Jagannatha Puri, also known as Shree Purusottam-Kshetra or Sankarshana Kshetra , one of India’s most popular pilgrimage sites located in Orissa. Belonging to the 11th century and enjoying the honor of being one of the ‘char dhams’, the pilgrimage that every Hindu intend to visit; Jagannath Temple is the honor of Puri and Odisha (Orissa). The holy sight of Lord Jagannath, accompanied by Subhadra and Balabhadra raises loads of joy among the devotees. The two gods and the goddess of the temple are ornamented in accordance with the occasion and seasonal change. The structural design of the temple can be found to be in pyramid shape.
The four directions of India are sanctified by four main holy places (dhāma) dedicated to the worship of God. “Dhāma refers to a place where one can immediately contact the Supreme Lord.” (SB 4.8.42 p.) Every year millions of pilgrims and tourists visit these four sacred spots: Sri Badarinatha Dhama in the north; Ramesvaram Dhama—south; Dvaraka Dhama—west; and Jagannatha Puri Dhama—east.
The temple of Jagannatha Swami, Baladeva and Subhadra is the crown jewel of all Oriyan temples and the centerpiece of the whole town of Jagannatha Puri. The Jagannatha Temple is the life and soul of every local resident who directly or indirectly benefits from it.
About the four holy dhāmas of India, it is said that Lord Visnu meditates at Badrinatha; rules at Dvaraka; sleeps at Rameswaram and eats at Sri Ksetra Nilacala (Puri).
Like the holy Ganga and Yamuna Rivers, the ocean at Puri is a purifying sacred place of pilgrimage. The ocean here is not just a pilgrimage place; it is a mahā-tīrtha, a great pilgrimage site.
Visnu temples (also Kṛṣṇa, Rama, Nrsimha and Narayana) are identified by the cakra (disc) gracing the pinnacle of the temple dome (shikara) towering above the central and main Deity altar. The cakra (Sudarsana disc) above Jagannatha Deva’s temple is called “Nila-cakra” because it appears dark blue or green in color.
Within the boundary walls of the Jagannatha temple there are about thirty-five temples built by various rulers. These temples and small shrines contain the murtis of eighty different forms of God and the demigods, including Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, Nila Madhava, Sri Kṛṣṇa, Venu Madhava, Ksira-cora Gopinatha, Gurundi Gopala, Saksi-gopala, Bala Mukunda, Arpana Gopala, Sad-bhuja Gauranga, Ananta Vasudeva, Ramacandra, Sita, Laksmana, Hanuman, Sugriva, Bara Bhai Hanuman, Tapasvi Hanuman, Mahavira Hanuman, Laksmi-Narayana, Maha-Laksmi, Satya Narayana, Surya Narayana, Cakra Narayana, Bimala-devi, Vamanadeva, Laksmi-Nrsimha, Yajna Nrsimha, Gaudiya Nrsimha, Purana Nrsimha, Kasivisvantha, Panca Mahadeva, Bedha Lokanatha Siva, Isanesvara Siva, Harisahadeva Siva, Patalesvara Siva, Markandesvara Siva, Agnisvara Mahadeva, Ksetrapala Mahadeva, Muktesvara Mahadeva, Siddhesvara Mahadeva, Bhadrakali, Budhi Maa, Durga Madhava, Maha Vajresvari, Kutum Candi, Sitala-devi, Sarvamangala-devi, Bhubanesvari-devi, Sarasvati, Savitri, Gayatri, Jhadesvari-devi, Uttara Durga, Bata Ganesa, Kanci Ganesa, Nrtya Ganapati, Indra, Navagraha, and more…
The main temple of Jagannatha Swami soars 214 feet high above the road level. The temple complex encompasses 450,000 square feet contained within two rectangular walls.
This ancient temple combines two styles: South Indian (Dravidian) and North Indian (Nagara). The fine quality of the temple architecture is easily seen outside, and especially inside at the borders of the door frames wherein the 24 forms of Visnu are beautifully sculpted in stone.
There are three popular stories about appearance of Lord Jagannatha, which will be retold below. During Satya-yuga, King Indradyumna ruled the entire world from his capital of Avanti. Being very religious, the emperor desired to see God face to face, saksad-darsana. Once a palace guest related a strange event he witnessed while visiting Purusottma-ksetra, Jagannatha Puri:
“Every night I saw demigods coming down to worship the presiding Deity of Lord Nila Madhava with fragrant flowers and devotional prayers. Although I personally do not have any qualifications, just by living in Purusottama-ksetra I developed intense love for Bhagavan Sri Kṛṣṇa.” Enchanted by the story, King Indradyumna deputed the brahmin Vidyapati to search for the Lord in Orissa.
