My ashram in India

My ashram in India


Dhauli is famous for Aśoka’s great victory over the King of Kalinga fought near the River Daya not far from the ancient city of Sishupalghar??. It was a terrible battle in which some 200,000 men had been killed; many more were taken in captivity and countless numbers died from disease and hunger. The whole area – where the ashram stands – is the former battlefield.

The soldiers would prepare themselves for battle by worshipping Cāmuṇḍā, the fierce goddess whose hideous sculpture in the Odisha State Museum in Bhubaneshwar shows her sitting in victory over a defeated victim and holding his severed head by the hair. They prayed to the terrifying goddess to gain victory over their terrified enemies.

Sculpture of Cāmuṇḍā in the Odisha State Museum



This tradition of militancy has continued. Orissan martial arts are famous and form part of the annual festival.

The terrible carnage led to Asoka’s conversion to Buddhism. The Japanese have built a stupa on Dhauli Hill and a small monastery of monks near its base. The stupa has five umbrellas on its top: the central represents non-violence; the other four represent compassion, forgiveness, peace and truth. A relic of the Buddha is supposed to be located in the stupa.

Peace Pagoda, Dhauli


 Dhauli Hill from the canal near Uttara



One of the kings of the Gaṅga dynasty, perhaps Anantaravarma Chodagaṅgadeva who, under the influence of Ramanuja though this is disputed, also rebuilt the Jagannāth Temple at Purī[1] , His name is also associated with the excavation, perhaps in thanks for some victory, of a large sacred pool called Kaushalya Lake about 300 acres in size within a large forest near Dhauli hill, c. 1114 CE[2].

He established four temples around the great pool, one for each of the Vedas. In the North (uttara) he established the village called Uttara with a shrine dedicated to Krishna and the focus on the Samāveda; on the East a village called Pūrva-sasan (= ‘East’ (pūrva), ‘administrative area’ (sasan) for the Yajurveda; on the South, Ekchāliā-sasan dedicated to the Ṛg-veda; on the West, Kaushalya-sasan dedicated to the Arthavaveda.

He appointed a Brahmin, Krutibhash, from Birapurusottampur near Sakhigopal, 18km from Puri as the priest to perform the rituals. He granted him sufficient acreage to support the temple. Other settlers from the four castes also came, to provide the necessary skills. Thus the village, Uttara, ‘North’, was established. The other villages ‘South’, ‘East’, ‘West’, still exist.

Uttara has several temples. One is dedicated to Viṣṇu, another is dedicated to Śiva, both of which are under the care of the Triepathy family. The Śiva temple is in the east of the village and the Krishna temple in the west of the village.

There are also two śakti temples. The smaller one is dedicated Vaiṣṇavī and is vegetarian. The other is a Kālī temple just near my house – or more correctly it is the temple of Maa Dulladei, the gram-devatā (village goddess) – which is larger and faces the cremation ground, though it is now cut off from direct access to the cremation ground by the highway to Puri and a levee bank of the Daya River. The bali or sacrifice of goats to Kālī is carried out in this temple.

Cremation ground

At 2 am on 5 January 2011 I went to the cremation ground. It took about 15 minutes to get there. I had been made afraid by Saumya’s talk of bandits in the area. This was the major fear, and when the family in a house some distance away started to call out, I wondered if they had seen me and were getting a posse together! So I became very aware of my back and head. There was no fear from the situation itself, no fear of the dead or of ghouls and yoginīs. Rather there was a sense of all those who had come here to cremate their dead, loved or unloved. It was a grace to be with them, and with the dead, and to pray for them, for by the power of grace we are in touch with every human being who has lived. It was beautiful to hear the distant call of birds in the night. It was not cold. I thought of papa. It was a good exercise. I thought also of my own death, and the cremation I intend to have, and of the bequests I might make. I felt the power of being perfectly still and having the śakti be in charge. There was a sense of great authority, like that of Jesus teaching (Mt 8) or of Jesus having ‘all authority on heaven and earth’ (Mt 28). It is a great sense to have. The Spirit was determining the direction and activity. I am yet to become one with this energy and not see it as distinct from me. At the moment I am trying to perceive it in this manner, distinguishing so as to unite. It requires great calm.

