The moon was in the sky casting its effulgence on the billowing ocean. A roaring sea piercing the silence of the night. There is no better place to see the moon; no better time. The only other things visible were tiny glitters of the lamps of the fishermen who have sailed to the horizon with their drifters in lieu of livelihood. Nothing deters them, neither the dark ocean nor its infinite depth and stretch.
Puri is the abode of Lord Jagannath and is a part of the Char Dham (most revered shrines of Hinduism) circuit. Apart from the main temple, the traditions of Puri, its local handicrafts and the vast sea beach make a perfect combination for a good family trip and throughout the year, people from all over the world visit this holy place. The annual Rath Yatra festival attracts a huge crowd of over 3 Lakh people on a single day making it the most important festival of Puri.
Puri is perhaps the only globally recognized tourist spot in Odisha and I have been coming to Puri ever since I have started to remember. In spite of having visited so many times, this place never ceases to amaze me I and can visit here thousand times more. Night out with friends, family pilgrimages, casual visits, Rath Yatra festival, I have experienced everything here yet so much still remains.
I and Neha were at the Swargadwar beach of Puri at 4 AM in the morning. Although I had been to beaches at night, it was the first time for her – scared as well as excited. However, the magic of the moment was enough to soothe her initials fears. Large waves emanating from the dark ocean crashed on the beaches and retreated as we walked with bare feet on the shores.
The darkness of the night slowly gave way to the crepuscular hues. When we arrived there was hardly anyone in the beach but as the dawn took over from the night, the visitors kept increasing. Tea sellers, coconut vendors were the earliest to reach. Soon came the camel riders, cameramen and people renting plastic chairs on an hourly basis. Everyone was gazing at the eastern horizon waiting for the sun to break from the morning sky and mark the start of a new day. Unfortunately, the clouds were determined to play the spoilsport leaving everyone disappointed. Contrary to the expectations of watching a small arc converting to a resplendent red disc, the visitors had to welcome the morning sun hiding behind the clouds. Not the greatest start to the trip.
Slowly the sun rose out of the clouds as it gradually transformed to crimson, orange and then yellow. The early morning chill changed to humidity and the beach became chaotic with increase in the number of visitors. It was time to leave the shores and head for the temple. You can take rickshaws to the main temple but we choose to walk. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the temple.
Shri Jagannath Dham
The Jagannath temple at Puri was constructed in 12th century by the Ganga dynasty rulers who ruled over Kalinga (present day Odisha). As per the legends, the temple was originally constructed by the divine architect Vishwakarma and the idols were carved by the supreme Lord Vishnu himself who appeared in the form of a carpenter. The temple has a typical Kalinga architecture characterised by the vimana, natya mandapa, jagamohana and other features. At the top of the temple is Nila Chakra, which has very high significance in the Jagannath culture. The Patita Pavana flag is hoisted on this chakra and darshan of this flag is believed to be equipollent to the darshan of the real deities inside the sanctum sanctorum.
On reaching the temple, we deposited our bags, mobiles and shoes in separate counters. There are free and paid counters operated by the temple authorities where you can keep your belongings. There will be many priests (known as pandas in Puri) who will try to cajole you to assist in visiting the deities but you must be extremely careful of these people who sometimes charge exorbitant prices especially if there are no locals accompanying you. As you enter into the temple, the first thing you encounter is the Aruna Stamba. It is a 11m pillar which was brought from the sun temple at Konark. Then you enter into the temple through the Singhadwar (Lion Gate). On entering on the right side, etched into the wall is a statue of Lord Jagannath. Since non Hindus are not allowed into the temple, they can offer their obeisance to this idol (known as Patita Pavana Jagannath which can be seen from outside) and seek blessings of the Lord. Then starts the Baisi Pahacha (22 steps) from the main gate to the temple. These steps have earned a distinct recognition in the temple activities and the imagination of poets who have described the temple. You can find people rolling over these steps and people offering pujas for their deceased ancestors. The first shrine you come across is the temple of Kashi Vishwanath which is on the left side of the Baisi Pahacha. There is another temple dedicated to Lord Narashimha near it. On moving ahead you have to turn left where there is a temple of Satya Narayan. Then comes the Bata Jagannath and Bata Ganesha temple. Devotees are allowed to embrace the Bata Jagannath idol. Bata Ganesha temple is a small temple under a banyan tree. Just behind the Ganesha temple is the Kalpavata (wish fulfilling tree). Then on going to the left we reached the Mukti Mandapa. It is a raised open hall with 16 pillars where the most erudite scholars of the temple sit and take important decisions regarding the functioning of the temple and other rituals. Just by the side of it is the Rohini Kunda. As you circumambulate the main temple to reach the other side, there are many other shrines but you are supposed to visit them only after visiting Lord Jagannath.
