Puri: The holy city of Puri is a 2-hour drive from Bhubaneswar on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. As with any ancient city, Puri has several names, and is also known as “Sri Purusottama Dham" or "Martya Vaikuntha" (abode of Lord Vishnu on earth), “Sriksetra" (best of all sacred centers), "Purusottama Ksetra" (the abode of the supreme being), "Nilachal", "Nalagiri", “sankha Ksetra", and. "Jagannatha Dhama".
It is one of the four holy abodes (dhams) of India - Puri, Dwarka, Rameswaram and Badrinath, that lie on the four directions of the compass and considered that a pilgrimage of the temples of India is not complete without making the journey to Puri and which every devout Hindu endeavors to visit at least once during his/her lifetime. The temple of Lord Jagannatha (or Jagannath) Temple (“Lord of the Universe”) at Puri is one of the most sacred pilgrimage spots in India and is one of these four dhams.
Puri is vital to Hindus as a pilgrimage site. The place has a history of plundering and invasions because of the precious jewels and artifacts that the various temples possess.
Over the last 1,000 years, most beautiful and important temples have been constructed in the coastal town of Puri. Most famous is Jagannath, but there are many others.
Jagannath Temple is one of the most significant holy places in Hinduism and a prime site for Vaishnavas. The temple has been in existence since the time of Mahabharata under the reign of King Indradyumna. In the 12th Century, it was further developed by King Anantavarman, who belonged to the Ganga Dynasty. The deities worshipped are a trinity of Jagannath (personification of Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity), Balarama (elder brother of Krishna), and Subhadra (sister of Krishna and Balarama & wife of Arjuna). The temple hosts an annual world-renowned chariot festival (known as Rath Yatra Festival) where the three deities are mount an intricately decorated Raths and toured across for darshan.
The present temple structure was built in the 12th century by the “Ganga” King “Choda Ganga Deva”, replacing an earlier structure, which probably dated to the 10th century. Until recently, almost the entire temple was covered in white plaster, so much so that European sailors in previous centuries used it as a navigation point, referring to it as the "White Pagoda" in contrast to the "Black Pagoda" of Konark , further up the coast.
It is to be noted that non-Hindus cannot enter the Jagannath temple, but can view it from a viewing gallery outside the Temple.
The colourful Jagannath Yatra is held for nine days in the Hindu month of Ashadh (late summer). This annual festival also commemorates Lord Krishna’s journey from Gokul to Mathura, symbolising a journey from darkness to light. Hundreds and thousands of pilgrims converge on Puri for this festival on the first day of this Yatra. The erstwhile Maharaja of Puri himself arrives at the temple with all pomp and glory accompanied by be-jeweled elephants. He sweeps the chariots (raths) with a golden broom indicating that he is a servant of the Lord. Idols of thee dieties are then taken in an elaborate ritual procession to their respective chariots, which are pulled by thousands of devotees to the Gundicha temple, about 2 kms away. Pulling or even touching the ropes of these chariots is considered auspicious and many pilgrims struggle to do so. First comes the chariot of Balabhadra painted in blue. The next chariot to follow is that of Subhadra, which is in black. Lord Jagannath’s chariot brings up the rear and is coloured in yellow. The deities stay at Gundicha till the 9th day when they are brought back with a lot of ceremony to the temple of Lord Jagannath. The chariot is a 35 feet square, rising to a height of 45 feet, with 16 wheels, 7 feet in diameter. More than 4000 people drag the chariot. The massive chariot has added the word “Juggernaut” to the English language. New chariots are made of wood every year while the older ones are broken down to be used as firewood in the temple kitchen. Bits are even sold as souvenirs to devotees.
Bedi Hanuman Temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, constructed next to the sea, also called Darya Mahavir. Lord Hanuman is depicted with a laddoo in one and mace on the other hand. Also see Anjana and Lord Ganesha wall carvings. Legend says that the name Bedi Hanuman was given because Lord Jagannath ordered to Chain Lord Hanuman here because he was not able to fulfill his duty to prevent seawater entering Puri.
Gundicha Mandir (Temple) is located 3-km from Jagannath Temple. At the time of the 9-day “Ratha-Yatra” festival, Lord Jagannatha goes to the Gundicha temple and stays there for one week. After one week He returns to His original temple. It is said that the wife of “Indradyumna”, the king who originally established the temple of Jagannatha, was known as "Gundicha". The cleansing of the Gundicha temple takes place the day before the Ratha-Yatra festival. The temple remains empty throughout the year and is used only during these nine days. Made in Deula style of architecture, the temple is made of light grey sandstone.
Lokanath Temple is one of the five famous temples that are made to worship Lord Shiva. Legend says that Lord Rama established the lingham in this temple. Most of the temple is made of marble. A natural fountain that flows above the Lingam, and is thus normally submerged, with the legend that Goddess Ganga flows through the top of the shivalinga.
Kapal Mochan Temple is another important temple dedicated to Lord Shiv. Hindu belief says that here one can atone for one’s sin of killing a Brahmin. Goddess Shymakali ten-armed idol is inside the sanctum, and on the other hand, the walls have carvings of the Gods Narasimha, Shiva, and Vishnu. The idol of Lord Ganesha is seen without his mount mouse, which is a rare sight, but it indicates the antiquity of Lord Ganesha.
Varahi Temple is a 9th-century-old temple dedicated to Goddess Varahi (a group of seven mother goddesses with the head of a sow, Varahi is the shakti (feminine energy) of Varaha, the boar avatar of the god Vishnu). The idol is considered as a masterpiece, hence the fame. The Goddess’s idol is carved where she is in Lalitaasana’s posture with a fish in one and skull (kapala) on the other hand. She is shown with a large belly symbolising the Goddess carrying the universe in her womb.
Vimala Temple is situated inside the Jagannath Temple complex itself, dedicated to Goddess Vimla (or Bimla) important to the Goddess-oriented Shakta and Tantric worshippers, who revere it even more than the main Jagannath shrine. The temple is again a Deula Architectural style, but made of sandstone. The deity is regarded as consort and guardian to the Jagannath temple complex. Devotees pay respects to Vimala before worshipping Jagannath in the main temple. Offerings to Jagannath does not get sanctified until it is also offered to Vimala. The Goddess is considered to be the guardian of Jagannath and a guardian of the temple complex.
No one really knows why a temple was erected here, but there are many legends to account for its appearance. The most popular concerns “samba”, the son of Lord Krishna. Samba was inordinately proud of his beauty. So proud that he once made the mistake of ridiculing a celebrated sage, “Narada”, who was not renowned for his looks. Narada was not amused. Always mischievous, he decided to have his revenge on the arrogant boy. He managed to lure the unsuspecting Samba to the pool where his stepmothers, the luscious consorts of Krishna, were bathing in joyful abandon. When Krishna heard that his son had become a peeping tom, he was furious and cursed him with leprosy. Realizing later that the innocent boy had been tricked by Narada’s cunning, Krishna was mortified. But he could not revoke his course; all he could do was advise his son to worship the sun god ‘surya”, healer of all diseases, and hope for a cure. After twelve years of penance and worship, Samba was at last instructed by Surya to go and bathe in the sea at Konark. He did so and was cured of his awful affliction. Samba was so delighted that he decided there and then to erect a Surya temple here in Konark, (or Place of the Sun).
The temple was conceived as a massive chariot lying on an east-west axis, in which the Sun god, Surya, was pulled across the sky. Each day his journey brought life and light back to earth and his procession was a continual rejoicing. The chariot had twenty-four wheels, and was pulled by seven horses, representing the seven days of the week and the seven sages who govern the constellations.