Every year before Ratha Yatra, snana-purnima is observed in Jagannatha Puri temple. During the snana-purnima Lord Jagannatha comes out to snana-mantap and receives a grand abhisheka (ceremonial bathing). After abhisheka, the Lord gives darshan in Ganesha Vesha or Gajanana Vesha or Hathi Vesha, with the face of an elephant. There is a beautiful pastime connected to this Vesha of the Lord.
Ganapati Bhattar discovers that Parabrahman is residing in Jagannatha Puri
There was a brahmana named Ganapati Bhatta who lived in a small village called Kaniari in the state of Karnataka. He was a great devotee of Lord Jagannatha and knew that Lord Jagannatha is the cause of everything and the controller of everything. Anyone who takes shelter of His lotus feet will be freed from material bondage. Without the mercy of that Parambrahma, no one can be delivered. Ganapati Bhatta was always thinking, “If I can see Lord Jagannatha, the parambrahma in His transcendental form with my eyes, then my life will be successful.”
One day Ganapati Bhattar was reading Brahma Purana about how Lord Jagannatha manifested in Nilgiri in His transcendental form of Daru Brahman. If one sees Him in this form, he will be freed from material bondage and will achieve liberation. He will not face Yamaraj ever again. When Ganapati Bhatta read this, it touched his heart. Then he understood that his life is useless.
He thought, “What is the use of family and wealth? Parambrahma has manifested on this earth in Nilagiri as Lord Jagannatha. I am spending my time uselessly, being unaware of this fact. Why should I be so foolish to stay here after knowing that the Lord has manifested in Nilagiri? As long as I have strength in my body, my wife, all these children and relatives will be with me. No one will accompany me when I leave this body. When I become old, my children and wife will think I am great burden upon them. I this material world, no one is the friend of anyone.”
Ganapathi Bhattar thought, “Better I go to Nilagiri and take darshan of Parabrahma so that I can get liberation.”
Ganapati Bhattar begins his journey to Jagannatha Puri
Thinking in this way, he left his house and started the journey to Puri. He was living on what he attained through begging on his way to Puri, and was happy to get whatever was available. Sometime he fasted because food was not available to him. He would pacify his hunger by eating leaves and drinking water. Finally Ganapati Bhatta reached atharanala, a place just at the entrance of Puri. It is believed that if anyone crossed this place to enter Puri, one will not face any punishment from Yamaraja. Ganapati Bhattar purified himself by taking darshan of that place and sat down to meditate upon Brahman.
Later Ganapati Bhattar saw few devotees returning from Puri. They were looking very happy and holding pots of Jagannatha prasada in their hands.
Ganapati Bhattar asked them, “Kindly let me know where you have all come from? Why are you so happy? What have you achieved?”
The traveller replied, “O dear brahmana, we are returning from the temple of Lord Jagannatha. There we spent five days, taking darshan of Parabrahma. Now we are all going to our homes, very happy and satisfied. It is very rare to have darshan of the Lord. After taking darshan of the Lord, what else is there to achieve?”
Hearing this from the travellers, Ganapati Bhattar was very surprised. He asked them, “Have you really seen Brahman?” They replied, “Yes, we took His darshan.”
After this exchange, the travellers continued on their way.
Ganapati Bhattar thought to himself, “This cannot be true that Brahman is here. They have not seen Brahman. If they did, why are they coming back? They should have all merged into Brahman. That is what I have heard from the Purana: that anyone who takes darshana of Brahman immediately attains liberation. So how can these people be going back to their houses even after getting darshan of Brahman?”
He asked many people who were returning from Puri. They were all coming back after taking darshana of the Lord.
Ganapati Bhattar became very confused. He opened the Purana and checked it again and again. He saw that the Purana clearly mentioned that Brahman resides in Puri. If one sees Him, he will get liberation immediately.
Ganapati Bhattar was very confused and thought, “What should I do now? I don’t know what is right and what is wrong. Better I commit suicide and give up this body. But then again, it is not good to commit suicide.”
Lord Jagannath understood the mind of Ganapati Bhattar. He came to meet Ganapati Bhattar in the form of an old brahmana.
He asked Bhattar, “Where have you come from? Where are you planning to go? Why are you sitting here and looking so sad?”
