Puri is one of the most important pilgrimage places in India, located on the east coast, overlooking the Bay of Bengal. It is the eastern Dham among the four dhams in four directions. Adi Shankracharya chose it to set up his Rig Vedic Math, making it a seat of Shankracharya.
Puri is famous for Jagannath Temple, which is the crown jewel of this Purushottam Kshetra. We have already written about Jagannath Temple.
Must-See Things In Puri – Temples, Tirthas, Math, Beach
In this post, we will talk about other things to see in the holy city.
Panch Tirthas of Puri
Any ancient pilgrimage place in India is full of sacred Tirthas or water bodies. These ponds, lakes, step wells, rivers, and seashores are the oldest living as well as worshipped parts of the land. The city though located right on the seashore has five important and ancient Tirthas. One of which is the sea itself.
Let us look at the Panch Tirthas of the holy city:
It is believed that when Kind Indradyuman performed his Ashwamedha Yagna, he donated thousands of cows. This pond was created by the hoofs of the cows he donated. It is used for performing different types of Pujas including the last rites.
Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is located right next to the tank with classic Odisha lions guarding it.
Markanda Sarovar is the first among the five Tirthas of Puri. It was most difficult to locate and it seems not too many people visit it. There is a Yagna Vedi in the middle of the pond. The tank is used to perform the last rights. Even the priests or Sevayats as they are called, take a bath here, after the Nabakalebar of the Jagannath.
A big Shiva temple called Markandeshwar temple with a big Shivalinga is located just on the edge of the pond. It is a lovely temple in Kalingan Triratha style but I wish it was kept clean.
The temple was established by Rishi Markandeya, implying that it pre-dates the Ramayana. Crack in the Shivalinga is from the time Shiva appeared to protect his devotee Markandeya. The present temple is at a much lower level than the road, though dates back to 8th CE. It is one of the earliest Shiva temples in the holy city and one of the Ashtashambus protecting the city.
Shivaratri, Ashokashtami, and Sheetalashasthi are celebrated in this temple. Markandeshwar also participates in the Chandan Yatra of Jagannath. During Durga Puja, people create Lingas in the sand and worship them here.
Markandeya temple is also found near Kurukshetra in a place also called Markanda.
Located on the edge of Markanda Sarovar, this temple is a legacy of Shakti worshippers in the region that is known as Uddayan Peeth. It was built by King Bhimakesari or the Kesari dynasty. Seven Matrikas holding babies in their laps are carved in large black stone along with Veerbhadra, Shiva, and Ganesha. This was the second Saptamatrika temple I saw after a big one in Jajpur.
Between the two temples, there is a small Jagannath temple, that is ubiquitous in this region.
Shwet Ganga Sarovar, Puri
Located right in front of the Ganga Matha, in the narrow lanes leading to Jagannath temple, this is a clean stepwell with small temples around. It is believed to be Ganga’s presence in Puri and is perennially full of water.
There are temples surrounding the tank. Notable among these are Shwet Madhab and Matsya Madhab. There are Murtis of Navagraha and Mukti Sheela. If you visit in the morning, you will find fresh Rasagullas being made in the lanes surrounding Shwet Ganga Sarovar.
Narendra Sarovar or Chandan Talab
This is a very large tank with a lovely temple in the middle. It is best known for the venue of the Chandan Yatra of Jagannath. Starting Akshaya Tritya, Jagannath comes here every evening for 21 days. Utsava Murti of Jagannath along with Bhu Devi and Sri Devi come here for Nauka Leela or a boat ride. Since they take bath in Sandalwood water before coming here, the ride came to be known as Chandan Yatra. Deities stay in the temple in the middle of the lake for a while before returning home.
Narendra Sarovar was built by King Narsingh Dev of the Ganga dynasty and named after his Guru. It is said to be connected to Jagannath temple functionally. There is a small white temple in the middle of the pond and several others around the pond. They look beautiful reflecting in the waters of the pond.
It is located inside the Jagannath Temple.
Sea is the fifth and the biggest Tirtha called Mahadadhi. An Arti is performed to the sea close to the Swargdwar area.
Sea & Sand Art
You have probably heard of the sand artists like Sudarshan Pattanaik, who create amazing art just by using sand. I have seen them at Miramar beach in Goa too. However, in Puri, you see them right on the beach. You can see different creations from the sand. They also conduct workshops for you to learn to make your own sand art.
Sand Art adds another contemporary dimension to the kaleidoscope of art forms that this region nurtures. Other art forms that you can explore are Pattachitra at Raghurajpur and applique work at Pipali.
Bata Mangala, Puri
Bata Mangala is a small Mangala Devi temple that you first see as you enter the town. You can see her right from the road.
