In my last article I had written about my trip to Konarkand 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.
Puri one of the holiest lands also known as Shrikshetra, Purushottamapuri, a land blessed by sages like Bhrigu, Atri, Markandeya. Also called as Shankakshetra, Neelachala. The current name is more a shorter version of Jagannatha Puri. 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. Apart from the Govardhana Matha established by Adi Shankara, Puri is also the site of many other Mathas. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu the great Vaishnava preacher, spent his final days in Puri and it’s believed he merged with Jagannatha here. Radhakantha Math was established by him. Apart from Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, another great Vaishnava saint who visited Puri during the 12th century was Ramanujacharya who established the Emaar Matha here.
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 . 18 times was the temple of Jagannatha raided by invaders and every time, the rulers put up a defiant resistance, not once were the murthis of Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra damaged, as always they were shifted to a safe location.
After the outer enclosure we enter the inner enclosure called the Kurma Bedha, which contains the sanctum sanctorum or the Vimana . This is where the Ratna Vedi is located where you can get a darshan of the deities 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.
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. If you take a closer look at the main shikara, you can see the Nila Chakra mounted on top. Every day a different flag is waved on top here, called as Patita Pavana. And the disc itself has 8 Navagunjaras carved on it, all facing towards the flagpost. The Nabagunjara is a mythical beast, prominent in Odiya folklore and culture. So called as it is believed to be made up of 9 different animals, and another avatar of Vishnu. It was popularized by Odiya poet Sarala Das. The Nila Chakra on top of the Shikara is distinct from the Sudarshana Chakra which is placed along with the deities in the Jagananth Temple. And it is a very revered symbol in the Jagannatha worship, symbolizing protection.
Also unlike most temples in India, where the murthis are made of iron or stone, in Jagannatha Temple, they are made of wood, primarily from sacred Neem logs known as Daru, and they are replaced every 12-19 years in a ceremony known as Nabakalebara.The belief is that Jagannatha was a Adivasi deity originally, and that accounts for a lot of tribal traditions in his worship, especially the wooden murthis. The Daitapatis who perform the rituals are of tribal origin, as also many other rituals followed in the Ratha Yatra. Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra together are considered a manifestation of Bhairava, who is worshipped in the temple along with Bimala Devi. In a sense it is a fusion of Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Shaivism, along with native tribal traditions that make up Ratha Jatra. Matter of fact the Jagannatha worship in Puri, is symbolic of the way Hinduism is practised in Odisha, a mix of Saiva, Vaishnava, Shakti, native tribal traditions along with Jaina, Buddhist practices, making it unique in it’s own way.
Singhadwara on the Eastern side is the main entrance to the Jagannatha Temple, facing east to the Bara Danda, Puri’s main road, where the Ratha Jatra procession takes place. A flight of 20 steps called the Baisi Pachaha leads into the temple. Right in front of the Singhadwara you have the Aruna Stambha a huge monolithic pillar, on the top of which you have an idol of Aruna, the charioteer of Surya. It is believed this pillar was bought from Konark to Puri, by Maratha guru Brahmachari Gosain. Other 3 entrances to the Jagannatha Temple, are the Hathidwara( Elephant Gate), Vyaghradwara( Tiger Gate) and Ashwadwara( Horse Gate). Within the complex you have temples dedicated to Bimala Devi, Mahalakshmi, Ganesha, Saraswati, Narasimha. Apparently there was this famous story of the local Gajapati ruler Purushottama Deva, marrying the Pallava princess, Padmavati from Kanchi, and it is believed the Ucchistha Ganapati murthi here was gifted by her father
Each of the idols have their own ratha , Nandighosha –Lord Jagannatha , Taladwaja- Balabhadra and Daladamana –Subhadra .
Nandighosha is the Ratha of Jagannatha, the tallest of the 3 around 44′ high. This is wrapped in Red and Yellow color cloth, and guarded by Garuda. The charioteer is Daruka( Surya), and the flag is Trailokyamohini. It is drawn by 4 horses all white in color-Shankha, Balahaka, Suwetha, Haridashwa, and the rope that pulls the Ratha is called Shankachuda Nagini. Jagannatha is surrounded here by Varaha, Gobardhana,Krishna, Nrusinga,Rama, Narayana, Trivikrama, Hanuman and Rudra.
