The Juggernaut and Older stories-II

Continued from The Juggernaut and Older stories

We alighted at Puri, full of the excitement and expectations of a new kid entering a new park, and hunger – spiritual and gastronomical. The Sun was strong, breeze kindly. We were relieved to land in a favourable weather. Though landing in trouble was what we narrowly escaped as we had already decided to take the Panda from the Holiday home itself. There were a few Pandas hovering around at far end of the platform itself. To one such Panda’s question “Kahan se aaye ho-Where you from?” SPV was to curtly reply ”Kahin se nahin-from nowhere” to get the repartee ”Aaasman se tapke ho-fell from the sky?” and answer in a laconic and finally repelling “Haan-Yes”.

Do not tell your name and place to any one, anywhere, except to the priest with whom you have some prior understanding of offerings. Once they know your name, they will be able to somehow make you do as per their will.

We had our accommodation booked at hotel Niladri – meaning Blue Hill! We had to pay token fee of Rs.10 each for two rooms that each-myself and SPV- were entitled. However, for the two extra rooms that we had booked the tariff told to us was Rs.1600/- but we could bring it to Rs.1200/- for “AC Deluxe” room. We also went to nearby hotels, before checking-in in Niladri to survey the market, but to our astonished disappointment the tariffs were at their peak and started in the range of Rs.2000/- to 2500/-. We were told that they were running full. However, since there is a row of hotels of a diverse classes along the Swargdwar road, one can probably get accommodation at cheaper rates. For example in our hotel itself the Non ac was going for Rs 800/-. In other hotels which were a little offset from the road, the rates would be still lower.

The most favoutable season would be September to March – just after the rains and before the summer sets in. In mid March, we felt that even a Non-AC room too was comfortable.

A misty morning
We had also lined up for the Darshanathrough the priest attached with hotel. This planning we had done as per the feedback from other callegaues who had stayed at the same hotel. This hotel is our company’s one of the holiday homes. Our plan was to devote the next day of our arrival to Puri and Konark, next one to Bhubaneswar/Pipli/Dhauli/Nandan Kanan and the third and last one, i.e. Tuesday, to Chilikalake. We booked the travel with the tour operator of the hotel itself, as we found the rates quite reasonable after a bit of haggling, and wanted hassle free tours. The Travels man told us that we should visit Chilka on the next day itself ie the day we would visit the Puri Temple in the morning, and cover Bhubaneswar and Konark on the third day. The local temples of Puri and the beach freewheeling can be done on the fourth day. We found this plan appealing and accepted.

Am I missing something? Yes sure-the beach. The hotel is located at the far end (near the lighthouse) of the Swargdwar Road – the ‘marina’ beach road. It was a going to be a delight to stay in a truly sea-facing property bang on the beach. We had booked four sea-facing rooms. As soon as we arrived, we requested the desk for all four rooms to be sea facing and got a couple, though another couple was was not so. Though the staff promised that the next day we shall get all the rooms sea facing-there is a charm to sipping tea overlooking sea from the air conditioned dry and cold comfort of a room, even if we would rather see the sea from the sea shore itself, where she sells her sea shells. Later our washrooms would be full of sand brought in the pockets/other crevices of our clothes when we surrendred our dryness to the splashing waves and gained a lot of sand and salt on ourselves and some belongings and loose a lot of other belongings. But more on this aspect of our trip sometime later.

The hotel is a decent one even if small, with a great location, decent service and a great restaurant named Arnapoorna. Since we are all vegetarians, to fancy the seafood delicacies was out of question, but the ‘regular’ food was really tasty and came at very reasonable tags with efficient service. We remember we were starving when we checked in and we ordered our Drunch which was served to us at about 17:00. And that one stands tall and tasty as one of the best meals I have ever had.


Hotel in the Background, SPV in the fore

Wait for the Drunch at the Arnapurna
In the evening, after vacuuming down the Drunch, the party, which comprised of a few people who were seeing the fascinating sight of a seashore for the first time, hit the beach, though refrained from wetting the clothes. We remained there till after the sunset.

