It was the third day in Puri, and about the rain, he was in love with me. But that could not prevent me from exploring the half-open city. The sky covered with dark clouds, a sheet of rain pouring in and out, and the breaking waves of the sea have not been able to dampen my mind. Hence I got ready, ate some breakfast, and prepared to go out. We chose to take a Toto tour to explore the city. And our trip started with a Jai Jagannath greeting with the Toto driver. Here, “Jagat” and “Nath” are combined to signify “the Lord of the Universe”. Quite alluring!
Our primary purpose was to visit the holy temple of Shree Jagannath. I was a kid when I walked into the temple, holding my father’s hand 29 years ago. The memory is vague with the honking of Pandas, chanting of Sadhus, brilliant playing of holy sticks by local gurus over the heads of pilgrims, and the demand of a significant amount that time for puja. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, and even I could not go into the temple as the temple was closed after the death of the Chief Panda (priest) and his wife due to COVID-19. And over 40 pandas were suspected of being infected with COVID-19. So the temple was closed for more than two months, now people were allowed to give offerings out of the temple to the Panda, but no one is allowed inside.
Upon reaching the temple, I met a Panda at the barricade. While talking to him, he took our offering told me only Hindus are allowed inside since I was asked about my Surname & Gotra. Moreover, he said that the Jagannath temple at Puri is one of the four Dhams Char- with three presiding deities – Jagannath, Balabhadra and the Goddess Subhadra – who is worshipped with devotion throughout the state.
Despite the barricade positioned in front of the temple, but I could see the monolithic pillar eleven meters high known as Aruna Stambha. It is devoted to Aruna, the coachman of Surya, the sun-god. It belonged to the Sun Temple of Konark up to the last quarter of the 18th century. Post worship ceased in the temple with no presiding deity in it; the pillar was brought here by a wise man of Maratha to save it from the Muslim invaders.
I observed an interesting fact about Indian religion that each region in India has its favourite deity. Hence Jagannath – the deity presiding over the Puri, is primarily worshipped as the Supreme Deity. Jagannath is worshipped as Krishna (an avatar of Vishnu) along with his elder brother, Balabhadra and Subhadra his younger sister. This holy trinity is associated with intense religious fervour since the medieval period. However, the fourth primary divinity of the temple, Sudarshan Chakra (Heavenly Wheel) validates Jagannath’s theory as an aspect of Krishna consciousness. Lord Jagannath is treated as an elder member of the family means Purusottam, so his abode Puri is known as Purusottam Kshetra.
Following the Vaishnavism tradition, all Jagannath temples in the world worship the Lord as Krishna; however, according to experts, the Jagannath cult has tribal origins. The early inhabitants of Odisha, the Savara tribe, revered the logs as their God. It is also said that the natives venerated a picture of their God Neel Madhava (the blue Vishnu) on the bluestone. Furthermore, the Daitapatis, who has an equitable share of responsibility for performing the rituals of the Jagannath Temple, is claimed to be descendants of the Aborigines or the hill tribes of Odisha.
The concept of Jagannath of Puri and the image of divinity are not in conformity with the old Hindu tradition. All Hindu deities are carved into stone or metal, but the principal deities of the Jagannath Temple of Puri are made of wood – margosa (neem) tree. Neem is a medicinal plant which can last a long time. That’s pretty interesting! That is why Jagannath is also called Darudevata, the wooden God or Daru Brahma. “Daru” in Sanskrit means wood and Brahma means the omnipresent soul, the universal life force, the God of the gods.
The various denominations of Hinduism – Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism have their own interpretations of Jagannath and worship the deities accordingly. Jagannath is described as taking the form of all God to satisfy the desire of his devotee. A structure similar to a pillar, the Sudarshan Chakra, may have its origin in the processional Shiva lingam or the tradition of Vaishnavite followed in the tribal zones. Still, it also symbolizes the wheel of the chariot of the Sun. Not only Hinduism, but even Buddhism and Jainism are bound to Jagannath. This amalgamation of different denominations makes the Jagannath Temple unique in Hinduism.
