History of the Jagannatha temple at Mahesh
Srila Prabhupada writes at length regarding the temple of Lord Jagannatha and the Rath yatra at Mahesh in his commentary to Caitanya Caritamrta (Adi lila ,11.24 purport). The temple has a very beautiful history. There once lived a devotee named Dhruvananda who prayed to the lordships ,Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra at Jagannatha Puri, desiring to offer them the food that he had cooked with his own hands. However the devotees at puri informed him that offering of such outside food to the Lordships was not allowed there.Feeling dejected , Dhruvananda began fasting and decided to put an end to his life.Lord Jagannatha then being greatly pleased with Dhruvananda, appeared in his dream and instructed him to go to a sacred place called Mahesh, on the bank of the River Ganges, and there start His worship. Dhruvananda left immediately and on reaching Mahesh, found the three deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra floating upon the Ganges water. Mahesh, during those days was a jungle full of carnivorous animals.
Dhruvananda was overwhelmed and installed the deities in his small cottage at Mahesh and started worshipping them there.He could now offer them the food that he had cooked himself . Lord Jagannatha is very merciful towards His devotees. We have observed a very similar pastime at Navadvipa wherein Lord Jagannatha had showered His causeless mercy upon a devotee named Jagadish Ganguly and subsequently manifested His divine deity form. (‘The Gaudiya Treasures of Bengal’ has covered this pastime in a separate article entitled – ‘Lord Jagannatha at Rajapur , Navadvipa (Simantadvipa)’).
In due course of time, age caught up with Dhruvananda and he found it increasingly difficult to take care of the deities nicely. To relieve him of his anxiety, Lord Jagannatha appeared in his dream again and instructed him to hand over the duties of deity worship to a person he would meet the next morning. By the Lord’s arrangement, the great devotee Kamalakara Pippalai, who happened to be one of the twelve cowherd boys and an intimate associate of Nityananda Prabhu, came to meet Dhruvananda the very next day. Dhruvananda ,following the Lord’s orders ,handed over the responsibility of the deities to Sri Kamalakara and since then Kamalakar Pippalai began worshipping the deities of Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra maharani here at Mahesh. Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport that since then, Sri Kamalakara’s family members have been designated with the title “Adhikari”, which means one who is “empowered” to worship the Lord. His family members still reside to this day in the vicinity of Mahesh.
Serampore is a beautiful town of Bengal situated on the bank of the holy Ganges. One traveling by this place is bound to get a taste of its exalted spiritual atmosphere.The soothing breeze of the holy river touches the soul and sanctifies the heart. The temple of Lord Jagannatha is situated within Serampore, at a place called Mahesh. The Rath Yatra at Mahesh is one of the biggest and the second oldest Ratha yatra festival of India.The local devotees informed ‘The Gaudiya treasures of Bengal’ that the Mahesh Rath yatra festival commences soon after the Ratha starts moving at Jagannatha Puri. As soon as the Ratha begins moving at puri, a ‘Nilkantha’ bird (roller bird) comes and sits over the Ratha here at Mahesh, seeing which the priests instruct the devotees to start pulling the ratha here as well. The present Ratha has been constructed out of solid iron by Sri Krishna Chandra Bose, the erstwhile rich landlord of Kolkata. ‘Martin Burn’ was given the contract to build this beautiful piece of architecture.
Long back, around 1653 AD, there was a severe scarcity of funds that hindered the seva puja of these deities. As a result the then Nawab of Dhaka, Shah Shuja, had donated about 395 acres of land for the sustenance of the temple. The land being in possession of Lord Jagannatha, the village came to be known as Jagannatha Pura.The old temple of Mahesh, however, got destroyed due to the shifting course of the river. The temple in its present shape was later constructed by the pious zamindar (landlord) of kolkata, Sri Nayan Chand Mullick. The Mullicks were instrumental in constructing and preserving several sacred pilgrimage sites all over Bengal (refer – ‘The pious Mullicks of Bengal’).
The beautiful deities and the Rath Yatra at Mahesh has mesmerized and captured our hearts forever. Simply taking their darsana can sow the seeds of bhakti within one. Within the temple compound also rests the sacred samadhi tomb of Sri Kamalakara Pippalai.The temple is presently being managed by a committee who takes charge of the daily service and its maintenance. The devotees, here at Mahesh, were very cooperative and were more than happy to relate the history of this sacred place to us.
Who is Sri Kamalakara Pippalai ?
Sri Kamalakara Pippalai was an intimate associate of Sri Nityananda Prabhu. He was one of the 12 Gopalas, (Dvadasha Gopala) and according to Sri Gaura Gannodesha Dipika , Sri Kamalakara was the incarnation of the cowherd boy Mahabala.
Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja mentions in Caitanya Caritamrta that Sri Kamalakara had exhibited very uncommon pastimes and possessed a very uncommon love for the Lord (Kamalakara pippalai – aloukika rita , aloukika prema tanra bhuwane vidita). Sri Kamalakara was born in the Khalijhuli province of the Sunderbans (in southern Bengal) and his father, Sri Srikara, happened to be a devout vaishnava king at his native place. His mother’s name was Dakshayani and His wife was Srimati Haripriya.
Sri Kamalakara had initially come to Navadvipa in order to study logic and other relevant scriptures .In the due course of time he had the great fortune of meeting Sri Gauranga and Nityananda, the Lords of His life.Soon by the mercy of the Lord and His devotees the seeds of devotion sprouted in His heart.The symptoms of spontaneous ecstatic love of God manifested in His body.