The party hits the beach

The seniors marvelling at the sight of a restive sea

…while the Sun sets somewhere behind the western ghats…
There were chairs put by the row of hotels in that stretch and we got our tea delivered at beachface and sipped tea in the saline mist as waves were repetitively roaring out there own agenda. (We pilgrim kind can only drink as much as tea, even on a sea beach, and even in other times, like in 1996 and other places of different kind, like Diu also there would be some guys in the gang on a Jeep who would take only tea and coke even if many would float in the free flowing duty free;)

…”here I come”…while the Lighthouse Beacons
Well, therafter we strolled along the well lit and well paved beach-walk down to the flea marked at the Swargdwar (yes, the much feted cremation ground, it is like Bithur/Ganga ghats in North) area. There are plenty of hotels and guest-houses and shops dealing in clothes along this road. The famous Sambhalpuri Saari is a local product.

A stroll down the footwalk to the market
The market at beach face like the one at Marina beach near Light house and MGR Samadhi, is no less lively. There you will find Shankhand other sea shells items, small idols and pohotos of Lord Jagannath, novelty toys, jute and cotton handbags with Pipliartwork etc. It was a place rocking with bengali tourists-Bengalis most of them, against our conjecture that since it was board exam time, there won’t be much rush. And were they feasting at the roadside stalls of seafood and how!

“Can we move past this stall faster please…”

haggle with the sea-merchants


“I Feel I can fly…”

“Bhagwaan hi Bhagwaan!”

Before we had our Drunch in the evening, we had called the priest who would facilitate our Darshan and Pooja. He showed us a laminated rate chart for various kinds of Prasadas ranging from Rs.175 a chatak(50g) to lacs. We settled for Maal pua prasad for a fourth quadrant three digit figure. Apart from this we had also to take care of carried pledges of other relatives.

In the morning, we had to be there by 6:00. We took an auto each and reached in time. The Autos are the most convenient and economical mode of local transport in the city, though some of them tend to fleece. One can hire one all for oneself as well as travel in the share mode. The most prominent terminus are Railway Station, Jagannath Temple and Swargdwar Road. A very intersrting sight while travelling from Railway Station to Hotel was that after loading the autos, the drivers stopped at a pan shop near the Station and purchased a bottle of fuel, and filled their ‘tankeys’.

the young pilgrims all ready

The first sight of the temple
The sight of the temple was simply grand. We were awestruck by the height and the stature of the main Structure. It stands more than 200 feet. We were to enter from the Southern entrance of temple, which is probably less prone to heavy rush and Panda push. We had to keep everything, right from our shoes to camera, wristwatches, belts etc at the makeshift clockroom. We had to pass through supposedly stringent security check and I was told that any attempts to sneak in camera or mobile would be easily thwarted by the x-ray machines. I did not want to disobey the guidelines.

The Horse Gate

The group from our hotel was handed over to the young priest, a good looking youngman who was wearing a gold locket of lord Hanuman weighing about a ton, wityh whom we had made the arrangements at the hotel. He was very polite and asked us all to wait and not respond to any other Pandas there. He seemed to be an influential person there, as no other Pandas came to rattle us. The gates of the temple were yet to open. In the morning for about an hour beginning 6:00, devotees are allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum –Ratna Sinhasan– of the temople and have a closer Pujan. This particular slot is called ‘Sahanmela’ and occurs daily from 7:00-8:00. In fact this is the period when devotees can have darshan for free though we had to buy tickets for Rs 10 each.


The Vimana or Bada Deula sanctum sanctorum at the back, the eastern gate-“Sinhdwar” in front and Jagamohan and Natashala(both white, back to front) in between
The temple is administered under the “Shri Jagannath Temple Act-1955” brought into force from 17.12.1960. The administration powers are vested in a committee named “Shri Jagannath temple Management Committee” which is Chaired by the Gajapati Raja of Puri and assisted by the DM of Puri as the vice-chairman. Administrator of the temple and the commissioner of endowments are other two main members. Other members are nominated by state government from among the Sevaks and other priests.

One could purchase Prasada from the Prasada office in the temple compound, near the south door and the lowest denomination was about Rs 50 to a mix of our bewilderment and relief.