When I told Saumya about this some time later, he was not so happy. It appears that any foreigner must be at an address known to the authorities. The fact that I was at a cremation ground during the night meditating could cause considerable trouble, since it is the place where black magic is performed. People are killed for that in Berhampur.

Just near the cremation platform, about 100 metres away, there is a larger platform well constructed of stone, with a flight of about 12 steps, and around it a series of plinths shaped like││. Kunu explained that this was for the gathering (melana), which occurs once a year when the statue of Lord Krishna is brought in procession on a palanquin and placed on the platform. The statues of other deities from the surrounding villages are placed on other plinths ││ brought also on palanquins. They were arranged one four sides, in sets of 5, 4, 4, 3.

The term ‘Uttara’ in fact includes a set of villages, to the number of about 3000 souls. The section we live in has a section for the sudras; near the temple there is a section for the Brahmins. There are also vaiśyas to look after the cattle. Brahmins are not allowed to till the land etc.

Uttara has many other smaller edifices or locations dedicated to the various village śaktis or goddesses.

All these temples – the gram-devatā, the Śiva and the Viṣṇu temple in the village, the Śankeśwara Temple and Bahiraṅgeśwara (9-10 cent.) Temples at Dhauli are all family temples.

There are about 15 families, with the name Tripathy in this village. The numbers have not grown hugely, partly because of the frequent epidemics such as cholera that were due in part to the huge number of pilgrims traveling past the village on the way to Puri.

Saumya’s family

Saumya’s family once owned the area around and including Dhauli Hill till they were dispossessed by the government who rebuilt the dilapidated Hindu temple that is on the top of Dhauli Hill. The government was assisted in the reconstruction by contributions from devotees. The temple is maintained by grants of land around the temple.

This land of theirs near Dhauli was once forested only. The land they do possess is let to tenants who produce rice, of which the family receives a certain amount as payment.

Saumya’s family still own a 1000 year-old (9-10 c.) temple to Śiva, called Bahirañgeśwara, at the base of Dhauli near the river. It is called ‘the temple at the border’ (bahirañgeśwara) since it marked the limits of Ekāmrakṣetra, which itself is the area of land used to support the Liṅgarāja temple in Bhubaneshwar on the other side of the Daya River. It is also called Śañkeśwara Temple (dedicated to Śañka, aka Śiva).

The family has long since given land to the priests of Bahirañgeśwara for its maintenance. There is some record of this donation somewhere. Each year still the priests come to the family to receive gifts of rice etc. for the upkeep of the temple.

Dhauli has fallen on evil days. The government also expropriated more family land for the new park around Dhauli, which has become sort of theme park. Drug addicts frequent it and people bring prostitutes here. Thieves come here to plot their next job. Saumya will not use the Śañkeśwara Temple any more. He will rather go to a place like Astaraṅga near the river, an isolated spot, to do his practice.

Saumya’s paternal grandfather was also called Krutibash and was guru to about 150 villages in the area. (??) He was a doctor in Ayurveda sciences, a generous man who provided a considerable sum to restore the temple of the goddess at Uttara on the Puri road. He also restored the Krishna temple in front of Kunu’s new house and the Śiva temple a little further along.

Saumya’s father is Mr. D.C. Tripathy, former teacher on pension. His wife Mīta is also a teacher. She was married at the age of 14. She has always led a very quiet life in the house.

Saumya’s father’s house is built opposite the temple to Krishna, which is being repaired. Other Brahmins do the daily rituals. The family also expanded the small village temple to Śiva, which only had a lingam, constructing the superstructure.