Speaking of the temple, through the exterior structure, I was able to say that it is one of the finest specimens of the ancient Kalinga style temple architecture was built on top of its ruins in the 12th century by the ruler of Kalinga Anantavarman Chodaganga Dev. And the temple was completed in its actual shape by King Ananga Bhima Deva in 1174.
The Jagannath Temple complex spans over 400,000 square feet and is 65 metres in height. Its peak is crowned by the most revered emblematic symbol of the cult of Jagannath, the Neel Chakra (Blue Disc), the eight-pointed disc of Vishnu. The Neel Chakra is a symbol of Jagannath’s protection. It is made from Asta-Dhatu (an 8-metal alloy). Above this, a flag — the Patitapaban Bana — majestically dominates the roofs of the city. This is a new one each day. The flags are changed at sunset (between 18h-19h) according to the tradition in progress for more than 800 years.
The gate oriented to the east, is the main gate known as Simhadwara (Lion Gate) since, two statues of stone lions on either side of the entrance. While the northern, southern and western gates are called Hastidwara (elephant gate), Ashwadwara (horse gate) and the Vyagharadwara (tiger gate), respectively; since we were not allowed in, unable to share an in-depth description of the temple. I even missed the Vimala temple is one of the Shakti Peth (Shakti is the leading female of Hinduism and the ultimate divinity of the Shakta sect) in the country. But I was fortunate for Mahaprasad as it was given to the goddess as well.
Another structure which attracted my attention was the kitchen. About 700 temple cooks are used in the preparation of the Mahaprasad. Why is it known as Mahaprasad? I asked the PandaPanda the same thing, the answer was that it is offered first to Jagannath then to Devi Vimala after which it becomes Mahaprasad. This is a very elaborate affair with 56 different dishes prepared during the day. Mahaprasad is available daily except during the 21 days preceding the annual Rath Yatra festival.
This temple also attracted many prominent religious teachers of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism over the centuries as- Guru Nanak visited the temple in 1505, as well as Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Even ban on the entrance of non-Hindu archaeologist, historians and British people from pursuing their interest in the temple and its rituals never dampens their spirit of. Instead, the annual Rath Yatra festival allowed them to see the deities as they were taken out of the temple premises and carried in wooden chariots richly decorated to be drawn through the streets of Puri in a massive ceremonial procession. As the first European description of this festival appeared early in the 14th century.
As per my knowledge, Rath Yatra is a ten-day chariot festival commemorating the annual visit of Jagannath to his place of birth, Gundicha Temple, along with a stop at his maternal aunt, the Mausi Maa temple also, with his older brother Balabhadra and his younger sister Subhadra. Throughout his journey, he is also accompanied by the heavenly wheel, Sudarshan Chakra. It takes place in the Aashaadha month of Hindu calendar, where extreme enthusiasm and excitement fill the atmosphere of the city with a religious spirit which cannot be felt but not described. That’s true! I saw the procession on television only.
The Jagannath temple of Puri is not just an architectural wonder, but the incarnation of the faith of millions of devotees. The city of Puri is nourished with this faith, that’s
why there is a lively and festive ambience throughout the year. After our prayer and offering, we headed for the next destination, the Gudincha temple. The place where Lord Jagganath was born. This temple is essential for the celebration of Jagannath as a destination for the Rath Yatra. Although round the year the temple remains empty. The building is of Deula style, made of pale grey sandstone. It was closed due to COVID-19.
The next destination that our Toto took was Narendra Tank, one of the most oversized tanks in Odisha and is supposed to have been built during the 15th century. The temple was submerged in water as a result of heavy rains, so could not enter. However, the reservoir is considered holy and has many little and big temples around it. Amid the lake lies an island with a small temple called Chandana Mandapa.
As we rode towards the Mausima Temple, the rain started to pour in. It was a fun ride, anyway returning to the temple of Mausima the name of the temple translates to ‘aunt mother’ and is closely related to the tradition of Rath Yatra where Lord Jaggantha visits his aunt on his return. According to legend, the goddess Mausi Ma saved Puri from the floods by drinking half the seawater. The shrine itself has strong fortress-like walls and elaborate architecture, representing security. The temple was closed, so we paid homage from outside.
We drove further to the temple of Lokanath, an 11-century temple and among the five famous temples of Puri devoted to Lord Shiva. According to legend, Lord Rama built this temple, where the complex is made in a typically Deula architectural style. The principal temple is in marble, while the rest is in sandstone. A lingam Shiva in the sanctum sanctorum is the presiding deity, and a natural fountain runs over it, making the Lingam remain submerged in water. The Lingam is visible for devotees only during Shivratri when all the water is ejected. A Lokanatha idol inside the Jagannath Temple symbolizes his role as the guardian deity of treasures. Lokanatha attends Jagannath festivals like Shivratri, Sital Sasthi and Candan Yatra.
The last temple we visited was Alabukeshwara Temple, a Saiva shrine located on the western side of the Yameswara. It is talked about in the reports raised by the Kapila Samhita to make sterile women fertile. With this temple, our tour ended; however, the rain followed me throughout the temple. We arrived at our hotel right at lunchtime, although I wanted to visit the lighthouse that was closed due to COVID-19. Damn it!.
After lunch, I was in search of a neighbouring location to explore, which is open. However, I was thoroughly enjoying this forsaken town, as I could see the old houses on the temple road, clean beaches, no crowds which I loved the most. Therefore, I began to google and found this river Dhaudia Mohana. It is located next to the sea mouth of which in turn is the distributary of River Bhargabi. It is popularly known as Mohana (meaning sea mouth literally).
Its a detour from the main tourist draw and few tourists visit this place. Ah! Perfect for my taste. The Map showed 5.6km from the hotel, means a 20 min drive on Toto. We’ve decided to get on with it. On the Toto trip, I didn’t know where we were going or how far we were going. I was following the technology-Google Map; anyway, the Toto driver was young and friendly, he said he would wait for us because there won’t be Toto available to ride back. That was nice of him! Finally, we arrived at our destination. Believe me, and I marvelled at purity and clarity.
No people at all, and the water as well beach were much more transparent and unaltered. The waves were much slower, and water from the Dhaudia River was dragging over the sand. I found a large number of jellyfish, starfish, crabs and seashells over the beach. The tranquil beauty of the place just sank in my soul, and I started to walk.
The continuous bending of the sea towards the shore leads me to a calm state. I can sit here for hours with the water running down my feet and the sand running out. Looking at the infinite horizon, I realized that we only know the small fragments that Mother Nature has enabled us to see. There is an enormous amount of treasure and life to find, to discover. Once again, I fear the unknown, certainty and I’ll still have an unbreakable connection to the sea. I wanted to stay awhile, but it was twilight, so it’s time to go. The moon was also shining in the sky- Oh, I forget it was Purnima- the night of the full moon.
As we were leaving the place, a rain leaf flowed down from the sky gate, and it was not even cloudy. But it didn’t bother me, because my afternoon was spent in serenity. The evening I spent at Honeybee Café savouring some delicious banana honey pancakes and coffee.
Later, I went to sleep early, because tomorrow we are leaving for Bhubaneshwar. As I fell asleep, I realized “We travel not to escape life, but to live not to escape”.
How to Reach
Biju Patnaik Airport in Bhubaneswar is the nearest airport, which is approximately 56 km from the heart of the city of Puri. We can reserve a taxi from the airport for Puri.
Puri is a major railroad crossroads. Regular direct trains are available from numerous towns in India, including Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. You can book a taxi or take buses for your destination.
Puri is connected to nearby cities via well-constructed roads. Buses are regarded as the primary option for travelling to Puri as the bus stand near the Gundicha temple. Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack are a 15-minute bus drive away.