Sunday 3 March 2013

The consort of Jagannatha who eats non-vegetarian food once an year

She is the consort of Jagannatha of Puri, one of the holiest shrines in India. She eats only after Jagannatha has had his fill.  
Since Jagannatha is a strict vegetarian, all dishes are vegetarian and they are offered to him as Prasad and then the Goddess.
However, once an year, the goddess turns non-vegetarian and she is offered meat and fish. During this time, Vaishnavas are barred from entering the temple and the non-veg food is offered to her before the doors of the Jagannatha temple are opened. You see, Jagannatha otherwise would get angry if he sees his consort having the choicest non-veg fare.
This is Goddess Vimala who resides near Jagannatha in a separate temple. This temple is within the compound of the sprawling Jagannatha temple at Puri in Orissa.
 The Goddess survives on the remnants or left overs (Ucchishta) of Jagannath's meals. After they are placed before her, the vegetarian food is sanctified as mahaprasada.
The mahaprasad consists of dried rice mixed with grated coconut, cheese, curd and butter. The Shankaracharya, who is also the head of the Govardhana matha, receives a pot of the mahaprasad and a plate of Khichdi that is offered to the Goddess. 
There is an interesting behind the offering the left over, which otherwise is a taboo in Hindu religion. Shiva once visited Vishnu in his Vaikunta. He saw that a few food grains (Ucchishta) had fallen on the ground after Vishnu finished his meal.
Shiva then picked up a grain of the Ucchishta and swallowed it. However, another grain stuck on to his beard. Narada saw it and he ate it. This angered Parvati who felt that she should have been offered the grain as she is the other half of  Shiva.
She then came to Vishnu and complained about it. Vishnu then pacified her,  saying that in the Kali Yuga, she would live at Puri as Vimala, and would daily eat the remnants of  the food offered to him.
The only time in the year when separate food is cooked for Vimla is when she is offered non-vegetarian offerings. This happens only during Durga Puja.
Vimala, who is an avatar of Durga, is  offered non-vegetarian food and animal sacrifice as she is considered to assume a destructive form during the festival. Meat is, therefore, considered necessary to placate her. A he goat is sacrificed in her temple during pre dawn hours and this is done in total secrecy. Fish from the sacred Markanda temple tank is  cooked and offered to Vimala, as per Tantric rituals.
All these rituals have to be completed before the doors of the main sanctum of the vegetarian Jagannath are opened at dawn and the first morning arti is offered to him. During this period, Vaishnava devotees of Jagannath are barred from entering the temple. The few who witness the ceremony are given the Bimala parusa (Vimala's cuisine) as prasad.
Devotees forst visit this temple and then see Jagannatha.
The Rohini kunda or the tirtha (sacred pool) of  Vimala temple is  considered holy. Tantrics often visit the temple, which they consider more important than the central Jagannath shrine.
Interestingly, women are not allowed to enter the Vimala temple during the 16-day Durga pooja festival which generally occurs in October. Vimala is then supposed to take on a more destructive form and women are considered too “weak-hearted” to witness her.
The Vimala Temple faces east and is built of sandstone and laterite. The temple was renovated by the ASI in 2005.
Puri is in Orissa and it is easily approachable by road or rail. It is well connected to all parts of India. Bubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa, is 60 kms away and the journey takes a little more than an hour.
Puri is also famous for the Govardhana matha, one of the four, established by Shankaracharya. Its beach is famous for being ideal to swim.  

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