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First Servitors of Lord Jagannatha, Puri Gajapati Maharaja and Maharani, Visit Houston

 

The Royal Couple and community organizers at the home of devoted supporters Dr. Arun and Vinni Verma. Photos: Debiprasad Rath

The Royal Couple and community organizers at the home of devoted
supporters Dr. Arun and Vinni Verma. Photos: Debiprasad Rath

By Arati Pati

HOUSTON: This was the first visit to Houston of Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb and Maharani Leelabati Pattamahadei of Puri Jagannatha Dham over the May 19-20 weekend. Their trip to the US was hosted by Dr. Niranjan and Swati Tripathy of the DFW Hindu Temple Society in Irving.

The Thakura Raja  Gajapati Maharaja is the king of 43 million people of Odisha, and represents the first and foremost Servitor of Lord Jagannatha as chairman of the Shri Jagannatha Temple Managing Committee. Gajapati ascended the throne at the age of 17 in 1970 after the demise of his father, Gajapati Birakishore Deb. He belongs to the dynasty of Ganga Kings of Odisha who founded the Shri Jagannatha Temple at the start of the 12th century. Following tradition, every year he sweeps the entrusted area of rath during the famous Srigundicha Rath Yatra or Cart Festival in Puri.

Gajapati has led an ordinary life, going to public schools, getting his LLM at Chicago’s Northwestern University and then practiced law in Delhi at the high court and Supreme Court for some years.  A down-to-earth king, the handsome and dignified Raja is soft spoken, maintains a very simple lifestyle and has a keen interest in photography and reading. The sweet, soft-spoken and lovely Maharani Leelabati is from the royal family of Jammu and is fluent in Odia, Hindi, and English. The couple has four daughters.

On Saturday, May 19, Gajapati and Maharani Saheba paid obeisance to Daru Bramha Jagannatha and His Family at their abode at 2728 East Glen Haven in Houston. In 2015, during “Nabakalebara” or “New Embodiment”, these deities were carved from the same neem (Margosa) tree as the original Jagannatha Deities in Puri Dham and were brought to Houston, in a first and rare occasion for Daru Brahmas to travel outside of India.

Over 100 members of the small Odia community in Houston anxiously awaited the royal couple on Saturday evening and gave them with a grand welcome and an informal but lively discussion with Gajapati and Maharani at the deities abode, followed by a “Chhapan Bhoga” dinner prepared by the ladies of the community.

Dr. Arun Verma and Vinni Verma, founders of Shri Sitaram Foundation, along with Orissa Culture Center and members of the Houston Odia community led by Jyoti Kar, Sarmistha Nanda and Dr. Gopal Mohapatra organized a reception for the couple at India House on Sunday, May 20 where Gajapati gave a multimedia presentation on The Glory of Lord Jagannatha to an audience of over 200.  

Gajapati and Maharani Leelabati make a devotional offering to the deities at a reception at India House on May 20.

Gajapati and Maharani Leelabati make a devotional offering to the deities at a reception at India House on May 20.

After a devotional offering to Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra, Lord Subhadra, and Lord Sudarshana, with the queen by his side, Gajapati gave a 90-minute lecture, with slides of the remarkable artwork depicting the legends and history of the famous Jagannatha Temple of Odisha and the origin of Lord Jagannatha.  He explained the deep connection of Jagannatha culture to Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam and the significance of Basudheiba  Utumbakam or “Unity in Diversity.

That afternoon, Gajapati visited the OC’s 10-acre property located at 3101 Fuqua near the Texas Medical Center, which is the site for the future Jagannatha Temple for Daru Bramha Jagannatha and His Family. Gajapati excitedly discussed the plans with Professor Debananda Pati and Dr. Aditya Samal of the OCC. That evening, the Royal Couple further discussed these plans over dinner at the home of devoted supporters Dr. Arun and Vinni Verma.

The Orissa Culture Center, in association with Sri Sitaram Foundation, will celebrate the 11th Annual Ratha Yatra on July 14 at India House. On June 24, it will celebrate its Annual Deva Snana Purnima (Celestial Bathing) and Lord Jagannatha’s Birthday at 3101 Fuqua.  

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