Jagannath Puri is one of the most important pilgrim places in India. Located on the East coast, it is the Dham of Vishnu as the Lord of the universe. He is also supposed to be the Swaroop responsible for the current Kaliyuga, making him even more important for our times. This is also the place Adi Shankaracharya chose for his eastern Govardhan Mutt, out of the 4 Mutts he set up in the four directions in the country.
Jaganath Puri is also one of the biggest living temples in India by many parameters. It is the largest temple in Kalinga architecture. Konark Sun Temple may have competed with it in size, but that temple is lost to us now. This temple holds the world’s largest kitchen in its premises and is rightly known as the Anna Kshetra of the Jagannath.
The city of Puri revolves around the temple of Jagannath since time immemorial. Pilgrims come here all year round, but the peak time is the month of Ashadha when the famous Rath Yatra of Jagannath takes place. I spent a couple of days in the temple town, visited the temple twice during this time, and also explored the rest of the city. I will focus on the temple in this post and do another post on the city of Puri.
Brief History of Jagannath Temple
It is believed that the original temple of Jagannath was built by King Indradyumana in Satyuga. It is futile to look for evidence from that age, but a tank called Indradyuman tank still exists in the town.
The story is well known and well accepted. The story goes that Vishnu was originally worshipped in the forests of this land as Neel Madhaba. Indradyuman was the king of Malwa. He engaged a priest named Vidyapati to find out Neel Madhaba who managed to find the location after marrying the daughter of the local chief but the lord played his own games.
Finally, Indradyuman came here and received the wood out of which the Murtis of Jagannath, Balram, Subhadra, and Sudarshan Chakra was to be carved. He then built a temple on the hilltop.
Another story talks about the interruption in the work while the original Murtis were being carved leading to them being incomplete without the hands.
Inscriptions point the history of the temple to at least early 12th CE, post which it was maintained by all the dynasties that ruled the Utkala region.
The temple was repeatedly attacked by different invaders. An Aurangzeb order had the temple closed for 15 odd years, and it re-opened only after he died.
The Architecture of Jagannath Puri Temple
It follows the classic Deul style of Kalinga architecture. This means a Jagmohan, a tall Shikhara on top of Garbha Griha. When you come out of the Garbh Griha into the temple compound, the sheer size of the Shikhara is overwhelming.
Like every ancient place, there are so many things that you can see at the temple of Jagannath Puri. So, I am taking you through some of them that you should not miss when you visit this beautiful and mesmerizing temple.
Arun Stambha at Simhadwara
If you enter from the Simha Dwara, you will see a tall pillar standing in front of the entrance. This is Arun Stambha, that was originally placed at Sun Temple in Konark. However, after that Konark temple was lost, this pillar was brought here and installed. You can not see it from ground level, but it has a small Murti of Arun – the charioteer of Sun on top. It almost makes you feel as if it is praying to Jagannath to bring back the glory of Surya Dev in this land.
Simha Dwara is the eastern entrance of the temple, located on Bada Danda or the grand road where the Rath Yatra takes place. It is called Simha Dwara as there are two lions adorning this gate, along with the doorkeepers or Dwarpalas of the Vishnu – Jaya and Vijaya. The Murti of Patita Pavana can be seen on the right side of this entrance, making it more important than the other three gates. People who are not allowed inside the temple, do the darshan of Patit Pavana.
The famous 22 steps leading to the temple are also closest to Simhadwara. These steps lead to the main temple and are revered by the devotees. Rath Yatra also begins and ends at this Simhadwara, making it the ceremonial doorway of the temple.
The other three gates are Ashva Dwara – the entrance with horses, Hathidwara or Elephant entrance, and Vyagharadwara or the Tiger entrance.
Jagannath, Balram & Subhadra
This is a no brainer. You visit Jagannath Puri temple to have darshan of the three siblings – Jagannath, Balbhadra, and Subhadra. What you must notice is the large wooden Murtis made out of Neem wood. Unless you visit every year, there is every chance that when you visit next, you will see different Murtis, even though they would look essentially the same.
The Murtis as we know are replaced every few years, anywhere between 12-19 years. They are replaced in the year when there is an Adhik Maas or Purushottam Maas – the extra month of Ashadha that comes once in 12-19 years. This is when the old Murtis are replaced by new ones in an elaborate ritual called – Nabakalebar.
You must also notice the large round eyes on the Murtis. You can see their replicas everywhere in town, but nothing beats getting a distant glimpse of the Gods in the Garbha Griha.
Do notice the platform on which they sit, it’s called Ratnavedi or the throne of the jewels. Sudarshan Chakra, Sri Devi, Bhu Devi, and Madan Mohan Murtis are also present on the platform.
This is the first Arti of the Jagannath, done early morning. It is an elaborate ritual to wake up the three siblings. Songs are sung to wake them up before the doors are opened. Once the doors are opened, everyone just piles up on top of one another to have the first glimpse of the Jagannath, before they start their day.
Should you attend the Mangala Arti as a visitor or not is a tough choice. I decided to go. So, I started from my hotel at 4 AM, walked to the Simha Dwara or the main temple gate, deposited by phone, and entered the temple. I was guided by a priest, who took me to the main mandapa and made me stand in the front row. It was crowded, but I had no clue that it would be crushing to stand there when the temple door opens.
Most of the people visiting at this time are locals who come regularly, every day. They know how to negotiate the crowd, as a visitor, you can be suffocated and crushed. There is no way you can even get out. Once out, it took me a few minutes to catch my breath and see anything else. So, if you decide to go for Mangala Arti, be aware of this and stand at a safe distance.