The rush was not heavy at this time allaying our anxiety. There were a few similar groups as ours and rest were regular daily kind of local Darshanarthis. The chanting of Hare Ramo Hare Krishnawas a divine chariot transporting one to a level of conscience when one forgets everything else and floats freely on the waves of music and oneness. I have taken such trips a few time at ISKCON temples as well. We sat there, marveling at how evolved the architecture and art of those periods were. The stones of the temple elements are carved so fine as if these were some soft wood! Unfortunately we do not have that level of skill now and all the refurbishments (here and at Konark) are as plain as the sea beach. The Jagannath Temple also has its share of depiction of man-woman sansarga, found in subdued abundance on the Konark walls. For anyone interested in the deatils on architecture, I recommend this.

the Garuda at the front of Mastaka

The Tripund-typical vasihnavite symbol-at the Mastaka

The flag, the colours invert (interchange) when Jagannath is outside the temple

The Sheershkalash, the Neelchakra and the flag at 214ft 3in

Then the divine Doors (I know some of you would be thinking of a late gentleman who said “There is a killer on the road”) opened and there was a mad rush of some of the devotees to be the first ones. We had to wait for the signal from our young sevak. The commotion subsided in about 10 minutes and we were signalled in. There was a issue, though, in that infants like SPV’s daughter Shubhi(~1) were not allowed. Though on a request, as an exception, we all were let in together. My son Ashu was wary of putting his feet on the ground for what he called was a chipchipy jameen. The inside of the temple wore the looks so typical of the ancient temples of South-dark interiors, abundance of oil on floor and smokey walls.

We went straight to the inner circle after turning left and I was totally taken aback at the sheer size of the Deities. All along from my childhood, I had seen the photos, but had a wrong idea about the scale of the idols. There were three idols as earlier described-Lord Jagannath to the right in black, Lord Balabhadra to the left in white, Devi Subhadra in the middle in yellow and the Sudarshn Chakra in the extreme right. There was a main priest –sevayat – for each of the vigrahas, but there were other hordes around the place trying to make the devotees dedicate as much as possible in the name of various auxiliary rituals. Though we had strict instructions from our young sevak who happens to be the son of one of the main sevaks, not to give any money anywhere (else), we did not decline and wholly disappointthem them. We did the parikrama of the sanctum sanctorum and then offered our obeisance to the three Gods and Sudarshana Chakra and then leisurely and slowly came out despite the Khuntias with sticks (Sacred Guards) chanting “Jaldi chalo jaldi chalo”. We remained in the well for about 15 minutes.

After coming out of the inner precinct, I also went to the main hall, the first enclosure at the entrance from the eastern gate (Sinh dwar). Their the mandali was singing sankeertans and Hundis were placed. There is a sevak sitting at the door, blessing the entrants with a gentle stroke of sticks. Then we took a round of the temple compound wherein there are other small temples and places of importance.

The party After the Pooja

“Look up, Baby!”

“The auto is here” the Sinhdwar (eastern gate) in the background
After this we, all full of gratitude to Lord Jagannath for according us such a comfortable and long company, came out, collected our stuff from the cloackroom and went towards the main road (The Grand Road) on the east side of temple where the yatra takes place. There is a big market selling the temple memorabilia and we were looking for the quintessential Puri sticks, though now these are not very commonly stocked. Parents did some modest shopping of photos etc.

What maa, that is no price…”

The Grand Street, where Rathjatra takes place

The pooja merchandise

A typical morning grand street

“Eko aham: Its Me in all those forms”
While planning, I had consulted an Oriya friend- Samikhya- husband of Shalini- who had given us very useful tips about the beach and the temple and other places of interest around Puri and Bhubaneswar. He told us not to miss the MahaPrasad partaking at the AnandBazar area of the Temple.

