The Snana Yatra, also known as Dev Snana Purnima, is a sacred bathing festival of deities observed on the Purnima (full moon) day of the Hindu month of Jyeshtha. According to Skanda Purana, this auspicious event commemorates the appearance of Lord Jagannath and holds significant importance for Vaishnavas. There are innumerable pastimes of the Lord Jagannath.
The Lord not only performs these transcendental pastimes with devotees for emotional exchanges but to uplift the fallen conditioned souls of the material world. Also, when we hear and understand these transcendental pastimes of the Lord, our sins which we have accumulated since many births, will be destroyed. After repeatedly hearing the transcendental pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, real love for the Lord also arises in our hearts.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who can manifest in various forms such as Narasimha, Matsya, Kurma, or even as the wooden deity Jagannath, provides a shelter for wandering souls like us. The primary purpose is to seek refuge and solace in the Lord’s divine presence. And through the medium of the Lord’s transcendental pastimes, it becomes possible, and after hearing such transcendental glories of the Lord, a living entity automatically gets dragged toward the Lord as a river gets attracted toward the ocean. According to Skanda Purana, Snana Yatra is the auspicious appearance day of Lord Jagannath. So, let’s first understand the analogy behind the appearance of Lord Jagannath.
Historical Significance of Snana Yatra
Once upon a time in Dwarka, Mother Rohini was telling the queens of the Lord about the pastimes of the Lord with Radharani and other Gopis in Vrindavana. Hearing the pastimes narrated by Mother Rohini, Lord Krishna, Baladeva, and Subhadra became so delighted, overwhelmed with an emotional touch, and surprised that their eyes became wide, mouths remained open, and other parts became small and inserted inside their body. In this manner, Lord Krishna became Jagannath. When Devarshi Narad took Darshan of this transcendental form, he requested Lord to provide an opportunity to the whole world to have the Darshan of this unique form.
After a certain period, King Indradyumna fulfilled this desire of Devarshi Narad. Then, Lord, after coming in the dream of King Indradyumna, says- ‘Hey King, I tend to appear on the Purnima particular date of the Jyeshtha month. So, on that day after consecration, I performed my worship with a full heart. From then, King Indradyumna from that day inaugurated the Snana Yatra festival.
In Jagannath Puri, many festivals are celebrated for Lord Jagannath, and the beginning of all these festivals originates from the Snana Yatra. On this day, Lord comes out of the temple. In Puri Anand Bazaar, famous for Prasad, near it, in a high place known as Snana Mandap, the Lord is bathed because it was the order of the Lord to bath him in a place where not only demigods, but the people of the earth would also be able to see him easily.
Elephant Form of Lord Jagannath and Baladeva: Tracing the Scriptural Injunctions
On the very day of the Snana, Lord possesses an elephant form in the evening. The story behind this is as follows- Ganpati Bhatt, a most revered worshiper of Brahma, who, after reading all the scriptures, concluded that by taking Darshan of Parma Brahma, a living entity becomes liberated. In the scriptures, he read that Parma Brahma resides in Jagannath Puri. But from somewhere, it was settled in his mind that Parma Brahma possessed a proboscis. So, when he came to Jagannath Puri on Jyeshtha Purnima for Darshan of the Lord and saw that Lord Jagannath did not have a proboscis, then he inferred that he could not be a Parma Brahma.
Ganpati Bhatt further contemplated that if Jagannath had been a Parma Brahma, then how come people who take Darshan of the Lord are coming back? They must be liberated. Thinking about all this, he started going from there. Seeing this, Lord Jagannath felt sorrow, and he took the form of a Brahman and came to him. Lord, and made him understand that Jagannath is the only one whom he has come to meet. In the form of the Lord, Brahman instructed Ganpati Bhatt to go back and see. When he returned, in actuality, Lord Jagannath and Baladeva’s heads were that of the elephant and an elongated proboscis and teeth of the elephant. Then Ganpati Bhatt believed that Jagannath was the only Parma Brahma.
He further acknowledged that Jagannath is the Lord. From then, on the evening of every Snana Yatra, Gaja Vesha is performed. Lord Jagannath and Baladeva are decorated as an elephant, and Subhadra is adorned in the form of a lotus. For Gaudiya Vaishnavas, this is a special occasion because Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, after taking Sannyasa, spent most of his time on the Jagannath Puri.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also used to take pleasure in that Snana Yatra. As we discussed above, after Snan, Lord does not give Darshan for 15 days because he resides in a wooden made home called Anabasara, where Shivir caste people serve the Lord. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself is Krishna, depicting the mood of Radha Rani. Therefore, his name is also Krishna Virah Vidur. And Jagannath Ji is himself Krishna but depicts the mood of separation from Radha Rani. Therefore, one name of Lord Jagannath is also Radha Virah Vidur. Lord Jagannath chants Radha, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu chants Krishna. See, how is the transcendental pastime of the Lord?
Then, they both meet in Jagannath Puri. But after the Snana Yatra, when Mahaprabhu fails to take the Darshan of Lord Jagannath, Mahaprabhu cannot bear this separation. Then, being worried and wandering in all directions, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu reaches Alarnath, where a deity of the four-handed Lord Vishnu possesses a conch shell, discus, club, and lotus. And the separation of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was so extreme that the two hands of Alarnath disappeared, and it became Shyamasundara. And the stone on which Chaitanya Mahaprabhu sat and offered obeisance melted from all four sides, and the stone is also situated as it is today there. Therefore, from then, the devotees of the Gaudiya sect reside only in Alarnath on the Anabasara and perform kirtans and bhajans there.
Therefore, along with the season of festivity, Snana Yatra brings with it a feeling of separation. Thus, it all delineates about the Snana Yatra festival of Lord Jagannath. The day when the Lord Jagannath appeared, and from his wooden Brahma form, mercifully manifested in Jagannath Puri to bestow his mercy upon the living entities of the world. In the temples of ISKCON, this festival of Snana Yatra is also celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm. Therefore, it is a humble request to all the devotees to visit their nearest ISKCON temples, take advantage of this special occasion, and obtain the divine mercy of Lord Jagannath on his appearance day.