After the end of the Mahabharata War, Lord Krishna was taking rest under a creeper called Sialilata. The tribesman Jara Sabar was out hunting and accidentally shot Krishna with an arrow, severely wounding Him. When they received this terrible news, the five Pandava brothers quickly arrived on the scene. Lord Krishna gave them some good advice and took away the heavenly power of Krishnakala from Arjuna, the best of archers, and left His material body. The mourning brothers carried their uncle’s body to the Bay of Bengal, and cremated it there (This place is now inside the Jagannath Temple, and is known as Koili Vaikuntha.) The whole body was destroyed, except for the heart, which remained intact and indestructable. The heart was then thrown into the sea.
The heart began to float and cast a brilliant luster on the surface of the water. After a long time, Vishwabasu Sabara, a tribal chieftain noticed the divine effulgence, and took his boat out to find its source. What he found was a blue, stone statue or Parama Vigraha (Super Form). The statue, which was kept at Nila Kandara, became known as Nilamadhava, and was worshipped by chief Vishwabasu there.
The great votary, king Indrayumna of Malava, desired to worship Lord Vishnu. He wished to obtain a most beautiful and sacred deity to install in a new temple, which was being constructed for that very purpose. So, messengers were sent to track down an extraordinary deity of Lord Vishnu. One of them, named Vidyapati, reached Vishwabasu’s village by chance. Seeking a little rest there, he became Vishwabasu’s guest. The family treated him well. Vidyapati fell in love with the chief’s only daughter, Lalita, who was extremely beautiful.
Vidyapati noticed that Vishwabasu went to worship every day at a mysterious impenetrable location upland from the village. Investigating the matter, Vidyapati became convinced the chief was worshopping an extraordinarily beautiful deity of Lord Vishnu. In order to guarantee the success of his mission, Vidyapati married Lalita. He began to question his father-in-law, Vishwabasu, about the chief’s daily outings, and asked to be taken to the secret spot. After much discussion, Vishwabasu finally agreed to take Vidyapati there, on the condition that he be blindfolded. During the journey, Vidyapati marked the trail by dropping mustard seeds that were given to him by Lalita.
When they reached the secret place of worship, Vidyapati became overwhelmed by the beautiful deity, being aware of its unprecedented splendor, peace and sanctity. Within a few days, Vidyapati left the village to return to the kingdom of king Indrayumna. Receiving the good news, the king marched to the once secret spot with his fierce army. But, to everyone’s surprise, there was no deity to be found there. King Indrayumna was very disappointed, and had Bishwabasu imprisoned as he began his empty handed return to the kingdom. After a few days, the king received a divine message making him realise his cruelty toward the tribals, and instructing him to free the tribal chief. He also understood that it was his own cruelty that caused the deity to disappear.
After much devotion, the vanished Nilamadhava consoled king Indrayumna and assured him that He would be available soon, in a different form. After they completed the new temple, the king’s men found an enormous log at the sea shore, which they retrieved for the purpose of fashioning a deity.
Many highly skilled, first class carpenters failed to even scratch the log. Seeing king Indrayumna’s distress, Vishwakarma, the architect of the demigods, descended in the form of an old man to carry out the carving. He desired to make the deity in secret, and asked the king to arrange for musicians to sit outside the closed room and play so that no one could hear what was going on inside. The days came and went. On the twenty first day, curiosity got the better of the queen, who opened the sealed door. She was shocked to find nothing in the room except for four partially carved figures. At that moment, a heavenly voice instructed the king on how to procede, and named the four figures Jagannath, Subhadra, Balarama and Sudarshan. Finally, king Indrayumna prayed to Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, to descend and perform the installation ceremony for the dieties.
Thus ends the story of the origin of Lord Jagannath, Subhadra, Balarama and Sudarshan.