The marriage of Lord Jagannath is one of the most delightful of His many festivals. This divine marriage is celebrated in Puri every year on the eleventh day of the waxing moon in the month of Jyestha. This day is also called Rukmini Harana Ekadashi.
The divine union of Lord Jagannath with Devi Rukmini is filled with symbolic significance. The story of Rukmini's marriage with Sri Krishna is told in our ancient holy texts such as Vishnu Purana, Mahabharata, Skanda Purana, Bhagavata Purana and elsewhere. Rukmini was a princess of Vidharbha. Renowned for her beauty and accomplishments, she was considered an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Rukmini had set her heart on marrying Sri Krishna, the ruler of Dwarka, who was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Sri Krishna had also heard of Rukmini's grace and merits, and wished to marry her. As was the custom in those days, a swayamvar was arranged, where the princess would choose a husband from among an assembly of kings and princess. Meanwhile, Rukmini's brother Rukmi had other plans. He wanted to manipulate the swayamvar so that Rukmini would have to marry his friend Shishupal.
Rukmini was most upset when she got wind of her brother’s treachery. She adored Sri Krishna with her heart and soul. She did not wish to marry Shishupal, who was known for his wickedness. Rukmini secretly sent a letter to Sri Krishna through a trusted messenger. She invited him to abduct her and marry her. She did not, however, want a battle where her family members would be killed. To avoid bloodshed, she advised Sri Krishna to abduct her when she went out of the heavily guarded palace to pray to the family deity. Sri Krishna carried off Rukmini and defeated Rukmi and his army. He kept his promise to Rukmini and did not kill Rukmi. Sri Krishna then took Rukmini away to Dwarka, where he married her amid grand celebrations.
Rukmini Harana Ekadashi falls on June 21st this year. On this holy day - Lord Jagannath, an aspect of Lord Vishnu, marries Rukmini, an aspect of Devi Lakshmi. The holy marriage day is filled with excitement and beautiful rituals. Sri Madan Mohan is the utsavmoorti of Lord Jagannath. Sri Madan Mohan and the utsavmoorti of Devi Mahalakshmi, are brought out from the temple sanctum in regal splendour. The priests and sevayats wear special costumes and act out the abduction of Rukmini and the battle that follows. The battle spills out into the lanes outside the temple, with performers playing various roles as gods and goddesses, sword-wielding horsemen and more. They dress up in elaborate costumes and are accompanied by musicians. Lord Balabhadra and his trusted followers bravely ward off Rukmi and his army, Allowing the divine bride and groom to escape to safety. The action reaches its climax with the defeat and surrender of Rukmi.
Then, the victorious Sri Madan Mohan marries Devi Rukmini in a beautiful ceremony. The divine marriage is solemnized in the vivaha mandap inside the temple complex. The holy couple is given ritual baths and decked in flowers and ornaments. Marriage items are arranged and priests chant holy mantras. The Chief of the Chattisa Niyog, the Pattajoshi Mahapatra, does the kanyadan as the father of the bride. After the marriage rituals are completed, the divine newlyweds are taken to the Ratna Singhasan inside the main temple. The Temple Administration arranges for Mahaprasad for all devotees as the marriage feast.
The next day, the newly married divine couple perform special rituals together. They go out in a ceremonial procession in what we may consider a divine honeymoon. The divine couple is decked with garlands and seated in ceremonial palanquins. They look out at the world with big, beautiful eyes as they bless everyone. The deities' first halt is the Gajapati Maharaja's palace on the Grand Road. The Gajapati offers them special naivedya and takes their blessings. They also visit the home of the Pattajoshi Mahapatra, where they are honoured with special rituals. The divine couple is taken to the Jambeshwar Temple, where they offer puja to Lord Shiva.
A God's marriage is a happy and most auspicious occasion. In temples such as Tirupati, devotees come from far and wide to attend Lord Balaji's marriage to Devi Padmavathi. People consider it very fortunate to have darshan and seek the God's blessings on this wonderful occasion. Sadly, very few people take interest in Lord Jagannath’s marriage in Puri. When I witnessed the ceremonies in 2019, I saw people passing by without taking any notice of the divine marriage in progress.
We are eager to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Halloween without having a clue about their origins and relevance. We fall for marketing gimmicks and just need another trendy reason to spend money and have fun. We ignore the beauty and vibrant uniqueness of our own festivals like Rukmini Vivah. We do not care to understand that this ritual celebrates the right of women and men to freely choose their own life partners. A concept put forth thousands of years ago, which continues to be relevant to this day. Let’s hope more of us will pause to appreciate, enjoy and promote our own traditions.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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