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India: Odisha: Bhubaneshwar, Puri
Puri, Odisha, India: Abode of Lord Jagannath
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Puri's vibrant and narrowly packed streets with brightly painted houses, pastiches of colonial buildings, has a charm of its own. The Jagannath Temple which soars out of these streets dominates the skyline. The Chakratirtha Road to the East, the waterfront of Marine Drive Road to the West, and the score of hotels, resorts in the middle and the crammed Bada Danda street with lodges and shops selling religious souvenirs and the colourful pattachitra paintings are the hubs of action. During the annual Rath Yatra (chariot procession) hundreds of thousands of pilgrims congregate in Puri.
We reached Puri in the evening and checked into Mayfair Waves sitting pretty on the beach that overlooked the Bay of Bengal. We would be here for the next 3 days.
Early next morning we would pay respects to Lord Jagannath and then proceed to Konark located about 35 kms. from Puri.
Like at all major places of worship security is quite strict. No phones and no cameras as also nothing of leather should be on your body when visiting the temple. We knew a reputed family who owned a shop just opposite the temple. We left our belongings at the shop and joined the line of pilgrims. Leading us was a temple priest, called panda, which made it easy to get the glimpse (darshan) of Lord. Blessed.
Our offering in the temple entitled us to prasadam, which was brought to our hotel later in the evening by the panda. That would be our dinner... served traditionally on a banana leaf.
According to tradition, originally this dense forested area was inhabited by the Sabaras, a tribal group who predated the Dravidians and the Aryans. It is believed that the Sabaras, originally worshipped Lord Jagannath as Nilamadhab, and made images of red tree trunks. This deity was later adopted by Brahmins. Shankaracharya brought this little town to the religious map of India as a centre of teaching and learning and established one of its four mathas here in Puri in the 8th century. A great temple was founded by Anantavarman Chodaganga in 1135, dedicated to Purushottama (or Vishnu) and the name got changed to Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) in the 15th century during the reign of Gajapatis. The Vaishnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Bengal, spent many years at Puri in the 15th century. The temple now dedicated to the worship of Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, is one of the four dhams in India.
On way to Konark, we made stops at Ramchandi Temple and the Chandrabhaga Beach.
Konark Sun Temple, also called Surya Deula, is a 13th century marvel. The temple is attributed to king Narasimhadeva I of Eastern Ganga Dynasty circa 1250.
The temple complex is dedicated to the Hindu God Surya. It is currently a 100 feet high chariot with immense wheels and horses, all carved from stone. Much of the temple is a ruined structure. The structures and elements that have survived are famed for its intricate artwork, iconography and themes including the erotic Kama and Mithuna scenes. It is a classic illustration of the Orissan style of Hindu temple architecture. Prior to its ruin, the chariot temple was over 200 feet high.
Much controversy rages over the purpose of these carvings showing males and females in various erotic states in many Hindu Temples. To the casual observer they puzzle. Such things in a place of worship?
To the crude they are pornographic. And to a few they are the vulgar habits of primitive people. Yet they are, in fact, opaque symbolic portrayals of the state of 'union' with God. Within the vast confines of Hinduism one encounters many approaches to demonstrating spiritual ideas. Mithuna carvings are just one of them.
Mithuna, in fact means, 'the state of being a couple.' The Bruhadaranyka Upanishad says, "Just as a man closely embraced by a beloved woman knows nothing more without or within, so also a spiritual person embraced by God knows nothing more of without or within. This is his true form in which his desire (worldly) is satisfied. He has no desire nor any pain. Thus Mithuna is a human symbol of the total involvement in God required for Moksha the ultimate release from the material world from the cycles of life and death. Moksha is attained by approaching the Lord in a temple where such carvings constantly remind him of his true goal in life; the attainment of pure divine bliss by being totally engrossed with the Lord.
The scriptures command that such carvings should only be presented on the walls of a temple and not on the houses of men. This is because men (and women) indulge in Mithuna to satisfy sexual desires, ignoring the true purpose of life - Moksha.
