I have been witnessing the Car Festival for more than 18 years now and every time it comes, I feel energised. Last year, I was in Bangalore and there also at the Bangalore Jagannath Temple, I experienced similar feelings. I could almost feel Him, smiling at me, almost telling me, “Wherever you go, my shadow follows.”
As far as changes over the years are concerned, lots of them have taken place but this year is something different. It’s more like a techno-hyped Car Festival! With advanced social media campaign, launching of mobile apps and wi-fi services, the festival seems to be more digitalised this year. At least eight TV channels and other agencies are doing the live broadcast and streaming of Nabakalebara Ratha Yatra this time. But the connection between the devotees and Lord remains the same.
Although the current chaos regarding a few bitter truths that have emerged and the shameless acts of a few individuals that have been brought under limelight have disheartened several devotees like me, what remains same is the excitement and eagerness to see the Lord with the Tahia coming down from the Sri Mandira to sit at the Nandighosa. Be it any controversy or mismanagement, the Rath Yatra will never lose its identity and nothing can stop devotees from coming to the Holy City to immerse in the religious fervor of this grand festival.
All I can say at the end is that if you have ever felt depressed, disheartened or heart-broken, just visit the Shri Mandira. Sit inside the temple in front of the north gate. Look at the Patitapabana. Life will appear simple and resolved. This isn’t spiritualism, this is self-realisation. It’s a belief that He exists.
(Brought up in Puri, Ananta Prasad is a development sector professional who calls himself a Jagannathia. Incidentally, this 26-year-old young guy was recently in limelight for getting a huge tattoo on Nabakalebara done on his back!)