Pradeep Pattanayak

Devasnana Purnima or Snana Yatra is believed to be the birthday of Lord Jagannath. Because of this, the festival assumes importance. This festival falls on the full moon day of the month of Jyestha. On this day, the deities are taken out from the sanctum sanctorum in a traditional procession called ‘Pahandi’ and placed atop the Snana bedi or bathing altar, located in the northeast corner of the Bahara Bedha. 

It is pertinent to mention here that, this is the first occasion when the huge wooden idols of Lord Jagannath and his siblings are brought out of the sanctum sanctorum. Certain rituals like Mangalarpana, Mangala Alati, Tadaplagi Niti, Adharapocha, Abakasa, Surya Puja and Dwarapala Puja are performed on the snana bedi. Then the deities are bathed with 108 pitchers of fragrant divine water brought from Suna Kua or golden well. This well is near the north gate of the temple. The importance of the well is that its water is used only once in a year and the occasion is Snana Yatra. 

The pots used for bringing water are preserved in ‘Bhoga Mandap’. They are first purified using turmeric, sandalwood and flowers. Then a set of specific servitors called ‘Suaras’ and ‘Mahasuaras’ go in a ceremonial procession to fetch water from the golden well. As per a tradition practiced since long, they cover their mouths with a piece of a cloth so as not to contaminate the water even with their breath. 35 pots of water are used for bathing or Lord Jagannath, 33 pots of water for Balabhadra, 22 for Devi Subhadra and 18 pots of water for Lord Sudarshan. The ritual, known as ‘Jalabhishek’, is performed amid chanting of vedic mantras, kirtan, beating of gongs and blowing of conch shells. Then Puri Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb, the first servitor of Lord Jagannath, performs the Chhera Panhara ritual on the bathing altar. 

The main attraction of the festival is the Hati Besha of the deities, which is conducted after the Chhera Panhara ritual. While Lord Jagannath and Lord Balabhadra are adorned with the Hati Besha or Gajanana Besha, Devi Subhadra appears in Padma Besha (Lotus attire). Certain servitors like Palia Puspalaka, Khuntia, Mekap and Daitapati conduct the besha and the materials required for this attire are supplied by Raghaba Das mutt and Gopal Tirtha Mutt. 

According to Skanda Purana, King Indradyumna, who installed the wooden deities in the Srimandir, arranged this bathing ceremony. It is believed that the deities are dressed as Lord Ganesha to satisfy the followers of the Ganapatya sect.  

There is a story behind this Hati Besha. 

In the 15th century, a devotee of Lord Ganesha named Pandit Ganapati Bhatt of Mahaganapatya community had visited the shrine to have a darshan of Lord Jagannath. The day was Devasnana Purnima. He witnessed the deities seated on the bathing altar. But he had a wish to see Lord Ganesha within Lord Jagannath. As he couldn’t see this, he returned with disappointment. 

Lord Jagannath took the guise of a priest, intercepted him, and requested him to return to the temple where he can see his Lord Ganesha. When he came back to the temple, he danced with joy after seeing Lord Ganesha within Lord Jagannath. Since that day onwards, the ritual is being observed every year. 

After a special ‘Bhog’ is offered to the deities, the devotees are allowed to have a darshan of the deities who appear for ‘Sahana Mela’. The bathing altar is at such a height that the devotees can get a clear a view of the deities on the altar standing on the Grand road, outside the temple premises. Thousands of devotees congregate at the Grand road to have a glimpse of the deities. It is believed that a darshan of the deities on the bathing altar would do away with all sins.