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Mahaprasad of Jagannath Temple

Mahaprasad is word used for the food items offered to the deities of Lord Jagannath temple of Puri. The food items are of different varieties and composition and mainly the number of food items being cooked count to be 56 also known as the “Chappan Bhoga”.

Mahaprasad of Jagannath Puri Temple

As per the Hindu tradition of worshipping God and goddess, they are offered food after daily prayers, and the food is hen said as “Prasad” and is distributed among the devotees. The word “Maha” means huge and it is also believed that everything that has connection to the Lord Jagannath seems to be big, like, Bada Danda (Big Verandah, the main entrance to the temple), Bada Deula, Bada Thakura etc and hence even the Prasad is also known as Mahaprasad.

Legends Related to Mahaprasad

There are believed to be four holy shrines at four different location of the country. Dwarika in the west in Gujarat, Badrinath in the North in Uttarakhand, Rameswaram in the southern part of the country at Tamil Nadu and Puri in the east in Odisha. According to a famous saying that Lord Vishnu meditates at Badrinath, bathes at Rameswaram, dines at Puri and take rest at Dwarika. For this purpose the Mahaprasad of Puri has got immense importance in the mythological theories. The Mahaprasad is cooked in the special kitchen inside the Jagannath Temple premises and can cook the food items for even millions of devotees that visit temple. It is also said that the Mahaprasad is the blessings of Lord Jagannath on the devotees.

There is a very common belief regarding the Mahaprasad that the cooked Mahaprasad never gets finished even if it is being cooked for a limited number of devotees. This is said as the “Mahima” of Lord Jagannath that no devotee goes off the temple with empty stomach and without having the Mahaprasad. The market place where Mahaprasad is being sold is known as ‘Ananda Bazaar’ and hundreds of food items are sold there with most of them being the food items cooked at the Jagannath temple kitchen and Mahaprasad as well.

As per the mythology it is believed that in the Treta Yuga Lord Rama killed Ravana, the King of Lanka and returned Ayodhya along with Laxmana and Goddess Sita. On a day when they were resting at their palace they were discussing the abilities and skills of Laxmana as he killed the mighty Indrajit, son of Ravana. Lord Rama was praising him for his courage and power of and the way he killed Indrajit. Wife of Laxmana, Urmilla was hearing all these hiding behind the doorway and was getting very emotional. Everyone including Lord Rama were praising Laxmana and were talking about the power which Indrajit owed yet got defeated by Laxmana, who didn’t had any food during the fourteen years tenure of their at the forests and the extreme places they visited. Everybody sitting there were eager to know the secret behind the enormous power of Laxmana and its source. Finally when Lord Rama asked Laxmana about how he managed to survive these fourteen long years without food even though he provided him food packets everyday during their journey. Finally Laxmana humbly replied to him that he has not conceived any of those food packets provided to him and he has stored them all in the hole of Sami Tree near Panchabati. To know the truth behind this Lord Rama asked Hanuman to visit Panchabati and get all those packets to him, which were being preserved by Laxmana in the fourteen years. This was something that Hanuman thought to be a very negligible task and took upon ego, thinking that when he can pick the entire mountain on his soldier these packets are mere things for him.
Yet hanuman visited the Panchabati and discovered the Sami Tree with the food packets hidden inside it but he was unable to even move it. Due to the ego he got that he can do this task vey easily and this is not a suitable task for him it is said that he was unable to move it and returned to Rama and said him all that happened. Lord Rama then asked Laxmana who, with his arrow’s hit brought all the packets to Ayodhya. Everyone was surprised to find the packets intact and not being consumed as said by Laxmana in the tenure of 14 long years. Lord Rama asked Hanuman to count the packets and to their surprise 7 packets were missing from the entire lot. Lord Rama was eager to know the reason from Laxmana and hence asked him about it.