He gradually grew more and more renounced.Every night Lord Jagannath’s bright effulgent form used to appear in his dreams and he soon realized that Lord Jagannatha is none other than Vrajendra Nandana Krishna.At the same time the veil of yogamaya was lifted from His eyes and he could perceive himself as Krishna’s eternal dear friend Mahabala.
Though Sri Kamalakara was an eternal associate of the lord and since birth a perfect devotee, he teaches us through his exemplary life, the glories of associating with the devotees. Srila Prabhupada also mentions innumerable times in his commentaries that associating with pure devotees is the key to one’s spiritual life. Here we see how Sri Kamalakara’s consciousness was transformed and his dormant love for Krishna aroused, on obtaining the association of the Lord and His pure devotees. Once someone gets a taste of this divine ecstatic love, everything else takes a backseat.
Once while travelling to Nilacala (Puri) , Sri Caitanya, became guest at Sri Kamalakara’s residence at Khalijhuli. There,the Lord, instructed Kamalakara , to go to a place called Mahesh, located about 50 kms north of Sutanuti (present kolkata), and engage in service of the patita-pavana Jagannatha Baladeva and Subhadra deities residing over there. Being instructed thus,Sri Kamalakara immediately set off for Mahesh and took over the service of the deities from the then priest,Sri Dhruvananda, who was also eager to hand over the responsibilities to someone else ,due to his advanced age (as described earlier in the article). This is how by the Lord’s desire and arrangement, Sri Kamalakar Pippalai shifted to Mahesh.
In other prominent Vaishnava scriptures it has been mentioned that Sri Kamalakara was present during the Danda Mahotsava at Panihati (Where Sri Raghunatha Das Goswami received the punishment from Lord Nitai to feed chipped rice and curd to all the devotees. ‘The Gaudiya Treasures of Bengal’ has covered the pastime in the article – ‘Raghava Bhavan ,Panihati’) and also at the great festival at Kheturi (organized by Sri Narottama Das thakura). He was also present at the festival honoring the disappearance of Gadadhara das at Katwa.Sri Kamalakar is one of the most prominent sub-branches of the trunk emerging from Lord Nityananda.
We worship the lotus feet of our spiritual master ,whose causeless mercy has empowered us ineligible fools ,to gain entrance and take up service in this exalted abode of Serampore. We seek shelter of this holy land, and pray that its glories and the enchanting sight of the Rath Yatra at Mahesh remain forever imprinted in our heart.‘The Gaudiya Treasures of Bengal’ offers millions of obeisances and humbly prays to Sri Kamalakara, and Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra Maharani that we advance in our Krishna consciousness, develop attachment unto their lotus feet and are able to serve Sri Guru & Vaishnavas, by our honest and sincere efforts. We seek their blessings and compassion , in successfully rendering this humble service of reciting the pastimes and revealing the pastime places of the Supreme Lord and His beloved associates.We shall consider ourselves greatly fortunate and our existence meaningful if Lord Gaurahari and our dear spiritual master are kindly pleased with our endeavours.
A brief sketch about Serampore :
Serampore, is one of the most important towns in the state of West Bengal and has a population of around 2,00,000. The abovementioned pastimes took place here around 500 years back. This place has always been well connected with rivers, and has hence seen businesses thrive.The manufacturing and export of jute has been one of its very popular trade in recent times. The Mughals, the Danes,the British have all been attracted to Serampore and have successfully conducted their trades here. Serampore is hardly an hour’s drive from kolkata and is well connected via road and the railways. However, the most significant contribution of Serampore has been its eternal connection to Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Great devotees like Kamalakar Pippalai, Kashishwar Pandita have spent several years living and serving the Lord of their lives here at Serampore. Enchanting Radhavallav jiu had also desired to be installed and served here. One can only stand back and stare at the great fortune that the residents of Serampore have amassed over millions of their previous births in order to get an opportunity to reside and serve at this holy place.
What to see:
The captivating and ancient Jagannatha ,Baladev and Subhadra Maharani deities which were worshipped by Sri Dhruvananda and Sri Kamalakara Pippalai. The temple compound also houses Sri Kamalakara’s samadhi tomb. If possible, one should definitely try to attend the majestic and the historic Mahesh Rath Yatra festival.
How to Reach :
Take a train from Howrah to reach Serampore (located in the Hooghly district of West Bengal). Once you reach there, you can take an auto/rickshaw to reach Mahesh.
Accommodation – As Serampore is not even an hour’s ride from kolkata, it is recommended that one stay in Kolkata and then travel to take darsana of the exalted sites of Serampore . One can choose to stay at any of the hotels (there are many) in Kolkata. The devotees are advised to contact the temple authorities of Mahesh to avail their prasadam.
Nearest major airport – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport (Kolkata)
Nearest major Railway station – Serampore
(Please note that we neither necessarily recommend these hotels/accommodation centers mentioned above nor do we guarantee that they will provide the required facilities/services to the visiting pilgrims. We are not in any way related to the governance of these hotels/accommodation centers. The visiting pilgrim is advised to choose an accommodation as per his own discretion)
To Learn more about the exalted pastimes and pastime places of Kolkata , 24 paraganas, Hooghly and Birbhum ,purchase this below book from our bookstore. Click on the Image below :