An incredible 10,000 devotees from all over the world are expected to attend the annual Sri Ksetra Parikrama from November 19th to 23rd this year.
This pilgrimage tours the sacred land of Jagannath Puri, Orissa (also known as Sri Ksetra), where the famous Jagannath Temple is located, and where Gaudiya Vaishnavism founder Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu lived and performed many of his pastimes.
Puri is also the place where Jagannath — Lord of the Universe — was first worshipped on earth.
As the story goes, back in the Satya Yuga, or Golden Age, there lived a King Indradyumna, who heard about a mysterious Deity of Nila Madhava that was worshipped in a remote place by the tribal chief Vishvavasu.
Wanting to see and worship Nila Madhava, King Indradyumna sent a brahmana priest by the name of Vidyapati to find the Deity. Although at first unsuccessful, Vidyapati eventually married Vishvavasu’s daughter Lalita, and was accepted into the family.
Finally, he was led to see the Deity, but was blindfolded along the way so that he would not know where Nila Madhava was hidden. The clever Vidyapati, however, dropped mustard seeds along the way, and later led King Indradyumna to the hidden temple, following the trail of sprouted seeds.
But when they got there, the Deity had vanished. Distraught, King Indradyumna began to fast from all food. The Lord took pity on him, and appearing to him in a dream, instructed the king to go to the seashore at Puri, where he would find a sacred log to carve into Deities.
This the king did, and the Deities of Lord Jagannath, His brother Baladeva, and sister Subhadra were installed at Puri.
Ever since this ancient time, pilgrimages have been held at Puri, or Sri Ksetra.
For its part, ISKCON has been holding Sri Ksetra pilgrimages for the past seven years, with eight thousand devotees attending last year. This year, however, organizers are expecting more international visitors, and a crowd of at least ten thousand.
The devotees will arrive on November 19th, and will be divided into three groups — Bengali, Oriya and English speaking.
A long list of scholarly senior devotees, who know every detail of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Jagannath’s pastimes at Puri, will be there to guide the pilgrims.
They include Jayapataka Swami, Bhakti Charu Swami, Bhakti Purusottama Swami, Bhakti Gourava Narayan Swami, Gouranga Prema Swami, Bhakti Nityananda Swami, Bhakti Vinod Swami, Ram Govinda Swami, Ananga Mohan Das, and many others. Lokanath Swami will also attend, and will lead the devotees in blissful chanting of the Lord’s Holy Names.
On November 20th and 21st, the pilgrims will visit many different holy places in Puri related to the pastimes of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Chaitanya moved to Puri at 24 years old, after he had taken the renounced order of sannyasa. Keeping Puri as his base, he travelled all over India distributing love of God until the age of 30. He then settled in Puri as his fixed residence for the remaining 18 years of his life.
One of the spots the pilgrims will visit will be Gambhira, the small room where Sri Chaitanya lived in Puri. Located five minutes’ walk from the Jagannath temple, on Svargadvara Road, it is a very special place. The word gambhira means deep, inscrutable, hidden or secret, and there Chaitanya Mahaprabhu felt intense separation from Krishna and manifested many ecstatic symptoms. 500 years later, the room still holds a clay water pot, wooden shoes and quilt given to him by his mother, Saci Devi, as well as a Deity of Sri Chaitanya himself.
Devotees will also see the famous Gundica temple, where the Rathayatra Parade culminates, and where Lord Jagannath enjoys for seven days before returning to his own temple. Gundica-marjana, the renowned cleansing of the Gundica temple described in the book Chaitanya Charitamrita, takes place the day before Rathayatra.
Then there’s the Jagannath Vallabha Garden, where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu used to meet the great devotee Ramananda Raya, and discuss confidential devotional topics. Decorated with a pond and coconut trees, it is often visited by Lord Jagannath’s utsava murti (festival deity) during various festivals and functions, and is believed to have existed since the construction of the Puri Jagannath Mandir.
During these first two days of pilgrimage, devotees will also visit Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya’s house, where Sri Chaitanya defeated the great scholar’s impersonal philosophy and displayed his six armed Sadbuja form, a combined form of Lord Krishna, Lord Rama and Lord Caitanya. And of course, they will visit many other holy places too.
After seeing these sites of Sri Chaitanya’s pastimes, the pilgrims will participate in the nineteen kilometer Puri Dhama Parikrama on November 22nd, circumambulating the entire sacred town of Puri.
The Sri Ksetra Parikrama officially ends then after three days, but a fourth day with separate registration will be made available for devotees who want to stay an extra day in Puri. For those who may be visiting for the first time or don’t know when they’ll get the chance to visit again, this will be quite a treat.
During this extra day, devotees will visit the Alarnatha temple in Brahmagiri near Puri, where there is a form of Vishnu within whom Lord Jagannath is believed to manifest. Worshippers often visit the temple after Snana Yatra, when Jagannath can’t be seen in Puri.
Another stop will be the temple of Sakshi Gopal, who famously appeared as a witness to back up his young devotee’s word.
The tour will also visit Danda Bhanga, where Nityananda Prabhu broke Lord Chaitanya’s sannyasa staff to make a philosophical point; Chakratirtha, where Lord Vishnu’s Sudarshana Disc and three Nrsimha Deities are worshipped; Bedi Hanuman, where a form of Lord Rama’s famous servant is worshipped; and Sonar Gouranga, a temple dedicated to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
As well as visiting all these wonderful holy places and hearing in depth about them from senior devotees, pilgrims will get the chance to take darshan of Lord Jagannath and honor his maha-prasadam, chant, dance, bathe in the ocean, and of course have the blissful association of thousands of devotees.
To register for Sri Ksetra Parikrama 2013, please visit http://www.mayapur.com/serve-mayapur/sri-ksetra-parikrama-2012/ and scroll to the bottom of the page.
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies