Puri- A trip back in time

In my last article I had written about my trip to Konark and the Sun Temple or Black Pagoda . After finishing our visit to the Sun Temple, we had a lunch at a shack that passed off as a restaurant offering all type of cuisine- Rajasthani, South Indian, North Indian, Chinese. Only the food is so downright awful that it doesn’t make a difference what ever you order.Anyway the ride from Konark to Puri more than made up for the food. Driving along a serene coastline with a lovely beach, we passed by groves of casuarinas trees all along the way, and the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal stretching out into the horizon. Our taxi driver pointed out that many of the groves were swept away during the 1999 killer cyclone that lashed the state of Orissa, as also large chunks of land were swallowed by the sea water. As we looked at the peaceful waves of the Bay of Bengal, it was hard for us to imagine the terrible fury of the seas that lashed Orissa in 1999.

As we entered Puri we could see the looming shikara of the Jaganath Temple . Puri is associated with 3 things – The Temple, The Rath Yatra and the Beach . We came to a halt at the main road or the Bara Danda , in fact it’s the only large road in the entire town, the rest of the town is a network of narrow lanes, tiny congested streets, homes jam packed together. Even most of the roads leading to the beach are pretty narrow, and the beach road itself is choked most of the time, with hotels encroaching on one side. The Bara Danda is the road on which the famous Jagannatha Ratha Yatra takes place. This Ratha Yatra also gave rise to the word Juggernaut meaning an unstoppable force that crushes everything in its path. This was due to the fact, that in the early days of the Yatra, many devotees would throw themselves under it’s massive wheels in order to attain salvation, and Juggernaut is itself a corruption of Jagannath. Now a days there is a cordon, to prevent such incidents from occurring, but accidents do happen often. Puri without the Jagannatha Temple and Rath Yatra is like Agra without the Taj Mahal, simply unimaginable. Many places in India have been associated with some major festival. These festivals are celebrated in every part of the state, but the large scale celebration in that place makes it unique. Ganesh Puja in Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad, Durga Puja of Kolkata, the Navratri celebrations of Ahmedabad , Dussehra festivities in Mysore, Ram Leela celebrations in Delhi and of course the Rath Yatra of Puri.

Now one slight clarification, Ratha Yatra is celebrated all over Orissa, for Lord Jagannatha is one of the most revered deities there, but it’s the Puri Rathayatra that is the most famous as it’s the abode of the Lord himself. There is an interesting legend about the temple like most other temples of India. The story goes that Lord Jagannatha , literally meaning Lord of the World , was worshipped as Neela Madhab by a tribal chief. The King of Puri , Indradyumna deputed a Brahmin priest Vidyapati to find the idols and worship in his palace. Vidyapati was taken to the cave blindfolded but he managed to mark the path with mustard seeds, which later became plants. The King along with Vidyapati went to the cave, but was unable to find the idol. Later the king had a dream in which the Lord instructed the king to make the idols out of the tree located near the sea shore. The king likewise instructed the celestial architect, Vishwakarma to carve the idol, on which Vishwakarma agreed, but subject to the condition that at no stage in his work would he be disturbed by any one else. However Indradyumna’s queen broke the rule out of curiosity and Vishwakarma, disappeared leaving the idols unfinished. That explains the peculiar design of the idols.
The temple is built in typical Oriyan architecture style by king Ananta Barma Chodaganga Dev during the 12th century A.D. Its one of the tallest structures in India, measuring a height of 214 ft from ground level. The temple is flanked by 4 gates Simha Dwara, Aswha Dwara, Gaja Dwara and the Tiger Gate. We entered from the Simha Dwara which is on the eastern side of the temple wall. And this makes up the outer enclosure called the Meghanad Prachir .
But be very careful here, for this is the haunt of the notorious Pandas who pounce on you literally, and are pretty good at extorting money from pilgrims. Many pilgrims have had horror stories with these Pandas. In recent times though the temple administration has curtailed their activities a lot. But yet many are quite an aggressive lot, and in fact we spent more time avoiding the Pandas than appreciating the temple architecture. Some of them hit you with a pair of twigs and demand money for it. I remember the experience one of the persons in the group had, when he took the theertham or holy water, and the panda started to demand minimum amount of Rs 10 for this. This is one of the things I really hate about the Puri temple. A temple is supposed to be a place where you go for peace of mind, and focus on God, but here you have to spend most of your time fending off these jerks. Having heard enough about the Pandas, we stuck to each other and avoided them. And in case you are planning to make a trip to Puri, please avoid these people at all costs, if you are caught by them, you surely would have to lighten up your purse.
After the outer enclosure we enter the inner enclosure called the Kurma Bedha, which contains the sanctum sanctorum or the Vimana . This contains the idols of Lord Jagannatha along with his brother Balabhadra and his sister Subhadra. These are the 3 idols which are taken out during the Ratha Yatra which is generally held in the months of July-August as per the Hindu calendar. Each of the idols have their own ratha , Nandighosha –Lord Jagannatha , Taladwaja- Balabhadra and Daladamana –Subhadra . The Ratha Yatra is flagged off during Akshaya Trithi, when the work begins on construction of chariots. The next phase is the Snana Yathra when the deities are given a ritual bath in the month of Jyestha( May- June ). For a period of 15 days called as Anasara , the deities are hidden from public and given a fresh coat of paint . And finally we have the spectacular Jagannatha Ratha Yatra during the months of Ashada , when the deities are pulled along in their huge chariots to the accompaniment of cymbals, drums and chanting of the names.

The crowds, the chanting of the Lord’s name, the noise, the festivities transport you into a totally different world. Before the chariots are pulled, we have the local Gajapati King of Puri, sweeping the chariots with a golden broom. This ritual symbolizes that the King is but a humble servant of Lord Jagannatha. These chariots are made of Sal wood fetched from the forests of the princely state of Daspalla. The chariots are then pulled along to the Gundica Ghar, which is located at the other end of the Bara Danda. After a 7 day stay, the idols return back to the main temple in what is called as Bahuda Yatra . And finally on the 9th day, the idols are placed back in the Sanctum Sanctorum.

The inner most enclosure also covers the Jagamohan or the Audience Hall where the audience are seated during the various festivals, the Natamandapa or the Dancing Hall where dances used to be held in ancient times and Bhoga Mandapa or the Hall of offerings where offerings were given to the Lord. And finally after our darshan, we visited the Puri beach. It was evening time, and the cool breeze was really refreshing. The beach is full during Saturday and Sunday, and it has a number of stalls along with chaat vendors and food stalls. Do try to catch the sunrise and sunset, its quite spectacular here. Puri is also one of the 4 mutts established by Adi Shankara, the others being at Dwaraka, Badrinath and Shringeri, so it occupies quite an exalted position in Indian tradition. Also do take a look at the sand sculptures on the beach, most of them are simply wonderful. And with that we ended our trip back into time, and we drove back again into our daily modern world.

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About Ratnakar Sadasyula

I am a 40 year old Blogger with a passion in movies, music,books, Quizzing and politics. A techie by profession, and a writer at heart. Seeking to write my own book one day.
This entry was posted in Festivals of India, Hinduism, Holy Places in India, Jagannath Rath Yatra, Odisha and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Puri- A trip back in time

  1. Guest says:

    My dear friend,

    I read you looked for good food while going to Puri!! Did you eat Maha-prasada (the divine food offered in the Jagannath temple)? If not, try next time!

    There are many wrongs in the post you have mentioned (like it is Bada Danda- not Bara Danda). But you have gone there and hence an unkown brotherly bond. Go next time and ask for Maha-prasada. One of best food ever you will eat in Odisha.

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  3. Hello sir,
    If you have not tried boating on chilika lake please do try it when you visit next time.It is totally worth it.One of the best experiences I have ever had.

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