Devotee pedals 150 km daily to offer flowers to Lord Jagannath despite lockdown

Cuttack: Call it an abundant devotion or an ardent passion for Lord Jagannath! Amid COVID-19 lockdown restrictions across the country, a middle-aged man in Odisha is pedalling 150 km from Banki to reach pilgrim town Puri everyday to satisfy his inner thirst.

At a time people are looking forward to spend their tough days by sitting at homes with a great hope to recover from COVID-19 crisis, a 57-year-old Ratnakar Behera alias Guna Baba is counting days for holy darshan of Lord Jagannath in Puri.

After preparing garlands of flowers and tulsi (holy basil) for the Lord, Guna Baba, a resident of Bedapur village under Banki Block in Cuttack district, used to cycle over a hundred kilometer daily from his home to Puri to offer the garlands to Lord Jagannath at Srimandir.

Source said that Ratnakar begins his journey towards the holy pilgrimage on his bicycle in wee hours from Banki and returns on the same day by evening with Mahaprasad, which he distributes among devotees of Lord Jagannath at his native place. This has been his everyday lifestyle during lockdown.

However, visiting to Puri Srimandir with flowers and tulsi for Lord Jagannath is an everyday affair of the devotee since over three decades. Before enforcement of lockdown, he was heading to Puri on his own arrangement and returning to home after having darshan of deities.

Source said that Ratnakar has been offering garlands of fragrant flowers as mentioned in the list of Srimandir rituals and bunches of tulsi leaves to Lord Jagannath in Puri when he was only 26 years old. He used to reach Puri in the evening and offer the garlands to deities for Badasinghar Besha at the temple. Neither the devastating cyclone FANI nor COVID-19 pandemic could hinder him from stepping towards the Lord’s abode.

Adding this activity to one’s routine life may sound astonishing. As everything has a reason, he has a story behind performing his act.

According to Ratnakar, the strong enthusiasm for offering garlands and tulsi to Lord Jagannath was developed in his mind when he had first visited Puri to attend an engagement ceremony long years ago.

Revealing the reason, he narrated that one of his relatives had invited him to get ready for attending an engagement ceremony scheduled at Markanda Sahi in Puri. However, everyone left for Puri in a bus without calling him. He managed to reach Puri town in the evening. After having darshan of Lord Jagannath, he could not be able to make his way back to home at night. He returned to village next morning.

Being over flown by powerful devotion, he wanted to have darshan of deities everyday. He followed his heart and started journey in a bus next day. When he found flowers and tulsi in everyone’s hands, he decided to prepare garlands of flowers for the deities. When he entered into the temple with flowers, the servitors denied to accept it and threw it away citing that the garland prepared using thread is not allowed for offering to deities at Srimandir.

Later, he made garlands with thread prepared from banana tree trunk and went into the shrine. However, his garlands were rejected by the servitors for the second time. Being upset with the servitors, the heartbroken devotee started weeping on the Bada Danda (Grand Road) as his wishes could not be fulfilled and he had to return from the temple without offering the garlands that he had prepared for the deities. In the meantime, one of the servitors stood by him and gave him a list of flowers that are offered to deities at Srimandir.

On receiving suggestion from the servitor, Ratnakar followed the list and prepared garlands of flowers and tulsi leaves. He has been offering those to Lord Jagannath at Srimandir everyday. After having darshan, he used to visit the Charchika Temple, the presiding deity of Banki, along with Bidia Paan (betel coated without lime) and Biri Peetha (a variety of popular sandwich in Odisha) and offer those to the Goddess.

This has been his everyday schedule since past 31 years. However, the COVID-19 lockdown has affected his routine life in a past few days. As the doors of all the temples are closed for devotees across Odisha, he explored a unique way to get his mission unhindered.

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