Mr. D.C. Tripathy and his wife Mīta have three sons. Saumya (b. 1963) is the eldest. His wife is Sunanda. She teaches at the university and writes poetry in English and Sanskrit. Her English poems have been published in California. She lives in Pipli, I think. His parents do not want him to take sannyas till they have died, since if he does he cannot perform the funeral rites. The middle brother, Tini, is married with two children, a boy and a girl. He is a musician with an MA in music, specializing in tabla and violin. He mainly plays drums of all sorts in all styles of music, Indian, jazz, and is notable musician in Orissa. Kunu, or Kuni as his family calls him, the youngest, was born in about 1982. Mr. D.C. Tripathy and his wife Mīta have two daughters. The elder daughter lives with her husband, Mr. Das, near Paradvip where he intends to build a temple to Sai Baba. They have two children, a boy and a girl. Saumya’s younger sister is called Itee; her husband is Bubu and their daughter Sai Sri was born in about 2011.

Kunu’s uncle has recently (2014) built some shops on the matha-gadia. The family are sort of chatelaines.

The family are landowners. However, about 50 or 60 years ago, the Government told the land-owning families they could retain only 30 acres of their choice. The rest was confiscated and redistributed among the peasants.

Again in 1971 the Government of India cleared a section of forest, and the great pool was incorporated into an aquaculture institute, Central Institute of Fisheries Education (CIFE), the biggest in Asia, perhaps one square kilometer in extent. About 100 acres of this original pool still stands as part of the fish farm. They expropriated some 15 acres of the family land to establish the fish farm, and paid only 700 rupees per acre, a pittance. Saumya says his family has about 25 acres still remaining.

Inheritance is not by primogeniture. Sons can claim their inheritance, though Kunu says that they get on well and do not want to split the inheritance. Daughters do not claim inheritance since they have their husband’s wealth.



Saumya’s original name was Satyanarayan, from ‘satya’ truth and ‘narayan’, which is a name of Viṣṇu. However, he preferred the name ‘Saumya’ which means ‘decent’, since he did not wish to portray himself as the truth. He worked for Greenpeace but has retired. Since taking the vanapraṣṭha (‘forest dweller’) vow, he has taken on the name Śūnyānanda. Very many people come to the ashram to seek his advice and to receive teaching.

In earlier years was asked to produce a Devī Līlā, which he thought would be impossible but they insisted. So he began. He went to an abandoned house down from Dhauli Hill, part of a small Śiva temple complex, (Śañkeśwara Temple ??) to do austerities, and began to work on three enactments of the Devī Līlā based on the work of the Caṇḍī-tantra. He would work at a furious pace and eventually produced it. He also wrote plays about the story of Ganapati, the king of Orissa at the time of the Muslim invasion who was forced to convert to Islam and yet wished to restore the worship of Jagannath after the images were taken to Chilika Lake. The three plays were set to music by a friend of his and performed through the night till dawn. After this he went to live in Puri for 1½ years at the Kriyā ashram in Balighat near Puri, which Sannyasanand and I visited. Indeed, Hariharānandagiri was the guru of Saumya’s father at whose house he had stayed in Uttara. In this sense, Saumya is the grandson of Hariharānandagiri. He produced translations of three of the Upanishads, and other things. He always took with him the image of Kālī.

Saumya gets up at about 4 am. He does his practices, clean up, and then shower etc. He may have a small breakfast, the perform some rituals. It is now about 10 am. He will have a light lunch. He does not eat much, nor really eat in the evening. He does more practices in the afternoon, meditation and japa.

He has searched widely and has come to know many of the gurus and hermits and sannyasis of the area. He was a great help to me in meeting many of these, especially as he is fluent in Oriya, Bengali, Hindi and English, so he could serve as interpreter also. Many of the results of this search were published as ‘Field Work on the Kula Ritual in Orissa’, Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia 43 (2011) 49-60.