Mahaprasad is the offerings of complete platter blessed by lord. The Mahaprasad comprises of wide variety of regular dishes and sweets, though mainly it has a variety of Daals, Rice, Vegetables, Kheer, all steam cooked in the Temple kitchen, in huge quantities. Apart from this there are sweet dishes like Rabri, Maalpua (Khaja-a long lasting and most commonly carried away prasad), Mohanbhog , Kheer and other assortmnets of dry sweets made of flour and covered with sugar/jaggery. It is said that when the food offerings are carried to temple in earthen pots, there is no fragrance of the food items, but after it is blessed by the gods, on the way back, it brims with a divine aroma.

This Mahaprasad is distributed in a yard on the north eastern side called Anand Bazaar. There are various sellers of this prasad also in the Bazaar and there is place where people can eat the Mahaprasad. On the first day we left from the temple area after purchasing the mementos as we had lined up departure to Chiilka lake, after having a speedy breakfast. More on that and other places like Konark, Bhubneshwar, Dhauli, Pipli, Nandan Kanan etc later.

Back from the Puja

A little wave breaks while we see from our room
On the last day, ie 19.03.08 we toured around the city to pay obeisance to the temples related with Jagannath temple and other holy places, which were recommended. We had also planned to slip in a bit of shopping and a final rendezvous with the Lord Purushottam Jagannath and the partaking of Mahaprasad.

The other temples in Puri are Gundicha Temple, Mausima Temple, Bedi Hanuman (Dariamahavir) Temple, Loknath Mandir, Tota Gopinath Ashram, Narendra Tank (Kunti Temple), Jagannath ji ki Sasural, Jagannath Vallabha Matha, etc and a host of other Ashrams and Mathas.

At Loknath Temple entrance

Stroll up the pathway to the Serene Math near Tota Gopinath Ashram

Bua ka Ghar

Gundicha temple is located at the northern end of the Great Avenue (Badadanda) on which the Rath Procession takes place. The Vigrahas stay at this temple for sometime before they return to the main temple. The Idols also stay at the Bua Ka Ghar(Peesarwadi , probably) which is in the NarendraTank, where they perform Nauka Vihar.

We hired two auto rickshaws for Rs300 each for going around the places and then to be dropped at the main temple in the evening. We registered our attendance at most of the places as advised to us by our Oriya friends and the Auto wala guides. All these temples have tickets costing 1 Re in most of them. Repeating my sage advice, one thing to be remembered here is that if you do not want to be in an unseemly situation in the hands of Pandas at these ancillary temples, DO NOT tell your name and place when inquired about. And also remember, Pandas are not as irredeemably bad as depicted in common guides and as terrorised about by people in general.

I also believe in a slightly liberal theory and that is that we spent more than what those people haggle for, in a single visit to a theatre or Shopping Mall. What we donate or are made to, or at least a part of it, would surely be put to good use. Moreover, We are not offering money, we are dedicating all the hard work that we did for getting that money. Chauhan uncle (father of SPV) is a strong panda-basher and believes that they give India and its spirituality a bad name. Though I and SPV have a more open stance towards the subject.

Talking of Chauhan Uncle, he is a vivacious young man of old age. He enjoys going out and having new experiences. He was probably one amongst the kids who enjoyed the most at the beach. The senior Chauhans are a great couple and have huge amount of infectious joie de vivre.

The Vivacious Couple
Speaking of beach frolic reminds me that we had also to invest a decent amount of time in getting new spectacles made for my mother who had lost her costly pairs to the boisterous waves splashing us with all their vigor on a 13th moon day, a day before. That morning the waves were raring to pull things back in, and apart from my mother’s spectacles, and an attempt at my sandals, they also washed away about 1500 of the 3000 Rupees, off from the shirt-pocket of a beach photographer when he bent to freeze the moment while the subject laid engulfed by a muscular wave, and another stealthy wave spalshed him hard. Father said that it was a nonvoluntary offering taken by the Ratnakar.

So while my mother got her Puri Spectacles made at a shop on the Grand road, we had a round of Narial paani. After this we went around the city and ended the tour at the main temple. It was about 4:00 in the evening and we had another round of ‘common’ free Darshana, the good bye round. After this we went to the Anand Bazaar and purcahsed the Mahaprasad from one of the vendors and had it on Banana leaves with our fingers on a Chabootaraunder a tree. It was a heavenly expereience which words cannot describe completely. By now it was about 19:30 and we had to rush to our Hotel as our train was to leave at 21:45. We had to give shopping the slip. We reached the hotel, ordered takeaway dinner, cleared our bills and were at Station well in time. Bolo Jai Jagannath.

