By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Jagannatha Puri, JagannAtha Puri, Jagannaatha Puri
Jagannātha-purī or Puri in the modern Orissa state is one of the celebrated places of pilgrimage for the Hindus since centuries. It is situated at a distance of 477 km. (310 miles) from Calcutta on the eastern sea-shore. Bhubaneshvar, the capital of Orissa, is 60 km. (36 miles) away from here.
The center of attraction of this place is the temple of Lord Jagannātha.
Śaṅkara (CE 788-820) has established one of his four chief monasteries in Puri, called ‘Govardhana Maṭha’ or ‘Govardhana Pīṭha’. Rāmānuja (CE 1017-1137) and Kabīr (CE 1440-1518) had visited this sacred place. Śrīkṛṣṇa Caitanya (CE 1485-1533) lived here for quite a long time and was closely associated with the temple and the king Pratāparudra of Orissa.
The famous temple of Jagannātha stands on a gentle slope. This slope is termed as Nīlācala or Nīlaparvata in the purāṇas and the dharmaśāstras. The temple town is called ‘Puruṣottamatirtha.’ Sometimes a verse from the Ṛgveda quotes that this place, with its temple of wooden idols, is a very ancient center of pilgrimage.
The enclosure of the temple is almost a square, 196 meters (652 ft.) by 190 meters (632 ft.) with a massive stone wall of 6 meters (20 ft.) height. The vimāna or central tower over the sanctum is 58 meters (192 ft.) high. There is a large gate-way on each side of the enclosure. The compound on the east is known as siṅhadvāra.
This enclosure has almost 120 temples dedicated to various aspects of God like Śiva, Devī, Surya and others. The main shrine of Puruṣottama is very ancient. Kings like Coḍagaṅga (CE 1078-1148) and Anaṅga Bhīma Deva (CE 1174) added other structures during their reign. In the main temple there are four chambers:
- Bhogamandira - hall of offerings
- Nāṭamandira - hall of dance and music
- Jaganmohanamandira - hall of pilgrims where they can assemble
- Garbhamandira - inner sanctuary
One special hallmark of this temple is that caste barriers have been waived off. The temple has a large contingent of attendants divided into 36 orders and 97 classes. The Rājā of Khurda is at the top who calls himself as the ‘the sweeper of Jagannātha’.
Founder of Jagannātha Temple
Paurāṇic accounts declare that Indradyumna, the pious king of the Mālava country with his capital at Avantī came here and built the temple at the command of Lord Vāsudeva (Kṛṣṇa). The wooden idols of Kṛṣṇa, Balarāma and Subhadrā were prepared by the heavenly architect Viśvakarma. Though the king had been specially instructed not to look at the making of the idols by Viśvakarma, he did so, unable to control the temptation. Hence Viśvakarma left the idols unfinished and retired to heaven. This is the explanation given by the traditional lore for the half-finished idols now worshiped in the temple.
Oriental scholars are of the opinion that this holy place with Kṛṣṇa worship, including the use of the wooden idols in the shrine, is quite ancient. It may be from the period of Jagatī, having buddhist influence, who reigned the place for some time before the 5th century CE.
The other major festival is the ‘Snānayātrā’ which means bathing procession conducted on the Jyeṣṭha Purṇimā when the three images are brought out on a platform and anointed by 108 pitchers of sacred water. The wooden idols are usually replaced by similar ones every twelve years. This is called ‘Navakalevara’ which means the new body. Some relics are transferred from the old idols into the new ones.
Other Pilgrimages in Puri
There are other five tīrthas or holy places in Puri which every pilgrim is expected to visit and are:
- The pool of Mārkaṇdeya
- The Vaṭa tree
- The sea of Indradymna
- The pool of Indradyumna
- Ṛgveda 10.155.3
- Avantī means modern Ujjayinī.
- Āṣāḍha śukla dvitīyā falls on the 2nd day of the bright fortnight of Āṣāḍha, usually in July.
- 10th day of the bright fortnight of Āṣāḍha.
- It is the full-moon day in Jyeṣṭha, generally in June.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore