''Anasara'' a unique ritual of Jagannath temple, Puri of Odisha where deities are quarantined - 17 facts

There are tens of thousands of Hindu temples across India, strictly following various daily puja rituals and annual temple festivals, and with a few exceptions most of them,  are kept open year round for the pilgrims to worship and to get blessed by the deities to tackle  various struggles in their lives with minimum suffering. One can not change the edit of God, but one can pray to the almighty in the near-by temple to reduce the pangs of grief to the minimum. This is the reason why despite the huge population the percentage of people consulting the shrunk in India is far less than the western world.

In the case of popular Sri Sabarimalai Ayyapan temple of Kerala, the long held tradition has been that, it is normally closed briefly after the Mandala Puja, marking the end of  41- day annual pilgrimage season and will reopen on 30th December for the  Makaravilakku festival that falls on January 14.  After the festival season is over the hill temple will be closed on 20th April. I understand, every month the temple will be opened on certain days to conduct monthly puja, etc. 

Jagannath temple, Puri, Odisha, Alamy.com
Incidentally, have you ever heard of or com across  a popular Hindu temple where the presiding deities are under isolation in a separate place out side the garbagriha because they've  contracted fever?  Yes!  there is a temple where the doors of the sanctum are closed for two weeks and there is no darshan of the  deities. There is no puja ritual in the sanctum as the deities are taking respite and recuperating  from the ailment which is said to have been   contracted after a long bathing ritual.

The temple is none other than the world famous  Jagannath temple of Puri,  Odisha. Here. the three deities Jaganatha, Balabhadra  and their sister Subadhra Devi are kept under ‘quarantine’ till Ratha Yatra.   Anasara' or Anabasara: is nothing but a  two-week  isolation period for the deities - a sort of self- imposed  quarantine; the devotees are forbidden from seeing the idols of the Lords. According to mythology, the three deities are believed to have developed a fever after the prolonged bathing on Devasnana Purnima day.

itual bathing of the idols atlasobscura.com
The following are the enchanting facts about Anasara' or Anabasara:

01. ‘Devasnana Purnima’ is a ritualistic bathing ceremony of the deities of the Jagannath Temple observed on the Purnima or the full moon day of the Jyeshtha month (the auspicious birthday of Jagannath) of the Hindu calendar and  it is   considered to be one of the oldest festivals associated with the temple. 

02. Mostly held in the month of June as part of the Devasnana Purnima or Snana Yatra, the main three  idols of Lord Jagannath temple along with  deities Sudarshana, and Madanmohana  are brought to the ‘bathing altar  - Snana Bedi’ in a procession known as ‘Pahandi’. It takes place in the evening. 

03. After a few rituals the deities are bathed in  herbal and aromatic water which is brought from  the golden well or ‘Suna Kua’ inside the temple in  108 pitchers - 35 pitchers of water for Lord Jagannath, 33 for Lord Balabhadra, 22 for Devi Subhara and 18 pitchers for the Sudarshan were used.

Jagannath temple, Puri. bathing of deities. upload.wikimedia.org

Above image: 12th Century CE Jagannath temple of Puri, Odisha: Tulsi is applied on the whole body of the deities before taking them to bath - snana yatra or jatra. The bathing ritual of  three  primary deities  inside the temple  on the bathing platform (snana mantap) is a holy event. About 2 lakh people converge in Puri to watch this great event....
Bathing ritual, Jagannath temple. Puri. newsdrum.in

Above image: The Daitapatis from  the servitor community  conduct  the rituals of Rath Yatra right from Snana Purnima till Niladri Bije, for around one month. These  servitors, for Snana Yatra, will fix body armors -  Chhena Pattas to the deities
for Pahandi ritual - the journey of the deities to the world outside, When  the process  begins around noon,  darshan of the deities will be closed for devotees.

Jagannath temple, Puri. tathya.in

04. The holy water is purified with sandal powder, flowers, turmeric, whole rice and  and perfumes. The deities are then dressed up in Sada Besha after the bath for public audience - Sahana Mela around 6.30 pm. Jagannath and Balabhadra are dressed up in elephant headgear symbolic of god  Ganesha - Hati Vesha.’   It is believed that darshan of the deities on this day will remove all the sins.

