Sunday, April 8, 2012

Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath

You can bathe or hang around the Puri beach.
Puri is the hometown of Orissa’s most famous god Lord Jagannath and a big town (almost a city) where you have lots to do, like hanging around the sea beach, besides seeing some of India’s most important ancient relics. 

Pay a visit (or many) to Puri not only for its string of beautiful temples, but it is also the rough sea (the Bay of Bengal) that will leave you bewitched when you visit Orissa’s temple town. This town, which bustles with activity 365 days of the year, is not without its history.
  
The Jagannath Temple.
Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath, can arguably be termed as the holiest place in the state of Orissa.

And, any Oriya (resident of Orissa) will swear by Lord Jagannath before venturing out on any auspicious journey.

The Jagannath temple was set up around the 12th Century and Jagannath is one of the myriads forms of Lord Krishna. The word Jagannath means Lord of the Universe. 
 
Puri’s industry revolves around the Jagannath Temple, which prompts tourists to flock to the holy town throughout the year.

Besides tourists from Orissa and other parts of India, Puri also sees a huge tourist flow from Bengal, which gives the town almost 60 per cent of its revenues.

A slice of history

Puri is an ancient town that finds adequate mention in the history of India. It is believed that Puri was called Chaitra during the ancient times. 

The area around the Jagannath Temple.
 Puri or Chaitra was the hub of Vaishnav activity during the medieval period.

This movement especially gained momentum after Chodaganga Deva built the temple of Purusottama Jagannath and installed the idols of three deities – Jagannath, his brother Balaram and their sister Subhadra.

Soon after, Puri became well-known as Purusottama Kshetra, the house of Purusottama. During the British Raj, this town was named Pooree.

During 1590-1750, the eastern Indian state was under control of the Mughals and was split into three provinces for the purpose of tax collection.

They were known as circars (governments) and included Jaleswar, Bhadrak, and Kataka. Puri was in the Kataka circar. Till around 1815, Puri was not only the bustling temple town of Orissa but also the state’s capital, where the headquarters of the collector lay.

Rath yatra

Legend has it that King Indradyumna, the ruler of Orissa, saw the lord (Jagannath) in his dreams and was instructed to build the temple and this way the shrine came up. 

The rath yatra is held around mid-summer.

Puri is well known for its rath yatra. The yatra is the most famous one for Lord Jagannath and is undertaken around July every year.

During the festival, there is an unprecedented rush in the town and, if you are willing to jostle past the crowd and pull the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra, then you must be there.

Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra.
For that, you need to book at least three months in advance.

On the first day of the Rath Yatra, three gigantic raths or chariots carrying Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra are taken out for the people to see their favourite lord. Day One is known as Snana Purnima, where the three deities are given a bath in the open known as Snana Bedi.

During the yatra, Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra visit their aunt's place, the Gundicha Temple, situated at a distance of 2 km from their temple for a period of seven days.

According to legend (there are many that fly around the town even today), devotees who participate in the rath yatra and pull the Lord’s chariot, can wash off all their sins and go to heaven.

It is also believed that the oldest panda (priest) constructs the rath of Jagannath, as it is believed that he will die and not get to see the yatra next year.

What to do

It goes without saying that the first thing that comes to a tourist’s mind visiting Puri is the sacred Jagannath Temple.

You can visit the Gundicha Temple.
Also, Puri offers myriad recreation options to keep visitors on their toes. Sightseeing is one of the must-dos in Puri and a visit to Konark, the breath-taking Chilka Lake or the pristine Nandan Kannan forest could be places visitors may like to go to.

Puri is also well-known for its Sambalpuri textiles, which off late, have turned out to be a big pinch on the pockets of tourists.

You may have to shell out Rs 3,000 for a Sambalpuri sari or Rs 1,000 for a shirt but it is advisable to buy from a reputed shop in Swarga Dwar (the main road that leads to the Puri temple) rather than buying from roadside vendors.
  
You can also laze around the mind blowing seaside amid the rough waves of the Bay of Bengal. But be aware, the waves have often turned killers, especially during the monsoon.

So, unless you’re adept at deep sea swimming, it’s advisable to take a Nulia (a sea guide), who will help you and your family enjoy the rough waters for a nominal Rs 300 (rates are likely to change).

Swarga Dwar is a shoppers paradise where you can buy some exquisite Sambalpuri saris and shirts.
Also in Puri, you can buy replicas of multiple dolls (one inside the other) and procure images or models of Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra.

You can also opt for some lip-smacking food. ‘World famous Peace Restaurant in Puri but never go anywhere else,’ reads the menu, which features curries, macaroni, the best muesli in town and tasty fish dishes.

The dopiaza is a must eat there. There is also the Xanadu, where you can enjoy a sumptuous breakfast fry-up or muesli inside the shade of coconut and banana palm trees.

Camel riding can be one of the
options on the Puri beach.
After sunset, you can visit it to grab a beer with some delectable prawn, fish and continental dishes. Puri has some tantalizing sweets like the rashmalai, khirmohon, rasgulla, khaja and of course the goja. If you have a sweet tooth, these are must-eats.

Other temples in Puri

There is also the Gundicha Ghar Temple, which is one of the most important temples of the town.

This temple is the home of the aunt of Jagannath. Loknath Temple is another popular temple in Puri. It was set up around the 11-12th Century. People believe that the idol there can relieve them from health problems.

Ardhasani Temple, Puri, is also another famous temple. During rath yatra, visitors can experience the special celebrations inside this temple.


How to get there

Hotel Victoria is a popular hotel in Puri. Some other popular hotels are the Puri BNR, Panthaniwas and Puri Hotel.
The nearest Metro city from Puri is Kolkata, about 680 km away. You have a litany of trains like the Jagannath Express, the Puri Express, the Garib Rath as well as the Duronto to take you to Puri. If you are reserving at the last moment, the Duronto is ideal.

But it reaches the temple town around 9 pm (timings are likely to change).

But the Garib Rath and the Puri Express are two trains which are the most comfortable and it’s just an overnight journey if you travel by these trains.

Or else, you can take a (half an hour) flight to Bhubaneswar (capital of Orissa), and from there, you can go by a bus or train to Puri, which is 60 km and about an hour away.

You can also avail Volvo bus service from Kolkata.

Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath, will surely leave you enchanted.

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