Orissa: A Memoire (Part 3: Puri, The Adobe of Lord Jagannath)

The Jagannath Puri Temple

The Jagannath Puri Temple

I asked my roommates what the word Puri reminds you of. They said food. Yes Puri would remind an average Indian of an unleavened deep-fried Indian bread, commonly consumed on the Indian subcontinent. But for an Odiya like me Puri is small town on the coast of Odisha. A place where people come to wash away their sins, a place where the belief in God crosses all boundaries, the city of the Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe). As a part of the original Char Dham pilgrimages, of which the other legs are Dwaraka, Badrinath and Rameswaram (Kedarnath, Kashi, Yamunotri and Gangotri are not the Char Dham as per common beliefs), a pilgrimage of the temples of India is not considered complete without a journey to Puri.

From my earlier posts you would have identified me as a non-religious person (mentioning again and again that I am not a very religious person should have really helped), but my religious ideologies change as far as Puri Jagannath is concerned. One may tag me as a phony…well what can I say. What are my religious ideologies? Do I believe in God or not? So for once and for all let me settle this. I do believe that there is a supreme power that governs the entire cosmos; you may call him God, the Almighty, Allah or by any name for that matter. On the same hand I don’t believe in the concept of temples or prayer houses. I do not want to offend any religion but I don’t believe that the supreme entity can be captured in an Idol, a sculpture, a book, a tree or in any living thing for that matter. Religion is a belief, a way how you live rather than whom or what you worship.

Ok ok kuch zyada hi serious ho gaya. So Puri…the last time I visited the place was around two years back. I had gone for my cousin brother’s marriage in Bhubaneswar. What made the trip more special was that my entire family was with accompanying me. My elder brother and my sister-in-law were visiting India for the first time after their marriage and my father was able to get a long leave (being a doctor in the Indian Army does not help). After arriving early in the morning at Bhubaneswar we took a cab to Puri. Being a non-Odiya my mother took upon her to make my sister-in-law get familiarize with the culture of Odisha, the story behind the Puri Jagannath Temple and the various customs and rituals that make the temple unique.

After a journey of about an hour and a half we reached the temple located on one end of the Bada Danda or the Grand Road. Once inside the temple premises we located our Guide, who was a priest at the shrine. He asked us whether all of us understand Hindi (you see my sister-in-law doesn’t know O about Odiya). While the question asked was a very valid one it was amusing to me as a kid I never had that option. After visiting the main temple and attending the afternoon aarti, we went on the customary tour of the temple premises. We visited the temple kitchen, the largest of its kind in the world. What fascinated me about the kitchen was the sheer quantity of food being cooked and what was not so fascinated was that they still used traditional methods of cooking (clay pots, wood as fuel etc.).

Finally we sat down for the bhog, the Mahaprasad. The Mahaprasad consists of 56 items, starting from chutney, to curd, to rice, to Daal, to desserts and what not. For a foodie like me it was a dream come true. Finally after an hour long meal we bid goodbye to the Lord.

Sunrise at Puri Beach

Sunrise at Puri Beach

While we didn’t had the time to visit the Puri beach to relive the nostalgic memories I fondly remember spending hours on the beach. One such visit still remains fresh in my memory. I was around 10 years old, all my uncles, my aunts & my cousins were there. We had spent at least 6 hours on the Puri beach. What made the day even more special was that it was a full moon day, full moon=higher waves=more fun. A visit to the beach in the later years saddened me. Commercialization had taken a toll and it was not the same beach that had given me such fond memories in the past.

Puri is also famous for the Rath Yatra or the Chariot Festival. Once every year Lord Jagannath along with his siblings Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra leave the temple to visit their aunt (even Gods do need vacations). How they reach there is a sight to behold. The Divinities are placed in huge brightly decorated wooden chariots and are taken to their Mousi’s place being pulled by hordes and hordes of devotees (1.5 million by some estimates). If one wants to see true devotion to the Almighty in all its glory this is a place to be. I had the pleasure of seeing the Rath Yatra and touching the sacred ropes (those which are used to pull the chariot) on a visit to Puri four years back. It was surely a sight to behold and a trip to remember.

The giant chariots waiting for the Lords in front of the Jagannath Puri Temple

The giant chariots waiting for the Lords in front of the Jagannath Puri Temple

Puri…what can I say. A place where one comes to known the true meaning of faith, a place home to one of the most scenic beaches in the country. You may love it or hate it but one cannot ignore it. Jai Jagannath.

Advertisements

Orissa: A Memoire (Part 2: Konark, The City of the Sun Temple)

Continuing on the journey through Odisha I would like to take you to a place called Konark. Konark is one of the most well known places of interest in India. It is a small town in the Puri district in the state of Odisha, India. It lies on the coast by the Bay of Bengal, 65 kilometers from the capital of the state. Konark is also home to an annual dance festival called Konark Dance Festival, held every December, devoted to classical Indian dance forms, including the traditional classical dance of Odisha. Ok that is all about Konark. Did I miss something? Oh yah…it is home to the 13th-century Sun Temple, also known as the Black Pagoda, made up of black granite. It is in the shape of a gigantic chariot with elaborately carved stone wheels, pillars and walls and is dedicated to the Sun God.

While on my visit to Odisha a couple of years back I visited Konark as part of my unplanned itinerary. While the visit was a very fruitful one, the journey from Puri to Konark was an adventure in itself. The seamless natural beauty, trees forming a canopy over the endless perfect empty road (believe me the roads are perfect), traveling with my cousin at 100 km/hr on a bike (well now that I think of it, it was absolute stupidity) and making stops to drink fresh coconut. Those are the 45 minutes of my life I would like to relive all over again.

