Bhubaneswar: Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannatha, otherwise known as the ‘Sri Kshetra’ or ‘Purushottama Kshetra’ is a place of several rituals, colourful jatras (festivals) and living traditions.
Though there is no denial of it being a strong seat of Vaisnavism, it is the melting pot of several other cults like Saiva, Sakti, Ganapatya and Saura to form the cosmopolitan Jagannatha cult.
Unlike other places, ‘Durga Puja’ one of the important colourful festivals of the Shakti pantheon is observed here as the ‘Gosani Jatra’. This Jatra is unique to Puri and is an indigenous cultural trait of the holy city, not found elsewhere.
The peculiarity here is huge clay idols of Mahisha-asura-mardini-Goddess Durga as the killer of the buffalo-demon are worshipped as Gosanis every year in the month of Asvina (October).
Gosanis look earthy, robust and muscular, fierce with their gaze at the buffalo demon-Mahisha-asura. The buffalo demon looks up at her while she looks down at him, pulling his hair with her hands, strangulating him with a serpent and piercing him with her trident, while kicking him in the chest. The eyes of the Gosani and the buffalo demon locked in combat.
Some of the Gosanis are eight-handed unlike the common image of Goddess Durga which has ten hands.
In Gosanis, the maternal form of Goddess Durga is downplayed and so she is not usually linked to her children Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi and Saraswati. In many Gosani images only sons accompany the mother to battle.
In most cases, the Mahisa-asura in Gosani images is depicted in theriomorphic (head is of a buffalo while the body is of a human being).
Gosani images are coloured by primary colours and built in typical Odishan style. While yellow colour is applied to the Goddess, blue/green is applied to the demon.
The decoration of these images is also indigenous in nature with sola (Indian cork) and jari work. The crown, ornaments, attributes and the halo are made of sola and jari.
Another speciality of Gosani images is that the artist after applying colour to the images draw a ‘Devi Yantra’ on the chest of the image and cover it with new clothes around the body of the Goddess.
Like Gosanis, gigantic images of Naga are also made and worshipped during Gosani Jatra. These large male images symbolise heroism and valour.
According to some scholars, ‘Nagas’ are one of the Saiva sects set up by Adi Sankaracharya. The sadhus of this Naga sect besides being Shiva worshippers also practise wrestling and in the olden days were instrumental in defeating Buddhists.
In medieval days they played a great role by resisting Muslim aggression in Puri.
Moreover, the Naga images represent the Jaga-Akhada culture of Puri.
Now coming to the concept of the Gosani, the meaning of the word has several meanings and is locked in mystery.
It is believed that the Gosanis are the associated Saktis of the supreme Goddess Durga during her war with Mahisa-asura. It is for pacifying these terrifying Saktis that clay idols (Gosanis) are worshipped annually during Durga Puja. Locals believe the Gosanis to be the Saktis of Lord Shiva, who is also known as Bhootnath and is the lord of spirits, evil powers, and ghosts.
Going by the description found in Madala Panji-the Shree Jagannath Temple journal of daily events, the first king of the Ganga dynasty Chodaganga Deva, the king who initiated the building of the current Shree Jagannath Temple was an expert tantric and through his powers and expertise had reined in all Gosanis of Odisha. History says that Chodaganga Deva was a Shiva-worshipper, converted to a Vishnu-worshipper by the Vedanta acharya, Ramanuja.
According to some scholars, the word Gosani is derived from the Odia word ‘Gosamani’, which means ‘aristocratic lady’, the wife of the owner or the paternal grandmother (Gosein maa in Odia).
In the royal families of Odisha, the prince and princess are called ‘Jenamani’ and ‘Jemamani’ respectively. In this way, the paternal great grandmother is called Gosein maa or ‘Gosamani’. In this connection, local people believe the Gosanis as the saviour and nourish their locality and therefore, during the Durga Puja festival they worship images of Gosani in their respective Sahis (neighbourhood).
In Odia, the word Goswami also means a Brahmin (is also called or Gossein) landlord owning cows and his wife is called Goswamini and Gosani can be colloquial of it.
Again, Lord Shiva is also called Goswami as he rides on the back of his bull Nandi and hence his consort Sakti of Durga is Goswamini from which Gosani could have been derived.
Further, in Puri co-worship of Mahisamardini Durga and Madhava (Lord Jagannath is prevalent from the Ganga period and scholars conclude that Gosani must be Durga.
Moreover, Gosani Jatra of Puri has roots in folk culture which is evident from the rustic names of the Gosanis-Kakudikhai (she who eats cucumbers), Janhikhai (she who eats ridge gourd), Janhimundia, Sunya Gosani, Panapriya, Hadabai, Kantakadhi,Gelabai, Belabai etc.
Other clay figures such as the bird Sampati with monkeys, Panchamukhi Hanuman, Ravana lifting Kailasa mountain, ghosts, figures of old man and woman besides that of Gosanis and Nagas are also made during the Gosani Jatra festival every year.
On Ekadasi tithi (11th day) of the Shukla paksha (bright fortnight) of the Hindu lunar month of Asvin, clay images of Gosanis gather in front of the Singhadwar (Lions Gate) of the Shree Jagannath Temple and late in the night are taken to nearby rivers for visarjan (immersion).
Among the Gosanis ‘Kakudikhai’ is the supreme Goddess and is the chief Gosani. She is considered as the Goddess Durga herself and is the representative of Goddess Bimala outside Shree Jagannath Temple.