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CHARIOT OF GOD

In Hindu theology, the line dividing the sacred and the profane is not as bold and clear as it is in the religions of the book. It is a standard belief in the practice of Hinduism that the creator is complemented by his own creation. There is an obvious symbiosis between the divine and the human and, therefore, between the sacred and the mundane in Hinduism. This somewhat weakens the argument of those who believe that the shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, is not bound by the strictures and rulings of the Odisha High Court. The shankaracharya, the epitome of holiness, had said in November 2013 that devotees should not climb on to the chariot of Jagannath; only those directly connected with performing the rituals should enjoy the privilege of climbing on to the chariots. The Odisha High Court concurred with the views of the seer. This convergence of views made the administrators of the Jagannath temple request the shankaracharya to climb the chariots alone, without his usual entourage. The seer kept himself away from the rath yatra and many of his followers believe that he is not bound by legal rulings. As mentioned earlier, this is a weak, if not an untenable, position. In Hinduism, the gods, and, therefore, their representatives are subject to man-made laws just as men are subject to god-given ethical practices.

There is another point to be considered in this controversy. Lord Jagannath is seen by his devotees as an incarnation of Vishnu. He belongs to the Vaishnavite tradition of Hindu worship. The rath yatra is thus a very important Vaishnavite ritual. The question could very well be asked about the presence of a Shaivaite seer in a Vaishnavite ritual. The question gains some validity because the presence of the shankaracharya of Puri in the rath yatra is relatively a recent one. According to one view, the practice of the shankaracharya climbing on to the chariots began only a few years ago. If this is indeed the case, then it will be an exaggeration to describe the practice as a tradition. Without intending to, the shankaracharya of Puri, by his absence from the rituals associated with the rath yatra, has perhaps reverted back to a tradition. He has revived what can be called the basic framework of Hindu worship and ritual. For this, he should be respected. Purity has survived.