The Lotus Attire
Specials | Padma Besha
Odisha was a land of great rulers- great kings, great warriors and great patrons of the arts. Towards the last part of the tenth century, ruled the King Udyota Keshari. During the period of that great ruler, lived Manohar Das, a great sadhu. He had spent his entire life meditating on the Mahendra range. He lived in the village of Shahpur, far, far, away from the town of Puri. However, he would regularly visit Puri, only for a glimpse of his Lord. He would happily gaze at their faces, primitive, pristine. Fulfilled, he would return back to his meditation. So famed was he that even Mattabhanu Deva, brother of the last ruler of the Ganga dynasty, would come to him for his advice. He was his guru. People rushed to him, and he rushed to Purushottama.
One winter, Manohar felt a great longing to see his Lord. With his small bag, he set out towards Puri. Through forest tracks and crossing flowing rivers, he would keep walking, unflinching from his goal. At nights, he would halt at nearby settlements or monasteries, and the next day, he would set out again. One day, while walking, he felt thirsty. Unable to find any waterbodies nearby, he kept walking. Soon, he reached a village. In it was a pond. Filling his hands with water, he quenched his thirst. But when he stood up, he saw an enchanting sight- lotuses. The pond was full of lotuses. He was amazed- it was unnatural to find so many lotuses in this winter season. Those red and white lotuses stirred in him a desire to offer them to his Lord at Puri. Delighted, he plucked a lot of flowers, and tied them in his spare towel- his gamuchha. Carrying his towel with care, he marched on. After days and days, on the dark fortnight in the month of Magha, he reached Puri. At the Bada-Chhata Math, he unknotted his towel, but alas! All the flowers had dried up. Still, he entered the temple through the Singhadwara, and requested the servitors to offer his Lord those flowers brought so lovingly. But when the sevayats saw those rotten flowers, they scolded him-”How dare you bring such flowers for Jagannatha? Each day, hundreds of garlands of fresh flowers and tulsi leaves are offered to him. Why should he accept your offering?”. Another rebuked him-”Rotten flowers in a dirty towel, that’s what you offer your deities? Sage? You are a fake soul.”. Disheartened, Manohar walked away quietly. So great was his grief and anger at this humiliating rejection by Lord Jagannatha that he fainted near the Bada-Chhata Math.
At that time, the Rajaguru Bhavadeva was the person in charge of the Temple. The same night, Jagannatha appeared in his dream-”How dare you throw my devotee Manohar out? Bring him and fulfill his demand.” The frightened Rajaguru immediately awoke and began searching for a sadhu called Manohar. He found Manohar, and his flowers were given to the sevayats. As soon as the rotten flowers touched Lord Jagannatha, they bloomed into divine flowers, fresh and fragrant as ever. That night, there was no Badasinghara Besha, the regular nighttime costume. Lord Jagannatha wished to remain in this attire. As per the Lord’s direction, a special khiri was made out of Padma Chaula.
When Manohar Das saw the divine sight, he was mesmerised. He ate the special khiri, and was revived to life. Enchanted, he sang out-
कमल नयन पंकज वदन पुरुषोत्तम जगदीशा ।
कमल निवह मम धरिह प्रभु अंत न पावत शेषा ।
चरण कमल युग विमल सकल चराचर धाम ।
भावत दास मनोहर निरत पंकज भूषण श्याम ॥
And so, since that day, the triad is dressed in Padma Besha, the lotus attire, using lotus flowers made from the spongy pith of a plant [ Aeschynomene aspera, Odia : Sola, ଶୋଲ ] and banana stem. This is because lotus flowers do not grow naturally during this season. During this Besha, the deities are covered with blankets, called Ghoda. And so, this Besha is only done on Wednesdays or Saturdays between Magha Amavasya and Vasanta Panchami, since on those days, the blanket being green and black respectively, the white Lotus designs shine resplendently.