Bhattar replied. “My dear brahmana, please listen. I read in the Purana that Brahman is in Nilagiri. Just by getting darshana of Him one attains immediate liberation. But now I found there is no Brahman in Puri.”
The Lord in the form of old brahmana asked Ganapati Bhattar, “How did you decide that there is no Brahman in Puri?”
Bhattar replied, “As far as I know, if someone sees Brahman then he is supposed to merge into His body and thus get liberation. But now I have seen many people coming back from Puri even after seeing the form of the Lord. From this I conclude that there is no Brahman there. If there was, then after taking darshana of Brahman all of these people would have attained liberation.”
Hearing this, he smiled and replied, “Lord Hari is known as Kalpataru. That means He fulfils everyone’s desires. These people had come with a desire to go back to their houses so the Lord fulfilled their desire. Otherwise how can He be vancha kalpataru, a wish fulfilling tree? If someone comes here thinking to be happy, or to get liberation or to go back to His abode to serve Him, they will get the result according to their desire. Please do not think there is no Brahman here.”
After saying this, the Lord in the form of brahmana left Ganapati Bhatttar. Hearing the advice of an old brahmana, Ganapati Bhattar prepared himself to enter Puri Dham.
Ganapati Bhattar has darshan of Lord Jagannatha
He reached the lion gate of the Jagannatha temple and took darshana of Patita Pavana. Coincidently that day was Snana Purnima. Lord Jagannath along with Baladev, Subhadra and Sudarshana were brought to snana mantapa (the bathing platform) for abhisheka (bathing ceremony). Many pujaris were pouring water on the Deities. Thousands of devotees were there calling, “Jai! Jai! All glories! All glories!” Many demigods were witnessing this transcendental event disguised in human form. Ganapati Bhattar was believer of the Ganesh form of the Lord. Ganapati Bhattar took darshana of the Lord Daru Brahman. But he did not see the elephant face of the Lord. He had strong faith that Brahman had a face like an elephant. But here he saw some different face. He thought that the Deities could not be Brahman since they did not have elephant faces. Dissatisfied, he left the place without even offering obeisance. He was very disappointed. He was convinced that Brahman had a face like an elephant. Understanding his firm conviction, Lord Jagannath immediately appeared to Mudirath, the representative of the King of Puri.
The Lord told him, “My devotee from a great distance has come to see Me. But now he is going back, being very much disappointed at not seeing the elephant face form of mine. You go immediately and call him back. Tell him that he should come back and have darshana of my form with an elephant face.”
Mudiratha immediately ran to bring Ganapati Bhattar back to Puri. He explained to Ganapati Bhattar, “Please come and take darshana of the Lord. All your desires will be fulfilled. The Lord is here in the form of Daru Brahman in Nilgiri to fulfil everyone’s desire. Why are you so foolish, going back without taking darshana of the Lord?”
Bhattar replied with great anger, “Where is Brahman? Why are you cheating me? I did not see an elephant face. How can there be Brahman without an elephant face? If I do not see a trunk on the face, I do not accept this as a Deity of Brahman. I do not care what you say. Why are you trying to bring me back?”
Mudiratha replied, “You must give up your wrong impression. Just come back and look very attentively. You will see the elephant face of the Lord. There is no doubt about this.”
After hearing this, Ganapati Bhattar returned to the temple. He looked upon the Lord, and there he saw the face of an elephant. There was very big trunk and one beautiful tusk on his face manifesting His wonderful form.
Bhattar offered his respected obeisance and prayers. “O my Lord Gajanana, Daru Brahma, Ganapati, Lord of everyone; now I am satisfied by having your darshan. All my doubts are dispelled. I have one request to you. From today onwards, whenever you come to this snana mantapa on this day, please manifest this form and give your darshana to everyone.”
After saying this, Ganapati Bhattar fell on the ground meditating upon Daru Braham. He immediately merged into the body of the Lord. Everyone could see his soul enter into the body of the Lord like lightening. The crowd shouted, “All glories! All glories!” Even today, Sri Jagannath and Sri Baladeva are dressed in hathi vesha or Ganapati Vesha or Gajanana Vesha or Ganesha Vesha after taking Their bath on snana purnima day.
Just see the greatness of Lord Jagannath: this Lord is worshipped by Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. Just to satisfy His devotee, He accepted an elephant face. That is why He is known as bhava-grahi, one who accepts the mood of His devotee.