The ashram

The ashraKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAm we have constructed is on ancient family land. There may have once been a monastery here since the pond nearby is called matha-gadia which means ‘monastery pond’. It used to be forest, then it was a mango orchard, and then rice fields. His family provided the land; I provided the finance to build the house and the small Kālī temple.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMita helped us at the ashram. Her mother, who is 50 years old and primary school teacher, calls her Mitu. Her father died when she was six years old. Her younger brother was then only a few months old. He is now studying. Mita has already two master’s degrees but cannot get a job. She was teaching (?) but received only 2000 rupees per month. She has been chosen, remarkably, to do a Master’s in business administration, which she starts in February (c. 2006). She hopes to get a job in this way. She is very devout. We sat together for an hour on one occasion outside the Kālī mandir in meditation.

The Kālī mandir

uttara-kalimandir-external-1The Kālī mandir has been constructed over a former cobras’ lair. There are still two cobras on the ashram land, Saumya tells me, but they cause no trouble. They spend their time catching frogs and mice and are afraid of humans. Saumya also said that he had placed some objects under the foundation of the Kālī mandir but would not tell me exactly what they were. The custom of having 5 heads – pancha munda – is only for the support of someone doing spiritual practices.

Saumya has a priest, Dwivedi, nickname Dipu, come and do the daily pūjā. He lives in a house near the entrance of the village and does pūjā in other people’s houses. He is a pūjaka.


Saumya’s youngest brother is Kunu or Kuni, who is a devotee of Sai Baba. He conducts classes for children from the village on Sundays at the ashram and looks after the ashram while Saumya is away.

Kunu belongs to a group, which renewed its vow on the Indian New Year’s Eve, Mahasankranti, where about several hundred committed themselves to a program of education and service. There is another group in Bhubaneshwar, which numbers some thousands, which also commits itself to these purposes. One of the things they pledge to do is to sing bhajans around the villages singing the praises of Sai Baba and Viṣṇu (?) or Krishna (?).

Kunu and his group were involved in bringing supplies – waded in water up to their necks – to people stranded by the heavy floods that also devastated Bihar. Sai Baba sent money to help reestablish some villages.


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Kunu’s marriage was a arranged. The date for the wedding was not yet settled. Kunu went to Sai Baba’s ashram in Puttaparthi with some 300 poor people for whom the Sai Baba group in Bhubaneshwar had built houses. They were to receive the keys directly from Sai Baba.

Kunu with others performed a dance or ceremony depicting Saverī [sic] giving offerings to Rama. The story is that Saverī was about to be married, but when they were to kill a goat on the day of her wedding in order to provide meat, she left the wedding and went into the forest to the ashram of ? She donned the robes of a sannyasinī and made herself ugly with tattoos and by blackening herself. She swept the ashram clean during the absence of the guru while keeping herself hidden. Eventually he found her and in response to her devotion promised that Rama would one day come to visit her. The guru eventually dies and she continues to clean the ashram, waiting for Rama to come. She is 84 years old when at last he comes and she offers him fruit. Before doing so she tastes each fruit to see if it is sweet or sour. Some of Rama’s attendants conclude that this is insulting but Rama defends her. He gives her his blessing, the blessing of mukti. Kunu played the role of Saveri, dressed in women’s clothes, because in plays there can be no mingling of men and women, therefore men take on the woman’s role. All this was done in front of Sai Baba who of course is Rama. He wept at the memory of this incident; after all he is Rama and could remember the episodes with Saverī. At one point in the ceremony Kunu touched the feet of Sai Baba in worship. This meant an enormous amount to Kunu. Sai Baba asked why such a play would be performed. Kunu replied that the location of the story was a forest near Uttara and that in Orissa they were waiting for him, Sai Baba, to come as Savarī had waited for Rama to come. He, Sai Baba, was also now 84 years old. Sai Baba said that he would come one day. He sat a long time looking at Kunu. Photographs were taking of the whole group, including Sai Baba.

