Puri is one of the most sacred pilgrimage places in India, and is sometimes described as being “one of the four ‘Dhamas‘ (sacred centres) of the Hindu religion’.
Although worship of Jagannatha was going on a long time before in this spot, the construction of the present temple was started by Ananta Varman Chodaganga during the 12th century A.D. and was completed by Ananga Bhima Dev.
The vast temple complex occupies an area of over 400,000 square feet, and is bounded by a 20 foot high wall. The compound contains about 120 shrines. The top of the Jagannath temple towers to a height of 192 feet. This temple stands on an elevated platform of stone, which measures about 10 acres and is located in the heart of the town.
This is as close as we could get to the temple, and the photo was taken at sunset directly across the road on the roof of a shelter for Manipuri widows.
The temple has four halls, outermost being the Bhogamandir (hall for eating). The second one is the Nata-mandir, a hall for music and dance.
The third is the Jagamohana, a gathering hall for devotees; and the fourth is known as the Deul, enshrining the actual Deities themselves. I was unable to identify which was which from the roof.
Here is a nice close up of the spire of the Jagannatha Temple.
To get some idea of the size, the golden chakra pictured above is 4 metres tall. The flag is changed (by hand) 3 times a day.
The temple has four gates at the eastern, southern, western and northern midpoints of the Meghanad Prachir (the outer enclosure) and are known as the Lion Gate, Horse Gate, Tiger Gate and the Elephant Gate respectively. Pictured below is the Lion Gate (Simha Dvara).
Each of the gates has quite a long history. Below is the Horse Gate.
The Elephant Gate seemed not to be open the day I visited. Below is the Tiger Gate.
The architecture of the temple follows the pattern of many Orissan temples of the classical period. Much of the local architecture embodies the same classical style, like this building, now a shop on the main street.
The most famous festivals to be held in Puri is the festival of Ratha Yatra. Since time beyond memory, the celebrated Deity of Krsna known as Jagannatha (Lord of the Universe), who resides in this magnificent temple, had been honoured with a great chariot parade.
Every summer, on the second day of the bright fortnight of Ashada (June-July), literally millions of pilgrims gather from all over India to join in the awesome and magnificent celebration in which the Supreme Personality of Godhead graces everyone – highborn or low, pure or impure, rich or poor – with His presence when He leaves His palatial temple and travels in state to His peaceful summer retreat of Gundica.
The Deity of Jagannatha memorialises Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as He manifested Himself in Dvaraka fifty centuries before. There, as part of His personal pastimes on earth, Lord Krsna had reigned as king in dazzling splendour and revealed the unsurpassable opulence and majesty of His Godhood.
Puri temple has the world’s largest kitchen and feeds thousands of devotees every day. The kitchen prepares food for 100,000 people on a festival day and for about 25,000 on a normal day. This is as close as I could get to the kitchen, as non-hindus (anyone with white skin) are strictly forbidden entry through any of the temple gates.
These soldiers look quite friendly, but if I was to attempt an entry, they would restrict me at any cost. This is all you can see of the kitchen from outside the walled compound.
Everywhere you look downtown you’ll see devotees carrying pots, both large and small, of delicious food that has been sanctified in the temple. These two gentlemen were more than happy to pose in front of the revered maha prasad. For a couple of dollars per head you can order generous pots full of maha prasad, some still piping hot, which can be delivered to wherever you may be staying in Puri. We ate it almost every night and savoured the very wonderful and unique flavours. The recipes have not changed in 2000 years.
No ingredients are ever used in the temple kitchens that are not indiginous to India and specifically the local region. Thus you will never find potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, or even chilies in any Jagannath maha prasadam. All these items were introduced only a few hundred years ago, being native to South America. And, of course, the temple recipes were compiled many, many centuries before.
This building is the Gambhira, the Sacred residence of Sri Caitanya when he resided in Puri.
Puri does have some gorgeous cows, and some different varieties to what I’ve seen elsewhere in India, including some wonderful miniature breeds. This lovely lady is being nicely looked after in a special goshalla near the Tota Gopinath temple.
In many Indian temples, photography is not allowed. Nevertheless, here is a rare photo of Lord Balarama and wives, on an altar to the left of that of Tota Gopinatha. Ask no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.
Traditional arches like the one below are a common sight adjoining the temples of Orissa, and are often used to hang swings for the temple Deities on festival days.
We took a tour of the beautiful Gundica (pronounced goon-deecha) Temple. Below is its ornate main entrance.
The Gundica temple, founded in the 16th century, is another one of the most renowned temples in Puri. It is situated two miles northeast of the Jagannatha temple. At the time of the famous Ratha-yatra festival, Lord Jagannatha goes to the Gundica temple from His original temple and stays there for one week. After one week, He returns to His original temple. It is understood by hearsay that the wife of Indradyumna, the King who established the Jagannatha temple millenia ago, was known as Gundica.
Yet another beautiful entrance to a secluded sacred garden. I’ve forgotten which this is. Any memory joggers out there?
Here’s another garden entrance.
Ancient banyan trees like this one abound in India. Some are thousands of years old.
The last evening before we left the sacred city of Puri we held a mini-festival in our guesthouse room to commemorate the celebration of Govardhana-Puja. We built a small hill of sweets, some of them local specialties, which were eventually eaten with gusto, (or should I say ‘gutso’)
Pictured above, from bottom:
A tub of mishti doi, a bengali sweet yogurt made from condensed fresh cows milk and natural sugar cane sweetener; khajja, the all-time famous sweet of Puri, which is basically a crispy fried sugar-dipped flakey pastry; a morsel of chocolate sandesh (a type of sweet cheesecake made from panir cheese); a diamond-shaped cashew burfi (cashew milk fudge); another local Puri sweet the name of which evades me – basically a round of sweet sugar-syrup drenched spongy soft fresh cheese; besan laddhu (chickpea flour fudge); boondi laddhu; another variety of besan laddhu (in the paper cup); a morsel of rasagulla (fresh cheese simmered in syrup); silver-coated cham-cham; a chunk of the famous local cheescake called Chenna Podi; a couple of unidentified morsels.
Next morning we set off to the city of Bhubanesvar, where we met our flight to Delhi and the holy land of Sri Vrindavan.
And that’s the subject of another blog, on another day. My present marathon of blogging is over. I leave soon for the material world – Delhi, Singapore, and back to Perth.
Thanks for your support.