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Shri Jagannath’s First Nagarjuna Besha of the Century 


Shri Jagannath is an antiquity existing in the contemporary era as an anthropomorphic Divine. An important aspect of the anthropomorphic ritual includes the various Beshas/ Vesha – the special attire adorned by the Holy Trinity throughout the year.

The special dressing of the Divine Trinity includes daily costumes and a series of 32 special Beshas on various occasions. One infrequent Besha is the Nagarjuna Besha. This year Shri Jagannath and Shri Balabhadra will adorn the Nagarjuna Besha after a gap of 26 years, last worn by the Divine Siblings in the year 1994.

The first Nagarjuna Besha of the century will be witnessed this year on November 27th, 2020. On the day Shri Balabhadra and Shri Jagannath will be dressed as Naga combatants in warrior attire. The long gap of twenty-six years is because of the unique calendar days followed for conducting the Besha.

The Nagarjuna  Besha is done in those years in which the month of Kartika has six days of Panchaka (five days) instead of the regular five days. The Panchaka marks the end of the Kartika month and concludes on the day of Kartika Purnima.

The Holy Trinity gets attired in the Naga fighter costume that coincides with the rare planetary positions making the Nagarjuna Besha or the Bira Besha an extraordinary spectacle.

Legend of Nagarjuna

There are various opinions related to the Nagarjuna Besha. There is an opinion that the warrior costume of Shri Jagannath and Shri Balabhadra commemorates the killing of the powerful king Sahashrarjuna also known as Kartyavera Arjuna by Shri Parasurama, the sixth incarnation of Lord Bishnu. Owing to this opinion the Besha is also called the  Parasurama Besha.

Another opinion has been drawn from the 15th century Odia epic-The Sarala Mahabharata. According to the Sarala Mahabharata, the Nagarjuna Besha of Shri Jagannath celebrates Jagannath as Nagarjuna, the son of Naga Princess Sandhyabali and the great warrior Pandu Putra Arjuna.

As per the legend, there was a fierce battle between Arjuna and his heroic son Nagarjuna. Due to the undisclosed identity between the father and son, Nagarjuna gets into combat with his father Arjuna while guarding a Gainda– rhinoceros in the garden of Shiva.

Arjuna was in search of a rhinoceros, required by the Pandavas for the Tarpan– an offering for liberating the dead. The Padava had to perform the tarpan in order to liberate their father Pandu from the cycle of life. In order to give moksha to Pandu a Rakta Tarpana– Blood offering was essential and the Pandavas were in search of a rhinoceros.

Searching for the rhinoceros Arjuna reaches the garden of Shiva and wants to take the Gainda for the purpose of tarpana. Nagarjuna protests and resists giving the Gainda to Arjuna.   This results in a fight between the two.

Arjuna was overconfident that he was the best and couldn’t be killed by anyone other than Krishna. In the combat, Nagarjuna kills Arjuna.  Post Arjuna’s death Nagarjuna is told by his mother that he had unknowingly killed his father.

Hearing about the sin of Pitru hatya– Father’s murder, Nagarjuna is very sad and calls upon the Devatas for help. The Devatas in turn seek help from Surya Deva– Sun God, who had the power to bring back the dead to life.

But Surya Deva could only bring the dead back to life on a day similar to the sixth day of Kartika. Shri Krishna created the day and Surya Deva brought Arjuna back to life.

नमो नमस् तुभ्यम् असह्य​-वेग​
शक्ति-त्रयायाखिल​-धी-गुणाय ।
प्रपन्न​-पालाय दुरन्त​-शक्तये
कद्-इन्द्रियाणाम् अनवाप्य​-वर्त्मने॥

namo namas tubhyam asahya-vega
śakti-trayāyākhila-dhī-guṇāya
prapanna-pālāya duranta-śaktaye
kad-indriyāṇām anavāpya-vartmane

Gajendra-Mokṣa Stuti- 29

Meaning: My Lord, You are the controller of formidable strength in three kinds of energy. You appear as the reservoir of all sense pleasure and the protector of the surrendered souls. You possess unlimited energy, but You are unapproachable by those who are unable to control their senses. I offer my respectful obeisances unto You again and again.

Nagarjuna was a medium to break Arjuna’s ego of being the best warrior. It is believed that Krishna had transformed himself as Nagarjuna, Thus on this day, Shri Jagannath is dressed up in the Nagarjuna costume.