Another artist does this, on the wall of Anand Bazaar

Jai Purushottam Jagannath
The return journey was to be an exciting experience as the five ticket holders of our family were scattered over three coaches. We had examined the charts and found that there was no possibilty of an interchange, though two of the berths in my wife’s bay were to be occupied only in the morning at Tatanagar. So this problem was solved, without much hassle.

We arrived at Kanpur late by an hour at 23:30 of 20.03.08 where we had a connecting train – Sabarmati express from, to Lucknow. Before arrival at Kanpur, I had found on my fanatstic Airtel GPRS that the connecting train was also running late by about the same delay. As much as this was a relief, the prospects of getting off AC and waiting at Kanpur and then boarding a train coming from Gujarat going to Bihar on Holieve, in sleeper class were not as reassuring. But we had planned it that way. Eventually the hallowed train arrived at the worst and mosquito-infested platform of Kanpur Central (though quite livened up by heavenly sounds of Qawwali coming from a nearby place) whereon we had to wait for more than two hours, we could even enter our coach and not only that, could also occupy three of our five berths. We were home safely by the morning of 21.03.08, full of gratitude to the Great Gods of Jagannath Puri, simple peoples of and around Puri and all those who helped us in this sojourn.

I would go on to say that I guess that the Jagannath temple has spawned a culture of its own – the Jagannath culture which is an inclusive, amalgamated, elastic and tolerant culture. Through centuries, devotees of all sects and faiths have worshiped lord Jagannath, lending their own flavors to the rituals and in return taking the imprint of Jagannath culture on their faith. That is why I say Hinduism is no religion in the common reference of the latter term. It is an open source kind of thing.

An Orissa Government publication says “The Jagannath Mahaprabhu is a wooden deity, without any senseorgan, at the same time he is also a Dravidian deity with sense organs. He is Purushottam of Vedas and DaruBrahma of Branhimns. He is Dakhinkali of Shaktas and Vairaba of Saivites. He is Mahaganpati of Ganpatyas and Suryanarayan of Shauryas. His festivals are of Puranic origin and rituals are mixture of tribal rituals as well as Shaktas Nyasa. His majority of rituals are from Uddiyan Tantras which are refined version of Mahayan Tantras as well as Shabri Tantras which are evolved from Tantrik Budhdhism and tribal belief respectively. His Kaibalya( Dried rice) Mahaprasad is of Jain origin and Nirmalya from Shaivite.”

“His worship, attire, foods rites and rituals are nothing, but a synthesis of various cultures and beliefs. But, at the same time it is free from all types of regional separatism, scriptural exclusiveness and regional narrowness. By its wonderful power of assimilation it has effected he synthesis of all cultural communities, States and universe. One of the major salient feature of culture of Lord Jagannath is tolerance which is an outstanding human value propagated by culture of Lord Jagannathwhich postulates with every way of life as its contribution in its specific way to the human welfare.” So very true.

Continued in Part-2. Thanks for your visit. In case you are still wondering about the first part of the title of this post, the footnote goes that since the poor Englishmen could not find an equivalent English word for describing the Jagannath RathYatra, the term Juggernaut was coined. Or so it is said. The Juggernaut rolls year on year. And sometime we would try to be there when it does.

A trailer from Chilika: Dolphins round the corner

Trailer: View from Dhauli

A look at the Shoreline

Teaser:The party at…Any Guesses?

Is it any clearer now?

Trailer:A descendent of Mohan

Why should boys have all the fun?

“… and the fun was all mine:-)”

10 Comments

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Rajeev,

    For a person like me, who has never been to that part of the country, your article serves as an invaluable asset of sequencing ones visit to the various locations in the Shree Jagannath and other temples in the vicinity, of knowing what to expect and of establishing the link between, beauty and order with spirituality. The historical background given by you is simply astounding.

