Every year on the eve of Snana Purnima, lakhs of devotees visit the holy city Puri in Odisha to have a glimpse of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra along with Sudarshan in Gajanan Besha, the elephant attire on the holy Snana Mandap at Lord Jagannath Temple.
After the ritual of the holy shower on the Snana Mandap, situated near the Ananda Bazar inside temple premises, in the afternoon, the deities were dressed like Ganesha with the head of an elephant. The elephant costume or attire is known as ‘Gaja or Hati Besha’. While Lord Jagannath and Balabhadra were dressed like an elephant and Devi Subhadra is dressed in lotus flower Besha.
Before the rituals of Gaja Besha, the rituals conducted is called as Jalabhiseka, the bathing ceremony. The servitors decorated the deities with flowers and Tulasi (holy basil). Gajapati Dibya Singh Deb, the King and the first servitor of Lord Jagannath, visited the Snana Mandap from his palace in Tanzan to pay obeisance to deities. He performed Chhera pahanra at the snana mandap. This is one of the major rituals ahead of Gaja Besha, with the priests chanting mantras.
The deities were dressed in the attire of the elephant or Lord Ganesha. The costumes for this incarnation or Besha is prepared by the artisans at Raghaba Das mutt and Gopal Tirtha mutt.
There is a story behind Gaja Besha of Lord Jagannath. According to various research, Lord Jagannath had given darshan to Ganapati Bhatt, a strong devotee of Lord Ganesha, on the Snana Mandap on the auspicious occasion of Snana Purnima. This happened in the 15th century, Pandit Ganapati Bhatt of the Mahaganapatya community had visited the century-old shrine in Puri to have darshan of Lord Jagannath.
He witnessed Chaturdha Murti on Snana Mandap on Snana Purnima. However, he could not get satisfaction as he wanted to see his lord, Lord Ganesh within Lord Jagannath. He was returning home and on his way back with disappointment, Lord Jagannath disguised as a priest insisted he return to the temple where he can see his Lord Ganesh. He was happy to have darshan of his Lord Ganesh within Chaturdha Murti on Snana Mandap. Since then, the deities are being dressed like Lord of Knowledge, Lord Ganesh, or Gajanan Besha every year after the holy Snana on Jyestha Purnima.
Also Read: Snana Purnima Live from Puri