The cause of the ruin of the Konark temple is unclear, disputed and a source of controversy. Theories range from natural damage to the ruining of this temple after it being sacked several times by Muslim armies between the 15th and 17th centuries. This temple was called "Black Pagoda" in European sailor accounts as early as 1676, because its great tower appeared black and served as a landmark for ships in the Bay of Bengal. The contemporary temple was partially restored by the conservation efforts of the British India era archaeological teams. In 1984, it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. It remains a major pilgrimage site for Hindus, who gather here every year for the Chandrabhaga Mela (fair) that falls in February.
After spending a couple of hours at the Konark temple we headed back to Puri. Lunch was at Lotus Resort on the Ramchandi Beach. Highly recommended for sea-food lovers.
By the time we reached our hotel in Puri, the panda had delivered the prasadam. That was our dinner.
Next morning we took it easy at our hotel. In the afternoon we took a trip to Chilika Lake at Satapada.
Chilika Lake is Asia's largest brackish water lagoon with water spread ranging from 1165 sq km in the rainy season to 906 sq km in the dry season. It extends from Bhusandpur in Puri district in the North to Rambha-Malud in Ganjan district in the South, separated from the Bay of Bengal by a 60 km long narrow strip of marshy islands and sand-flats.
Chilika is recognized as one of the most important wetlands in the world because it is home to a phenomenal variety of birds. Chilika Lake offers visitors a spectacular display of its colorful avian charms in a thousand different hues presented by over 160 species in the peak season between November and February. The lake and its reed islands teem with nesting birds-white bellied sea eagles, ospreys, golden plovers, sand pipers, flamingos, pelicans, shovellers, gulls, include migratory ones flying great distances from Iran, Central Asia and Siberia.
Another major attraction at Chilika is Irrawady dolphins which are often spotted off Satpada Island. Satpada, bounded by the lagoon on three sides, offers an excellent view and attracts the visitors to its entire 30 km stretch of sand bar. Boats arranged by OTDC are available for both the islands. The lake also supports the local fisherman in earning their living from Chilika's prawn, mackerel and crabs.
We hired a boat for a 3-hour cruise. We were charged Rs 3500 (with an official receipt) and I definitely think that was very expensive. Sorry to say, that the season / location was not in our favour. We couldn't see many birds neither did we see any dolphins. With a heavy heart we turned back. As dusk falls, the roads are taken over by cows. Do you what you want, they just won't leave their positions. You need to negotiate around. Our driver was quite used to it. A distance of 50 kms took us more than 2 hours!
Our flight back home was scheduled to depart in the afternoon from Bhubaneshwar. That gave us time to visit two famous artisan towns on the way – Raghurajpur and Pipili.
Situated amidst groves of coconut, palm, mango and jack fruit, Raghurajpur village has two streets with over 120 houses, most decorated with mural paintings, where the painters reside and practice their Pattachitra craft, besides many other that practice their craft throughout the village. Crafts include traditional masks, stone idols, papier mache, sculptures and wooden toys. The village also has a series of temples dedicated not only to Bhuasuni, the local deity but also to various Hindu gods including, Radha Mohan, Gopinath, Raghunath, Laxminarayan and Gouranga.
Around the year 2000 Raghurajpur was developed as a heritage village by INTACH, and soon became a major rural tourist destination of the state, drawing tourist, both domestic and foreign to the village. Villagers were also trained to provide heritage walks to the visitors by the organisation, and has since become a template for heritage tourism in the region.
The Pattachitra paintings are made over a piece of cloth known as Patta or a dried palm leaf, which is first painted with a mixture of chalk and gum. Over the prepared surface, colorful and intricate pictures of various Gods, Goddesses and mythological scenes with ornamentation of flowers, trees and animals are painted. The paintings on Tussar saris, especially the Sambalpuri Saree depicting Mathura Vijay, Raslila and Ayodhya Vijay owe their origin to Raghurajpur Pattachitra Paintings.
For the lover of art and craft, a visit to Raghurajpur is surely a must-visit.
Pipili is famous for designing beautiful applique handicrafts. It is a town of artisans famous for their colourful fabrics.
The applique work of Pipili is probably most well-known handicraft in Puri and surrounding area. Each and every family from the village are engaged in this applique craft. This is the livelihood of most people here.
We spent an hour in town. Our shopping was limited to a few paper lanterns. They would come to good use as Diwali - one of India's most important festival was approaching.
Well in time to board for our flight back home.
Puri Image Gallery Photo viewer
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