LORD Jaggannath the “ Supreme Lord of the Universe ” showers his abundant mercy at the most sacred pilgrimage spots in India ( one of the four dhams that lie on the four directions of the compass in the state of Orissa ) The temple is dedicated to Lord Jagannath, who is Lord Krishna himself along with Balabhadra and Subhadra, the brother and sister of Lord Jagannath.
A divine incident occurred few hundred years back at this holy temple ,during the rule of the King Pratapa Rudra . Near to the temple there lived an ardent devotee Prabhu dasa . He stayed near to the temple of Lord Jagganathar . He was an innocent devotee and a regular visitor to the temple right from his childhood. He used to watch the sevaks serving the Lordships in different capacities all through the day . He loved the last ceremony ” Pahuda “at the temple . The last ceremony of the day was special . It is said this seva is attended by all the demigod and goddess when the majestic Supreme Lord retires for the day . The ecstatic kirtans and recitation of hymns gives a feel of being at Sri vaikuntam. It is said three beautiful beds made of ivory , decorated with the sweetest smelling flowers especially jasmine makes the entire surroundings flooded with divine fragrance . Flowers are scattered all over the beds to the sounds of devotional music and kirtans when the miniature golden forms of Lordships Jagganathji , Subhadraji, and Balabhadraji retire .
A mangala harathi is offered and all the flowers are scattered all around overheads that are invisibly collected by the demigods as a mahaprasad. This sweet episode was regularly shared by devotees .Prabhudasa was eager to attend this seva but could not make it .Days passed ! One fine day he had the opportunity to join a group of satsangh devotees in having darshan of Lord Jagganathar . Very anxious to have darshan of Lord in close distance his mind raced to be just just there . With intense devotion and muttering some feeble words of prayer and gratitude and tears he moved closer . Seeing the sea of devotees chanting the Holy name he was overjoyed . He joined the satsangh chanting the Holy names .He used to feel one with LORD and wished to remain in that condition . Suddently , he was stopped and the curtains was pulled . The time of bhoga approached . The bhoga was carried by the sevaks with utmost devotion . Suddenly , it occured to his ignorant mind that the spicy betel leaf prepared with flavour will be most needed by the Lordships to partake after their food . But he came to know that such arrangement of offering prepared scented betel leaf as bhog to Lords after food to enable them to mentally relax and enjoy was not in the routine rituals of service..
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Prabhudasa intensely felt such needs of the Lords should have been a part of his daily bhog. He mentally volunteered to offer such prepared betel leaf added with spice and flavour in his own hands after food Lords had taken . He overheard a Sadhu saying ,the concept of bhakti involves the idea of being not only a servant of the Lord, but also a servant of His servants. ‘Bhaj’ stands for seva ( service) therefore what a devotee is expected to perform. Service to servant of the Lord is supreme as the LORD resides with his ardent sevaks always .These words eschewed Prabhudasa mind always .He decided to do something which pleases the sevaks and thus LORDSHIPS .
Looking at the sevaks he used to offer pranaams . The next day he went inside the temple and asked a sevak about the service he was rendering while bhog is offered .
The sevak replied ,My child !
Every day Lord of Lords is offered around 56 types of raja bhog prepared in the kitchens of the big Temple and made available to the devotees in Ananda Bazaar sold by the sevaks (Suaras). Few sevaks are engaged to supply the requisite materials for cooking and a few carry them to Lords altar . All the sevaks are always busy in the service of Lordships.
Prabhudasa realized that to please the Lordships , selfless rendering of services to all the sevaks and devotees was absolutely needed as told by the Sadhu . He was looking out for some seva which would please LORD .
A flash invoked his inner being . He recollected scented betel leaves offerings to the Lordships play an important role and knew that the servants of the temple engaged in the service of the Lord were consuming betel leaves with spices after their daily routine of work. This it looked gave some bodily relief during their regular turn of services . The mental relaxation along with a small nap after chewing the betel leaves made them more energetic . He saw them wanting for the energetic spices for their work . He immediately decided that offering the betel leaves service to the servants of the LORD was the best way to please the LORD as they were serving the LORD in close quarters .
He devised a plan .Early morning he went into the nearby jungles to pluck the betel leaves washed it and made them into bundles .He moved into the local market to buy the best spices and fragrance for the scented betel leaves to be given to the servants of Lord
His first job was to make a delicious betel leaves stuffed with the best spices filled with fragrance to Lord Jagganthjee . He used to offer the same at the temple premises looking at the temple altar seeking his permission to serve the fortunate sevaks . The offered betel leaves were kept aside as mahaprasad .
With the basket well decorated , he used to wait near the pavement of Mahadwaar for the supply the scented betel leaves for the pleasure of sevaks . The objective of such service was not to earn money but to be a part of the divine service rendered by the sevaks . He knew the exact timing when the sevaks would arrive and in need of the betel leaves ,other times he used to rush inside the temple to have the darshan of Lord of Lords.
After offerings are done , he used to sell the same to the customers and pilgrims’ seeking them ..
Days passed .
