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.
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.