In 1727 Dhananjay Mehta, a wealthy man from Hyderabad in South India, came to Jagannatha Puri along with his family.
Personally, he had no faith in Jagannatha and was proud of his wealth. While in Puri he decided to challenge this strange image made of wood. In the temple, food is offered to the deities three times daily. Dhananjay Mehta publicly declared he would donate one hundred thousand rupees to Jagannatha if the temple cooks could spend all of it to prepare one offering of prasad. In those days, fruit and vegetables were very inexpensive. Even one hundred rupees was enough to buy the ingredients for one offering of food. What would the cooks do with one thousand rupees, what to speak of one hundred thousand? Dhananjay’s challenge created a problem for Jagannatha’s worshipers, and they were undoubtedly sad to see such an attitude on the part of a so-called devotee.
The priest debated, “Should he be told that such a huge amount is absolutely too much? Should we tell him to give a smaller donation? Would that be too embarrassing to ask of him? We know Jagannatha is great—his temple is majestic, his rituals mystical and divine—so how can we tell this man to give less just so that we ordinary mortals can handle it?”
At that time, butter was the most costly ingredient, and the priests began to consider whether they could buy enough butter to make a large quantity of ghee for cooking. What type of prasad could be prepared from only ghee? The most delicious and costliest prasad could easily be prepared with butter and coconut palm sweets for ten thousand rupees, but this millionaire from Hyderabad wanted to offer prasad costing one hundred thousand rupees!
Since the Jagannatha temple was first established, lakhs of people had been served maha-prasada at the temple’s Ananda Bazaar. To this day one can find delicacies in abundance. In fact, the Jagannatha temple is the only temple in the world to have always treated maha-prasada as more valuable even than seeing the deities. All can eat it, regardless of caste, color, or creed. Yet never before had such a problem arisen. The temple cooks were at their wits’ end. There was no prasad that could be prepared that would cost one hundred thousand rupees!
Finally they decided, “Let us communicate this problem to the Lord himself, and let his will prevail. Lord Jagannatha is not a man of flesh and blood to be prayed to for a simple response. Let there be a dharana, or group prayer, before him. Nobody can prevail over his wishes.” So the head priest made a heartfelt prayer, backed by the one-pointed intention of the other priests, “O Lord, please choose the food you desire.”
At the same time, Dhananjay was anxious to return to his business affairs in Hyderabad. He did not want to stay in Puri any longer. So he asked the head priest to come by the next morning to inform him about their decision concerning the prasad. The priest replied that he was waiting for the Lord to give them an answer. That was exactly what Dhananjay wanted, and to see the defeat of the priests he decided to extend his stay in Puri a little longer. In this sweet way, the Lord was teaching him.
One hundred thousand rupees is a pittance for the Lord who reigns over innumerable universes. In due time the Lord answered the head priest’s prayer, speaking to him in a dream: “Let Dhananjay offer me one piece of pan . However, the betel nut in the pan leaf must be smeared not with lime but with the powder of a finely ground pearl. Moreover, this pearl must have come from inside a bull elephant’s forehead.”
Now, one piece of pan can be purchased with almost no money—even today it costs only about fifty paisa—but with this rarest of ingredients inside, the cost would be excessive. Immediately the priest rushed to Dhananjay and narrated the contents of his dream. “Is this not a great thing? Jagannatha wants a mere betel nut, but it must be prepared with the pearl from an bull elephant’s head.”
Hearing this, Dhananjay’s face paled. He thought, “A mere betel nut! Nothing more than that!” It is said that an elephant is worth one hundred thousand rupees, dead or alive. How many bull elephants would have to be killed to find one pearl? Not every bull elephant has a pearl inside its forehead. It is a rare phenomenon. Indeed, one in a million has a pearl in its forehead. Dhananjay’s head reeled and he had to admit defeat. He was incapable of offering even a single betel nut to Lord Jagannatha. Unknotting his turban and removing his sandals, he went running to the Lord with his purse full of rupees. A huge crowd followed, watching the strange sight.
The Lord had defeated a millionaire at his own game of dollars and cents. At last his human pride was crushed. He sobbed before the deity, reaching out to Jagannatha with unrestrained, childlike cries. In total devotion and defeat he prayed, “O Lord, I have made a stupid human blunder, for I am totally incapable of offering you even a single betel nut. What else can I offer? O Lord, pardon me. I am a fallen man, insignificant before you, but made wise before you also. Everything is yours and you are everything. Take whatever I have. Please accept only the sweet-smelling red betel nut of my heart.”