Laxmana then humbly answered that he will explain it elaborately. He said that there is a mystery behind this and these are the days on which Rama didn’t gave him the packets and hence there is a shortage in the number of Packets. He then counted the days on which he was not given the food packets by Lord Rama. The first day when he didn’t get the packet was the day when they got the news of their beloved father Dasratha’s demise. No one had consumed any food that day. Second day was when Ravana kidnapped Goddess Sita from Panchabati and Lord Rama neither had any food that day nor did he give to Laxmana. The third such occasion was when Mahi Ravana took them to offer sacrifice to Goddess Lankeswari. They had fast on that day and Lord Rama didn’t offer him any food packet. The fourth occasion was when Laxmana was hurt with an arrow by Indrajit and became unconscious and hence was not given any food packet. The fifth time he didn’t consumed any food, when he killed Indrajit. Sixth occasion was when Ravana was killed by Lord Rama, neither had he taken food nor he offered any food to Laxmana. Ravana being the son of Bisrarba Rishi was a Brahmin and killing him was Brahmahatya, and hence they had a fast on the day he was killed by Rama. The final and the seventh time when Laxmana had not got any food Packet was on the day just after the day on which Ravana died as it was national mourning and they both joined the mourning and later on left Lanka without having anything.
After hearing this all Lord Rama held Laxmana in his arms and praised him. He was overwhelmed with the dedication and the sacrifice of Laxmana. He also praised Urmilla, the wife of Laxmana, and the way she spent fourteen years without Laxmana, and waited for his arrival. He then declared to have a throne established on her name next to the thrones of himself, Goddess Sita’s and Laxmana’s. Urmilla humbly refused to it and rather requested Lord Rama to serve him her lifelong and even after that. Rama being very much pleased with the words of Urmilla then asked her to ask for anything as a boon which she wanted. To which Urmilla asked Rama that she doesn’t want any temples of her name, or any throne that she intends. She even didn’t want people to worship her in the years to come as Lord Rama and Laxmana were to be. She just asked Rama to grant her to be just an incense stick that will be used to fragrant the ambience of the temple where Lord Rama will be worshiped in any forms. She wished to be a lotus on the feet of the Lords in the years and ages to come.

Lord Rama was very much impressed with  the thoughts of Urmilla and hence granted her the boon that in the Kali Yuga when Lord Rama will be worshipped as Jagannath at Puri Dhaam along with brother Laxmana as Balabhadra, Urmilla will also be there with them in the form of Mahaprasad and with her fragrance she will be spreading the blessings in the form of flavors. Any of the Prasad that will be offered to Lord Jagannath will also be then offered to Goddess Vimala and only after that it will be called as the Mahaprasad and can be taken as Prasad by the aficionados. Since then Urmilla is remained as the Mahaprasad and devotees worship her in the form of it. The Goddess Vimala is no one but Urmilla of the Tretaya Yuga.

Daily Food Offerings in Jagannath Temple

Mahaprasad is the food items which are offered to Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra. The Mahaprasad is offered 6 times a day beginning from the very early morning to the late night. The offerings offered to the deities are called Dhupa which are offered by Sodasa Upachars, a regulation which is followed while offering the Mahaprasad. The form of Mahaprasada offered during the mid-day is known as Naivedhya and is one of the famous Prasad of the Temple with maximum number of food items. It is said that the food items of the Temple are not cooked by humans, mere ingredients are put in the huge earthen pots and vessels are then kept on wooden fire. After some time these pots are taken away from fire by the Supakaras, special priests of the Jagannath Temple which perform this task only. The Supakaras take the Mahaprasad to the ‘Garbhagriha’ or the Sanctum for offering it to the deities. There the Naivedhyais being offered to the Gods and from there it is being taken to the Vimala Maa for the offerings. It is then believed that here, Prasad becomes Mahaprasad and then after deducting a portion for Pandaas and priests of the temples these are taken to the Anada bazaar where it is sold to the devotees for a minimal cost.

Daily offerings to the Lord include:

Gopala Ballabha Bhoga: Early morning a seven item treat that forms breakfast for the deities of Jagannath Temple is offered every day. The Gopala Ballabha Bhoga has the food items like coconut water, Khua, grated sweet coconut, rice puffs mixed with sugar also known as Khai, ripe bananas, curd and Lahuni.