Mahaprasad at Temple Kitchen
They say that among 4 Dhams – Puri is God’s Anna Kshetra, where he loves to eat. At Badrinath he meditates, at Rameshwaram he takes bath and at Dwarka, he likes to sleep. No wonder, the world’s largest kitchen operates for him at Jagannath Puri Temple. You can see this kitchen though you are not allowed to do anything there. A nominal ticket is all it costs.
Best time to visit it early morning when food is being cooked in clay pots. You will see dhoti clad priests cutting vegetables, a row a traditional Chullahs to cook the food on wood. 56 different dishes cooked are all Satvik – which means it is vegetarian and without any onion or garlic. The water for cooking is drawn from two wells called Ganga and Yamuna. It is an experience to walk through the kitchen.
Prasad is offered six times a day from morning to night. Read More here.
You can see the pots of Mahaprasad being ferried across the city throughout the day. If you live in Puri, you can order the food from the temple for any celebration, be it a wedding, a birthday, or just a guest visiting. I assume this is Puri’s way of inviting the blessings of Jagannath at home or at important times in their lives.
Anand Bazaar is the area where the food cooked of the temple kitchen is sold. The afternoon is the best time to visit. I can assure you, you would have never seen so much food anywhere in the world – right in front of your eyes. You would see people buying and eating straight out of the clay pots that were used to cook the food. There are Mithai or sweetmeats of all kinds. It is a market – crowded, noisy, chaotic, and one of its kind.
Towards the end of the Anand Bazaar, you get to see the whole of Jagannath Puri temple with its architecture in front of your eyes.
Nila Chakra or Sri Chakra
On top of the temple Shikhara, there is a giant Asht-Dhatu Chakra which is revered as much as the deities in the sanctum. A flag hoisted on top of it is called Patita Pavan. In good old days, this is the first thing that pilgrims would see when they approached Puri. The sight of this would tell them that they are in Purushottam Kshetra, and the destination of their pilgrimage is not too far. The traveling songs describe the joy of pilgrims when they sight this.
Few times a day, the flag on top of the temple Shikhara is changed. Literally everyone stops to see this with their necks stretched to see the flutter of a new flag. We were there on the Ekadashi day when saw the flag being changed along with thousands of others. It is another experience at Jagannath Puri that you should not miss.
An interesting fact is that the flag flutters in the opposite direction of the wind. No one has yet figured out, how it happens.
Other Temples in Jagannath Puri Complex
There are many small temples in the Jagannath temple complex, some say the number is 108. It is believed that all the Tirthas of the country are present within its premises.
Vimala Devi Temple – Vimala Devi is the Shaktipeeth of this region and her temple is right beside the main temple. It is a lovely temple where you will see women offering bangles and Kumkum. You must visit this temple while in Puri. One of her newly built temples also exists in the Puri Shankaracharya Mutt located closer to the beach.
As part of daily rituals, food cooked in the kitchen is offered to both Jagannath and Vimala Devi. Unless it is blessed by her, it is not considered Mahaprasad.
Mahalakshmi Temple – Mahalakshmi is believed to supervise the cooking in Jagannath temple kitchen. Her temple is beautiful and like Vimala Devi, she is also offered bangles and Kumkum.
Kanchi Ganesh, Kashi Vishwanath, Surya Temple, Saraswati Temple, temples for different Vishnu avatars, Hanuman can be seen in the temple complex.
There are many open pillared pavilions in the temple complex. Mukti Mandapa is the most popular of them. I assume these were used to take rest by the pilgrims or to perform rituals. Dola mandapa with a lovely Torana is used for Dola Yatra. Snan Vedi is used for Snan Yatra when the annual bathing ritual takes place.
Festivals of Jagannath Puri Temple
There are elaborate daily rituals that keep the temple and its priest abuzz throughout the day. Then there are annual festivals that add another layer of celebration to the temple festivities.
Rath Yatra is the most popular festival in Puri. Many people know of this place because of this temple that series the three giant chariots being pulled by devotees. This festival takes place in the month of Ashadha that roughly falls in July. Chariots are built afresh every year, and building them in itself is a huge ritual involving artists of all kinds. The Yatra lasts for 9 days when the siblings spend this annual holiday at the Gundicha festival about 3 km away.
The final day of Rath Yatra is Niladri Bije when Mahalakshmi does not allow Jagannath to enter the temple till he offers her the Rasagulla.
Chandan Yatra – This takes place on Akshay Tritya day. It also marks the day when the making of chariots for the Rath Yatra begins.
Snan Yatra & Anasara – It is the annual bathing festival that takes place on Jyeshtha Purnima. After the Snan, Murtis of three siblings move to Anasara Ghat for a fortnight. In the temple, a Pattachitra takes their place on Ratnavedi and it is worshipped.
Read More – Pattachitra Making at Raghurajpur
Dola Yatra – Takes place around Holi Festival
Panchaka – When the deities get different Veshas or adorned with different looks
Gupta Gundicha – The 16 day festival of Vimala Devi around Ashwin Navaratri
Priests at Jagannath temple are called Sevayats. They wear lovely colorful Odisha Ikkat Uttariyas.
Only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple. This includes people who follow Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. Others can view the Patit Pavan Murti that can be seen from outside the temple.
Temple is open from 5:00 AM till midnight.
You can spend a whole day looking at the temple and its activities. However, do keep at least 1-2 hours to visit it.
You are not allowed to take any electronic items with you. You need to keep your footwear outside, deposit your mobile phones, and go just with your wallet. There is an official stall to keep them and a lot of shops will also keep them if you buy something from them.
There is a bookshop near the footwear stall where you can buy books on the temple and Puri.
For more details, see the temple website
I was guided by Pandit Harekrishna Mahapatra, you can contact him at 98611 10905.