From early dawn to the belated hour of every night various services and rituals of Lordships used to go on every day as a routine.
“Badasimhara vesa” is the last routine service at the night . The immortal verses of “Gita govindam” is chanted inside the temple followed by a ecstatic kirtan till midnight .At that hour of night no common devotee and visitors are seen inside the temple .Even the outside premises of temple is deserted .Only saints and austere devotees are seen inside .
Prabhudasa even at the dead hour of lonely night used to await for the sevaks . One full moon night , “Badasimhara Vesa” was being conducted .The kirtan was melodious .Everything had almost come to end . The lion gate and the gates inside the temple were closed under lock and key with seals . Prabhudasa had an habit to pack his belongings only after seing the Lion gates are closed .
In that pitch hour from the darkness , two youthful persons were seen to have come from the side of the Lion gate of the huge temple and proceeding towards him .They had a divine aura . The moon was feeling shy to boast her moonlight . The effulgence radiating out from their lovely appearance was feast to the soul .
One young man was dressed in yellow coloured dhothi ( peethambaram) and the other was dressed in blue coloured dhothi .Their eyes were very special .Looking at their beautiful eyes Prabhudasa felt he was being drawn into the world of eternity ..In their chest the sacred thread was hanging down adding beauty to their appearance .The bewitching smile pulled him more closer .Prabhudasa was overwhelmed with joy as they approached nearer him. His body was shivering and was in a different mood of ecstasy.
Looking at them with joy multiplied stammering he said …
Please ..please …have this scented betel leaves …
The young men smiled and said … Yes!! Baba …
We just came to have that one from you …
He hurriedly took the betel leaves , cleaned them thoroughly and began to prepare the flavoured dish by adding the best spices and flavours slowly watching their smile that pulled his heart out of him …Out of deep love and devotion , he twisted the betel leaf into a decent fold and with all reverence offered it in their hands . The young men took the betel leafs and partaking the same moved inside the temple at the dead of the night smiling all the way.
Prabhudasa was in a trance .He couldn’t believe what happened .
Who were they ? And why did they come ?
By the time he was recollecting the entire night he dozed to sleep. He woke up the next day but was in a different mood .He wanted those young men to come again. He waited at the same place, pleading the sun to set quickly. It was dead of the night, the two young men once again arrived with bewitching smile. They once again took the betel leaves from Prabhudasa and just smiled. They never asked Prabhudasa in his turn or ever insisted them to pray the price of the same since he was in a different world all together during their stay .This happened for few days and every day he had a different experience .It used to be all of a sudden When he regained consciousness, he was feeling so sad and wished they were there permanently with him.
The Shopkeepers who gave him spices on loan started pestering him for the money .He was feeling low as how to ask the young men for the money as it was more than a month they were coming and taking the scented betel leaves. As the arrears from them would get rid of a shopkeepers debt he braved himself to ask them this night .
It was a cool night. The young men arrived with charm smiling at Prabhudasa . Prabhudasa offered the scented betel leaves and had tears and with all humility said , My child ! You have been enjoying the scented betel leaves past few days .. and I am short of paying arrears to the shop keeper who gives me the spices .
May I please ask your good selves to pay me the money for repaying it to the shop keeper ? And…
you know non payment will amount to indebtness to him and being a sin .. If I do not pay …. that gets carried to the next birth somehow .
The young men replied for the first time smiling…
Oh! baba ..we are very sorry for this .We do not have any money now … but let us pay you something … saying this they removed their aprons and said please accept this aprons as pledge/ security .
We will for sure handover the payments tomorrow positively .
Prabhudasa felt sad ! He said My child !! Kindly take back your aprons and just pay me the arrears tomorrow .I can’t see you’ll without aprons .
The young men smiled and said
Baba ! we too do not want to accumulate that sin to the next births for repayment . The request from Prabhudasa to keep the aprons were not considered .
Inside the temple , Saint Balarama dasa and Ativadi Jagannatha dasa where returning from kirtan of Sri Chaitanya maha prabhu .They happened to sight the two young person’s amidst the conversation.
Overwhelmed to see the divine aura coming from the far end , they reached the spot and looked at Prabhudasa and said
Baba !! you are fortunate to have those aprons and advised him to accept the same .They said to keep the aprons offered as pledge by them which they assured to redeem the next day after paying the arrears according to their assurance .
Prabhudasa with much hesitation kept the two aprons .
Next day , when the main doors of the temple was opened the priests noticed that Lord Jagganatha’s and Balaramas aprons were missing . The same was brought to the notice of the devotee king Pratapa Rudra . Search for the aprons was undertaken . One sevak said he saw the aprons at Prabhudasa’s residence . Prabhudasa was immediately summoned .He was rebuked and harassed to confess the guilt.
Prabhudasa was dragged into the Kings court . It was unexpected . Prabhudasa with folded hands submitted to the King how the aprons reached him. The King asked Prabhudasa to identify the two young men so that they will be punished .
Prabhudasa immediately recollected ,
Your honour !! The revered saints Balarama dasa and Ativadi Jagganatha dasa could recognise the young men as they advised me to have their aprons .
