Puri is located on the eastern coast of the State of Orissa (India).
While several temples have vanished or have declined in importance, the great temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri is still a living and vivrant temple. Over the centuries it has attracted kings, conquerers, religious teachers, devotees and piligrims. In the minds of the millions of Indians, Orissa is the land of Jagannath. A synonym of Purusottam is Jagannath and his abode Puri is known as Purusottam Khetra, which is one of the four most sacred places in India.
Lord Jagannath was called "Purusottama" since his origin at Puri or Purusottam - Kshetra (the abode of Purusottam) since pre-historic times. The Rig Veda refers to him as the Daru (sacred log of wood) of Purusottama, afloat on the eastern sea. The name "Jagannath" (Lord of the Universe) is invariably a collective representation of the Triad (Jagannath - Balabhadra - Subhadra) and has been in use since the dawn of the last millenium.
The Triad is deified by the Jainas as manifestation of the Jaina "Tri-ratna" (three gems of Jainism) representing right knowledge, right thought and right perception.
Initial animosity and ignorance of the Muslims had seen many attempts at desecration of the Jagannath Temple during early period of Muslim rule.
Famous Sages who visited Puri
Tradition of pilgrimage brought other savants to Puri, Narahari Tirtha who was a saint of the Vashistha Advaita philosophy sung praises of Lord Jagannath. He preached the gospel of self surrender, got royal approval to start the "Pancaratra" mode of worship, introduced goddess Lakshmi and the offering of cooked rice, and put a premium on chanting of the holy name. The Emar Math and the tital mark on the temple bear his testimony.
Nimbarka Acharya, the Vaishav saint of south India visited and introduced the concept of Radha and Krishna. The saint poet of Orissa, Jayadeva who was his disiple composed "Geetagovinda" in this bhava while he was here. The Devadasi were also introduced at this time. However, the love of Radha and Krishna did not gain popular acceptance until Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to Puri. Vishnuswami of South India was another illustrious savant. Madhvacharya introduced "Rama" cult in Puri.
Ramananda, the mentor of Chaitanya, believed in devotion but Chaitanya apotheosized it through ecstatic trance.
Keeping with the rich spiritual tradition, King Kapilendra Deva proclaimed Jagannath as the "King" and himself as His first servitor. The "Chhera Panhara" tradition is its supreme manifestation.
The present temple structure was built in the 12th century by the Ganga king, Ananata Barman Chodagangadeva, replacing an earlier structure which was significantly older.
Historical account of the origins of the Diety of Lord Jagannath is found in the Skanda-Purana, Brahma Purana and other Puranas and later repeated in Oriya works. They state that Lord Jagannath was originally worshipped as Neela Madhav by a Savar king named Visvavasu. Having heard about the deity, king Indradyumna sent a Brahmin priest, Vidyapati, to locate the deity, who was worshipped secretely in a dense forest by Viswavasu. Vidyapati tried his best but could not locate the place. But at last he managed to marry Viswavasu's daughter Lalita. At repeated request of Vidyapti, Viswavasu took his son-in-law, after blind folding him to a cave where Neelamadhav resided and was worshipped by Visvavasu.
Vidyapati, however, dropped mustard seeds on the ground on the way. The seeds germinated after a few days, and enabled him to find out the cave later on. On hearing from him, king Indradyumna proceeded immediately to Odra desha (present day Orissa) on a pilgrimage to worship the Deity. But the deity had disappeared. The king was disappointed. The Deity was hidden in sand. The king was determined not to return without having a darshan of the deity and observed fast unto death at Mount Neela, Then a celestial voice cried 'thou shalt see him '. Afterwards the king performed a horse sacrifice and built a magnificient temple for Vishnu. Narasingha Murti brought by Narada was installed in the temple. During sleep,the king had a vision of Lord Jagannath. Also an astral voice directed him to receive the fragrant tree on the seashore and make idols out of it. Accordingly the king got the image of Lord Jagannath,Balabhadra , Subhadra and Chakra Sudarshan made out of the wood of the said tree and installed them in the temple.
Indradyumna's prayer to Lord Brahma
King Indardyumna put up for Jagannath the tallest monument of the world. It was 1,000 cubits high. He invited Lord Brahma, the cosmic creator,consecrate the temple and the images. Brahma came all the way from Heaven for this purpose. Seeing the temple he was immensely pleased with him. He asked him as to in what way can HE (Brahma ) fulfil his (the king's ) desire,since HE was very much pleased with him for his having put the most beautiful Temple for Lord Vishnu.With folded hands, Indradyumna said , " My Lord if you are really pleased with me, kindly bless mewith one thing, and it is that I should be issueless and that I should be the last member of my family."In case anybody left alive after him,he would only take pride as the owner of the temple and would not work for the society."
The present temple is a rekha deula with curviliner tower on a Pancha Ratha plan. The main temple structure is 214 feet high and is built on an elevated platform of stone measuring approximately 10.7 acres , which makes it look even larger and adds to the temples imposing impression.
The temple complex comprises an area of 10.7 acres and is enclosed by two rectangular walls. The outer enclosure is called Meghanada Prachira, has walls that are 6 meters high and surrounds an area with the dimensions of 665' x 644'. The walls are 6 meters high. The inner wall is called Kurmabedha and is 400' x 278' in size. The walls were built during the 15th or 16th century.
There are four gates the eastern Simhad wara (Lion Gate), the southern Ashwadwara (horse gate), the western Vyagharadwara (tigers gate) and the northern Hastidwara (elephant gate). The Images of Lord Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagganath are installed in the inner part of the temple called Ratnavedi or the jeweled platform.
