The Snana Yatra is a bathing festival of deities, celebrated on the day of Purnima (full-moon day) of the Hindu month of Jyestha. It is the auspicious day of birth of Lord Jagannath. It is an important festival for the Sanatana Hindu dharma. This festival is celebrated just before the renowned Ratha Yatra festival of Lord Jagannath in Puri. This festival is also known as ‘Devasnana Purnima’ because it undergoes the ritualistic bathing-ceremony of the deities at Jagannath temple – Lord Jagannath, Devi Suvadra and Lord Balabhadra. The Snan Yatra, bathing ceremony of Lord Jagannath has become one of the most popular festival of the Iskcon calendar over the years, since his Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, who had introduced it to the world. ‘Snan Yatra’ is the first occasion in the year as per the Hindu calendar, when the deities Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra, Sudarashan and Madanmohan are brought out from the ‘Ratnasimhasan’ of Jagannath temple (Puri) at very early in the morning and taken in a procession to the ‘Snana Bedi’ (bathing-altar). There they are ceremonially bathed and decorated for a public audience with the devotees.
Philosophical Outlook : Prabhu Jagannath is considered to be an incarnation of Sri Krishna, thus worshipped as the ‘original creator of everything’ – nothing in this world exists without him. ‘Shastra’ gives the example of milk being transformed into yoghurt for a functionary analogy of Lord Krishna, being like the original source (milk in this case) and Lord Shiva (being like yoghurt) – both of them come in contact with a culture for the functional activities in the material world. The milk, therefore in one sense, created yoghurt but that yoghurt can never again become milk. Therefore, although being only one in origin, it is different - becoming secondary or mutated potency and therefore lessor in potency and function. The wonderfully merciful and enlivening story of the Lord, knowing the heart of His devotee and personally bestowing His mercy – had nothing what soever with that deviant philosophy. A Vaishnava never sees the material form of anything – moving or non-moving. Rather, everywhere they see the energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and immediately remembers the transcendental form of the Lord.
A brahmin was a devotee of Lord Jagannath, but for some reason expected to see the elephant –headed deva (Ganesha) in the temple. The brahmin was somewhat disappointed seeing the deva /demigod not there and that Lord Jagannath had been bathed already but looking a bit off-colour with their mineral paint colours running. Thus the desire of that brahmin remained unfulfilled. Then that night, knowing his heart, the Lord appeared to the devotee in a dream and told him to go back to the temple and he would not be disappointed, rather all his desires would be fulfilled by worshipping Lord Jagannath and not by separatedly worshipping any deva. (Bhagavad Gita 9:23)
Once when Prabhu Jagannath was absent from the temple, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who could not see Him, felt separated and left Jagannath to go to a place known as ‘Alalanatha’ which is also known as ‘Brahmagiri’. The term ‘Annnavasara’ is used when Sri Jagannath cannot be seen in the temple, as Prabhu is personified to be sick after Snan yatra festival and thus removed to His private apartment, where none can see Him and at that period Mahaprabhu Sri Chaitanya is said to render the service of Prabhu Jagannath. The all merciful Lord appeared to the devotee after 15 days. Then, Lord Jagannath and Lord Balaram assumed the appearance of beautifully decorated elephants, while lady Subhadra decorated herself as lotus flower. From that time, ‘Hati Vesha’ (Elephant mask) festival is organised – Lord assumed a special form to satisfy his devotee, just as in other cultures, it is heard about the stories of the Lord appearing to Moses in the form of an ‘Burning Brush’ or to Muhammad in the form of ‘sound’ or as with Lord Jagannath in the form of ‘Dharu-Brahman logs’, that washed up upon the sea-shore to be carried by the sabara Virabhadra and fashioned by the architect of Lord Visvakarma into the wonderful forms of Sriyuts Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra maharani.