Sakala Dhupa: The next offering after the Gopala Ballabha Bhoga is the Sakala Dhupa which is offered to the deities at around 10 am. Also known as the 'Kotha bhoga' the Sakala Dhupa is a 13 items Bhoga which has the Mantha puli and the Enduri cake as prime attractions.

Bhoga Mandapa bhoga: At around 11 am the next offering known as Bhoga Mandapa bhoga is being offered to the deities which consists of the Kanji payas and the Pakhala along with dahi as the prime items. These are the offerings which are offered at the bhog mandapa of the Jagannth temple and hence known as the Bhoga Mandapa bhoga. It is said that the in the 8th century Adi Shankaracharya introduced Chatra Bhog which is now known as the Bhoga Mandapa bhoga with the motive to provide the pilgrims the Prasad when they visit the temple.

Madhyanha dhupa: Offered during the noon the Madhyanha dhupa is the Prasad offered to the deities which are strictly offered by the Sevayats which were engaged for the Sakala Dhupa only. The Madhyanha dhupa mostly consists of food items like varieties of sweet cakes.

Sandhya Dhupa: At around 8, in the evening, the Sandhya Dhupa is offered to the deities after the Jaya Mangal Arati is done. This Bhoga mostly contains the food items prepared on request of devotees and it contains the dishes like Sana Amalu and Chipuda Pakhaal etc.

The Bada Simhara Bhoga: According to the records of Srimandir Bada Simhara Bhoga is the last offering made to the deities and it is being offered at around 11 pm. The deities are dressed with the silk dresses also known as Pata along with lots of Garlands, by the Palia Puspalaks before the offerings. Gita Govinda is also being sung during the offerings. The Bada Simhara Bhoga is offered with all 5 upchars by the members of Puja Pandas in a formation around the Ratnabedi, which is the seat of the deities.

Mahaprasad – The Magical Food

As per the traditions which are being followed since ages, the holy Mahaprasad is always cooked only in the earthen pots at the Kitchen of the Lord Jagannath temple also known as the Srimandira. The medium with which the food is cooked is only the fire wood. It is believed that while the food is being carried to the offering hall in the Earthen pots there is no flavor that comes out of it but when the same is being offered to Lord Jagannath and later on to the goddess Vimala and taken to the Ananda Bazaar a sweet fragrant comes of it which is surprising yet divine.

Mahaprasad is always served to the devotees on the Banana leaves as the Banana leaves are said to be sacred and that is why being used to serve the Mahaprasad. According to the people who consume the Mahaprasad on the banana leaves say that the taste of eating it on the leaves of banana adds up to that of the taste of the food items of Mahaprasad, which cannot be felt in the plates and the thaalis.

More than 56 items are being cooked daily and it is also said that no human being can cook them all and in that huge quantity. The earthen pots are said to be placed in a special earthen oven, in five numbers one on the top of another. It is said the “Mahima” or the blessings of Lord Jagannath that the pot on the top most position gets cooked first and then that of the lower one. Many a times it happens that the food pots gets broken when they are taken from the kitchen to the temple for the ceremonials, it is believed that this happens due to the food being cooked in some of the improper ways or there happens some error in cooking the food. To cook food for the Gods it is said that the mind and the soul needs to be pure. a cloth is tied over the mouth and nose of the Sevayakaas who carry the pots filled of the Mahaprasad items before being offered to the Lord in order to prevent the Prasad from getting contaminated by the human saliva. It is also said that if any of the cook has a feeling of proud in making the food for the god, the pots are sure to be broken.

As per the legends it is believed that if Goddess Lakshmi is displeased with the preparation of the Mahaprasad by the cooks of the temple, a dog will be seen mysteriously on the temple grounds. This dog is believed to be the Kutuma Chandi which is a Tantric goddess who is in charge of the purification of food offered to the deities. If on any day the dog is seen near the temple kitchen it is believed that the food cooked in the kitchen is sure to be impure and hence the entire cooked food is dumped under the grounds and the food items are re-prepared to offer the deities.

The food in the temple kitchen is prepared in such a pure way and with deep devotion, that a great spiritual impact is felt, both by those who cook and those who eat.

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