Mrunal Manmay Dash

Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of Srimandir in Puri along with His siblings, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, enjoys a score of services. Snana Yatra or Deva Snana Purnima or Mancha Snana is one of them. 

In fact, this is the first of the 12 major festivals associated with the Trinity. Scriptures say this is the day when Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra were born. Therefore, this is the birth festival of the Lord.   

When the sun beats down with all its fury in the month of Jyestha, and every living being searches frantically for water to cool down, the Holy Trinity with Lord Sudarshan venture out of the Ratna Singhasana on to the Snana Bedi or Snana Mandap (bathing platform), an elevated platform in the ‘bahara bedha’ of the temple facing east overlooking the Grand Road. The siblings receive the grandest and holiest bath in the universe ever.

There is a big difference between the bath of we mortals and the ‘Snana Yatra’ of Sri Jagannath. While bathing we try to be in seclusion, away from the sight of others. But the revered deities show a different trait. Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Sudarshan enjoy their bath amidst crowds of devotees, out in the open, on the ‘Snana Bedi’.

Held in the full-moon day of the month of Jyestha, this is the first ‘Yatra’ out of the 12 major yatras held in the Srimandir. There is a general belief that anybody who gets a vision of the Lord on this day, he or she will be washed away of all his/her sins. Therefore, it attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. According to Skanda Purana, when King Indradyumna installed the wooden deities he arranged this bathing ceremony.

Lord Jagannath’s Snana Yatra, a heavenly ritual materialised on earth

On the morning of ‘Snana Yatra’, Daitapati servitors take out the four deities from the inner sanctum sanctorum of the temple to ‘Snana Bedi’ in ceremonial ‘pahandi’. On this day the Suaras and Mahasuaras take out a ceremonial procession to fetch 108 pots of water from the golden well (Suna Kua) situated in the temple premises.

All the servitors cover their mouths with pieces of cloth during the entire process so as not to contaminate the water even with their breath.

Out of the 108 pots, 35 pots of water are poured over Lord Jagannath. Lord Balabhadra bathes with 33 pots of water, while 22 pots of water are emptied on Goddess Subhadra and Lord Sudarshan is bathed with 18 pots of water.

The Snana Bedi gets decorated with traditional paintings of trees and gardens, flags and tableaus. The deities are profusely decorated with flowers. All kinds of perfumes such as Dhupa (incense), Aguru (oil), among others are then offered. As the ‘Pahandi’ of the deities takes place to the accompaniment of music and beating of various indigenous drums, thousands of devotees jostle and crave for a look at the deities in procession.

The priests purify the water with haladi (turmeric), java (whole rice), sandalwood paste (Chandan), flowers and perfumes. The rituals are accompanied by chanting of Vedic mantras by the priests, kirtana and blowing of conch shells.

Lord Jagannath’s Snana Yatra, a heavenly ritual materialised on earth

With so much of water poured on their earthly forms, the deities get discoloured. Pertinent to mention here that the colours used to paint the idols are all natural colours with minerals and not modern oil paints. The god of the devotees (Bhakta ra Bhagwan), as Lord Jagannath is fondly called, cannot appear discoloured for his devotees, so he dons the Hati Besha (elephantine attire) before going into ‘Anasara Ghara’ (quarantine room).

After the Snana Yatra, the deities develop fever and are kept away from public view (Isolation) for 15 days and during all these days the daily rites of the temple remain suspended before the three deities appear again on the Netrotsav, a day before Rath Yatra.

The festivals and rituals which are held in a bigger and elaborate scale in Srimandir are also held simultaneously in all other Jagannath shrines though in modest scales. Likewise, the Snana Jatra is held in many other temples of Odisha, and now all over the world.