    I read somewhere that the Rath Yatra, or the Chariot festival about which you have mentioned, is supposedly one of the biggest festivals. Everything is done on a grand scale full of spectacle, gaiety and colour.

    It is believed that at the beginning of the monsoon, the Lord Jagannatha along with his siblings Balabhadra and Subhadra, goes to his garden palace for a vacation.

    The deities are brought out of the temple to the chariots in a royal procession amidst the beating of the drums and chanting of prayers by the devotees. The deities are situated in their respective chariots and then they are decorated and worshipped. This festival takes place on the second day of the waxing phase of the moon of Asadha (June-July). Thousands of the devotees pull these chariots to the Gundicha Temple located 3 kms away. On the tenth day of Asadha, the return journey commences from the Gundicha Temple to the main temple in a Rath Yatra.

    It was a joy reading your post.

    Shall await your next post.

  • nh24 says:

    Dear Sir,

    Thank you so much for the kind words and the valuable addition made by you on the very important aspect of Rathyatra, which was missing in my post.

    Rathyatra is the main festival of Puri, though a host of other festivals are also celebrated in the Temple, on various tithis.

    Every year, massive arrangements are made for the procession and to handle the nuge mass of humanity collected there. This year it started on 4th July, if remeber correctly.

    With Regards
    Rajeev

  • nandanjha says:

    Ok so as I wrote I read this again, this time with more time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Personally for me, it has been a great learning since I didn’t know many things. But even though there is lot of information , the narration reads like a good fiction.

    Either you remembered everything which she told you which is a big deal or you did a thorough research to validate your memory which is even bigger deal, great work. It takes lots of hard work and discipline to do all of this.

    By the way, I personally think that you shared more photos :) then what usually share. Your choice, no issues.

    And even though I would try to remember the details, I would most likely forget it so I am going to read this again sometime in future.

    On to Nandan Kanan, Chilka and other stories.

  • Rajeev says:

    Thanks Nandan, for the beautiful compliments and the subtle feedback.

    The subject of Jagannath Temple in itself is a topic for PhD. There are so many aspects whihc I wished but could not touch. But I guess I have already put in more than what a trip report comprises of.

    Btw, my memory is not very good :-)

    Rajeev

  • manish khamesra says:

    Interesting write-up Rajeev.

    Interesting to read about Mahaprasadam and about Jagannath Mahaprabu.

    Information about how to tackle panda’s and hotels would be very handy to any traveller to this place. I think I agree with Chauhan uncle that Panda’s do give spirituality a bad name. But as Chauhan uncle its my personal opinion.

  • Thanks a lot Manish. With the quality of posts that keep continuously pouring here, I feel it is a privilege that my posts are hosted here. I somehow try to remain in the vicinity of the prevalant standards.

    Encouraging comments like yours always spur one to do better.

    I have had very intense verbal duel with Pandas in one of the auxiliary temples of Puri and I agree that many of them have limitless greed.

    In the main Puri temple, it seems government efforts have made things easlier for pilgrims, to some extent.

  • Raja says:

    This is one of the very very few, to the point + detailed travel experiences of Puri, depicted in the net. Thanks.

  • Rajeev Tivari says:

    Thank you so much for appreciating. Such comments make one believe that the effort was indeed fruitful.

  • neelie says:

    Your writing is sufficient to inspire somebody to run Puri and see Lord Jagannath there. The photos along with marvelous captions beneath them is really mind blowing. I, though read many books on Lord Jagannath and His festivals, felt that really I still have to know many more things about Him after reading your article. I think, the synonym of ‘Panda’ is ‘priest’. These man all over India are the cause of pilgrim’s headache. In our state Assam, the fee of these priests is of course very liberal and nominal, as far as I know. I invite you to our state and focus all your experiences here. You know Assam is rich with sceneries, temples, sanctuaries, cultural activities….everything, you have a lot of things to see and enjoy here. Wishing you very good days, I remain. -neelie

  • CH N V MURTHY says:

    Dear Rajeev, Congratulations for the very well written, detailed and informative travelogue on visit to Puri. Could you share the contact number of the priest at Puri whose services you had availed.

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