King Prataparudra along with his ministers walked inside the temple and offered obeisance’s to Sri Chaitanya mahaprabhu disciples Sri Jagganatha dasa and Balarama dasa and seeked their permission .
The saints told the King that the two young men who appeared were Lord Jaggantha and Balaram themselves and now they seated in te golden throne and revealed that divine incident that took place last night .
Since there is no system of service of offering prepared and scented betel leaves to the Lordships after the last bhoga , before the close of the temple the Lordships went to Prabhudasa to partake the scented betel leaves as service .
My dear King !
Prabhudasa is a great devotee and worthy for royal respect …
King Pratapa Rudra felt sad for embarrassing the great devotee . He immediately fell at the feet of Prabhudasa and appointed him as a sevak who offers scented betel leaves to the Lordships .The offering of bidiapana to the great Lordships started and continued since this incident ..
There was another interesting incident that took place later . Few hundred years ago after this incident , a very wealthy man in South India came to Puri dhaam . He was very proud because of his wealth. He had come along with his family, though personally he had no faith in Lord Jagnnatha. He decided to challenge the deitys origin and the worship .Looking at the food is offered to the deities three times daily he publicly declared arrogantly , he would make a donation of 100,000 rupees to Jagannathar if the temple cooks could spend all of it to prepare one offering as bhog . In those times fruits and vegetables were very cheap. Even one hundred rupees were enough to buy the ingredients for one bhoga, or food offering.
One thousand rupees was too much those days .
No one in the temple could imagine what to purchase for this huge amount . This became a great problem for the priests . They were undoubtedly sad to see such a challenging attitude on the part of a arrogant man .
The priests assembeled and discussed , “Should he be told that such a huge amount was absolutely too much? Or Should we tell him to give a smaller donation? Will this be too embarrassing to ask of him? We know Jagnnatha is great- His temple is majestic, His rituals are mystic and divine-
how we can tell this man to give less…It was a difficult task
How can we tell him to make a smaller offering so that we ordinary mortals can handle it?”
They checked what could be the costliest ingredient ?
Butter was the most costly of all ingredients, so what type of prasada could be prepared from only ghee? The most delicious and costliest prasada could easily be prepared with butter and coconut palm sweets within 10,000 rupees maximum .
But this millionaire wanted to offer prasada costing 100,000 rupees!
Since the origin of Jagnnatha Temple itself, lakhs of people had been served maha prasada in the Ananda Bazar of the temple. Many types of delicacies were in abundance there. In fact, Jagnnatha Temple is the only temple in the world to have always treated maha prasad as more valuable than even darshan or the sight of the deities. All can eat it, regardless of caste, color, or creed. Yet never before had such a problem arisen. The temple cooks were in a dilemma ..
There was no prasada that could be prepared that would cost 100,000 rupees! Finally they decided, “Let this problem be communicated to the Lord Himself, and let His will prevail.
A group prayer was conducted before Him.
Nobody can prevail over His wish.” The head priest, made a heart-felt prayer, “Oh Lord, please choose which food you desire.”
In a sweet way, the Lord answered the head priests prayer, in a dream, “Let this wealthy person offer me one piece of scented betel leaves . But !!! the betel nut within the pan leaf must be smeared not with lime, but with the powder of a finely ground pearl from a elephants forehead.”
The wish was immediately communicated to the wealthy man. The desire was unexpected His face paled. He thought, “A mere betel nut! Nothing more than that!”
It is said that an elephant is worth one 100,000 rupees, dead or alive. How many bull elephants would have to be killed to find one pearl? Not every bull elephant has a pearl inside its forehead. It is a very very rare phenomenon and it is said , one in a million has a pearl in its forehead. The wealthy man’s head began to reel. He was defeated. He was incapable of offering even a single betel nut to Lord Jagnnatha. Unknotting his turban and removing his sandals, he went running to the Lord with a purse full of 100,000 rupees in his hands. A huge crowd followed.
Everyone stared at this strange sight. The Lord had defeated the millionaire at his own game of dollars and cents. At last his human pride was crushed. He started sobbing, reaching out to Lod Jaggannatha, with unrestrained childlike cries. In total devotion and defeat he prayed, “Oh Lord, I have made a stupid human blunder, for am totally incapable of offering you even a single betel nut. What else can be offered to you?
Oh Lord, pardon me. I am a fallen man, insignificant before you,
Everything is yours and you are everything. Take whatever I have.
Please accept only the sweet-smelling red betel nut of my heart.”
“Trnadapi sunicena taroriva sahisnuna,
amanina manadena kirtaniyah sada Harih”,
which means, one who assumes a position lower than even a tuft of grass, is as tolerant as a tree, and is a respect of persons without caring for one’s own prestige, he alone is fit to worship Hari the Lord of Lords. This shows how a Vaisnava is to remain unconcerned about his own worldly status while being concerned about the welfare of those around him.
Our Travel diary is available in the appended link post
Adiyen Ramanuja dasan
Pics credits : Google images
Video credits : HG Swarupa damodar das