Raghunath Besha – One of the reasons that draw devotees to Lord Jagannath is perhaps the unique rituals and festivals performed for him. They include common activities of a human life taking from morning ablutions [Abakasa] to slumber [Pahuda], from summer boat ride on a cool lake [Chandan Yatra on Narendra tank] to winter luxury to be draped in warm clothes [Ghodalagi Besha], from taking medicine during a two week long illness [Anavasara] to go for an outing with the siblings to his aunt’s house [Rath Yatra] and so on.
In addition to this, special attention has been given on the variety of food [Chhapan Bhoga] and clothing [Vesa/Besha] offered to him, perhaps to make sure that he is not fed up with a routine-menu. Here, we shall focus on one of the 24 major Beshas of Lord Jaganath named Raghunath Besha. Out of the rest 23 Beshas 22 are conducted every year while the Nagarjuna Besha is held rarely but not as rarely as the Raghunath Besha.
So rare is the Raghunatha Besha of Lord Jagannath that devotees and even the priests of Jagannath temple are wistful about not being able to witness this much talked about Besha and only wish they could get the opportunity to see it at least once in their lifetime. According to the record of rights of Sri Mandir, Utkal Dipika, Prachina Utkala and various other sources Raghunath Besha has been conducted only 9 times in the last 500 years and the last one done was long back in 1905. Financial and administrational constraints are evidently the reasons for which this beautiful Besha is held so rarely.
This Besha looks like the court room of Lord Rama. Unlike other Beshas, several other idols are seen together with Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. They are- Bharata, Vibhisana, Sushena, Dadhimukha, Nala, Jambavana, Shatrughna, Sugreeva, Angada, Vayumukha, Lakshmana[Balabhadra], Hanuman, Nila, Narada, Indra, Brahma, Kubera, Nairuta, Vashishta, Vamadeva, Jabali, Kashyapa, Katyayana, Sujagyan, Gautama, Vijaya, Vayudeva, Gavaya, Rishabha, Dwividha, Niyuda, and Sumanta.
All these 32 statues are seated on a long throne-like wooden platform temporarily made for the occasion that extends from the Ratna Singhasana to the Kalahata Dwara. Many precious jewelry and ornaments are used to decorate the deities. That’s why this Besha is also called Shringara Besha. Lord Jagannath, in form of Rama, holds a bow in Veerasana posture adorned with the jewelries. Sugreeva, Jambavana, Nala, Nila, Sushena, Angada, Hanuman, Vibhisana, etc stand near them.
The Raghunath Besha is conducted only on the day on which Lord Rama’s coronation ceremony falls in the month of Vaishakha. There are two different accounts regarding the period in which Raghunath Besha was first observed. According to one it was Ramanujacharya who initiated this Besha in the 12th century as he felt Lord Jagannath and Raghunath [Sri Ram] are indistinguishable in their identity.
In Pausha Purnima after the Abhisheka of the deities Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra were attired in royal court costumes to represent Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. The other relates that Gajapati Ramachandra Dev had this Besha conducted in the 11th year of his regime during the 16th century precisely on the tithi of Vaishakha Krushna Dashami in the year 1577. He had lots of jewelry made which were to be used on the occasion. He also declared himself as Indradyumna [4th?] on Shravana Shukla Navami tithi and introduced a golden seal named Ramabhisheka Mohar. To commemorate this special Besha he established the village Bira Ramchandrapur Sasan.
The 2nd Raghunath Besha was conducted in 1739 followed by the subsequent ones in the years 1809, 1833, 1842, 1850, 1893, 1896 and 1905. These Beshas were usually sponsored by the kings, jamindars and Gajapati. In 1969, November 17, Baba Jagatananda Das appealed for the observation of the Besha. But the Vesa could not be held because Baba failed to arrange the required money and ornaments to be used on the occasion. Again in the year 1983 the district collector presided a meeting consisting temple administrators, servitors and other officials in order to conduct Raguhunath Besha. However the project did not materialize even after 4 or 5 of such meetings.
There is no knowing when the Besha will be held next time, so devotees with a sigh leave everything over to Him and have decided to pray and wait.