Standing besides a carved out wheel at the Sun Temple, Konark

Standing besides a carved out wheel at the Sun Temple, Konark

While most of you may associate Konark with the Sun Temple, my recollections of the coastal town of Konark is not limited to temple…in order words I don’t remember much about the temple. I would like to repeat myself I am not what you call a religious man. So you may ask why did I bothered to visit the temple in the first place. Well I have always read about the temple in my history books and was curious to visit the site.

So what were my first impressions of the temple you ask? Proud, I felt proud. Proud to be a part of the culture which gave us such a monument. Besides I was much more proud about the amount of work being done in order to maintain the structure, to bring it back to its glory days. Sure being on the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site helps. The funds, the expertise and the motivation is all there but you never know, this is India, a place one may not associate with where things get done properly.

The first thing I noticed while entering the premises of the temple was the very fact that I hate going to such sites. A mere Rs. 10 ticket for citizens of India and others SAARC nations while Rs 500 for citizens of non-SAARC nations. These sites of national importance have been turned into mere money minting machines. Yes, yes money is required to maintain such a site. But then why such a large discrimination and surely there must be other ways to raise money. Moving on I was amazed at the sheer size of the structure. Unquestionable it looks huge in the books, but a one on one encounter with the mega structure is a different cup of tea all together. While the temple remains more or less in ruins (the temple was raised by the army of Kalapahad, a general of the Sultan of Bengal, a mortal enemy of Mukunda Gajapati, the then king of Cuttack), much of the fascination remains with the integrate carvings in the temple walls (the wheels of the chariot is a thing to behold), the gardens surrounding the same and its resemblance with the Jagannath Puri temple.  All in all a good place to visit with your friends and family and spend some quality time under the blissful blessings of the Sun God.

In front of a light house at a Konark Beach

In front of a light house at a Konark Beach

I have talked about the journey from Puri to Konark, the Sun Temple, what I liked about the temple and what I was not very fond of. However my travel diary about Konark cannot be completed without mentioning its beaches. So all of us have visited beaches and with a coastline of more than 7.000 km beaches are not a rarity in India. So what makes the beaches at Konark stand out? For starters the beaches have more or less remained untouched by humans which has preserved its natural beauty. Additionally the beaches are merely 100 meters from the main road, which in itself is an eye candy.

A visit to Konark should be a part of the itinerary of every single traveler, for the religious, for history buff, for the adventure seeking and for the nature loving.

Orissa: A Memoire (Part 1: Cuttack and Bhubaneswar)

Odisha is a land of wonders. A place to explore, a place to discover new things and meet new people. While may of us have heard about the state, very few of us have actually visited or even bothered to look it up on the map. I am sure many people would be Googling around while reading the post. So let me help you on your search adventure by giving a brief introduction about Odisha.

Odissi Dance

Odissi Dance

Odisha formally known as Orissa,is an Indian   state on the subcontinent’s east  coast, by the Bay of Bengal. It is the modern name of the ancient kingdom of Kalinga, which was invaded by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in 261 BCE. The modern state of Orissa was established on 1 April 1936, as a province in and consisted predominantly of Oriya speakers. Odisha is bestowed with rich natural resources with many iron and aluminum based industries in the state. On the cultural side the state is home to Odissi (Orissi), the oldest surviving dance form in India with an unbroken tradition of 2,000 years. Music also plays an important role in the life of Oriyas. Orissi music is more than two thousand five hundred years old and comprises a number of categories. Of these, the five broad ones are Tribal Music, Folk Music, Light Music, Light-Classical Music and Classical Music. Anyone who is trying to understand the culture of Odisha must take into account its music, which essentially forms a part of its legacy.

With my brother outside my Grandparent's house in Sambalpur

With my brother outside my Grandparent’s house in Sambalpur

Well that is a brief (or not so brief) introduction of Odisha. Well my childhood memories more or less revolve around my visits to Odisha during my school’s summer vacations. Over the years it became more or less a ritual. Taking a train to the small town of Sambalpur to  spend valuable time with my paternal grandparents, giving a tearful goodbye, taking an overnight bus to Cuttack for a visit to my maternal grandparents. A family get-together with my cousins at Cuttack was surely the most fun part of my trip. I still can’t remember a day when we had spent the entire day within the secured quarters of my grandfather’s residence.  One of the reasons I always looked forward to my visit to Cuttack was for Chenna Podo (Paneer Cake). People with a sweet tooth you really, I mean really need to try this. I have been told many times by my mother that when I was 5 years old I gulped down an entire kilo of the sweet at one go. I was surely born for this sweet.

A visit to Odisha was an incomplete ritual without a visit to my Aunt’s house in Bhubaneswar. While my memories of Bhubaneswar are not as vivid as that of Cuttack and Sambalpur, I fondly remember my Aunt’s chicken biryani and prawn curry. An occasional visit to  the Bhubaneswar club was  always welcomed for foodies like me and my brother. Bhubaneswar has been widely talked and written about as the city of temples. It is home to some of the more famous temples like Lingaraj Temple, Muktesvara Temple, Rajarani Temple, Ananta Vasudeva Temple. My relatives have told me I have visited some of these temples, but honestly I don’t remember a thing; you see I am not what you call a very religious man. I am not a person who would visit a temple early in the morning on the day of my birth or before exams or on any occasion for that matter. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) I fondly remember my visits to the amusement park, NICCO Park in the city. I have spend many fruitful fun hours there enjoying the rides, the food and the company of my loved ones.

NICCO Park, Bhubaneswar Main Entrance

NICCO Park, Bhubaneswar Main Entrance

It has been a few years since I have visited Odisha, I miss the food, my relatives, the whole idea of exploring new places, meeting new people. A visit to Odisha is surely on my bucket list for the coming year.