On entering the main temple, you will find the Garuda Stamba (a pillar with Garuda, the divine mount of Lord Vishnu, on it). People embrace this pillar and offer prayers. The material of this pillar is one of the numerous mysteries of the temples. Although it appears to be a stone pillar, if you touch it, it feels like timber. Over centuries, devotees have embraced this pillar which has resulted in thinning of the pillar at the centre. Just behind the pillar is a door whose pillars has the imprints of the fingertips of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu on it. According to a legend, when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited the temple, he was so overwhelmed that the divine heat of his touch melted the stone on the pillar and the floor underneath his feet. From here you can see a glimpse of the divine deities.
Those large dark eyes..!!!!!!! The moment they catch you, you are lost. He casts a spell on you as he has done since the dawn of time. Not even the greatest of saints could evade it, there is no escape. You are imprisoned, that overwhelming experience; no word can describe that feeling. He is a thief, a thief of your senses, a thief of your sufferings and sins. The devotee incarcerates him, ties him and who can do that but a true devotee. He is imprisoned, in the prison of your heart bound by the ropes of devotion and love.
Sitting on a raised platform known as the ratna singhasana, are four deities. Lord Jagannath (the Supreme Lord of the Universe) with his siblings – Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra. On his left is the Sudarshana Chakra (the celestial weapon of Lord Vishnu). We went ahead to have darshan from a closer range. There are timings when the devotees are allowed into the sanctum sanctorum and can even go around from behind the deities. After the darshan, we sat in a corner and meditated upon the holy names of the lord and offered prayers. After that, we came out of the main temple and visited other smaller shrines in the temple compound.
There are many smaller shrines around the main temple. One of them is the temple of Goddess Bimala. This temple is one of the 4 adi Shakti peeths (most important of the 51 Shakti peeths). There is a small idol of Shani Dev etched into one of the walls of this temple. There is a temple dedicated to Goddess Laxmi. This temple has a lot of significance associated with the daily rituals of the Lord Jagannath. There are many temples dedicated to Lord Krishna within the temple premises – Khirachora Gopinath, Gopa Gopieswara, Neela Madhava, etc. Apart from these, there are small shrines dedicated to Goddess Kali, Surya dev (Sun God), Goddess Bhubaneshwari, Saraswati, etc. Towards the north gate, there is the temple of Eshaneshwara which is an underground temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
After visiting all these temples, we went to see the grand kitchen. It is considered to be the is the largest kitchen in the world and over 700 people work in it daily to prepare the food which is later served as mahaprasad to the devotees after being offered to the Lord. Please click on the link below for more details on things to see in Puri temple apart from the main temple:
At last we went to the Koili Vaikuntha where the divine deities are buried after the Naba Kalevara ceremony in which new idols are carved and the old ones are buried. When you visit Puri, you should never miss taking the mahaprasad. However, the mahaprasad is only available after 2 PM. We were already on a night out and were too tired. So we decided to return. Anyway, we both stay in Bhubaneswar so its just a matter of 1.5 hrs and we can come here any day. But I would suggest the devotees not to miss the mahaprasad which apart from being very scrumptious is also a form of blessing of the holy Lord.
Important points for readers:
- Photography is not permitted inside the temple.
- Non-Hindus are strictly not allowed inside the temple premises.
- No food items can be carried inside the temple.
- Be careful of the pandas (temple priests) and give donations only at the temple office if you are willing to donate and collect the receipt for it.
- Shorts, half pants or any exposing clothes are not allowed.
I have been to many major temples in India but there is something about this temple that stands out. In spite of being here so many times, I always wish to be back. I would urge all the Indian Hindu readers to visit this temple once and experience the mysticism of this place. Those who have already been there kindly share your experiences in the comments section for other readers. Please read the below article about things that you must see in the Jagannath temple apart from the main temple. JAI JAGANNATH…!!!!!!!!!!