When he had finished his performance and also said a few words to Sai Baba, Kunu returned to his seat at which point his mobile phone rang and he received the news of the date of the wedding, which was to occur a few weeks later. This concatenation delighted him.

Kunu was married in on 3 May, 2009 to Rājālakshmi from Talcer who is also a devotee of Sai Baba. Her nickname is Minou. Her father is a priest to the king of the region. She fasts three times a week and sings the Vedas very well. She does what Kunu tells her. She has two brothers and two sisters, one of them her twin. The older sister was married to a very rich man but died of blood cancer (leukaemia?), some time after the wedding. This has caused great sadness but she was able to come for the wedding.

This date, 3 May, 2009, was the only one permitted by the horoscope; otherwise they would have had to wait a long time.

The marriage took place at a very hot time of the year (average summer temperature‎: ‎47 °C) in a region that is even hotter because of its coalmines. Early that morning Kunu with his brother Saumya and two busloads as well as several cars – one hundred people from Uttara village – made the 3.5 – 4 hour journey to Talcer to witness that section of the wedding where Kunu arrives, with great ceremony, at the house of his bride. Saumya took the role of his father. His father did in fact come but Kunu’s mother stayed at home so as to welcome people when they returned that night.

Before entering Talcer they stopped at a house that had been prepared for them so that they could have some tiffin and generally freshen up. The family greeted them on entering the city. When they arrived by car, adorned with flowers, at the family home, which was situated near the river and near the palace, Kunu was greeted at the car by the uncle of the bride who was to do the honours. Kunu was taken literally by the thumb while an umbrella was held over his head. He was escorted to a low seat where his feet were washed. He was basically being treated as a god on his wedding day. Then vermilion, sandal paste and turmeric were placed at the eyebrow centre and small black markings at the outer corners of his eyes to ward off evil-eye.

He was then escorted to the place of sacrifice, the yagya. His bride was brought to him and her hand was placed in his right hand, as a jewel, since he was to keep her and protect her. Kunu then made mention, for me, of the Christian marriage vow, which speaks of being true in all the circumstances of life. It is the moment of ‘giving the young woman’ (kanya-dhana). The ceremonies were then performed. They all went back that same evening to Uttara since it was inauspicious to enter the family home at Uttara on the day after, the 4th.

Some time after there was a large feast at Uttara, in the open space in front of our ashram, for some 800 people, to welcome the bride and groom. It was prepared by caterers. Kunu wanted the food to be purely vegetarian, in keeping with the role he had played before Sai Baba.

The fires and kitchen were located right down the other end near the building looking onto the Puri road. The guests arrived at about 7 and were gone by 9.30, although some stayed on longer. The poor people of the village, from the ‘slums’ as Kunu put it, also came and were not refused.

It is normally the custom that the bride and groom will not make any pūjā to the goddess for five days after their wedding. But Kunu and Minou made an exception this time, and as they came to the ashram they prayed for a while at the little shrine to Kālī.

The fence was removed and Kunu and his wife sat on chairs in front of my house with a curtain behind them to receive well-wishers. There were garlands of lights around the whole area where the great numbers of guests were received. Kunu’s brother and his group provided the music.

Kunu and the devotional singing

 In 2010 Kunu and some friends produced a CD of song belonging to Sai Baba. They were recorded live, once, with no retouching. Kunu sings in all of them but particularly in items 2, 3, 5, 11, 17, 19, and 20. He presented a copy of the CD to Sai Baba when he and Minou visited him in August, and he took the CD in one hand and placed his other hand over it in blessing. During that time, they stayed in separate quarters for men and women. Minou’s job was to clean the veranda outside Sai Baba’s room and decorate it with drawings. A huge honour.

When Sai Baba passed away in 2011, Kunu and his group held their own ceremony here in Orissa, at the same time as the ceremony in Puttaparthi.

