One of the sacred four abodes (or Dhams) located in Puri, India
In India, there is a concept called Char Dham, which literally translates to Four Abodes. These four abodes are considered the highest places of pilgrimage and worship in the country associated with Lord Vishnu and are visited by millions of devoted tourists every year.
The four abodes (or dhams) are Badrinath, Jagannath Puri, Dwarka, and Rameshwaram. In this article, we will talk about the mysterious Jagannath Temple in Puri, and about what makes it so special.
Story Behind the Temple
There are a lot of stories associated with the Jagannath temple. Stories say that the temple was built by King Indrayumna after an image of Lord Vishnu appeared before him near a banyan tree in Puri. The image was said to be so powerful that it could grant instant everlasting peace to whoever saw it.
King Indrayumna then performed harsh penance to obtain the Indranila Mani (translates to Blue Jewel) so he could find eternal peace. As a result, Vishnu appeared to him and instructed him to find a log of wood by the Puri seashore.
After the king found the log, he was instructed to build images of the murtis in the temple. Vishnu himself appeared as a carpenter to build them, with the condition that he should be left undisturbed until the murtis were complete.
But as fate would have it, the queen insisted on opening the doors of the temple because they hadn’t heard anything from the carpenter. This interrupted Vishnu’s process, and this is why the murtis in the temple are said to have no arms.
A huge temple as you see it today was built around the murtis, and they are said to watch over the world and protect it.
According to another story, King Indrayumna is said to have built this temple as the tallest structure on earth to impress Vishnu. On completion of the temple, the King invited Vishnu to come to see it.
Lord Vishnu was pleased with the temple and asked the king for any wish that he wanted to be fulfilled. The King asked the Lord to never let him have any children, and that his branch of the family tree end with him. In doing so, he was ensuring that his future generations would not work for the betterment of the society, and only take foolish pride in the ownership of the establishment.
Although the temple still stands beautifully, there have been a lot of invasions on it. According to historical sources, the temple has been plundered and looted eighteen times.
To protect the temple, King Aurangazeb of the Mughal dynasty ordered the temple to be closed down. From 1692 to 1707, the Jagannath Temple was shut off to the world, only reopening after the demise of King Aurangazeb.
These invasions had a long-lasting and detrimental impact on a lot of factors surrounding the temple. To this day, the temple is only open to Hindus. Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs are allowed as sister religions, but Muslims, Christians, Parsis, and Jews are still among the religious factions that are banned from the temple.
Rath Yatra (translates to Chariot Festival) is a huge event that happens annually in Jagannath Puri and is the largest of its kind in the world. It takes place sometime in July, and the attendance is more than a million.
The murtis are taken from the temples and put on huge chariots, which are then pulled by devotees in a huge procession to another temple (Gundicha temple) a few miles north.
The murtis stay there for seven days and are then returned to their original place. During the journey back, a stop is made at a third location called the Mausi Maa Temple (translates to Maternal Aunt Temple) and special food is prepared. There is a dish called Poda Pitha, which is a special type of pancake that is said to be Lord Vishnu’s favorite dish.
The Rath Yatra at Jagannath is one of the biggest religious events in the country. People plan for the event several months in advance and look forward to the joy of being around like-minded devotees.
Saints Associated with the Temple
Jagannath Temple has a rich history of some of the most well renowned Hindu philosophers and acharyas visiting it.
Madhvacharya, the Hindu acharya (philosopher) known for his views on dualism, one of the principal foundations of Hinduism, is known to have visited the temple. Adi Shankara, the Hindu acharya who is credited with unifying the current schools of thought of Hinduism, built his Govardhana Matha here.
Besides these, there is also evidence that religious household names like Kabir, Tulsidas, and Guru Nanak have visited this holy place. Other famous philosophers who visited this temple include Nimbarkacharya, Vallabhacharya, and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Several of these saints observed fasts that lasted for days, giving the temple an even more solid divine foundation.
The Temple Flag:
No Birds, No Planes:
Food has a special significance for this temple, as Lord Vishnu is said to dine at Jagannath. The temple at Jagannath houses the largest kitchen in the world and makes enough food for 100,000 people in a day!
Uncannily, the kitchen manages to make just the right amount of food every day. It does not matter how many tourists show up, there is never a day where the food is in shortage or surplus.
Millions of pilgrims visit Jagannath Puri every year. Even if you’re not a very spiritual person, the brilliant architecture and the overall atmosphere of devotion is a joy to behold.