She is a four-armed, three-eyed form of Vaishnavi Thakurni sitting on a lotus. Her upper hands hold conch and trident. She is a kind of gatekeeper sitting on the edge of the land of Jagannath. Belief is that one should visit her before going and meeting the Jagannath.
The story goes that at the beginning of the creation Brahma Ji came down to visit Jagannath, he lost his way and it was Bata Mangala who showed him the way to the lord. This happened on a Tuesday of Chaitra month, on these days now women perform a Puja at the junction of two or more roads.
Sakshi Gopal is a temple that registers your visit to the holy city. I missed visiting this temple. I assume this means I need to visit once again and I look forward to that.
This is an ancient bridge on the nearly dry river Musa. The origin of the bridge has roots in the story of King Indradyuman. It is believed that 18 sons of Indradyuman had to be sacrificed to build this bridge. The current bridge dates back to 18th CE. Athar Nala means eighteen streams of water. It finds a mention in songs of pilgrimage of Jagannath.
Chakra Tirtha is located at the end of Chakratirtha road, where a lot of good hotels are also located. Many holy places associated with Vishnu like Dwarka and Ayodhya have a Chakra Tirtha. Chakra or discus as we know is one of the weapons of Vishnu. Here, there is an ancient well and a small temple dedicated to Jagannath, Balbhadra, and Subhadra. They represent Lakshmi Narsimha, Abhay Narsimha, and Chakra Narsimha respectively.
The main spot here is a Chakra carved in black stone on the floor.
The belief is that Daru or the log of wood from which the first murtis of the three siblings were carved came from the sea and first touched this Chakra. Another story says that once in a cyclone, the Nila Chakra of Jagannath temple fell at this spot, sanctifying it even further. Ramakrishna Math here is also located around this place.
This is a small temple dedicated to the Jaganannath’s father in law’s or goddess Mahalaksmi’s father who is none other than the sea. It is located on the main road leading to Chakra Tirtha.
Shakracharya Math & Bimala Devi Temple
Adi Shankaracharya established his first Mutt in the eastward direction here at Puri. Rig Veda is the assigned Veda of this Mutt and ‘Pragyanam Brahma’ the key mantra. Swami Padmapadacharya was the first head of this Mutt.
When I visited Shankracharya Ji was not in the city, so I missed taking his blessings.
There is a fairly large Bimala Devi temple in the Mutt. I was the only one visiting the temple at that point in time and had my quiet moments with the presiding goddess of the region.
Bedi Hanuman Temple
Located opposite Chakra Nrusingh temple, this small Hanuman temple has an interesting story. Hanuman, sitting here close to the seashore is supposed to guard the holy city. However, once he went to Ayodhya on a whim and the sea waters entered the city. Jagannath then chained him to sit here and watch. Bedi means chains. So, Hanuman here is chained.
Temple is small and fairly new.
This temple is famous due to its relevance in the annual Rath Yatra of Jagannath. It was built by King Narsingh Dev of the Ganga Dynasty and named after his queen – Gundhicha. The original temple was built in wood. The temple is at height of activity when Jagannath and his siblings are here for a week or so.
It is a huge temple complex. The pathway has been created in a way that you move from temple to temple, from Murti to Murti where you are supposed to donate.
Located between Gundicha Temple and Indradyuman Sarovar this temple is dedicated to two forms of Nrisimha. One is Shant or peaceful and the other is Ugr or ferocious. It is also known as Yajna Narsimha as it is believed that King Indraduman carved out of black stone and performed his Ashwamedha Yagna in front of it.
Another story tells us that when Kala Pahad was breaking temples in this region, he could not break this one.
Mausi Ma Temple
Located on the Bada Danda, mid-way between Jagannath temple and Gundicha temple, this is where the siblings stop to eat Poda Pitha during Rath Yatra. It is dedicated to Goddess Ardhnashini, one of the eight Shakti forms present in Puri.
The story goes that once Mahalakshmi left the Sri Mandir leaving the place and its lord Jagannath poor. When the two brothers went looking out for her, Subhadra stayed here with the Goddess. This is how she came to be known as Mausi Ma or an Aunt.
The beach in this holy city is very famous with visitors. People love to play in the waters here. Our guide kept asking us why are we not playing in the water, and every time I had to tell him that I live next to the sea. He kept forgetting it.
- A popular pilgrimage place, there are all kinds of facilities for all kinds of visitors – be it accommodation, food or information. It is well connected by rail and road and the closest airport is Bhubaneshwar.
- No photography is allowed inside most temples.
- Donations are expected at every temple and at every Murti.
- There are boards explaining most of the places outside every important place. This is really helpful for a lay visitor.
- You can visit Konark Sun Temple from the city.
- Do explore the food of Odisha and the holy city while you are there.
- There are a lot of souvenir shops everywhere to pick up mementos.