By good fortune, Vidyapati entered the forest around Nilacala Hill and was received by Visvavasu, the chief of the tribal woodsmen. After pleasantries, Vidyapati revealed his desire to attain darsana of Lord Nila Madhava, who was being worshiped by Visvavasu. Visvavasu said, “Friend, a tribal legend tells that someday a king will come to worship our Nila Madhava. Providence has brought you here. Come see our beautiful Deity.” Upon beholding the indescribably attractive Lord, Vidyapati offered prayers: “O my Nila Madhava! You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the reservoir of unlimited bliss. Only by Your mercy can one understand Your divine form.”
Vidyapati soon left Niladri and returned to Avanti to give King Indradyumna the good news. One day, while Visvavasu was collecting forest articles to worship Nila Madhava, a huge cyclone ripped into Puri uprooting trees and throwing sand everywhere. When the violent storm subsided, the Deity of Nila Madhava had disappeared! Overwhelmed in loving separation, the tribal chief Visvavasu searched madly through the forest crying for the Lord. An aerial voice announced, “Nila Madhava will no longer be seen. The Lord will reappear in another form when King Indradyumna arrives.
Be patient.” King Indradyumna gathered all his belongings and subjects and set out for Orissa. Upon entering the state of Orissa, the royal procession was met by the King of Utkal (present day Orissa). Unfortunately, the sovereign of Utkal conveyed some bad news: “O King Indradyumna, it is our good fortune that you have come to this sacred land. However, recently, a vicious storm created havoc in our country and covered the area of Nilacala with sand. Hence, the Deity of Nila Madhava was lost.” Narada Muni, who was traveling with him, comforted the disconsolate King Indradyumna saying, “Sri Kṛṣṇa reveals Himself to His loving devotees.
Be assured, your desire to see the Lord will be realized upon reaching Purusottama Ksetra. Lord Brahma told me that the Supreme Lord will appear again in a unique form especially to fulfill your desire.” Leaving their chariots, Narada led the king to a clearing amidst the dense forest surrounding Nilagiri Hill. There they saw a ferocious Deity of Lord Nrsimhadeva. Narada worshiped that Deity, and showed King Indradyumna the kalpa-vrksa tree under which Lord Nila Madhava previously stood. An aerial voice advised the king to follow Narada’s orders. Narada instructed the king to build a temple for Lord Nrsimhadeva and perform one thousand horse sacrifices. Meanwhile, Narada Muni went to the heavens and returned carrying a Deity of Nrsimhadeva to install in the temple built by Indradyumna. [This Nrsimha Temple is on Grand Road directly north of the Gundica Mandira] During the final sacrifices, some citizens informed the king, “We have just seen a wonderful tree floating in the ocean’s waves.
From a distance, we perceived its sweet smell and dazzling effulgence. Looking closer, we found the symbols of Visnu on that extraordinary log.” King Indradyumna collected that tree and kept it on an altar in the Gundica Mandira. A supernatural voice proclaimed, “O King! A carpenter will come to carve the Lord’s proper form. Play music to cover the sound of carving and allow the carpenter twenty-one days to complete the work. Disaster will follow if anyone interrupts the carving.” After sometime an old carpenter arrived and fashioned four Deities. When the work period ended, King Indradyumna beheld the beautiful forms of Lord Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarsana. After erecting a lavish temple, Narada and the king went to invite Lord Brahma to inaugurate it.
At Brahmaloka, the gatekeeper had Narada and the king wait until Lord Brahma finished the raga that he was singing. “O King,” said Brahmaji, “Since you left the earth, hundreds of different kings have come and gone. Now return to Purusottama-ksetra and I will soon come when everything is ready.” To the visiting demigods, Lord Brahma said, “For the first half of my life, the Lord appeared as Nila Madhava, and from now on He will be worshiped in the wooden forms of Jagannatha, Baladeva, Subhadra and Sudarsana cakra.
They will be carved from a special tree which is a transformed hair from the body of the Lord in Svetadvipa.” Upon reaching Purusottama-ksetra, King Indradyumna found that by the Lord’s mercy his temple had been preserved despite the fantastic time interval. Narada Muni guided the king in all the details of the installation ceremony. Three handsome chariots were built to carry the Deities from the mahavedi (construction site) at Gundica to the main temple for the inauguration. Lord Brahma arrived and performed the elaborate Vedic rituals to install the Deities. Lord Brahma gave mantra diksa to the king and advised him to diligently worship the sacred Daru known as Lord Jagannatha. Finally Brahma said, “O King! Anyone from any caste or creed who worships this form of God with devotion will become completely freed from all his sins.” Then Lord Jagannatha Himself smiled and spoke to the king in a deep and pleasing voice, explaining the details of performing each ritual and ceremony. Thus ends the story of Lord Jagannatha manifesting in Sri Ksetra Dhama. (Skanda Purana)
The Skanda Purana states that Ratha-yātrā began a few billion years ago in Satya-yuga during the reign of Svarocisa Manu, the second of the fourteen Manus. Every year Lord Jagannatha enacts the Ratha-yātrā (Mahavedi Yatra) in order to see His appearance place at the Yajna Vedi in the Gundica Mandira. (Skanda P. 29.25-44) In Orissa, the Ratha-yātrā festival is known as Jagannātha’s journey to Guṇḍicā. Although outsiders call it Ratha-yātrā, the residents of Orissa call it the Guṇḍicā-yātrā in honor of Gundica Devi, King Indradyumna’s queen, who purportedly initiated this festival. The songs of many Oriyan poets state that Ratha-yātrā started with the request of King Indradyumna’s wife named Gundica. Ratha-yātrā is also known as the Patita Pavana Mahotsava because non-Hindus get the opportunity to see Lord Jagannatha.
Surprisingly, these gigantic carts are rebuilt every year. Carpenters work on the Grand Road near the temple for two months preceding the festival, meticulously building each cart in the same way year after year. The chariot designs and decorations follow ancient traditions passed down from father to son. The old carts are used for cooking Jagannatha Swami’s daily bhoga. The kalasa (pots above the canopies), the wooden charioteer drivers (sarathi), horses and fourteen deities arrayed around the carts are only remade every twelve or nineteen years when new Jagannatha Deities are prepared. To make the three chariots, 125 carpenters (hereditary craftsmen), spend 58 days carving 2,188 pieces of wood.
Each chariot is pulled by four stout ropes of four inch diameter and 250 ft. length. Nandighosa: This is the name of Jagannatha’s chariot which flies the flag of Garuda holding a snake in its beak. The cloth canopy is yellow and red. The chariot is made of 832 wooden parts, all fitting without nails, but sometimes iron clamps are inserted for reinforcement. Taladvaja: This is the name of Balabhadra’s chariot which flies the emblem of a ploughshare (hala) on its flag. The canopy is green and red. Padmadvaja: This is one of three names (Devadalana, Deviratha) of Subhadra’s chariot which flies a flag with a lotus flower. A black and red canopy shields Subhadra and Sudarsana who ride on this cart.
The largest crowd in Puri is seen during the Car Festival of Jagannatha which takes place every year in June-July. Jagannatha of Puri is strikingly different from all other deities worshipped by the entire Hindu world, mainly for the reason that Jagannatha represents all the gods and goddesses known to the entire Hindu world, either directly or indirectly. He is considered to be the highest object of worship by the followers of all the religious cults that come within the purview of Hinduism. For example, he is Siva for a Saivite, Ganapati for a Ganapatya, Kalika for a Sakta and so on and so forth. This kind of integration of religious cults and creeds belonging to Hinduism is not to be seen anywhere else.
The second great attraction of Puri is the sea beach acclaimed to be one of the best sea beaches of the world. A number of beach complexes have developed on the sea at Puri & nearby.
Jagannatha Swami, Baladeva and Subhadra stay here for seven days every year during Ratha-yatra. The Deities sit upon a plain chlorite stone siṁhāsana that is four feet high, nineteen feet long.
It is called Gundica in honor of King Indradyumna’s queen named Gundica Maharani. In the language of the Śabaras, the tribal woodsmen of this region, the word kun means “he” and dījā means “the trunk of a tree.” Kundījā means, “He, Lord Jagannatha, came from the trunk of a tree.” Overtime, kundījā became guṇḍijā and now guṇdicā.
On the day before Ratha-yatra, Mahaprabhu smeared sandalwood pulp on His personal associates, gave each a broom and went to Gundica to clean the temple for the arrival of Lord Jagannatha. Mahaprabhu did not engage His guru-varga in any of the difficult tasks like carrying pots of water. Rather, they were engaged in cleaning alongside Lord Gauranga with the water brought by other devotees. Except for Nityananda, Advaita, Svarupa, Brahmananda and Paramānanda Puri, all the other devotees carried water.
One can also find the ancient Adi Sankara’s established Peetham here known as Goverdhana Peetham which is one of four peetham, the other three being Joshi Math in Badrinath, Dwaraka Peetham at Dwarka, Rameswaram peetham.
The place where each one of the four Mathas has been established by Sankara is known by the celebrated name of dhama which literally means, a sacred place. Puri is the dhama of eastern India. It is the traditional belief that a Hindu should visit these four dhamas at least once in his life and the prevailing practice is that, after visiting the other three dhamas, one must visit Puri dhama. The records maintained by the Pandas in the Puri temple contain reliable materials to show that for centuries past, people from the whole of India have been visiting Puri in course of their pilgrimage.
As I mention in my blog posts, there is always a lot to tell, lot of know of our temples about our heritage and culture which is being followed since ages. As the quote goes on saying “Seeing is believing”, one can only experience the true bliss and divinity within only when one visits such sacred sites.
Request the readers to share your opinions, thoughts and feedback on this. In the service of Lord Hari.! – Harish Pakala.
Courtesy: Information, B/W photo of Jagannath Puri: Internet, Books and Self Experience.