Teaching a God

Temple Tale | Ishaneshwara

In the north-eastern corner of the Jagannatha temple is a humble shrine. A temple of Shiva, it is not a magnificent structure. However, the inner chamber of this small shrine, where the shiva-linga is enshrined, is buried deep under the plinth- about 25 feet below the temple floor.

This temple only has a single door facing towards the north, which is rather strange for a Hindu Temple. Nonetheless, when one enters the temple, the inner door faces the east. Since the temple is located in the north-eastern corner of the entire temple complex, the deity is called Aishaneshwara or Ishaneshwara, Aishanya being the Sanskrit word for the north-east direction.

The ancient Odia poet, Kabisurya Baladeba Ratha mentions Ishaneshwara in the first song of his incomplete imaginary epic-poem, Chandrakala. That he chooses to talk about this deity while describing the temple complex indicates the god’s fame.

ଈଶାନ ପ୍ରଭାବ ପ୍ରଭୁ ଈଶାନନାଥର |
ସମଗ୍ରତା ସେ କରିବେ ମୋ ମନୋରଥର ଯେ ||
Ishaneshwara, as brilliant as the sun- surely (he) will fulfill my wishes.

According to historians, this temple is older than the present temple of Jagannatha himself. Interestingly, the word ‘Ishana’ can also mean preceptor- and hence, folk traditions speak of this form of Shiva being the teacher of Lord Jagannatha. Shiva is often portrayed as a teacher, as in the famous Dakshinamurti form- however, what makes this example unique is the idea of a God teaching another. Jagannatha has an uncle, an aunt, a brother, a sister- and a teacher too.

The entire idea surely conveys one message, and does that effectively- that even God needs a teacher.

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