for ISKCON News on Jan. 12, 2013
The famous Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa, India, where "non-Hindus" or "outcasts" are not allowed to enter
A close look to Odiya culture reveals that: Hindu God of Odisha Lord Jagannatha Himself along with His divine spouse Devi Laxmi campaign against Jati pratha
(caste system) and professes Equality of man irrespective of caste, sect or sex. This may sound very surprising to Westerners, especially who had the experience of being denied entry to the famous Temple in Puri, even to Hindu themselves.
But the holy book of “Sri Laxmi-Purana-katha”
--- a very common book available in Odisha written in Odiya language collected and read by devotees especially women during Gurubar Laxmi puja (celebrated every Thursday of Hindu month of or Margashira falls in November to December) – narrates a story that says Devi Laxmi and Lord Jagannatha defies caste discrimination and advocate for social equality.
The story is that:
Once on the auspicious day of Laxmi brata
, early morning Devi Laxmi came down to earth, she moved from door to door watching who is observing the Puja (worship) with dedication. She came to one house, it was neat and clean, the door front was nicely decorated with jhunti/ alpana
(design made from liquid rice paste on ground) and in the house one woman was doing Laxmi puja. Devi Laxmi got very satisfied with her cleanliness, her beautiful decoration with flower and mango leaves, and her dedication; she accepted her Bhoga
(offerings) gave her blessings and went to another house. That woman named Sriya was a chandal
by caste—a so-called lower caste and ‘untouchable’ declared by caste system. Devi Laxmi knew it still she sat there and ate her bhoga
This act of Devi Laxmi angered Sri Balarama (elder brother of Lord Jagannatha). He told Jagannatha that, Laxmi has touched Chandala
and ate their bhoga
, she should not be allowed to enter in their temple-home!
Lord Jagannatha tried to convince him and defend Devi Laxmi, but Balarama was unwavering in His demand. Knowing that elder brother Balanrama is hard to persuade Lord Jagannatha posed that as if He also agreeing with brother but actually He facilitated an experiential learning for him.
On Her return to home Lord Jagannatha scolded Laxmi Devi and ordered Her not to enter home. Devi Laxmi became angry and left.
Laxmi is the Goddess of Peace, Love and Prosperity; she is always welcomed in all homes, in Her absence there can be no love, peace and wealth and this phenomena is called as “Laxmi-Chhara”
(Forbidden by Laxmi), -- thus two brothers Lord Jagannatha and Balanrama became Laxmi-chhara—all their food and other wealth vanished, also they became homeless. Helpless and destitute the brothers moved from door to door looking for food.
Whoever saw these two Laxmi-chhara closed their door, none even wanted to see their face as Laxmi-chhara is considered as a bad omen.
At last one lady got convinced to give them food, as she arranged for food suddenly all her food got spoiled, so she also drove them out shouting on them as unlucky, demonic fellow.
Without Laxmi both the Gods became helpless. They were very hungry and tired; they moved from door to door asking for food but none responded to them.
At last they saw a new beautiful palace. They begged for food there. It was the newly built temple of Laxmi Devi, she came to know that Lord has come there, she ordered the maids to tell the brothers that this palace is owned by one Chandal, whether they want to eat there.
Lord Balarama got disappointed but he was very hungry so he thought a middle way, he replied that they will cook themselves and eat there. So they were given new utensils and rice and vegetables to cook. To this arrangement Laxmi was unhappy; she ordered the fire to dim out, so Balarama could not cook also.
At last tired and hungry Balarama suggested that they must eat at Chandals home otherwise he will die of hunger today. Jagannatha smiled to His opinion and told the maids that they wish to eat there.
Laxmi Devi became very happy she cooked many verities of dishes and served to them through maids. They ate to heart’s content; Food was so tasteful that Balarama remembered Laxmi and He told “I have done a mistake by driving out Laxmi from Home, Jaga you please go and bring Her to our home. Since she has gone we have become pauper”!
Laxmi Devi listened that Balarama repented his act, she became very happy, and she appeared before them.
Then Lord Jagannatha requested Laxmi to return to home, Laxmi scolded Him for His unjust way of discriminating Chandals, and she told “first you give me words that, Chandals and Brahmins will eat from each other in love and affection. They will mix like friends and deal each other in respect. Then only I’ll go back to home-temple.” Jagannatha smiled and gave His consent.
This story is a hidden jewel in Hindu culture and spirituality. Many Film, audio-video recorder and Yatra are also are made on this story in Odia language. This is known to all Odiya people, but seldom highlighted in wider Hindu community. To protect the vested interest of caste based society this story is kept in dark while Lord Jagannatha is also kept in close reservation.
This story preaches how segregation of man in the name caste is punishable as a crime, also it says women are more powerful than man, in a home where woman is not respected goes in devastation, it loses all Laxmishree (beauty, peace and prosperity)-- So accept all man as equal, irrespective of his caste or creed or sect and accept woman as the queen of a peaceful prosperous life.
Caste system is very strong in Orissa; it seems that to check caste domination and spread the message of Equality of human being --- Laxmi Purana is written by society reformers, date of this scripture is not known, but it is possible that this is a response of Odiya spiritual leaders to equalize caste system since the time Sri Chaitanya Deva (1496-1533) visited Puri to spread the message of equality of human being and casteless society in Hindu system.
This story is a touch stone that has the power to bring recognition of human being in caste-torn Hindu society and save Hinduism from depreciation.
Dr. Krishna Hota holds an MA and a P.D. in Comparative Literature from JU Kolkata. She has published a book and dozens of articles in Bengali and English language in different magazines in India. Over the last two decades she has been working as a social development professional in Odisha, India. For more information please visit
www.humanrights-orissa.org or her blog www.krishna-whatislife.blogspot.com