We started for Puri at 7:30 in the morning and reached it at around 9:00. Our trip advisor suggested we visit Puri first. May be he thought it was good to visit the temple in the morning or may be, he must have thought with fresh mind and body we will be more forgiving of the shabby state of affairs at the state’s most sacred temple. Puri Jagannattha temple, the pride of Orissa is a revered place not only for the people of Orissa but all the Vaishnavites around India. It is one of the ‘Char dham’ (Badrinath, Rameshwaram, Dwaraka, Puri) piligrimage a hindu is expected to make at least once in a life time. I have come to expect more from such a pilgrimage centre, but was disappointed to find it in such a pitiful state. Lack of proper information is one of the major concerns. Non-Hindus are not admitted into the temple. On reaching the temple we found that no mobile phones, cameras, handycams, umbrella’s or even water bottles are allowed inside the temple. Well and good, but they failed to provide a good locker facility, as tourists we were carrying all these things and when they asked to leave these things with some undesignated people outside the temple, who kept them in ragged old sacks along with our slippers. The people who are appointed to take care of the valuables were properly named or designated or at least wearing a shirt, so pardon me for not feeling safe to leave all my valuables to them.
Then there is a NO ENTRY sign at the front entrance and nowhere that says how to enter the temple. After enquiring several police and security officials whose knowledge of English was practically nil, with some broken Hindi we managed to find out that there are two more entrances to the north and south of the temple high walls. As we entered the temple through the northern entrance the first sight we encountered was that of ‘bats’. Would you belive it! Bats in a temple! that is still receiving pujas regularly. A few focused lights in strategic locations could have eradicated the problem, but I guess the famous temple is little low on funds to spare for a few bulbs. The path leading to the main temple is sticky with spilt ‘bhog’ (the holy rice offering). When we finally reached the temple our view to the Lord was obstructed by a group of people and priests animatedly debating on some issue, completly ignoring that they were inside the temple complex and are causing great in convenience to the piligrims. When the voices began to raise we tried to enquire some novice priests about the issue, but due to language problem we were unable to understand them then we asked them how we were supposed to see the Lord with people standing there. At that point someone, very rude mannered fellow started pointing at the exit and kept pointing in another direction. We were disgruntled to be shown out of the temple without seeing the Lord. But it turned out that he was pointing us to another door to the sanctum sanctorium from where we were able to see Lord Jagannatha in full view. This was one of the instances which make us rethink our own view of the world around us. We thought the person to be rude but all he was doing was trying to do was steer us away from trouble and point us in the right direction. Thank you Lord for a well deserved lesson, we learn something every day.
All in all Puri was a rollercoaster of experiences. We go in expecting a grand experience but are faced with a humble temple complex with very little pretension, surrounded with quiet many minor temples. But the larger than life idol of the Lord was awe inspiring. When we entered through the south entrance my gaze immediately fell on the dark looming figure way right in the sanctum sanctorium. The idol of Lord Krishna or Lord Jagannatha as he is called here, with wide penetrating sight immediately captures our utmost attention. Every temple has its own customs and traditions, here in the Jagannatha temple devotees raise both their hands towards the heaven and praise the Lord calling out ‘Jai Jagannatha’. The comparatively shorter figure to the left of Lord Jagannatha is that of Subhadra and to her right is the imposing figure of Bala Bhadra (Balarama), who is considered as an image of Lord Shiva. Hence they proudly present to us a temple which holds the Siva Kesava in the same sanctum sanctorium.
Together the triad of brothers and sister are the reigning deities of this holy land. Each year they are honoured by a grand festival called Jagannatha Rath Yatra in the month of June which attracts a lot of tourists and piligrims alike. Each year many logs of wood is gathered here to build a grand chariot (Rath) for the honourary deities visit to the city. Millions of people pour into the city of Puri for a glimpse of deities on their outing. The wood that is used for the chariot is the one that is used to to cook bhog around the year for the Lord. Though the excursion merely stretches to the end of the grand avenue called the ‘Bada Danda’ right in front of the temple. The preparation of bhog is also a must see event. Earthen pots of different sizes are piled up one over the other and get the food in all the pots is cooked evenly and at the same time.
Travelling with my husband is a challenge on its own. Being a typical South Indian he prefers, no, insists on having rice for his lunch and dinner, moreover being a vegetarian his choices of restaurants fall from many to quite a few. Though he loves sweets, he will not tolerate any amount of sweetness in his curries or dal, so I always keep a lookout for restaurants, which could accommodate at least a few of his requirements. A fellow passenger from our train journey to Orissa was a South Indian like us now residing in Orissa. He suggested that we should stick to tiffin, snacks or Chinese because we will not find Orissan meals to our taste. So when I spied ‘Hotel Grand’ a few yards away from the temple on the first floor of a shopping complex. I immediately steered my husband in that direction. The air conditioned room room was a welcome relief on a hot day. Though they did not have tiffin there was a limited selection of Chinese so we ordered fried rice and curd rice. The fried rice was good but the curd rice was a bit sweet and then we understood why Reddy sir told us we might not enjoy Orriyan food. It was always sweet. Oriyans prefer sweets. Their Rasgullas are finger licking good. So good, that it is said that even Lord Jagannath offers Lakshmi Devi to enter the temple. Truly the favourite of the Gods. They enjoys healthy amount of sweets in their diet, well... who doesn’t; but they also have a thing for sea food maybe not near the temple. To enjoy the sea food of Puri we need to head towards Puri beach.
Puri beach is a busy area bustling with hawkers with strings of pearls of all shapes and sizes, (which could be original or cultivated) gem stones, souvenirs made of sea shells, conches, little replicas of the Puri temple, models of the famous wheels of Konark temple, hand bags, applique work umbrellas and wall hangings. It is difficult to find peaceful stretch of beach in Puri so if you want to have a peaceful beach experience head towards Konark....