Everyday throughout the year fifty six varieties of dishes are prepared and offered to the Deities of the Jagannath Temple. These consist of preparation of rice,dal and other selected vegetables. The food cooked in accordance with prescribed procedures, and is offered first to Lord Jagannath and then to Goddess Vimala after which it turns into Mahaprasad. Mahaprasad, the holy food, is freely shared by people of all castes and creeds without any discrimination. In all religious and social rituals in Puri and Odisha, Mahaprasad plays a very important role. Exchange of Mahaprasad between two persons belonging to two different castes binds them in an abiding relationship. Mahaprasad and other offerings made to the deities are sold to public in Ananda Bazar on the north-east corner of the outer enclosure of the Jagannath temple, where every day thousands of piligrims buy and eat various types of food.
Mahaprasad is cooked only in earthen pots inside the temple kitchen and medium of food is fire wood only. When the cooked food is carried to the offering hall in slings of earthen pots no flavour comes up from the food but when the same is offered to Lord Jagannath and Vimala and carried back to the sale point, a delicious smell spells along in the breeze to the pleasant surprise of the devotees. Now the food is blessed. Mahaprasad can only be eaten on banana leaf and sitting on the floor.
Dried rice Mahaprasad known as 'Nirmalya' is also used by devotees for different sacred occasions. Nirmalya is equally important as Mahaprasad. Tourists visiting Puri prefer to carry this dry Mahaprasad with them which they can keep at home and use whenever required.
There is a legend behind Mahaprasad. In Tretaya Yuga after beheading Ravana, the ten-faced monster in Srilanka, Lord Ramachandra, Laxman and others had returned to Ayodha. It was Urmila, the consort of Lord Laxman who was silently listening to the great happenings. All were unanimous that Laxmana was instrumental in killing Indrajit. All were discussing that Indrajit was so powerful and got boon that only that person who has not taken food for fourteen years constantly and who has not slept for fourteen years uninterruptedly can kill Indrajit. There was a meeting inside the palace in the evening time to know the truth behind this matter. Lord Rama questioned to Laxman that, Oh Laxman you have not taken food for continuous fourteen years, and what happened to those food packets, which I had given you at Panchabati during our stay ? Laxman patiently replied, Oh Lord, I have kept all those food packets in hole of Sami Tree at Panchabati. In order to ascertain the authenticity Lord Rama said, Oh Hanuman you go to Panchabati and bring back those food packets, which have been preserved in the hole of 'Sami Tree'. Lord Hanuman developed enigma on this matter. He thought, Lord is aware of my strength. He knows that I had brought the Gandhamardana mountain in one hand, when Laxman was unconscious by the arrow of Indrajit. He became hesitant to bring those food packets, but at last he performed journey from Ayodhya to Sami Tree at Panchabati. Hanuman saw that those food packets have been kept intact but when he attempted to lift those food packets he could not lift and at last returned to Ayodhya and with humble words told his master, that he could not lift those food packets. Lord Rama could know that due to Hanumana's ego that he could not lift those food packets. At last Laxman said I will fetch those food packets from Panchabati. Laxman with his powerful arrow could bring back those food packets and all were accumulated in front of Lord Rama. Lord Rama was surprised and asked Hanuman to ascertain that whether the food items supplied to Laxmana for fourteen years have been kept intact or not ? Hanuman counted and informed that seven packets were not available. Lord Rama was eager to know from Laxman about those missing packets. Laxman most humbly repliedlet me tell the mistery behind it.
Laxman said that when you and I had listened the news of death of our dearest father, Dasaratha in the forest you had not supplied me, the food on that very day. When we got the news that Ravana has kidnapped Sita from Panchabati on that day you did not supply the food packet. Then it was on third occasion when Mahi Ravana took both of us to Patala to offer sacrifice before Lankeswari on that day also we were in fast and took no food. On fourth occasion, when I became unconscious, due to arrow hitting of Indrajit I was not in a state to take food. On the day when Indrajit was beheaded I had not taken food for fifth time. It was on the sixth occasion that when you beheaded Ravana you did not take any food. You had committed Brahmahatya as Ravana was a Brahmin and he was the son of Bisrarba Rishi. Lastly, when there was national mourning due to death of Ravana in Sri Lanka on the next day we joined the mourning and left Lanka without taking any food.
Lord Rama was overwhelmed with the supreme sacrifice and dedication by Laxman. Then he praised the supreme sacrifice of Urmila, that how she spent fourteen years without Laxman. Lord Rama told - 'I had gone to fourteen years exile with my wife Sita. See such a wife who had made supreme sacrifice. She had eagerly waited the return of Laxman for fourteen years. All praise goes to Urmila. In Ayodhya we have got three thrones, one for me, one for Sita and another throne for Laxman. So the fourth throne will be installed for Urmila'. Urmila told Lord Rama, that 'I have no desire for any throne. I may be given the opportunity to serve you.' Then Rama was pleased and told Urmila, to seek for the boon as she wants. Then humble Urmila said that if you want to grant me any boon, then please grant that in the ages to come there will be neither any temple for me, nor I will be worshipped on any throne. I want to become an incense stick by which I will give fragrance to you all. I will be at your lotus feet for ages to come. Lord Rama was so pleased and told 'I grant you this boon that in the Kali Yuga when I will be worshipped at Puri Temple, Goddess Laxmi will not be installed by my side. Laxman in Treteya Yuga has become my younger brother and in Kali Yuga he will be my elder brother Balabhadra. You will be Mahaprasad and by your fragrance you will spread the flavour and will be worshipped. Any Prasad which will be offered to me will be offered to Goddess Vimala and then it will be Mahaprasad and will be taken as Prasad by devotees. You will remain as Mahaprasad for years to come. Devotees will worship you, so Tretaya's Urmila is the Goddess Vimala in Kali Yuga.
Source: Odisha Review