Kunu will go to Berhampur in first week of January 2011 to for a conference on the use of Sai Baba’s chants for healing. There will be about 3000 people. One thousand of them will go through the streets in the morning and gather in places to sing bhajans in prise of Sai Baba, Krishna, Jesus, Allah, etc. He has a nice singing voice. I asked for a copy of his CD.

On the Sunday after Mahasankranti, 2011, Kunu gathered with 121 others to sing Vedic chants to Rudra, some from the kṛṣṇa section from the śukra section, to ward off the anger of Rudra and to obtain his blessing. This was on the advice of Sai Baba. They chanted from memory but when it came to the kṛṣṇa section they sang from sheets, lest if they made a mistake Rudra would be angry. They also asked his forgiveness if they had made mistakes at any point. They were grouped in 11 sets of 11, each with their own liñgam while there was a large marble liñgam in the centre. They chanted the sections in turn and did abhisheka each time. This was because of the many dangers facing the world, earthquakes, and floods etc., which are a sign of Rudra’s anger. It lasted about 4 hours. There were many people there.

In 2012, January, there was a large meeting of devotees, about 3000 of them, at a place in Balangir district. Kunu was involved in the singing, with the 3000 gathered in rows singing bhajans. Some were carried away by the fervor and began to dance, though the whole thing was very orderly. They made plans about the future activities.

 A tribal marriage custom

Kunu related that recently he was among the tribals in the town of Rayagada in Rayagada district, which is a major centre of Maoist guerrilla activity, and saw a large crowd of people. The following custom happens from time to time on a set day. The parents bring their girls, aged about 14 or 15. The young men may choose any one of them and drag her away. If he is challenged by another young man they must fight it out, and the stronger one drags her away protesting and crying while her parents also cry. But this is the arrangement and everyone knows it is the custom. The young man drags her away and that is it. That is the marriage ceremony, nothing else!

The girls have to marry young and the boys too since by the age of 40 they will be too weak to work much more and they need the security of a family.

Kanhu (LH side) and Babu

 KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAKanhu is a baul from near Midnapur in Bengal. His ancestors arrived in the region of Dharacoli near Baripada near Balasore about 80 years ago. Kahnu still performs some Baul practices Saumya will go with Kahnu, after the new Kālī Temple is finished (in which various bones, skulls etc. will be placed in a box under the image of Kālī), to beg on the streets, going from house to house, Saumya with a drum and Kahnu with cymbals. This would happen in Kahnu’s village, Dharakoli, and elsewhere.

In 2004 I spent a couple of days with Kanhu (P. Kumardas) at his house in Dharakoli. During the course of the night after first meeting me he asked Kālī about me, whom he worships in the form of a child. And her reply to him was “He is one of us”, “He belongs”.

Kanhu was initiated by the father of Ananta (who was initiated by the father of Kanhu and married Kanhu’s sister. Kanhu has four children: Dulu his eldest son, born 1985, a daughter Duli, a second son Iti, and youngest son. Kanhu said, through Saumya, that I should have come there to his ashram a long time go, and that I had reached a level of consciousness whereby I need not come to the murti of Kālī but could appeal to her anywhere.

I have contributed significantly to the construction of the Kālī Temple. In fact the money I gave to Saumya for the research in Orissa was redirected to its construction. Again, when I sent him $500 in November of 2010 in preparation for my visit here, he gave it immediately to Kanhu for the construction of the tower. He had been wondering how to finance this, and suddenly the email came informing him of the gift. So the structure is complete. Now remain the plastering and decorating.


Although Kahnu has designated his younger son as heir and will empower him, it is Saumya who will instruct the boy (aged about 15). Although the boy is somewhat pampered, Saumya is strict with him. It may also happen that Kanhu will designate another person from the group as his successor

The four temples surrounding the ashram:

 To the south:   the Buddhist Stupa, as we have already seen.