Balabhadra’s Ratha is called Taladwaja, and he is accompanied by Ramakrishna here. This has 14 wheels, around 43′ high, covered with Red, and bluish green cloth. Matali is the charioteer here, while Unnani is the name of the flag, that adorns it. Tribra, Ghora, Dirghasharma and Swornanava are the 4 horses, all black in color that pull Taladwaja, while Basuki Naga is the name of the rope used to pull the Ratha. The 9 deities on Ratha are Ganesha, Karthikeya, Sarvamangala, Pralambari, Halayudha, Mrityunjaya, Mukteswara.
Darapadalana, the Ratha of Subhadra, has 12 wheels, around 42′ tall, guarded by Jayadurga, while Arjuna himself is the charioteer here. Nadambika is the name of the flag, and the Ratha is covered with red and black cloth, symbolizing Shakti herself. 4 red colored horses Rochika, Mochika, Jita Aparajita pull Darpadalana, while the rope used to pull the Ratha is named after Swarnachuda Nagini. The 9 deities on this Ratha are various forms of Shakti-Chandi, Chamunda, Ugratara, Banadurga, Shulidurga, Varahi, Mangala, Vimala.
The Ratha Yatra is flagged off during Akshaya Trithi, when the work begins on construction of chariots. The making of the chariots is a ritual by itself, with special wood bought from the Daspalla forests, and puja done to them. This again is a celebration by itself, and many throng the occasion to witness the construction of the 3 Rathas.
Many people flock to see the construction of the Rathas, which are placed on the Bara Danda, Puri’s main road, where the entire Ratha Jatra takes place. There is a family of carpenters, who have the hereditary rights to construct these Rathas.
And this kicks off the first phase called as the Chandan Yatra, when the deities are worshipped with chandan, and water.The Chandan Yatra which is the first phase of the Ratha Jatra asts for 42 days and is divided into two periods of 21 days each, the Bahari Chandana, and the Bhitari Chandana. The Bahari Chandana is when the representatives of the 3 deities are taken in a procession. The representatives of Jagannatha, Subhadra and Balabhadra are bought to the Narendra Tank, named after the ruler who built it, also called as Chandan Pokhari. Madana Mohana is the representative of Jagannatha accompanied by 5 Shivas also known as the Pancha Pandavas. The 5 Shivas accompanying Madana Mohana here are Lokanatha, Jameswar, Markandeya, Kapala Mochana, and Nilakantha. Lakshmi, Saraswati, Madana Mohana are placed in one boat, while Rama, Krishna and the Pancha Shivas are placed in another boat.
The deities are taken out in a procession from the Singhadwara, main gate of Jagannatha Temple to the Narendra Pushkarini, led by the royal elephant, two large decorated palanquins. This Chandan Yatra is as spectacular as the main Ratha Jatra , and is attended by large crowds. Narendra Pushkarini was built by Narendra Deva, son of the great emperor Kapilendra Deva. Covering around 8 acres, the tank has a small island in the middle, with a temple, where Madana Mohana, the representative of Jagannatha is bought during Chandana Yatra.
The next phase is the Snana Yathra when the deities are given a ritual bath in the month of Jyestha( May- June ). For about 2 weeks a period called as Ansara after the Snana Yatra, the deities are not shown to public, and only symbolic Pattachitras strung on a bamboo screen, are displayed. During this period, they are offered only leaves, roots, berries, fruits to cure them of sickness. This tradition of offering roots, leaves, fruits to the deities has it’s origin in the native tribal way. The daitapatis who perform the rituals for Jagannatha are believed to be descendants of Lalita , the daugther of tribal chieftain Biswabasu and Vidyapati
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. In fact much like the Ranas of Mewar, the rulers of Travancore, the Eastern Gangas and later the Gajapatis saw themselves as mere vassals of their ruling deity, who was the actual ruler.
You have different kinds of Sevakas from Jagannatha Temple who offer their services, important of the lot is Suara Mahasura Dahuka, they recite what is called as the Dahuka Boli, basically pretty bawdy songs.
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. It’s believed that Rath Yatra being a symbol of fertility and cycle of life, the lyrics of the Dahuka Boli tend to be very risque, with a lot of double entendre. Unless the Dahuka Boli is sung the Yatra does not start.
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.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.