| Sharan Srikhetra Jagannath temple at Marda village in Ganjam. Picture by Gopal Krishna Reddy |
Berhampur, June 24: Two hundred and seventy six years on, they still hope that one day, the divine siblings, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, will come back to Sharan Srikhetra Jagannath temple at a village called Marda in Ganjam district, 50km from here.
There are no deities inside the temple, but all rituals have been performed everyday in front of an empty pedestal here by five generations of priests over the past 276 years.
“We are waiting for the three deities and are sure that one day, they will come to Sharan Srikhetra. The Malika (forecast by a saint poet) has predicted that the three deities would leave Puri one day. We hope that they would come to Marda,” said 56-year-old Hrushikesh Panda, a priest at the temple.
“The temple was once the safe abode of the three deities of the Jagannath temple in Puri. The three idols had remained in the temple for 28 months, from December 29, 1733 to April 1736. During that time, the Puri temple came under attack from invaders. Consequently, the king of Puri, Gajapati Ramchandra Deb, had these deities secretly transported from Puri to Marda village in Athagada estate through Chikali village near Khallikote in Ganjam district. Masons from Mathura constructed the temple in a record time of two months at a secluded place.
“The temple is an epitome of architectural grandeur of medieval Odisha. About 300 armed soldiers of Athagada used to guard the deities day and night during the period,” Panda said. The secret journey of the deities from the Puri temple to Chadehibuda hills on the banks of Chilika lake, Chapalihatibana, Kujangagada, Kapileswarpur, Gopalpur, Tikali, Gajapada, Balangir, Manitrigada and finally to Marda temple has been chronicled in Madala Panji (temple almanac).
From a distance, the temple looks like a mass of stones. The deities were installed on three circular pedestals. Despite the fact that there are no idols inside, local people offer prayers and worship the pedestals. All the rituals, associated with the deities are performed here. But there is no car festival here. “It is because during the deities’ stay at the temple, there were no car festivals to avoid the Trinity from being discovered,” said Anantram Kar, a research scholar.
Gajapati Ramchandra Deb is also said to have hidden himself near the place. Then king of Athagadapatna, Jagannath Harichandan, had provided protection and shelter to the deities and the Gajapati of Puri. The temple, which was built in a hurry, resembles the Gundicha temple in Puri. At that time, Marda was an extremely inaccessible place.
Jagannath Harichandan, who had built the rock temple at Marda to protect the deities, is still remembered during rituals at the Puri temple.