Day 1: Lord Jagannath’s darshan
It was the summer of 2009. My father had planned the whole itinerary of our week long stint in Odisha.
Vacationing was the secondary task at hand. The real reason for our Odisha visit was getting my elder brother to attend a prospective college orientation.
Journey by Indian railways is said to be an experience in itself. Railways in India are not just a means of transport, they are a way of life. A staggering population of 18 millionor even more travel by train in India every day. Hence, we trusted the Indian railways to transport us from one corner of the country to another. You know the best part about being on the rail? The mesmerising landscape of India unfolds in front of your eyes as if a traveller’s camera reel unfolds.
Mostly known for its exquisite temples and centuries old, culturally rich monuments, Odisha can be touted as India’s museum of sculptural and artistic heritage. The magnificent Sun Temple at Konark, the majestic temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri, Gobardhan matha (monastery) established by Adi Shankaracharya and the wildlife it houses in its sanctuaries, make Odisha an ideal tourist destination.Upon alighting from the AC coaches at the Puri railway station. Swarms of taxi drivers surround you offering their services. Dealing with them is a talent in itself.
On our way to our temporary abode, one could easily trace the bustling everyday life there. A group of lean women carrying fishes in bamboo baskets over their heads, their expertise in the balancing act evident, an old lady in a dull-coloured saree, sitting crossed legged in the corner of a veranda, the series of Keora trees outlining the roads.
The next day was our first proper day to begin the hobnobbing and what better than the fascinating Jagannath Puri temple. Better known as the earthly abode of Lord Vishnu, Jagannath, Puri has a rich cultural heritage. One of the ‘char dhams’ (pilgrimage), the temple dates back to 11th century.Renowned world over for the spectacular Rath Yatra (chariot festival), the three idols worshipped here are Lord Jagannath, his elder brother, Balabhadra and their sister, Subhadra. The jaw dropping sight of Lord Jagannath, accompanied by Subhadra and Balabhadra as they take off on a new journey every year, steered by their religiously enthusiastic followers, on the streets of Odisha, is considered extremely sacred and devotees from around the world ensure to catch the sight at least once in their lifetime. Each day, the Lord at the Jagannath Temple is offered ‘bhoga’ six times. The wooden idols are repaired during special occasions. The wooden idols are prepared from a log of a specific kind of wood.
Upon reaching the temple premises, the swarms of people buzzing around like flies made me doubt our intention of getting even 15 feet around the main idols. This seemed no less than a Khatron ke Khiladi type challenge to me. Unaware of another impending challenge, my family and I struggled to invade the hordes of devotees, trying to make a way. That is when they sprung up! From nowhere! So, here is the first advice. Try and stay from the temple pundas. Uncountable pundas will surround you much like the taxi drivers at a railway station offering their services.Don’t throw surprise expressions in case you hear their charges. Pundas are priests who will show you around the huge temple premises and even offer to help you get the best darshan of Lord Jagannath depending on which package to choose.
After making deliberate attempts at ignoring their requests, my parents soon realised the need for a punda for a more comfortable and thorough tour of the place. As we were taken around, I started to appreciate the architecture of the magnificent temple.
The temple had a tower which rose above the inner temple where the deities reside. Other minor towers rose from the rest of the temple. The temple complex is surrounded by a wall. On each side is a gopura or gate, over which rises a pyramid-shaped roof. Being the largest temple in the state, it has a huge complex that also houses a mammoth kitchen, where the daily prasad is prepared.The temple has a mind blowing number of 6,000 priests! Can you believe that?
There is a wheel on top of the Jagannath Temple made of an alloy of eight metals (astha-dhatu), known as the Nila Chakra (Blue Wheel). Every day, a different flag is hoisted to a pole attached to the wheel. There are a total of four gates: the eastern Singhadwara (Lion Gate), the southern Ashwadwara (Horse Gate), the western Vyaghradwara (Tiger Gate), and the northern Hastidwara (Elephant Gate). There is a huge carving of each animal on each gate. Thirty other smaller temples are scattered in the premises.
(to be continued…)