Sharana Srikhetra

Mr.Debasish Dash

Recently we set off for a well-deserved vacation to my native place Buguda in the Ganjam district of Odisha. Although I work and stay outside Odisha, my heart always remains hooked to my motherland, my village and our ever pampering ancestral home. Ever since our marriage, whenever I and my wife planned our vacation at Buguda, I had enjoyed staying at home amidst the serene village ambience. But this time to get the best of our precious vacation, we thought of visiting different interesting spots near and around our native place, instead of staying put at home. Our first destination of visit was ‘Maa Tara Tarini Temple’ which is near Purushottampur. That was really a wonderful feeling to trek on the Tara Tarini hill, towards the temple on the top. River Rushikulya flowing at the bottom of the hill could make any viewer easily get enamoured. And while on our way back home, inside a dense forest I was apprised of the existence of an ancient Jagannath Temple. I was convinced that it would surely be a memorable moment for all of us if we visit the Jagannath temple which is famous as ‘Sharana Srikhetra’ in southern Odisha. That temple was not too far away. We turned our car towards Mathura Village of Polosara where the temple is situated. I was quite happy and excited getting into the dense forest to see a very ancient and famous temple which I wasn't aware of earlier, though it has a close proximity to my village. 

It was the day of Bahuda Jatra and I was expecting for special visuals of the three deities. But to my wonder I didn’t find the deities at the Marda temple. I contemplated on the fact that why there were no deities in such a big Jagannath temple. With my inquisitiveness to know about any folklore if associated, I went straight to the priest to find out the reasons for the absence of the deities and so also to know the history behind the temple ‘Sharana Srikhetra’.

The priest and the local worshippers said that there are no deities in the temple but rituals are regularly being carried out. As per a popular Historical impression, throughout the ages, the temple of Sri Jagannath at Puri was invaded and looted eighteen times, mostly by non-Hindu rulers. Puri was the suitable place for non-Hindu invaders to display their religious war (Jihad). Owing to the series of invasions on the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri, the triad deities were exiled to various regions of Orissa, mostly in Sothern parts of Chilika lake and associated places. The place Marda sheltered Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra for over two years to avoid sacrilege at the hands of Mughal invaders in the 18th century. That could be the reason behind its name as Sharana Srikhetra, where Lord Jagannath took refuge. 

Out of curiosity, I searched in various history books, googled and queried many people about the various invasions on Odisha that happened in the 18th century. The gross finding was that many of our Odishan Kings had sacrificed their lives, surrendering before the invaders, but not before hiding the triad deities at varies places in Odisha. It all started with the invasion of Raktavahu (Govinda-III, the Rastrakuta King of Deccan), which is considered as the first invasion on the Puri Jagannath temple. He defeated the then King Subhakaradeva-I of Bhaumakara dynasty of Odisha. During this invasion, the deities were taken away to Gopali, a village in Sonepur and kept underground. The king of Odisha fled from the city with the idols. His associates were lodged in a cart. After 146 years, Yayati-I, the Somavamsi king got the idols dug out, made new idols, built a new temple at Puri and enshrined them there. The deities returned to Srikshetra during 814 A.D. and 819 A.D. Thereafter the temple was invaded by many rulers like Illias Shah, the Sultan of Bengal (in 1340 AD), Feroz Shah Tughluq, the Muslim ruler of Delhi (in 1360 AD), Allauddin Hussain Shah, the Sultan of Bengal (in 1509 A.D), Muslim invader Kalapahara (1568 AD), Suleman, the son of Kuthu Khan and Osman, the son of Isha (in 1592 AD) etc. One of such invasion was carried out by Muhammad Taqi Khan who became Naib Nazim (Deputy Subedar) of Odisha from A.D.1727 to 1734. He invaded and looted the Puri temple twice. He invaded to demolish the temple, outraged the sacred character of the God by sacrilegious actions and with each invasion, he plundered its treasure.

At that time the servitors removed the idols to multiple places like Hariswar in Banpur, Chikili in Khalikote, then to Rumagarh in Kodala, Athagada in Ganjam and finally to Marda of Kodala. Kodala located in Athagada region was considered a safe place for the idols as this place was under the rule of Nizam of Hyderabad and was not of Mughals. Marda itself was situated inside a dense forest and hills. So the place was invincible for the invaders. And also it is believed that the ruler of Athagada, Jagannath Harichandan Jagadev had strong family relationship with the Gajapati rulers of Khurda. Jagannath Harichandan had built up this rock temple for the deities with help from the ancestors of inhabitants of Pathara village, who built up the temple at Marda in a few months. The temple is a two chambered Pidha style with Jagamohan and Vimana. Marda is considered as the second home of Sri Jagannath. Even after the deities returned to Puri in 1736, Harichandan had preferred to keep the temple without deity to preserve the memory of the great event. Till now some families of Pathara are involved in stone carving. Unlike other temples, even on the day of Rath Yatra, no traditional musical instruments are played in this temple. It is believed that during the sojourn of the deities at this temple, sound of these instruments and big celebrations were avoided just to keep the temple hidden from the eyes of Mughal spies. And the tradition lives on.

When I asked the locals of Mathura Village, I got to know that the stay of the Gods at Athagada is recognised by lighting of a lamp on every Ekadasi day in evening time followed by the recitation of Sloka in honour of Harichandan Jagadeva. There have been plans to develop Marda, an old Jagannath temple, into a tourist hub but those plans don't seem to be moving ahead beyond the official files. Even though the temple in the Ganjam district town boasts of a marvelous Kalinga style architecture and served as a safe hiding place for the deities of Puri Jagannath temple during the period 1733-1735 AD, when such temples were being targeted by the Muslim invaders, earning itself the honour of “Sarana Srikhetra”, Marda is yet to get the attention it deserves. The administration of Sri Jagannath temple, Puri, had intervened some time ago to get the district administration to prepare a plan to attract tourists by developing the spot as a religious tourist place. A few sevayats and researchers of the Jagannath cult, who had visited the place to study the connection of the Marda temple with that of Puri, had promised to popularise the significance of the temple but it is yet to come to any fruition.

I believe that if at least 5 to 10 % of the visitors from Puri come to Marda, the place can be highlighted on the tourist map, opening up more livelihood opportunities for the local people. Some stray visitors drop by for research purpose or to enjoy a picnic or two. More people will visit the place when its historical importance and connection with the Puri deities is highlighted. Some of the infrastructure development works have been done recently with the help from the local administration. Some more are to be done to make it a popular tourist spot. Daily rituals at the Marda temple is performed with financial assistance from the temple administration of Jagannath temple in Puri, but other works to protect the monument need to be taken up by the government. Such temples and places which were built so as to give shelter to the deities should be protected and taken care of, the way they took care of our Gods during the Mughal invasions. And this can be done by sheer will of ours in creating awareness and popularising the historical place in the State and so also outside it at the national level.




One word 'fantabulous' research/writing.keep blogging

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