The temple has got four halls in a row such as Viman (main temple where Lord Jagannath is worshipped with brother Balabhadra, sister Subhadra and Sudarshan), Jagamohan (Audience hall), Natamandap (Dance hall) and the Bhoga Mandap (offering hall).
Lord Jagannath, the symbol of universal love and brotherhood is worshipped in the Temple alongwith Balabhadra, Subhadra,Sudarshan, Madhaba, Sridevi and Bhudevi on a Ratnabedi platform.
When one lunar month of Ashadha is followed by another lunar month of Aashadha, the deities change their bodies. This is known as Navakalebar or New Body Ceremony. Last four new body ceremonies of the Lords was celebrated in the year 1950 , 1969, 1977 and 1996. On such occasions Puri witnesses the largest crowd in her fold.
The temple opens at 5 a.m. with a Mangal Aarati (early morning prayer) and closes at 12 p.m. The Rath Yatra or the Chariot festival, is perhaps the biggest festival organized by the Puri temple. This takes place in June. This festival includes a grand procession of three huge chariots bearing the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. Thousands of devotees pull the chariots to the Mausi Ma temple 5 km ( 3.10 miles) away from the main temple. The lords rest there for 9 days and then returns to the main temple. This journey is called Bahuda Yatra.
Jagannath Temple's Kitchen
The Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa, has one of the biggest kitchens in India.
Around 500 cooks and 300 helping hands prepare 100 different offerings known as Mahaprasad or Abhada for Lord Jagannath, which are served to the deity six times a day.
The kitchen complex has 32 rooms, 752 stoves and nine earthen pots. The complex is located several feet above and to the left of the temple's main gate, called the Simhadwara, or the Lion gate, and covers roughly one acre. The cooking pots are unique. Made of unfired clay, they resemble the French sauté pans. As the food cooks in the pots, their walls become very hot. The pots provide amazing heat retention - food stored in them stays piping hot for up to four or five hours - and yes, it tastes exceptionally delicious.
One thousand men are employed in the kitchen every day. Executive chefs, called swaras, are the only ones allowed to cook. Then there are kitchen assistants, called jogunias, who wash the vegetables, cut them and stonegrind the spices for the executive chefs.
All members of the kitchen staff begin their training at the age of twelve. They serve for life, or until they become too old to perform their duties.
The one hundred different dishes prepared daily by the temple chefs fall into two categories - pakka and sukka.
Pakka foods are those that are boiled, such as dals, soups, stews, rice, kiccharis, and all vegetable dishes. Sukka, or dry foods, include cookies, biscuits, sweetmeats and pastries.
As with the fruits and vegetables selected for use in the Jagannatha kitchens, the standard for spices has also remained constant for two thousand years.
Only locally grown spices are used, and these include mace, cumin, fennel, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, mustard seed, and black cumin.
Although non-Hindus are strictly forbidden from entering the Jagannath Temple or its kitchens, visitors to Puri's bustling markets can taste the prasadam for a small price, which is exactly like the one cooked by the temple chefs.
Puri's Rath Yatra is a divine feat, an absolute climax of a year's devotion and prayer for devotees who throng this beach city for the grand event.
For many days, visitors watch the progress of the constructions of the three giant cars. These heavy wooden pyramids on wheels are up to 15 meters high. The wheels are more than 2 meters in diameter. Touching the wheels in the course of the procession means salvation for most pilgrims.
Hundreds of artisans are involved in the process. Carpenters, carvers and painters swarm over the rough frames and soon countless deities are eternalized in wood. The Orissa government supplies the wood for these massive structures.
The building site, on the Grand Road, resembles a huge fairground during this time. Pulling the giant chariots is not an easy task. The police perform several test runs before the main day.
The festival commemorates Krishna's journey from Gokul to Mathura. But that is just one part of the story. It also marks the day of Rig Veda, the day the oldest Veda was revealed. The central characters in this unique spectacle are the deities Jagannath and his brother and sister, Balabhadra and Subhadra. Long before the gods make an appearance, the Grand Road, which stretches for more than a mile from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Mandir (the Garden House), is packed.
The king of Puri, Dibyasingh Singh Dev, is present as the gods emerge from the temple. And no wonder, his ancestors first chanced on the Jagannath cult, when the Gonds, an indigenous minority, practiced it in the Orissa jungles. It is his honor to clean the chariots with sandalwood water and a golden broom.
Around midday the gods are lodged safely in their vehicles. Household articles and personal effects of Jagannath and his siblings follow the deities on board their chariots. Each god takes his/her own toothbrush.
Balabhadra's car is the first to be pulled.
The giant chariot is loaded with temple priests. Pilgrims and temple workers jostle and fight for the ropes of Balabhadra's car. Devotees have been known to jump under the wheels of the chariots, to die in the god's sights. Priests smash coconuts against the wheels of the car, and then hand the broken, blessed shells to the pilgrims. Soon all three cars, floating in a vast sea of humanity are conveyed down the Grand Road, stopping and starting. The cars take an enormous effort to pull; they look unmaneuverable and once at good speed, are almost impossible to stop.
When the cars reach the Garden House, the gods take a week-long break, before being reloaded onto the cars in a similar fashion and returned to the Jagannath Temple. Once the second leg of the procession is concluded, the gods are covered in gold, in a last frenzied ceremony before the cars are broken up and used for firewood inside the kitchens of the Jagannath temple.
The Word Juggernaut
The word Juggernaut is a corruption of Jagannath. When the British came to Puri and saw the Ratha Yatra for the first time, they were amazed at the size of both the chariots and the procession. They started using the word Jagannath (Juggernaut) to refer to anything that was massive in scale as the Lord's chariot.