A deep insight – Thanks to B. N. Patnaik.
Hera Panchami is ‚Darshan on the fifth day‘ of Ratha Yatra festival and the sixth day of waxing moon.
It is the festival of the devotee and Bhagavan, from one perspective, from another, it is the festival of hurt and anger. From the Bada Deula (‚Big Temple‘ or ‚Shri Mandira‘), Goddess Lakshmi comes to the Gundicha Temple to have darshan of Jagannatha, her spouse.
Jagannatha goes with brother Balabhadra, sister Subhadra and Sudarshana (about whose relationship with Jagannatha there is no unanimity among scholars. It is generally accepted that he is His main weapon, He being a form of Lord Vishnu) for Rath Yatra and leaves Lakshmi behind in the temple. He seems to have left for the Yatra festival in a hurry – the dori (literally ‚rope‘) of the devotees pulled Him, what else is there to say! – how else does one make sense of the fact that He did not make proper arrangements for her, who looks after Him with total devotion for about ten months of a year, for the period He was going to be away? Ten months, because for one month she is away at her father’s place and His mother looks after Him. During His illness and return to the Temple after Ratha Yatra which lasts for a little less than a month, she does not cook for Him.
In any case, because of His lapse, the Goddess, who is the provider of food to every living being and the giver of wealth and prosperity to who she is pleased with, has to depend on what the pilgrims give her as offering. Understandably, the Goddess feels humiliated. Two days before the Snan Yatra (bathing festival) she, Shridevi, along with Bhudevi, is separated from Jagannatha, and on the day of Snan Yatra, Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshana – all fall sick. During their sickness and recovery, Lakshmi is not with her consort. The Deities are taken care of by a category of servitors, known as daitas, who are considered to be His traditional and very dear worshippers. No one but them (and pati mahapatra, a non-daita servitor) has access to the Deities during those fifteen days.
And the very day after Their complete recovery, before she meets Him, He goes for Ratha Yatra. Imagine! But some poet-devotees have tried to redeem the situation for her – Jagannath does meet her before He goes for the Yatra, and assures her that He would return soon. The Deities go to Gundicha Mandir, a small temple, some three kilometers away from the Big Temple. There they stay for a week and then start Their journey back to the Great Temple. During their return journey They stay in the rathas for about three four days, depending on considerations of no relevance to us for now.
Lakshmi is angry when her lord does not return even after four days from the point of view of Shri Jagannatha Lilamrita; from the more popular point of view, she is confused and feels insecure about His treatment of her. As Rukmini, she had married Him only three days (on ekadasi) before the Snan Yatra (on purnima – the full moon day). A day after the wedding, daitas take charge, and she could no more be with her lord. She is worried that her spouse may not be interested in her, and must have gone out for others’ company. His fondness for Radha was not unknown to her. Then there is another side to His behavior; He has taken His sister with Him; so the sister and not the wife, then, is His preferred companion! She is assailed by jealousy. She consults the other goddesses who are in the Big Temple and receives their sympathy and support. Goddess Bimala, a form of Shakti, advises her to go to Him, taking with her a charmed powder to put on her consort somehow, without arousing His suspicion. The charm would work and He would return. Thus, on the fifth day of the twelve-day Rath Yatra festival, in the late hours of the night, Lakshmi sets out in regal style to meet her consort.
She takes the same road on which the rathas had rolled just three days ago: Bada Danda (“Grand Road”), the main road of the town. She comes to the hall of the Gundicha Temple and from there sees, from that little distance, her lord in the sanctum sanctorum. At that time, the ritual of sandhya dhoopa (evening food offering) was taking place. She receives agyan mala (garland of permission) from Him.
