Monday, 4 July 2011

Jagannath Puri: The Gateway to Heaven

A sacred pilgrimage town and one of the four original Dhams of India, Puri in Orissa, is the abode of Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Brahma Purana regards it as the holiest of all the Dhams and it is believed that one can achieve salvation here even if he or she hasn't visited all the other three dhams viz., Dwarka, Badrinath & Rameswaram. No wonder then, the place is also known as Swargdwar or the Gateway to Heaven. The holy town of Puri also has a special place for the followers of Buddhism. According to the Buddhist texts, Puri was the place where the tooth of the Enlightened One was hidden before it was shifted to Kandy in Sri Lanka.

Puri is renowned for its famous Rath Yatra and the Jagannath Temple - also known as the White Pagoda of the Europeans. The Black Pagaoda - as Konark Sun Temple is often called is also a star attraction in Puri. There are still a few other beautiful temples, beaches and places of tourist interest that continues to attract families and solo travellers from all corners of the country and different parts of the world.
Places of Interest

Jagannath Temple: The mainstay of Puri around which the entire life of the town and its inhabitants revolve, the Jagannath Temple along with the Konark temple marks the pinnacle of Orissa temple architecture. The present temple said to have been built by the Ganga ruler Anantavarman Chodagangadeva in the 12th century  and is the highest of all the Orissa's temples (214 feet from the ground level).

The temple stands on an elevated 8m platform known as Nila Parbata (Blue Mountain) and is surrounded by huge gateways on the four sides. The main gateway known as the Simha Dwar (Lions gateway) has two massive stone lions guarding the entrance. The temple is constructed as per the Pancharatha plan in the typical Kalinga School of Architecture with a Nata Mandir, Bhoga Mandir, the Jagamohana or the mandapa where devotees gather for worship and the Deul or the sanctum sanctorum where the deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are enshrined.

The Jagannath - Juggernaut
The Jagannath Temple occupies an area of over 400000 square feet, and is bounded by a 20 feet high fortified wall. This complex contains about 120 temples and shrines. The shikhara of the Jagannath temple towers to a height of 192 feet. The main highlight of the Jagannath temple apart from its annual Rath Yatra festival is its Mahaprasad (bhoga/prasad) which is prepared in the Lord's kitchen.

Gundicha Temple: The second important temple of Puri, the Gundicha Temple is the place where Lord Jagannath along with his siblings- Balabhadra and Subhadra go to every year for 9 days during the annual Rath Yatra festival (Asadha/June or July). Also known as ‘Janak Puri', the temple is situated at the other end of the great highway (Badadanda)- distance of 8,327 feet from the gates of Jagannath temple.

The Gundicha Temple stands in the middle of a garden and is 430 feet x75 feet. It is temple is surrounded by a 20ftx5ft wall and as per the Kalinga Architectural style consists of a Vimana, Jagamohana,Natamandapa and Bhogamandapa. The images of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are seated on raised platform 4 feet high and 19 feet long when they visit the Gundicha temple. This platform made of chlorite is called the 'Ratnavedi'. This temple has two gates the western gate (the main gate) and the eastern gate called Nakachana gate. A pond nearby the temple is home to a number of tortoises who are said to have been shilpis in their past life & who carried huge stones on their back to build the Jagannath temple.

Lord's Kitchen

The kitchen of the Jagannath Temple is said to be the largest and the biggest in the world serving about 5,000 persons every day. This number however increases during festivals and other festive occasions reaching to about a million. The size of the kitchen is about 150ft x100ft x20ft and around 600 cooks known as Suaras and 400 assistants are involved in preparing Lord's food known popularly as Mahaprasad. Around 56 varieties of food are prepared daily to be offered to the gods as bhoga. This bhoga are offered to the deities five times a day viz., ‘Gopala-Ballava' (Breakfast), ‘Sakal Dhupa' ‘Madhyana Dhupa' ‘Sandhya Dhupa' and ‘Badasinghar Dhupa.' These prasad can be brought from the Anand Bazzar situated on the northeastern corner of the outer enclosure of the temple. However it is usually the ‘Khaja'  - a  dry Mahaprasad  made of maida, sugar and ghee which can stay fresh for days together that is preferred by tourists to carry back home.