 To the north:            The Ligarāja temple in Bhubaneshwar        dedicated to Śiva

 KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough Kunu and his family are Brahmins they would not be allowed to serve in the Liṅgarāja temple. Families who have served for generations provide the services there. The king would have provided vast tracts of land to those families for the maintenance of the temple, and they have kept the traditions down through the ages. They have their own ways of doing things. There are also families who supply the flowers, who provide the music etc. These families have maintained the traditions and others may not usurp their role.

To the south:            The Jagannath (Viṣṇu) temple at Puri

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe great temple at Puri has some sort of authority over the other temples in Odisha and other states in the east of India. That is, it can determine certain ritual matters, the time of an eclipse and so on. They will not decide matters that have been traditional. However, if a dispute is brought before them, they will decide. Bishwambar, who came to perform a ceremony at the ashram’s Kālī temple, is a member of that council of priests at Puri.

Puri has an immense treasure of gold and jewels. The government officials once came to try to evaluate the value of the jewels but gave up. This is true also of Tirupati, the great temple in Andhra Pradesh, the wealthiest in the country.

The temple at Puri feeds hundreds of thousand of people every day.

Before the god is put to bed, symbolically speaking, dancers will come to pleasure him. There are other times of the day also when he is symbolically served food, with different sorts of food for different times of the day.

Kunu told the story of how the statue was first made. It was a long story and I may not have remembered it all. He has a good knowledge of all the details. Every twelve years a new statue is carved. The priests of Puri gather at the temple of the goddess Maṅgalā at Kakatpur, which I saw only from the outside, as entry is not permitted to foreigners. They will wait, in fasting and meditation, for a vision of where the tree is to be found. The goddess will reveal in which forest etc they will find a neem tree; it is always a neem tree since its wood resists insects boring into it. The tree must have certain markings on it that are appropriate to Vishnu such as the discus, etc. This tree is then brought in great procession to Puri. It is carved by families of artisans who have done this for centuries. At a certain stage an old priest is selected. His task is to transfer the brahmapiṇḍa – which is the essence of Krishna from when he was killed by a Savara, a wild tribal huntsmen – from the old statue of Lord Jagannath to the new one. The piṇḍa is very powerful; the battery so to speak, says Kunu. The old priest will be blindfolded and must not see what he is transferring. He will die soon after. This is what usually happens.

The statues are transferred each year from the main temple in Puri to the house of Raniguṇḍikā, to pay her a visit. This is the procession on the great carts, the ‘juggernaut’. Raniguṇḍikā has an important part to play. She is considered to be the aunt of Lord Jagannath. She was the queen in the story of the formation of the statue, which goes as follows. When the time came for the statue to be produced, the Lord Vishnu told the king in a dream that three logs would be washed up on the seashore. These were taken to the king’s palace. He then brought carvers from all around but they could not make even an incision in the wood, it was so hard. Then one day an old man came and asked to carve the statue. He was in fact Viśvakarma, the former Lord of the universe. He was eventually allowed to enter the room where the logs were kept. He insisted on not being disturbed for seven days. The queen Raniguṇḍikā, however, was impatient so after a few days, when she could hear nothing from inside, ordered her guards to break down the door. They went in but the old man had vanished. They found the completed statues there.

The statues are more than life size. They are located on a platform in which thousands of black stones taken from deep in the Ganges have been placed. They are considered to be very ‘alive’, as Kunu says. There is also another statue of Jagannath with the arms, hands, legs and feet made of pure gold.

To the east:               The 64 Yoginīs Temple

To the east of the ashram there is a circular tantric temple open to the sky dedicated to the Sixty-Four Yoginīs; It is one of the only two complete 64 Yoginī Temples in all of India. The tantric connections are sure but unclear.



[1] P.C. Das History of Orissa. Third Revised Edition. New Delhi, Kalyani Publishers, 2004. p.52.

[2] P.C. Das History of Orissa p.51.

About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
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