Traditional Belief and Textual References : It is a belief among the devotees of Lord Jagannath that if they make a pilgrimage to see the deity on this auspicious day, they would be cleansed from all of their sins. Lord Jagannath bestows all benedictions and blessings upon those, who are fortunate enough to be present there. There is a view that like all other major festivals in Odisha, Snan yatra has direct links with agrarian calendar of the state and that the ritual bath signifies the onset of monsoon. The ‘Skanda Purana’ mentions that king Indradyumna arranged this ceremony for the first time when the idols of the deities were first installed. Raja Indradyumna installed the wooden deities and on a particular day the ‘trinity’ is bathed – hence this festival of bathing ceremony was arranged by king Indradyumna. ‘Niladri Mohadaya’, a religious text, written in Oriya, records the rituals of ‘Snana Yatra’ festival. Lord Jagannath in his early form was being worshipped as Nilamadhava by Viswabasu (a Savara leader). The story is nicely told in the drama ‘Jagannath Priyan Natakam’. Till now, it is the Daitas and Savaras (tribals), who have the exclusive right to conduct this festival. The tribals called the Savaras (of Southern Orissa), still perform a rite to bath their deities ceremonially on the last day of the month of Jyestha. For this they collect water from the remote jungles, where it remains untouched even by the shadow of the animals. Sriharsha in his ‘Naisadhiya Charita’ (XV.89) also refers to the festival of Purushottama.
Ceremonies Conducted : On the eve of the Snana Yatra (which means the Divine Bathing festival, in Sanskrit), the idols of the deities are brought out in a grand procession from the ‘Garbagriha’ (sanctum sanctorum) to the Snana Bedi or Snana Mandap (bathing platform) and then the bathing programme is arranged. The Snana Mandap is made in such a height, that vistors standing outside the temple also get the glimpse of the deities. The Snana bedi (bathing platform) is well-decorated with the traditional paintings of trees and gardens, flags and toranas (arches strung with mango leaves), which are also put up on the fourteenth day (Chaturdashi – the day before the bathing- Purnima) when the deities are taken out in procession - the whole event is called ‘Pahandi’ or ‘Pahandi Vijay’.
Prior to the bathing ceremony, the images are covered with the silken clothes and then smeared with red powder. The water, which is used for bathing the three deities are taken from the well inside the Jagannath temple. The Palla Pandas (a class of Brahmin priests) purify the water with Haridra (turmeric), Java (whole rice), Benachara, Chandan, Aguru, flowers, medicinal herbs and perfumes. A total of 108 golden pitchers of herbal and aromatic water (mixture of coconut water and scented extracts of flowers and other fragrant ingredients like sandalwood) are used to bath the three main deities of the Jagannath temple. In this occasion Lord Jagannath is bathed with 35 pots, Lord Balabhadra with 33 pots, Goddess Subhadra with 22 pots and Lord Sudarshan with 18 pots. The filled vessels are carried from ‘Bhoga Mandap’ to ‘Snana Bedi’ in a long-line procession – this ritual is known as ‘Jaladhibasa’. The first appearance of the deities, after the bathing festival is called ‘Netrotsava’ (festival for the eyes) or ‘Naba Yaubana Darshana’(festival for the ever new youth). According to the priests of Jagannath temple, the devotee washes away all his sins if the devotee gets a vision of the Lord on this auspicious day.
After the bathing ceremony, ‘Mudirasta’ swept the floor where the deities are seated, then the idols were decked out. Then the deities are dressed up in ‘Sada Besha’ after the bath, the idols of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra are dressed as ‘Hathi besha’ or in the form of Lord Ganesha later in a day. In the evening, at the conclusion of the bathing ritual, Jagannath and Balabhadra are dressed up in elephant headgear, representing the Lord Ganesha. This form of the God is called ‘Gajavesha’- actually during the sacred bath, the colours painted on the images generally fade. Seeing the wooden deities in discolour mode, devotees may not have the appropriate devotional attitude and infact may feel sinful repugnance and for this reason the images are dressed as ‘Ganesha-besa’.
At night, the three main deities retire to Anasar house because after the Snana Yatra, the Gods are traditionally believed to fall ill (suffer from cold and fever) and are kept in a sick room (Ratan Vedi) to recuperate in privacy under the care of the Raj Vaidya. This period is known as ‘Anasara’ – at this stage the Gods cannot be seen by the devotees. At this time, pata chitra paintings are displayed for the devotees to view. It is said that with the Ayurvedic medication (‘pnachan’), administered by the Rajvaidya, the Gods recover in a fortnight and resume giving an audience to their devotees. During this Anasara period, devotees head to the Alarnatha mandira in Brahmagiri in the belief that Jagannath manifests as Alarnatha during this period. During the Anasara period, the devotees are forbidden to see the idols of the Lord for 15 days – this period is called ‘Anabasara kala’, meaning the improper time for worship. Snana yatra marks the beginning of a fifteen day period, leading upto Ratha Yatra. The ‘Shilpa Shastras’ and ‘Agamas’ testify that the deities become suitable for worship only after the performance of the rite of ‘Chakshu Unmilana’ (opening of the eyes).