There are very few places that have embraced opposites, such as the sacred and the profane, religious and secular, dogma and liberalism, particular and universal, the way Puri has, with beauty and serenity. Located at 60 km from Bhubaneswar on the shoreline of Bay of Bengal, Puri, the abode of Vishnu as Jagannath, is one of the four holy dhamas of India beside Dwarka, Rameswaram and Badrinath. A host possessing a rich cultural heritage and integrated individuality, Puri has opened her gates with a spirit of universality , adaptability , and endurance.
¤ History of the Spiritual Niche
The ancient name of this town was Charitra mentioned by the Chinese piligrim Hiuen Tsang as Che-li-ta-lo. But the restoration of the word Che-li-ta-lo as Charitra and its identification with the town of Puri are debatable. The importance of Puri as a seat of Vaisnavism increased, when Raja Ananta Varman Chodaganga Dev constructed the temple of Purusottama Jagannath and installed the images of the deities in 12th century. Thereafter , it became famous as the abode of Purusottama and was popularly called Purusottama Kshetra.
The city continued to prosper under his dominion until 1558, when the State of Orissa was conquered by the Afghan Nawab of Bengal. Later, Raja Mansingh, a General of the Mughal King Akbar, defeated the Afghans and annexed Orissa in to the Mughal territory which remained under the Mughals till 1751 A.D. It was Orrisa's capital for hundreds of years until the Britishers annexed Orissa into British empire in 1803 and made Cuttack the new capital in 1936. Later, because of its mild, balmy weather, Puri became the summer headquarters of the Governer of Orrisa.
¤ Major Tourist Attractions
The temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri, is one of the major Hindu pilgrimage destinations of India. With its roaring 65 mt high spire, the temple is visible even from the countryside. Decorated with four gates on each side, the temple also has a 16 sided monolithic pillar measuring 11 meters in height, Arunastambh; architectural zenith with exquisite carvings which was brought here from Konark in the 18th century. The temple also has the largest kitchen in the world serving around 10,000 devotees every day.At the end of Grand Road, about 3 km northeast of Jagannath temple, is the Gundicha Mandir. At the time of Rath Yatra festival, Lord Jagannath goes to Gundicha temple and stays there for a week. The city is dotted with numerous other shrines like Narasimha temple and Tota Gopinath temple.
The Puri Beach is one of the most sought after beaches in India and is an indispensable part of the city. The abode of Lord Jagannath attracts millions of tourists round the year who come here to take a holy bath, which they believe is a golden path to Moksha or Eternal salvation. Trimmed with gorgeous sand arts, the golden sand of this pristine beach allures every tourists to their brim.
The Shopping Pockets
A treasure chest for those interested in traditional crafts, Puri offers a diverse range of articles with peerless craftsmanship and exquisite carvings. Enjoy the broad array of bead and bamboo works, Pattachitras (miniature religious paintings on silk and cotton fabric), wooden combs, pitchers, glasses, lamps, masks and metal crafts displayed at the Ananda Bazaar in the temple complex, where the craft and food sheds are concentrated.
The Orrisa Handicrafts Emporium, situated at Grand Road, promote a superb collection of Ikat handlooms. Locally known as Cuttaki, Ikat is an intricate process of tie and dye, which involves knotting of yarn, before it is dipped in separate colours and woven to produce exquisite designed cloth. The emporium also features double-Ikat from Sambalpur and gold-embroidered ones from Sonepur.
¤ Fairs and Festivals
Puri offers a number of colourful fairs and festivals such as Chandan Yatra, Snana Yatra (Bath festival), Anavasara festival and Nava- Kalevara etc., but it is the Chariot Festival, an annual sojourn of the three deities riding their lofty chariots, that hits the bull's eye. During the Chandan Yatra in April, the deities are taken to a boat ride in the Narendra sarovara after they are bathed in sandalwood scented water. During the Snana Yatra, the main deities are brought to the Snana-Mandapa in a procession calles Pahandi, where around mid-day 108 pots of water are poured on them. During the Anavasara festival, it is said that Lord Jagannath suffers from fever and hence an infusion of medicines is offered in the form of soups and fruit juices. Nava-Kalevara is when Lord Jagannath , gets a new body. This takes place whenever a double Ashar occurs in a year which usually happens in every 8, 11 or 19 years.
¤ Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival)
The spectacular chariot festival, held in the month of June-July, involves the procession of three colossal chariots bearing the images of Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra through the Grand Road, a distance of about 3 km. Jagannath's chariot is a 35 feet square rising to a height of 45 feet and is supported on 16 wheels. The cart is covered with brightly coloured yellow and red fabric with a wheel on top of it. More than 4000 people drag the chariot to Gundicha Mandir, where the images are kept for a week before they are returned during the Bahuda Yatra (Return Cart Festival).
¤ Near-by Excursions
Situated at a distance of mere 8 km from Puri, this casuarina caressed beach is a leisure paradise. Blend yourself with the natural spirit of the sun, sand and the sea, while picking up lovely sea shells as memoirs for your near and dear ones.
Also known as the Satyabadi, the temple is located at 20 km from Puri on NH 203, enroute to Bhubaneswar. Dedicated to Lord Sakshigopal (Lord Krishna), this temple bears architectural elegance. It is believed that a visit to Puri is incomplete without paying a visit to Sakshigopal.
About 10 km from Puri on NH 203, is Raghurajpur, a village famous for its attractive pattachitra and talapattachitra (paintings on silk and palm leaves) illustrations. Birthplace of Guru Kelu Charan Mahapatra, the Odissi dance maestro, the place is currently being promoted as a handicraft hub by the state government in collaboration with INTACH.
About 36 km from Puri, this small town is known for its applique work. Originally, artists from this place made colourful umbrellas and dresses for Lord Jagannath. Here you can pick up alluring traditional applique items such as batuas (cloth pouches) and sunjis (embroidered quilts).
Puri generally have a temperate weather all the year round, which makes it an all-season destination for innumerable tourists. A light cotton clothing in the summer and light woolens in the winter are compatible enough. The Rath-yatra in June/July is celebrated during the rainy season and it often rains very hard during the pulling of the carts.
¤ Get Anchored
Air : The Nearest Airport is 60 km away at Bhubaneswar. There are numerous flights connecting Bhubaneswar to New Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai.
Rail : Puri is well connected by railways to Berhampore (Orissa), Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, Cochin, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Chennai, Tirupati, Trivandrum, Varanasi etc. There are daily trains from New Delhi to Puri and a once a week Rajdhani Express to Bhubaneswar. If you are going to or from South India, you can change trains at Bhubaneswar or at Khurda Road junction (44 km), which is south of Bhubaneswar on the Chennai-Kolkata main line. The railway booking office is opposite to the police station on Grand Road. Especially during the pilgrim season, trains should be booked as far in advance as possible to enjoy a hassle-free holiday tour.
Road : Government State Transport and Orissa Road Corporation buses ply regularly between Puri and Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, Chilka, Konarak, Madras, Sambalpur, and Visakhapatnam. The bus stand is by the Gundicha Mandira on Grand Road. To get to Bhuwaneswar takes at least 2 hrs by train, and only an hour and a half by bus. The non-stop private buses are the quickest.