Sunday, February 24, 2008

Jagannath Puri or Puri

World Famous Ratha Yatra

Jagannath Puri, or simply Puri, is one of Adi Shankaracharya’s Char Dhams (or Four Places of Pilgrimage) located in the four corners of India.
The other three are: Badrinath in the North (Himalayas); Dwarka in the West; and Rameshwaram in the South.

Badrinath is located amidst the snowy peaks of the Himalayas.
The other three are located on the shores of the seas around India.
Jagannath Puri is world famous for its unique Ratha Yatra (Chariot Procession).
Ratha Yatras, on a smaller scale, are simultaneously organised in several parts of India and even abroad.
Fairs and melas are organised during the nine day festivities.
In Kolkata (Calcutta), the fairs attract shops selling plant and pets.
When I was small, I loved to go to these fairs and purchase a few plants and pets.
As a result, I have kept such unconventional pets as lizards, scorpions, snakes, python, deer and peacocks.
And all this was possible only because my parents never objected or protested.
I don’t remember ever being reprimanded for my pets and plants.
They heroically suffered the less than normal whimsical fancies of their little son.

Origin of the Word Jagannath
The word Jagannath comes from two Sanskrit words Jagat (meaning universe) and Nath (meaning master).
Jagannath, meaning Master of the Universe, is another name for Lord Krishna.
The most famous and oldest Jagannath temple in India is in Puri, Orissa.
Because of this temple, Puri is also known as Jagannath Puri.


There are two mythological stories relating to the deity.
Lord Krishna appeared to his great devotee, King Indradyumna and ordered him to get his deity carved out of a log he would find washed out on the sea shore.
King Indradyumna duly recovered the log and found a mysterious old Brahmin carpenter willing to carve the deity.

The carpenter insisted that under no circumstance, he should be disturbed while he was carving the deity.
The king anxiously waited outside his room.
When all sound stopped, King Indradyumna could not restrain himself any longer.
He opened the door and entered the room.
He found the deity half-finished and the carpenter gone.
King Indradyumna was very upset because the deity had no arms and legs.

Ultimately, Narada Muni appeared and explained that the carpenter was Vishvakarma, the heavenly sculptor of the Gods; and the form of Lord Krishna, the king saw, was one of the forms of Lord Krishna.
According to the second story, the gopis (maids) were talking about the pranks of Krishna, and about their love for him.
The gopis had instructed Subhadra (Krishna’s sister) to keep watch and warn them if Krishna came.
But after some time, Subhadra became completely engrossed in the conversation.She did not notice Krishna and his brother Balaram approaching.
The two brothers listened to the gopis’ talk.
Their hairs stood on end, their arms retracted, their eyes grew larger and larger, and they smiled broadly in joy.
That is why Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra look the way they do.

The Temple of Lord Jagannath

There is some disagreement amongst experts about the exact period of construction of the present temple.
Construction of the present temple was started in the 12th century A.D. by King Ananta Burman Chodaganga Deva, founder of the Ganga dynasty in Orissa.
But he could not complete it during his lifetime.
The construction was completed by his successor Ananga Bhima Deva III.

The temple is built in the Kalinga style of architecture.
It consists of a tall shikhara (dome) housing the sanctum sanctorum (garba griha) where the deity is placed.
A pillar of fossilized wood is used for placing lamps as offering.
Singhadwara (lion gate), guarded by two guardian deities, Jaya and Vijayais, is the main gate to the temple.
A memorial column, brought here by the Raja of Khurda from the Sun Temple of Konarak, known as Aruna Stambha, faces the main gate.
The three deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra (Balaram) and Subhadra are worshipped inside the temple.
Only Hindus are allowed inside the temple.
Even Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter the temple.
More recently, a Thai princess was not allowed to enter the temple.

But once a year, during the rainy season, usually in June or July, the deities are brought out in one of the most clourful processions any where in the world.
Ratha Yatra
This festival is known as Ratha Yatra (Chariot Procession).
The three deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out on three separate richly decorated chariots, resembling temple structures, through the streets of Puri so that everyone can see them.
The largest chariot is that of Jagannath - 45 feet high and 35 feet square.
It is supported on 16 wheels with a diameter of 7 feet.
New chariots are built every year.
The Rathas (Chariots) are pulled by the millions of pilgrims who come to attend the festivities.
It is considered a privilege to pull the Ratha.
The King of Puri takes part in the procession.
He sweeps the path in front of Jagannath’s chariot.
The Ratha Yatra commemorates Lord Krishna’s return to his home in Vrindavan after killing Kansa.
Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra (Balaram) and Subhadra are taken to their aunt’s temple (Gundicha Mandir) - a distance of 2 km from the temple.
The deity remain on their chariots for the night.
In the morning, they are installed in the Gundicha Mandir.
They remain there for seven days.
On the ninth day, they are placed back on their chariots and return to their temple.
By this time, most of the pilgrims would have gone back.
Labourers have to be hired to pull the Rathas.

What to see

Puri is an important town of Orissa.
It is famous for the Jagannath temple.
Its sprawling wide beaches, fishing farms and the superb resorts make Puri a major holiday destination of Eastern India.

Visit the exotic sea beaches.
Swim in the sea.
Watch the fishermen catch their fish.
Puri belongs to the Golden Triangle Circuit of Orissa covering Bhubaneswar, Konarak and Gopalpur-on-Sea.
You can visit these places as well.
Incidentally, the English word ‘juggernaut’ owes its origin to these huge chariots.

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