Deities wearing elephant headgear - symbolic of god Ganesha.

05. After the bathing ritual at night around 7 pm the three deities are  reverentially taken back to  ‘Anasara Ghara’(a solitary room for the sick) where they will be kept for 14 long days. The belief has been that the deities after the prolonged ‘Snana’ or bath, are down  with fever and are kept away from   public darshan. This temporary retreat is set aside for treating the ailing deities. and to help them recuperate from indisposition. 

Jagannath temple puri. Anasara Ghar.(sick room)

06. While the priests perform sacred rituals to cure them, the  three deities are on strict diet of fruits and water mixed with cheese and  dasamula herbal medication.

 07. In the absence of  deities during this two-week period of  'Anasara', the traditional  Pattachitra  paintings  of three deities -"Patti Dian" are worshipped as representative idols (similar to sort of festival or processional idols in South India) in the sanctum.  

Jagannath temple, Puri.odishabytes.com

08. In the Pattachitra  paintings of three deities with distinct colors  Lord Jagannath is depicted as god Vishnu, Balabhadra as god  Shiva and Devi Subadhra as goddess Adishakti.  It is symbolic of the confluence of Vaishnavism, Sivaism and Shaktism.  During this period all the ten avatars  (10 incarnation) of god Vishnu is worshipped. 

09. Mahapatra offers  Pana  bhoga to the deities in the Anasara pindi to cure the  ailment. A special oil prepared by the local  mutt  Bada Odia is applied to the deities and it is  made from flowers like  Kettaki, Malli, Chamba roots, sandalwood powder, camphor, etc., is mixed with Sesame oil that forms the main component.

10. To protect the wooden idols of the deities from moths, termite, etc., Phuluri tela (oil) is applied on the day of Astami. 

11. After oil massage treatment wood primer (Khodi) is applied to the idols for extra safety for the idols longevity.

12. Now the priests adorn them with new clothes and hold what is called Chaka Bije Niti on the Dasami day as the deities feel better and are able to sit.

13. On Dwadasi  after the special rituals, the Daitapatis inform the Gajapati  Maharajah, the local ruler and the servant of the lords  about the complete recovery of the deities from their physical ailment. 

14. As part of another ritual, new color  paint is coated on the deities. No chemicals are used and they use Kasturi Nabhi - musk collected from stag's naval specially brought from Nepal. 

Puri temple, Odisha.Nabha Jhuban darshan, Puri. odishabytes.com

15. After the last ritual priests adorn the deities for Nabajauba Darshanimplying the three  deities -  Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra  are fully recovered  from fever and are back to normal life - ready to bless the devotees who repose trust in them.  

.Deities ready for annual yatra. Puri temple,indianeagle.com

Above image: Jagannath temple, Puri, Odisha. Wooden idols (made from neem wood). Deities Shree Jagannath, Shri Balabhadra and goddess Devi Subhadra,......

16. During this brief period, it is believed that  Lord Jagannath manifests in Alarnath Dev in Brahmagiri. Devotees visit Alarnath temple, 23 km from Puri  in large numbers and offer Kheer Prasad. The pilgrimage takes  place under heavy police bandobust;  a large posse of commandos and police keep a close vigil on terrorists and others.

17. Public view - darshan  of the primary deities called ‘Nabayoubana’ darshan  is  normally allowed a day prior to the famous Rath Yatra.

So ''Anasara'' festival event actually marks the annual  maintenance of wooden idols of the deities by various processes, including application of natural  preservatives (no modern chemicals). During this 2 week break the wooden idols of Jagannath  temple undergo vigorous checking for any damages as the idols  are made from selected neem wood and are replaced every 12 to 15 years.  It is quite interesting to note that  in Odisha  the gods and goddesses  are treated just like humans with emotion and their susceptility to ailment, not withstanding their divinity  as part of their cultural and religious ethos. 

The concept of ‘quarantine 'or isolation of patients in a separate place may be western from medical point of view, but the very concept of  treating  certain patents in an isolated room has been in our culture for centuries. It reminds me of the threats of Covid-19 in the recent past and how much importance was given  to social social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, etc.