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. Jagannath is a Sanskrit name used to describe a deity form of Krishna. The term means master (nath) of the universe (jagat). Jagannath is considered amongst Vaishnavas to be a very merciful form of Krishna. The abode of Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe), Puri (also known as Purushottam Kshetra) is located at 60 km from Bhubaneswar on the coast of Bay of Bengal. Interestingly, the Rig Veda also refers to Purushottama in the form of a wooden image, made from a log of wood floating on the ocean. In fact, intrigued by His persona and looks, which can be best described as totemic, several scholars relate the mythology to Buddhist, Jain, Vedic and tribal origins. For a casual visitor in search of instant gratification, of the spirit as well of the senses, Puri with its alluring seafront and religious atmosphere, is an ideal gateway.
There are two interesting stories associated with this deity. According to ancient scriptures, the original image of Jagannath was found at the foot of a fig tree, in the form of an Indranila (Blue Jewel). Rattled by its dazzling brightness, Dharma requested it to be hidden in the earth. King Indradyumna of Malwa, intending to discover this image, performed severe penances, and was instructed by Lord Vishnu to go to the Puri seashore, and look for a floating log. Vishnu and Vishwakarma appeared thereafter as artisans and carved the images of Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra from its trunk.
The second reason for Lord Jagannath's appearance is the story of how Krishna was eavesdropping on the gopis as they spoke amongst themselves of His pastimes, and how much they loved him. Sister Subhadra was instructed to keep watch and ensure Krishna wasn't nearby while the gopis spoke of Krishna. But after a while Subhadra was so overwhelmed by the gopis' devotion and their stories that she became completely engrossed in listening. She didn't see the brothers Krishna and Balarama approaching. As the brothers listened their hairs stood on end, their arms retracted, their eyes grew larger and larger, and they smiled broadly in ecstasy. That is why Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra look like they do.
This form is worshiped by Vaishnavas as the abstract form of Krishna. The deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra (Balarama) and Subhadra (Krishna's sister) are usually worshipped in the temple, but once in every Asadha Masa (Rainy Season, usually June or July), they are brought out onto the main high street of Puri and travel to the Mausimaa Temple, allowing the public to have Darshan (holy view) of the deities as they pass. This festival is known as Ratha Yatra. The Rath carts themselves are huge wooden structures built new everyyear and are pulled by the millions of pilgrims who turn up for the event from all parts of the Globe. The festival commemorates Krishna's return to His home in Vrindavan after a long period of separation from the people there.
Some scholars also believe that the three richly decorated effigies of Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra represent the Buddhist triad of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Some say his idol confines an object representing a bone from Lord Krishna's body, while others surmise it could be the tooth of Buddha. One can say that the amalgamation of "esoteric practices of tantra, the meditative approach of the Buddhists, the universal tolerance of the Jains and the comprehensive religion of Vedantism" is what makes Jagannath so popular.
The Temple of Lord Jagannath
The construction of the eminent Temple of Lord Jagannath, was begun by Raja Ananta Varman Chodaganga Dev in 12th century A.D. and was completed by his descendant Anangabhima Dev III. The management of the temple continued under the Hindu rulers till 1558, when the State of Orissa was conquered by the Afghan Nawab of Bengal. Later, Ramachandra Deb established Khurda kingdom, venerated the temple and reinstalled the deities. Raja Mansingh, a General of the Mughal King Akbar, defeated the Afghans and annexed Orissa in to the Mughal territory. It remained under the Mughals till 1751 A.D. while the Khurda Raja, was paying tribute to Mughals and Marhattas. Later, Marhattas took up direct management of the temple. The Britishers annexed Orissa into British empire in 1803 and allowed Puri Raja to manage the temple which continued till 1947.
Long before one reaches Puri, the 214 feet (65 meters) spire of the temple can be seen towering over the countryside. This visual dominance is symbolic of the influence which the temple commands over almost every aspect of life in Puri. The great temple is the city's navel, where all its spiritual energy is concentrated. The temple complex occupies an area of 10.7 acres and is enclosed by two rectangular walls, built during 15th century. The outer enclosure is called the Meghanada Prachira (665 x 640 ft) whereas the inner wall is called Kurmabheda (420 x 315 ft). There are 4 gates leading into the temple: the Lion Gate (east), Horse Gate (south), Tiger Gate(west) and the Elephant Gate (north). Most visitors enter through the eastern gate, known as the Simhadwar (Lion's Gate) because of the two massive crouched lions carved near the entrance. Just before the gate stands an opulent 16 sided monolithic pillar measuring 11 meters in height, Arunastambh; architectural zenith with exquisite carvings. It was brought here from Konark in the 18th century.
There is a wheel on top of the temple made of an alloy of eight different metals (ashta dhatu), known as Nila Chakra (Blue Wheel) with a circumference of about 36 ft. A flag is tied everyday on a mast attached to the Nila Chakra.
In the central Jagmohan (sacrosanct), pilgrims to the temple can view the images of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. The curious images are carved from tree trunks in a child like caricature of a human face. Even to the non-religious eye, the image is fascinating, perhaps because of the unlikely combination of the endearing, charming form with an undeniable sense of power. A gaze at the faces of the pilgrims together with the divine fragrance and tantalizing sizzles of sweets and snacks inside the temple, takes a person to a higher spiritual consciousness.
Lord Jagannath's teeth are cleaned everyday before he is clothed in one of the 36 exquisitely designed dresses in the temple wardrobe. There are 36 traditional communities, divided into 97 classes, who render a specific hereditary service to the deities. 20,000 servants wait on him whereas 400 cooks prepare a whopping 100 dishes for over 10,000 devotees. The temple is said to have the largest kitchen in the world.
Location and Transport
The town of Puri is situated along the seashore(i.e. the Bay of Bengal) in the State of Orissa.
State Capital Bhubaneswar is the nearest Airport otherwise known as " Biju Pattnaik Airport". The distance is 65 Kms. from Puri and can be covered in an hour by car. Indian Airlines operates flights from Delhi, Calcutta, Visakhapatna, Hyderabad, Raipur, Mumbai and Chennai.
Being a terminus on the SouthEastern Railway, Puri is directly linked with Delhi, Calcutta, Ahmadabad, Patna, Baidyanath Dham and Tirupati by train. Besides one can go to Khurda Road junction to the state capital Bhubaneswar to rail his way to Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai.
Only 60 Kms. away from Bhubaneswar by State Highway No-8, Puri has got a 35 Kms. Marine drive road way to Konark. The State capital is situated on both sides of Calcutta – Chennai National Highway No-5.