Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Gods favorite beach

The Bay of Bengal’s most cherished shore on India’s eastern coast is Puri. Cherished, because it hosts the 15th century temple of the Lord of the World – Jagannath and cradles the tens of thousands of its pilgrims round the clock, round the year. A spectacle endemic to Puri and a major reason for its claim to fame, is the annual (June/July) Rath Yatra or the chariot procession when some 4500 devotees pull the 45 ft. high, 16-wheeled chariot through the streets in the hope of attaining salvation. If this one sound too frenzied, you have the beach and its myriad wares from sea-shells, prawns to crystals, the 13th century Sun Tempel some 35 km away at Konark, eulogized Black Pagoda by the sea-farers. Besides, Puri forms the Golden Triangle of Orissa together with Bhubaneswar and Konark.

Tale of the City

Originally known as Kalinga or Utkal, Puri was an important outpost at the Bay of Bengal linking India and Southeast Asia, until the Hindu reformer, Shankaracharya, declared Puri as one of his four mathas (centers for practicing of a new ascetic form of Hinduism). Scholars from across the entire sub-continent came here to debate Hindu beliefs and philosophies, thereby making Puri an epicenter of Hindu thinking. The four principles of Puri are Mahodadhi (the deep blue sea), Baba Danda (the main road in the city), Mahaprasada (the offering to Lord Jagannath) and Swargadwara (the beach, gateway to heaven).


Jagannath Temple: Founded by Anantavarman Chodaganga in 1135 to enshrine Purushottama (Vishnu), the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity, today Jagannath Puri forms one of the Four Dhams of Hinduism and Lord Krishna (a Vishnu incarnation) is the presiding deity. The temple is ornately carved with tall shikharas. The inner chamber, supported by 16 pillars, is embellished with scenes from the life of Krishna. The Raths or Chariots of Lord Jagannath, his sister Subhadra and brother Balbhadra are taken to their aunt' s temple (Gundicha Mandir), a mile away to commemorate Krishna's return to His home in Vrindavan after a long period of separation from the people there. The Chariots taken back on the tenth day of the same fortnight to the temple. The temple also boasts of world’s largest kitchen where with a capacity to feed thousands of devotees round the clock. Note that the temple is beyond-limits of the non-Hindus. Lacing the temple are the Raghunandan Library (famous for its rare palm leaf manuscripts and religious texts), a Hindu cremation ground towards the South called the Swargadwar or the gateway to heaven.

Markandesvara Tank: Legends have it that Vishnu took the form of a neem tree near this temple. Devotees are found here in herds taking the holy dip. Other important temples in the town are the Gundicha, the Lokanath, the Sunaragauranga, the Daria Mahabir and the Tota Gopinath temples. And the holy tanks worth visiting are Narendra, Markandeya, Sweta Ganga and Indradyumna.

Museum and Sudarshan Workshop: Go there to see the replicas of the sacred chariots and the khondalite (same medium used for the Konark temples) idols. Buy some of them at reasonable rates to keep as mementos.

The Puri beach: Famous for its golden sands,sunsets and sunrises, the beach remains a sea of vacationers and devotees all round the year, bargaining with the vendors, swimming, sun-basking or sitting quietly watching the sun do its antics.


For handicraft lovers, Puri is a virtual heaven with markets that boast of its appliqué (giant umbrellas, fans, wall-hangings), fine engravings on brass and bellmetal utensils, bronze bangles and pots, stone carvings, wood carvings, shale ((kind of rock) products, sola (spongewood ) carvings, handloom sarees, silverware and filigree ornaments (especially brooches and earrings), Patta Chitra and many more you will discover on exploring.

Appliqué objects can be purchased at the Utkalika - State Emporium in Bhubaneswar (there is also one in Delhi) that also arranges for shipment of large items like lawn umbrellas. Even better if you can go to Pipli (36 km away), where every household is engaged in this interesting craft and buy directly from the makers.

For Sarees and handloom items, go to Boyanika near Jagannath temple and Swarg Dwar, Utkalika near Sea Beach in Swarga Dwar. The important shopping arcades are Swarga Dwar area, New marine Drive Road, the sea-shore in front of the Swarga Dwar and Grand Center. Sun Crafts at V.I.P. Road, and Sudarsan Crafts are best for souvenir buys


With rice as the staple food, the tables at Puri are laid with a variety of lentils (dal), vegetable curries delicately spiced, seafood, saffron flavored sweetmeats and you name it. Interestingly, Orissa is the birthplace of the famous Indian Rasgulla (sponge balls made from milk and prepared in sugar syrup), made popular by the neighboring state of Bengal though! So do not forget to try this at its original homeland.

The Temple kitchen’s produce “Mahaprasad” served at the premises Anandabazar, is a much sought-for concoction. Abundance of coconut milk and yoghurt is another characteristic of Oriya cuisine.

The local cuisine is over-all scrumptious, less fried and less spicy --- meaning, tummy-friendly. Some names to remember when you are out searching for an eatery are: Sunatan for Vegetarian cuisine, Amber Restaurant for Indian/ Continental snacks, Chhotu Motu Joshi Sweet Shop for sweets, obviously.


Lessons on Humility: During the Chariot Festival, there is this occasion when the Raja of Puri, called the Gajapati Maharaja, does the Chera pahara or dressed like a sweeper on duty in the palace, he cleans the space around the deities with a golden broom. This signifies the tenets on equality and humility that Lord Jagannath stands for and knows no distinction between a king or a pauper.

More Chariots around the nation: Car-festivals are common in India, but what makes the one at Puri Jagannath so unique is the labor that goes into its making. For the Rath Yatra, altogether new chariots are made every year and after the celebration, these are destroyed. The only parts retained are the topmost part of the chariot (Kalasha), the nine small painted wood carvings and the wooden horses attached of the chariot to be used again the next year.

The Jagannath Mantra (chant): Om Klim Krisnaya Govindaya Gopijanavallabhaya Namah.


Konark (35 km): The Sun Temple with its magnanimous twelve-pair wheeled chariot drawn by 7 brawny horses is the pride of this small, but much visited coastal tourist hub. A beatific reflection of Orissa’s medieval architecture, the Sun Temple has been designated a United Nations (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

Balighai (8 km): A fantastic beach where you can fill your bags with some of the most enticing beachside curios.

Sakshigopal (20 km): A must-visit after Puri, here is a temple dedicated to Lord Sakshigopal (Lord Krishna) and famous for its architectural grandeur.

Raghurajpur (10 km on NH 203): Go there if you are fond of paintings, for this quaint village is today prided for its attractive pattachitra and talapattachitra (paintings on silk and palm leaves) illustrations.

Pipli (36 km): Appliqué lovers should mark this place with red in their itinerary. Almost every household of this village is engaged in this craft and their batuas (cloth pouches) and sunjis (embroidered quilts) with intricate appliqué work make fine buys.

Location :
65km S of Bhubaneswar, Orissa

Go there for :
Temples, Beach

Climate :
In 30s during summer & around 17°C in winters

When to Go:
October to April

Local Tongue:
Oriya, Hindi, English

STD Code :
+91 - 6752

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