With the objective to write an integral post on the Chilka Lake we had bypassed the important town of Puri between western and eastern part of the great lagoon. We have now returned to Puri, one of the four most important ‘dhams’, the holy places of Hindus. The pilgrimage to Puri along with the other three ‘dhams’ ensures that all your sins are ‘washed’. By implication if you visit Puri you have been pardoned for at least 25% of your crimes in your life so far. I am not sure if this is part-washing is officially sanctioned. This applies only if you are a Hindu, of course. Such facilities are available in the Middle East and Europe for other kind of Believers. Hinduism is probably the only religion which has made the facility available at four different convenient locations in the country. Countrywide marketing and distribution of services practiced of late has its origins here, not in Philip Kotler. Marketing boys, please note.
The hotel that we booked online is very close to the main temple. So close that cars are not allowed up to the hotel. Not knowing what to do we call the hotel and they send us a man on motorcycle to pilot us to the hotel past the traffic policeman.
As we walk the main street surrounding the temple we find large wooden logs on one side and large smooth wooden logs on the other. This certainly demands and inquiry. I go for it. The explanation comes forth effortlessly.
You must surely be aware of the English word juggernaut. Its origin is in these pieces of wood. Lord Jagannath is taken out of and into the temple once in a year in a chariot made of wood. Juggernaut is the corruption of Jagannath and refers to this huge wooden contraption in which the Lord travels. Now why two sets of logs?
On the one side are the logs for making the chariot for the current year. They are therefore raw logs, unprocessed.
What we see on the other side are the logs dismantled from the last year’s chariot which is not reused. The wood is used for cooking the ‘prasad’ in the temple.They are not allowed for any other use.
This ancient temple took its final shape in the later part of the 12th century. In the 17th century the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb ordered it to be demolished. It is said that the soldiers who arrived for this task were bribed and sent away and the temple merely ‘closed’, not demolished and reopened after the death of Aurangzeb. This is probably an important aspect of our history which the historians have ignored. It suggests that the foreign invaders to this country could have been kept away by bribing if the local rulers did not have the strength to fight them.
The temple by itself is not very impressive. The design particularly of the ‘Vimana’ part of it looks very original and uncommon but that view can be had only form a distance and the only convenient place for that purpose without being airborne is the lighthouse at the beach.
Here is the temple as seen from the top of the lighthouse.
All the important religious places in this world are also important commercial centres. Religion is at it’s most useful here: to create employment. And that is the only useful purpose of God and religion. Here is a small sample of goods and services.
Going by the environment in and around Puri it is very difficult to say if this place owes its existence to religion or to tourism. The names support the latter-Hotel Sea palace, Hotel Gandhara, H. Samudra, H. New Rock Bay, H. Sukanya, H Swanapuri, Oyo Rooms Sand Bay, Reba Beach Resort, Sonar Tori, H Sagarika-. I am inclined to believe that this place is about 70% beach resort and 30% temple town. This proportion might change during the ‘Rath Yatra’, the time of the year when the ‘presiding deities’ of the temple are taken out in a procession to and from to another temple where they go for the summer vacation.
The beach as seen from the top of the lighthouse is a beautiful site.
And here is the lighthouse. This lighthouse must be among the most visited lighthouses in India as access to it is very easy and a large number of tourists visit the town throughout the year.
Visiting major temples is India is and probably has always been difficult. The first things and the most ancient issue is of the dress-code. The devotees come dressed for the occasion. The other kind of visitors do not have these requirement in mind. The second issue is of the cameras and mobile phones. Mobile phones are a nuisance. Cameras appears to be banned for commercial reasons. The photographs of the deities are copyrighted and the local shops who sell the pictures need to be supported. This theory does not hold good against the advanced copying techniques and very slim smartphones that could be smuggled in. Anyway, this prevents people like me from visiting the insides of the temples although I am entitled to enter by virtue of my birth as a Hindu and not converted to any other religion.
Among the highlights of the temple ceremonies is the changing of the flag on the top of the temple. This is a daily routine watched by many devotees.
The Jagannath temple has four entrances but only one is used on regular basis for the public and it always has ques in front of it.
And here is another gate:
The temple has engravings almost everywhere on its walls depicting among other things acts of lovemaking, a theme that is found in most of the temple art in Odisha.
The pilgrims come to Puri from far and wide and by all means of transport. This man has traveled considerable distance on his bicycle to reach the place.
We are seeing the battery-run autorikshaw for the first time. It has been brought here to be blessed by the Lord Jagannath.
When pilgrims visit the temple, they take away the ‘prasad’, sweets cooked in the temple for the near and dear ones. It is sold in these boxes made of leaves of the Tada palm- another use for this widely used plant.
The priests at the Puri temple have developed a new style of carrying mobile phones which is not known to the outside world.
Apart from the prasad, the other important takeaway is the sweet called ‘Khaja’, sold everywhere around the temple. It is made of gram flour and sugar.
Jagannath Puri temple is a rich institution and a major source of the income is the donations made by the devotees. The temple has made elaborate arrangements to collect the donations- on site as well as off-site.
Most of Puri is around the two main temples located a short distance from each other and to the north are the roads connecting Bhubaneshwar, the state capital and Konark famous for its temple and its erotic art. To the south is the road to the eastern part of Chilka lake. There is a stretch of land to the south which is on the seashore and is being developed as a tourist area, with new hotels and resorts coming up. We decided to spend some time here away from the crowded city. This is where the Dhaudia river meets the sea. Dhaudia is a small river meanders through the south west and meets the sea here. The place where a river meets the sea is called ‘Mohana’ in Oriya. This makes for a beautiful site.
The is inter-tidal making its water brackish and suitable for the habitation of several species of fish. The locals mainly use nets in the shallow waters at low ride to catch fish.
And the catch is here:
We leave Puri passing by the Gundicha temple, move northwards for what appears as Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary on the Google map. Before we reach the sanctuary we find a place where vehicles have stopped. It is another temple – Maa Ramachandi Temple.
The stretch between Puri and Konark is called Puri-Konark Marine Drive and here between the land and the sea flow three rivulets meeting the sea after running parallel the road and the seashore.
Our first stop is Baleshwar beach and temple for which we drive 6 kms off the highway to the seashore. We find a pretty little temple but not on the seashore. There is no crowd here. It is not a part of the Puri-Konark tourist circuit.
The environs of the temple support quite a few bird species, the Hoopoe being the most prominent among them.
The beach is quite good, woody and clean.
And quite good for meditation.
Maa Ramchandi temple is located between the road and the Kusabhadra river. It is a part of the Puri-Konark tourist circuit and draws a large number of tourists.
The main draw here appears to be the boating facilities in the shallow brackish waters of Kusabhadra.
Balukhand-Konark Sanctuary exists only on the map. We approach the gate and the forest guard informs us that there is nothing inside, no animals. There is no point in our going in. Either he is telling the truth or he simply does not want to take the trouble of allowing us in. I have not seen anything written about this sanctuary either. We let it pass and make a halt at a resort on the northern end of the Kusabhadra river, just across the road from the ‘sanctuary’.
The last spot on the Puri-Konark Marine Drive is the Konark beach. From here one turns left for Konark which is a short distance away. Chandrabhaga Temple is the major tourist attraction apart from the beach. The river Chandrabhaga used to drain into the ocean here but it no longer does. It has dried out. A pond is constructed as if to commemorate the river.
The lighthouse at the corner is the last item we can see before we go to Konark for the overnight stay. It is called Chandrabhaga lighthouse.
We keep Konark for the next post.
Text by Suryakiran Naik
Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik