Shree Jagannath Temple of Puri – a popular pilgrimage destination and one of the four ‘Char Dham’ sites, dedicted to Lord Jagannath a form of Vishnu. The Rath Yatra Chariot Festival of Jagannath Temple is the most famous festival celebrated in the city of Puri.
The Shree Jagannath Temple of Puri is located on the eastern coast of India. Lord Jagannath a form of Vishnu is worshipped in this temple. It is also one of the four ‘Char Dham’ sites found at India’s four cardinal points. The temple is a popular pilgrimage destination. The temple was rebuilt from the 10th century onwards and begun by King Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva, first of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. The whereabouts of the temple is governed by the ‘Shree Jagannath Temple Office’, Puri. The temple is open on all days of the week from 5am to 11pm.
Legends and History behind the Temple
The whole culture of Odisha revolves around Lord Jagannath. Their food habits, festivals and traditions revolve around their celebrated deity.
The earliest tribe which used to worship lord Jagannath was tribals of Puri.
This temple was initially a Jain temple. The 22 steps leading to the temple called the, Baisi Pahacha, have been proposed as symbolic reverence for the first 22 of the 24 Tirthankaras of Jainism.
According to legend the construction of the first Jagannath temple was commissioned by King Indradyumna. Later Odiya works state that Lord Jagannath was originally worshipped as Lord Neela Madhaba. Legend has it that this form of the Lord was worshipped in secrecy in a forest by a Tribal chief, Viswavasu. King Indradyumna had no knowledge about this secret God. In order to fetch information he sent one of his priests to gather information. After a lot of clever efforts the trail to this secret was found. King Indradyumna built the tallest monument of the world which was 1,000 cubits high for Lord Jagannath.
The Story behind Lord Jagannath’s idol
Jagannath the ‘Lord of the Universe’ is an incarnation of Vishnu. Unlike the idols of other gods and goddesses the idol or ‘murti’ of Lord Jagannath is made of wood. Another peculiar feature of his idol is that it’s always left unfinished even though they are re-carved time to time.
King Indradyumna was devoted to Lord Vishnu and wanted to build a grand temple for him. He wished to build a beautiful idol for his beloved deity. He prayed to Krishna to guide him the way in order to find the idol. Krishna fulfilled his wish and he saw a resplendent idol of the deity in his dream. He sent of his soldiers in search of that very idol. The soldiers found the exact idol in a cave, they stole it at nightfall. But they could never take the idol to the king as the idol miraculously got back to its previous place. King Indradyumna again prayed to Lord Krishna for help.
Krishna did appear in his dream and guided him. He talked about a log of wood in the Vaitarini River and also told him that a carpenter will come to carve the idol for him. The king got the log of wood and as promised the carpenter did appear in his court. The carpenter demanded that he must be left alone in a chamber for 21 days and no one must disturb him. Nobody was even allowed to peek at the idol before its completion, the king included.
The king out of impatience went and peeked at the idol on the 14th day. The carpenter realized that the king had not kept his promise and he then disappeared into thin air.
The king realized that the carpenter was god himself. But unfortunately the idol was left incomplete. This is the reason why the idol of Lord Jagannath and his ancillaries do not have hands. The king loathed his impatience.
The idols are carved out of fresh fig tree barks. The carpenters are handpicked by the Shankaracharya of Puri in order to carry out this divine task. The present idol in the temple was carved in 1977.
Jagannath Temple Mahaprasad
Mahaprasada is the 56 items that is offered to Lord Jagannath in the Puri Jagannath temple. It is mainly of two types. One is Sankudi mahaprasad and the other is Sukhila mahaprasad.
The Sankudi mahaprasad includes items like rice, ghee, mixed rice, cumin seeds and rice mixed with salt. These items are mixed to make various dishes and are offered to the Lord in ritualistic ways.
The Sukhila mahaprasad consists of dry sweetmeats. Another type of Prasad called the Nirmalya Prasad is also offered here.
The kitchen of the Jagannath temple has the capacity to feed lakhs of devotees on a regular basis. The Prasad is made in earthen pots on firewood. They are cooked using the concept of latent heat. Pots are lined in a vertical fashion, one on top of another and the Prasad in the topmost pot gets cooked first.
Legend has it that when the food is taken to the Lord it has no flavor. But when it reaches the devotees a certain pleasant smell fills the air. This signifies that the food is blessed now.
Tourists prefer to carry a particular type of dry Mahaprasad known as ‘Khaja’ (made of maida, sugar and ghee) which stays fresh for days.
Mahaprasad is ceased to be offered during the 21 days preceding Rath Yatra, as the Lord is said to be having fever then.
The Festival of Jagannath Temple Rath Yatra
Of all the festivals celebrated in the Jagannath Temple, Rath Yatra or ‘The Chariot Festival’ is the most famous of them all. Basically it signifies equality. The deities of Lord are taken on a stroll on a chariot around the city. The devotees who are old and ailing also get a chance to witness the beauty and divinity of the Lord in this way. This sends positive vibes in and around the city.
Rath Yatra is celebrated all over the country. It is believed that every year Lord Jagannath wishes to visit his birthplace Gundicha and the yatra is conducted to fulfill his desire. Lord Jagannath along with his siblings Subhadra and Balabhadra travel in three different chariots which are pulled by the devotees. New chariots are constructed every year.
Jagannath Temple is one of the orthodox temples of India. It allows only Hindus to enter the temple premises. But during Rath Yatra any devotee is allowed.
After 9 days of rest at Gundicha temple the Lord returns back to his place.
The sight of hundreds of devotees pulling the chariot feels Incredible.
The entire economy of the city depends on the temple itself. Every year hordes of tourists come to visit participate in the festival of Rath Yatra and visit the temple. The city is full of hotels, lodges and dharamshalas for the devotees to rest and rejuvenate. The temple is 28km away from Puri Railway Station. The nearest airport is 60km away, in the capital city of Bhubaneswar.
The temple carries a lot of traditional, cultural and spiritual significance. Visiting this sacred land is worth every penny.