Puri: Home to Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra

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It was the third day in Puri, and he was in love with me about the rain. But that could not prevent me from exploring the half-open city. The sky is covered with dark clouds, a sheet of rain is pouring in and out, and the breaking waves of the sea have not been able to dampen my mind. Hence I got ready, ate breakfast, and prepared to go out. We chose to take a Toto tour to explore the city. And our trip started with a Jai Jagannath greeting from the Toto driver. Here, “Jagat” and “Nath” are combined to signify “the Lord of the Universe”. Quite alluring!

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Morning Sea on a cloudy day

Our primary purpose was to visit the holy temple of Shree Jagannath. I was a kid when I walked into the temple, holding my father’s hand 29 years ago. The memory is vague with the honking of Pandas, chanting of Sadhus, brilliant playing of holy sticks by local gurus over pilgrims’ heads, and the demand for a significant amount of time for puja. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, and even I could not go into the temple as the temple was closed after the death of the Chief Panda (priest) and his wife due to COVID-19. And over 40 pandas were suspected of being infected with COVID-19. So the temple was closed for more than two months, now, people were allowed to give offerings out of the temple to the Panda, but no one was allowed inside.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Sri Jagannath temple

Upon reaching the temple, I met a Panda at the barricade. While talking to him, he took our offering and told me only Hindus are allowed inside since I was asked about my Surname & Gotra. Moreover, he said that the Jagannath temple at Puri is one of the four Dhams Char- with three presiding deities – Jagannath, Balabhadra and the Goddess Subhadra – who is worshipped with devotion throughout the state.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Sri Jagannath, Balaram, Subhadra on the pedestal. Courtesy-Temple Panda

Despite the barricade positioned in front of the temple, I could see the eleven-meter-long monolithic pillar known as Aruna Stambha. It is devoted to Aruna, the coachman of Surya, the sun god. It belonged to the Sun Temple of Konark up to the last quarter of the 18th century. Post worship ceased in the temple with no presiding deity; the pillar was brought here by a wise man of Maratha to save it from the Muslim invaders.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Monolothic Aruna Stambh

I observed an interesting fact about the Indian religion. Each region in India has its favourite deity. Hence Jagannath – the deity presiding over the Puri, is primarily worshipped as the Supreme Deity. Jagannath is worshipped as Krishna (an avatar of Vishnu) and his elder brother, Balabhadra and Subhadra, his younger sister. This holy trinity has been associated with intense religious fervour since the medieval period. However, the fourth primary divinity of the temple, Sudarshan Chakra (Heavenly Wheel), validates Jagannath’s theory as an aspect of Krishna’s consciousness. Lord Jagannath is treated as an elder member of the family, which means Purusottam, so his abode Puri is known as Purusottam Kshetra. 

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Lord Jagannath. Courtesy Temple Panda

Following the Vaishnavism tradition, all Jagannath temples in the world worship Lord Krishna; however, according to experts, the Jagannath cult has tribal origins. The early inhabitants of Odisha, the Savara tribe, revered the logs as their God. It is also said that the natives venerated a picture of their God, Neel Madhava (the blue Vishnu), on the bluestone. Furthermore, the Daitapatis, who have an equitable share of responsibility for performing the rituals of the Jagannath Temple, are claimed to be descendants of the Aborigines or the hill tribes of Odisha. 

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
All three deities are In worship. Courtesy Temple Panda

The concept of Jagannath of Puri and the image of divinity do not conform with the old Hindu tradition. All Hindu deities are carved into stone or metal, but the principal deities of the Jagannath Temple of Puri are made of wood – a margosa (neem) tree. Neem is a medicinal plant which can last a long time. That’s pretty interesting! That is why Jagannath is called Darudevata, the wooden God or Daru Brahma. “Daru” in Sanskrit means wood, and Brahma means the omnipresent soul, the universal life force, the God of the gods.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Daru Brahma Courtesy Temple Panda

The various denominations of Hinduism – Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism have their interpretations of Jagannath and worship the deities accordingly. Jagannath is described as taking the form of all God to satisfy his devotee’s desire. A structure similar to a pillar, the Sudarshan Chakra, may have its origin in the processional Shiva lingam or the tradition of Vaishnavite followed in the tribal zones. Still, it also symbolises the wheel of the chariot of the Sun. Not only Hinduism but even Buddhism and Jainism are bound to Jagannath. This amalgamation of different denominations makes the Jagannath Temple unique in Hinduism.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Lord Jagannath In Sudharshan decor Courtesy Temple Panda

Speaking of the temple, I could say that it is one of the finest specimens of the ancient Kalinga-style temple architecture through the exterior structure. It was built on top of its ruins in the 12th century by the ruler of Kalinga, Anantavarman Chodaganga Dev. And the temple was completed in its actual shape by King Ananga Bhima Deva in 1174.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
The beautiful Kalinga Architecture

The Jagannath Temple complex spans over 400,000 square feet and is 65 metres tall. Its peak is crowned by the most revered emblematic symbol of the cult of Jagannath, the Neel Chakra (Blue Disc), the eight-pointed disc of Vishnu. The Neel Chakra is a symbol of Jagannath’s protection. It is made from Asta-Dhatu (an 8-metal alloy). Above this, a flag — the Patitapaban Bana — majestically dominates the city’s roofs. This is a new one each day. The flags are changed at sunset (between 18h-19h) according to the tradition in progress for more than 800 years.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Neel Chakra

The gate oriented to the east is the main gate known as Simhadwara (Lion Gate) since, two statues of stone lions on either side of the entrance. While the northern, southern and western gates are called Hastidwara (elephant gate), Ashwadwara (horse gate) and the Vyagharadwara (tiger gate), respectively; since we were not allowed in, unable to share an in-depth description of the temple. I even missed the Vimala temple in the country, which is one of the Shakti Peth (Shakti is the leading female of Hinduism and the ultimate divinity of the Shakta sect). But I was fortunate for Mahaprasad as it was also given to the goddess.

Bimla Temple Courtesy Wikipedia

Another structure which attracted my attention was the kitchen. About 700 temple cooks are used in the preparation of the Mahaprasad. Why is it known as Mahaprasad? I asked the PandaPanda the same thing, and the answer was that it is offered first to Jagannath and then to Devi Vimala, after which it becomes Mahaprasad. This is a very elaborate affair with 56 different dishes prepared during the day. Mahaprasad is available daily except during the 21 days preceding the Rath Yatra festival. 

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
The kitchen of the temple

This temple also attracted many prominent religious teachers of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism over the centuries, as Guru Nanak visited the temple in 1505 and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Even a ban on the entrance of non-Hindu archaeologists, historians and British people from pursuing their interest in the temple and its rituals never dampens their spirit. Instead, the annual Rath Yatra festival allowed them to see the deities as they were taken out of the temple premises and carried in wooden chariots richly decorated to be drawn through the streets of Puri in a massive ceremonial procession. The first European description of this festival appeared early in the 14th century. 


As per my knowledge, Rath Yatra is a ten-day chariot festival commemorating the annual visit of Jagannath to his place of birth, Gundicha Temple, along with a stop at his maternal aunt, the Mausi Maa temple also, with his older brother Balabhadra and his younger sister Subhadra. Throughout his journey, he is also accompanied by the heavenly wheel, Sudarshan Chakra. It takes place in the Aashaadha month of the Hindu calendar, where extreme enthusiasm and excitement fill the city’s atmosphere with a religious spirit that cannot be felt but is not described. That’s true! I saw the procession on television only.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Rath Yatra Courtesy Temple Panda

The Jagannath temple of Puri is not just an architectural wonder but the incarnation of the faith of millions of devotees. The city of Puri is nourished with this faith; that’s

why there is a lively and festive ambience throughout the year. After our prayer and offering, we headed for the next destination, the Gudincha temple. The place where Lord Jagganath was born. This temple is essential for the celebration of Jagannath as a destination for the Rath Yatra. Although round the year, the temple remains empty. The building is of Deula style, made of pale grey sandstone. It was closed due to COVID-19.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Gudincha temple

Our Toto’s next destination was Narendra Tank, one of the most oversized tanks in Odisha and supposed to have been built during the 15th century. The temple was submerged in water due to heavy rains, so it could not enter. However, the reservoir is considered holy and has many little and big temples around it. Amid the lake lies an island with a small temple called Chandana Mandapa.

