SRI JAGANATH TEMPLE – PURI
Puri, the holy Vishnu Kshtram is on the East coast in Orissa. It is well connected by rail and road from the state capital, Bhubaneswar.
Puri is a well known pilgrimage and tourist spot and is frequented by pilgrims and tourists from all over India and abroad and is famous for Sri Jaganath temple and the Rath yatra, an annual festival of this temple during which time, the presiding deities are taken round in three well decorated Rathas / chariots side by side on its broad roads. Puri is also one of the four sacred peethas, founded by Sri Sankaracharya to be visited by every Hindu at least once in life time. The other three Peetas being, Sringeri in Karnataka, Dwaraka in Gujarat, and Badrinath in the Himalayas.
While references are found in scriptures and epics about this ancient temple, the present temple was constructed by emperor Anangabhimadeva, historically known as Angangabhima III belonging to Gangadynasty in the eleventh century.
The impressive temple complex of Sri Jaganath is located on an elevated platform connected by a flight of steps and is surrounded by a 20 feet high wall. This complex contains more than a hundred other small temples and shrines inside. The main tower on the sanctum is 192 feet tall with a stack of slab like geometrical shapes, gradually tapering at the top, which is typical of temple architecture in Orissa. It took 14 years to complete and the temple was consecrated in the year 1198.
The sanctum houses a Rathna peetam over which the images of Sri Balabhadra (Balarama), Sri Subhadra and Sri Jaganath, kept in that order, from left. Sri Balabadra and Sri Subdhra are brother and sister of Sri Jaganath. The images of these deities are made of wood and figuratively it is both form and formless. It is said the wooden images being worshipped, are renewed during special occasions.
The temple has four chambers including the main shrine. The big hall in front of the sanctum has massive square shaped pillars supporting the upper tower structure. The ceiling and walls are artistically painted and provide a divine ambience. It was here the devotees were performing namasangirthanam when we visited before the curtains were raised for the morning darshan.
Elaborate festivals are conducted throughout the year at Puri and the highlight and important one is the Rath Yatra or the Chariot festival in the month of June – July. The spectacular chariot festival is the procession of three colossal chariots with the icons of the deities, one in each.
Every year, new chariots are made by a team of artisans and carpenters who derive the right to make them historically from their predecessors. The structure of these wooden chariots is very intricate and each chariot has 12 to 18 wheels, depending on its size and shape on a wooden base over which a canopy like structure is constructed. When we visited in July this year, the chariots used for the Rath yatra in June were being dismantled by the artisans.
A video clip of Puri Sri Jaganath temple taken in July ’09 by this writer is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XitBgweLAew
Our visit to Shri Puri Jaganath temple had left an indelible impression in our minds of the awe inspiring temple complex with its huge tower, its three colossal chariots and above all, the images of the three deities with features representing both form and formless, suggesting to the common man that divinity is infinite and unfathomable.
And now, we already started looking for the next opportunity to visit Puri.