Pancha Tirtha: It is believed that the visit to Puri is incomplete unless one partakes a bath in the Pancha Tirtha .The Pancha Tirtha are the five sacred bathing places viz., the Indradyumna Tank, Markandesvara Tank, Swetaganga Rohini Kunda and Mahodadhi (sea). By visiting Lord Jagannath and bathing in the Pancha Tirthas the pilgrims gets Salvation.
  • Indradyumna Tank: Located on the north western part of the Gundicha temple, the Indradyumna Tank is 396 feet wide, 485 feet long and covers an area of four and a half acres. A temple dedicated to Lord Krishna is located nearby the Tank as also a small shrine, dedicated to King Indrayumna. The Indradyumna tank was earlier a 'Yagnya Kunda' where the king had organized 'Ashwamedha Yagnya'. The statue of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra being constructed by Biswakarma is located near this Yanga kunda at Gundicha temple.
  • Swetaganga Tank: Situated to the west of the Jagannath Temple in between Lions gate and Swargadwar, the Swetaganga is said to be created from the nail of Lord Vishnu. One needs to take a bath on Swetaganga before visiting the temple.  Two small temples, dedicated to Sweta Madhava and Matsya Madhava are located near this tank.
  • Rohini Kunda: Located inside Lord Jagannath Temple and in front of Goddess Vimala Temple is the Rohini Kunda. The water of the Kunda is known as 'Karana Water' and is sprinkled by devotes for purification. Behind the Rohini Kunda  is an image of  Bhusanda Kaka (a crow). As per the legend, Bhusanda fell into this tank and got transformed to a form of Vishnu with four hands and holding a conch (sankha), wheel(chakra), lotus (padma) & gada (mace)
  • Markandesvara Tank: The tank is located on the very spot where Lord Vishnu once rested in the form of a tree. A temple dedicated to him lies buried in the sand dunes. Another story associates the tank with Sage Markandeya who meditated here after he was saved by the Lord on this very spot from the sea. 
  • Mahodadhi (Sea): The sea as a sacred bathing site!…sounds amusing but its true. The golden beach of Puri is considered as the greatest among the Tirthas (Tirtharaj) mainly due to the fact that the sacred Daru or the log from which the idols of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra were made came floating in the sea.

Puri Beach:  One of the best beaches in the country and also one of the holiest, the beach in Puri is often overshadowed by its more popular counterparts in Goa and Kerala. But ask anyone who has been there and the answer is but unanimous- the Puri beach is one to the best beaches conducive for swimming for both kids and adults alike.

The Puri beach offers a relax atmosphere- you can swim, take a stroll or simply watch the sun go down without any disturbances. If you are hungry then there are various restaurants and small dhabas located nearby offering some of the tasty Oriya snacks and cuisine.  Other attractions at the beach includes the five days long Puri Beach Festival held in the month of February and the festivities during the "Kartik Purnima"  when people gather here in the  early morning to take a holy dip and pray sea God.

Puri - Rath Yatra
The annual car festival or Rath Yatra held in the month of June -July. Once in a lifetime experience and a spectacle not be missed, it is said that the word “Juggernaut" (meaning an overwhelming, advancing force that crushes or seems to crush everything in its path/) was coined by the British only after witnessing such an event in which thousands of devotees has flung themselves in front of the huge chariots in the believe that they will achieve salvation.
District Museum Puri: A branch museum of Orissa State Museum, the Puri Museum located on Station Road was established in 1997. Managed  by the  Government of Orissa, it showcases the different   veshas  of  Lord   Jagannath,  Sculptures  of  various Kinds, Patta  paintings,  palm  leaf   paintings etc
Sri Lokanath Temple: One of the oldest temples of Puri, the Sri Lokanath Temple located some 2½ kms to the west of Jagannath Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.  Before Puri became an important Vaishanava site, it was the seat of Saiva worship and as per the legends, the 'Linga' of the Lokanath Temple was installed here by Sri Ramachandra during the Treteya Yug. The ‘Linga' is an interesting feature of the Sri Lokanath Temple, which remains submerged under water. It is visible only on the night of 'Pankadhar Ekadasi' few days before Sivaratri, when all the water is bailed out to enable thousands of the devotees to see and worship the Lord. It is said that the decomposed water has miraculous properties and can cure several diseases.

The Sri Lokanath Temple currently buried under the sand is built in sandstones locally called Sanla Pathara. The main temple is about 30 feet from the ground level and consists of the Vimana (Main Temple), Jagamohana (Entrance Hall), Natamandapa (Dancing Hall) and Bhogamndapa (Offering Hall). The image of Shiva-Parvati is carved on the northern side wall; that of Lord Kartikeya on the eastern side and of Lord Ganesha  on the southern side wall. There are also a few temples located inside the Sri Loknatha temple premises notable among which are the Surya-Narayana Chandra-Narayana and the Satya-Narayan. One can also find an image of Lord Hanuman located on right side of the entrance to the inner courtyard. Near the temple is a pond known as Parvati Sagara where devotees are required to wash their hands and feet before entering into the temple.

An image of Lord Lokanath ('Bije Pratima') known as Bhandar Lokanath is kept in the Sri Jagannath Temple. He is considered as the guardian deity of the Ratnabhandara (treasure house) of Sri Jagannatha Temple and is also associated with Lord Jagannath in several festivals like Sivaratri, Chandan Yatra and Sital Sasthi.

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