Nagarjuna Besha Description

The Nagarjuna attire has glimpses of both the Vaishnava and Shaiva culture. It is believed that the Nagarjuna attire has been inspired by the garments worn by the Naga Sadhus living in Digambar Akhada for the protection of the temple.

The Naga culture is specific to Puri Dham. The Naga attired artists can be seen in performances on the streets of Puri during the Sahi Jata on the occasion of Ram Navami.

The valiant costume of the Lord is colourful and majestic. Festooned with sixteen types of weaponry and dressed in deer and tiger skin, decorated with feathers, the costume has the simplicity of the Naga Sadhus and the valour of warriors at warfare. During this Besha Sri Jagannath and Balabhadra sport long beard and moustache, similar to the Naga Sanyasis.

Lord Jagannath has a Naga-Tati around his waist.  The Naga-Denu extending at the back of the idols adds to their chivalry grandeur. The Divine brothers have a bow and a quiver packed with powerful arrows.

They hold a dagger, a knife, a sword, pike, club and as many as sixteen weapons. At the back armour is placed for protection.

Shri Balabhadra holds the Hala – Plough and Musala – mace while Jagannath holds the Shankha- conch and Chakra-wheel, their trademark weapons.

The idols of Lord Jagannath and Lord Balabhadra are adorned with Srihasta-hands and Sri Payara-foot made of gold. Shri Balabhadra and Shri Jagannath are crowned in a helmet-like headgear known as Handia. On the Handia remains the Jatta, on the Jatta is the Chula and then the Naga Phula completes the head ensemble.

Both brothers are bedecked with strings of gold crafted in different shapes called Malee –necklace. Adorned with Ghagada malee, Padma Maee, Bagha nakha malee, Harida Malee the warrior brothers look grand and heroic. Devi Subhadra is dressed up ordinarily with a gold tiara, Chandrika and ear ornaments.

The sevayats in charge of dressing up and decorating the Trinity for this special ritual include the Bhitarchhu Mahapatra, Talichhu Mahapatra, Khuntia Mekap and Pushpalak servitors. The headgear and the weaponry are made at Chakrakot Jaga at Harachandi Sahi in Puri by dedicated craftsmen who start work on Bijaya Dashami tithi on Dussehra.

The accessories and weaponry of the Lords are made using bamboo, solho, silken and zari clothes, and wood apple gum. This is the only Besha of the Lord where the Gods dress up with perishable natural accessories, as well as gold ornaments.

This year the Nagarjuna costume and ornaments of the Deities would be brought to the temple from Harchandi Sahi amid tight security by the servitors by 2 am. The Besha Lagi process will begin by 4 am and conclude by 7 am.

The Lord gives audience to his devotees accompanied to the throbbing beats of the Naga Badya– a battle rousing instrument. The Naga Baadya is specifically played only during the Nagarjuna Besha.

सो ऽहं विश्व​-सृजं विश्वम्
 अविश्वं विश्व​-वेदसम्।
विश्वात्मानम् अजं ब्रह्म
 प्रणतो ऽस्मि परं पदम् ॥

so ’haṁ viśva-sṛjaṁ viśvam
aviśvaṁ viśva-vedasam
viśvātmānam ajaṁ brahma
praṇato ’smi paraṁ padam

Gajendra-Mokṣa Stuti- 26

Meaning: O Supreme God, now fully desiring to be released from material life, I offer my respectful obeisance unto that Supreme Divine, who is the creator of the universe, who is Himself the form of the universe and who is nevertheless transcendental to this cosmic manifestation. He is the supreme knower of everything in this world, the Super soul of the universe. He is the unborn, supremely situated Lord. I offer my respectful obeisance unto Him.

A glimpse of the Shri Jagannath in His Nagarjuna Besha causes the destruction of both mental and physical enemies. It fights all the ailments of the body. The belief is that Jagannath as Nagarjuna secures freedom from, disease, adversity, discontent and premature death.

It multiplies the Divine blessings, causing the destruction of self-ego and at the same time keeping the humankind humble and obliged at the feet of the colossal God – Shri Jagannath.

Let Jagannath Swami be the purpose of my vision.   

Note: This year due to the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic situation, the Nagarjuna Besha on 27th Nov 2020 and the Kartika Masa rituals at the Moola Peetha of Shri Jagannath at  Puri Dham are being done without the participation of devotees.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. Indic Today is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.

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