Narendra Tank

As we rode towards the Mausima Temple, the rain started to pour in. It was a fun ride; returning to the temple of Mausima, the name of the temple translates to ‘aunt mother’ and is closely related to the tradition of Rath Yatra, where Lord Jaggantha visits his aunt on his return. According to legend, the goddess Mausi Ma saved Puri from the floods by drinking half the seawater. The shrine itself has strong fortress-like walls and elaborate architecture, representing security. The temple was closed, so we paid homage from the outside.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
MausiMa temple

We drove further to the temple of Lokanath, an 11-century temple and among the five famous temples of Puri devoted to Lord Shiva. According to legend, Lord Rama built this temple, where the complex is made in a typically Deula architectural style. The principal temple is in marble, while the rest is in sandstone. A lingam Shiva in the sanctum sanctorum is the presiding deity, and a natural fountain runs over it, submerging the Lingam in water. The Lingam is visible to devotees only during Shivratri when all the water is ejected. A Lokanatha idol inside the Jagannath Temple symbolises his role as the guardian deity of treasures. Lokanatha attends Jagannath festivals like Shivratri, Sital Sasthi and Candan Yatra.

Loknath temple

The last temple we visited was Alabukeshwara Temple, a Saiva shrine located on the western side of the Rameswaram. It is talked about in the reports raised by the Kapila Samhita to make sterile women fertile. With this temple, our tour ended; however, the rain followed me throughout the temple. We arrived at our hotel at lunchtime, although I wanted to visit the closed lighthouse due to COVID-19. Damn it!

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Alabukeshwara Temple

After lunch, I was in search of a neighbouring location to explore, which is open. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this forsaken town, as I could see the old houses on the temple road, clean beaches, and no crowds, which I loved the most. Therefore, I began to google and found this river Dhaudia Mohana. It is located next to the sea mouth, the distributary of River Bhargabi. It is popularly known as Mohana (meaning sea mouth literally).


Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
Panorama view of River Dhaudia Mohana


It’s a detour from the main tourist draw, and few tourists visit this place. Ah! Perfect for my taste. The Map showed 5.6km from the hotel, which means a 20 min drive on Toto. We’ve decided to get on with it. I didn’t know where or how far we went on the Toto trip. I was following the technology-Google Map; anyway, the Toto driver was young and friendly; he said he would wait for us because there won’t be Toto available to ride back. That was nice of him! Finally, we arrived at our destination. Believe me, and I marvelled at purity and clarity.

Odisha Travel III: Exploring Puri and Jagannath temple.
The unadultared Mohana

No people at all, and the water and beach were much more transparent and unaltered. The waves were much slower, and water from the Dhaudia River was dragging over the sand. I found many jellyfish, starfish, crabs and seashells over the beach. The tranquil beauty of the place just sank into my soul, and I started to walk.

Slow & calm meeting of river & sea

The continuous bending of the sea towards the shore leads me to a calm state. I can sit here for hours with the water running down my feet and the sand running out. Looking at the infinite horizon, I realised that we only know the tiny fragments Mother Nature has enabled us to see. There is an enormous amount of treasure and life to find, to discover. Once again, I fear the unknown and certainty, and I’ll still have an unbreakable connection to the sea. I wanted to stay awhile, but it was twilight, so it was time to go. The moon was also shining in the sky- Oh, I forgot it was Purnima- the night of the full moon.

A full moon night

As we were leaving the place, a rain leaf flowed down from the sky gate, which was not even cloudy. But it didn’t bother me because my afternoon was spent in serenity. The evening I spent at Honeybee Café savouring some delicious banana honey pancakes and coffee.

Pancakes: HoneyBee

Later, I went to sleep early because tomorrow we are leaving for Bhubaneshwar. As I fell asleep, I realised, “We travel not to escape life, but to live not to escape”.


How to Reach

By Air: 

Biju Patnaik Airport in Bhubaneswar is the nearest airport, which is approximately 56 km from the heart of the city of Puri. We can reserve a taxi from the airport for Puri.

By Rail:

Puri is a major railroad crossroads. Regular direct trains are available from numerous towns in India, including Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. You can book a taxi or take buses to your destination.

By Road:

Puri is connected to nearby cities via well-constructed roads. Buses are considered the primary option for travelling to Puri as the bus stand near the Gundicha temple. Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack are a 15-minute bus drive away.


One thought on “Puri: Home to Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra

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