She has His permission for what she would do. Now, before she is able to have an eye-fill of Him, the doors of the sanctum sanctorum close. Lakshmi feels the doors have banged on her; she feels utterly unwelcome. And her humiliation has taken place in the presence of outsiders – many, many devotees witnessing the ritual of food offering. In frustration, embarrassment, anger and humiliation, she leaves the hall, and as she returns to Bada Deula, the angry Goddess breaks a piece from Jagannath’s ratha, named Nandighosha. She returns to the temple like an ordinary woman, without her regal style. She does not take the Grand Road but a narrow by lane called ‚Hera Gohiri‘. As a woman who has felt unwanted by her spouse, she has fallen in her own self-esteem; so, she could feel no more at ease with the regal style.
By the way, she really had no reason to feel let down. At a late stage during the ritual of food offering, those doors close for the last part of the ritual to be performed inside closed doors. There was nothing unusual about it and there was no cause for taking offence. It was just that the Goddess had arrived when the offering had reached that stage. But in the disturbed state of mind, she was in, at that point of time, she thought, quite understandably, that the closing of the door indicated her Lord’s unhappiness at her presence in the Gundicha Temple. The tatwiks may say what they want; say, for example, that Bhagavan was in the company of those dearest to Him, namely, His bhaktas, and at such times nothing else matters to either Bhagavan or the bhaktas. But at the laukik (‚mundane‘) level, the wife feels neglected and humiliated at her lord’s indifference. And those who would study both Lakshmi Puran and this narrative together, would find in the former the story of empowerment of woman, and might, in the latter, a reflection of the social reality in which the woman feels, rightly or wrongly, that her sensitivities are generally not respected by her man.
The Hera Panchami narrative is not the end of the Lakshmi- Jagannatha story in the context of the Rath Yatra rituals; the ritual is over but the narrative continues. It is continued in the ritual called Niladri Bije (roughly, ‚return to the temple‘). Whether the charmed powder worked on Him or not we would not know but preparations for Bahuda (the Return Ratha Yatra) start on the day following the Goddess’s visit. She avenges herself during her Lord’s return to the temple at the end of Rath Yatra.
After Sudarshan, Balabhadra and Subhadra enter the sanctum sanctorum, she closes the doors of the Temple on Jagannath. The hurt Goddess can think of punishing only her spouse, as any hurt woman would. She cannot offend her elder brother-in-law or sister-in-law and bring disgrace to herself. The temple doors close twice; first close the doors of the Lion’s Gate, which is the main entrance to the Temple, and then close the doors to the inner hall, known as ‚Jaya Bijaya dwara‘. Skipping many details of this fascinating engagement, we would only say here that after much argument between Lakshmi and Jagannatha, much persuasion, much appeal to the Goddess to see reason and much pleading by her lord, Lakshmi relents and allows Him to enter, and she is happy as Jagannatha feeds her the delicious sweet, rasagola, at that moment of reconciliation. As far as we know, the Hera Panchami part of the Rath Yatra story has not attracted as much attention of the poets as the one concerning Lakshmi’s closing of the entry doors to Jagannath during Niladri Bije. The quarrel between Lakshmi Jagannatha has many published versions but the authentic text of the exchange between the devadasis and the daita servitors at the Jaya Bijaya door is unpublished and unavailablej.
Lakshmi is not conceptualized in the Ratha Yatra narrative as a weak Goddess. Here she emerges as a devoted housewife in a traditional household. She doesn’t live with her husband alone. She expresses her anger, when she feels hurt and let down, and she fights, but she is not a home-breaker; she reconciles, obeying family values. In Krishna Das’s account of the altercation between her and Jagannatha, she relents when her elder brother-in-law, Lord Balabhadra, intervenes and asks her to forget what had happened and let Jagannath in. She is from a great family, he tells her, and she should not take such small things to heart. Other versions have somewhat different stories of reconciliation but in none of these she emerges as vindictive, obdurate, unloving and unforgiving – not in the least. In the Ratha Yatra narrative, she is the Goddess of happiness and joy.
For further reading
The story of Bala Dhupa
The story of Rai