The Juggernaut and Older Stories

Encouraged by the feedback on my Badrinath Kedarnath trip report, here I am with my new offering on the Jagannath Puri. This part is centred mainly around the Jagannath Temple and other places in Puri. Hope you will like this humble effort also. Please also bear with the quality of snaps, all of which are captured from my mini DV video footage.

The Abode of Lord Purushottam Jagannath

Based on response to this one, I will also post the write-up on other places that we visited viz. Chilika lake, Konark temple, Lingaraj temple, Nandan Kanan, Dhauli, Pipli. We consciously skipped the Dhaulagiri-Khandagiri caves.

So, the legend of the temple of Lord Jagannath in Jagannath Puri goes like this:

As per Brahma-Purana, Skand-Purana and other Puranas, there used to be a tribal king by the name of Viswavasu who would worship Lord Jagannath known as Neel Madhav at some secret place at the Neel Mountain. The king of the land, named Indradyumna, wanted to locate and see and worship the deity. He sends one of his priests, the intelligent Vidyapati to locate it. Vidyapati comes to the tribal village and tries hard, but in vain, to locate the deity, and eventually ends up marrying the daughter of the tribal king – Lalita, as another effort in that direction.

At last, one day, he manages a blindfolded and guided trip to the secret place where the deity resided. The intelligent spy that Vidyapati was, he dropped mustard seeds along the way. Sometime later, when the row of mustard seeds germinated (wonder whether he could not have tracked by the seeds alone!), he tracked down the secret place and informed the king. King proceeded on the pilgrimage to the place, but deity conveniently disappeared, turning the whole effort futile. King went on to fast unto death at Mount Neela, when a celestial voice (Akashwani) announced that he will be granted the privilege of seeing the deity. After that he went on to built a magnificent temple there and installed Narsimha Murti. Then he had a dream in which he was told by the celestial power to bring a particular fragrant tree from the sea shore and make the idols of lord Jagannath out of it. Then king got the idols of Bhagwan Jagannath, Balbhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan Chakra made and installed in the temple.

This was the legend. But are you not surprised that the idols were made of wood? I really was when I heard as much as above from the benign lady, who with her son was our co-passenger from Delhi to Puri in the 2816 Puri Express on 15.03.2008.

After our Badrinath Kedarnath pilgrimage, the next one had been pending for more than a year or so and kept falling short of materializing for one or the other reasons. It had to be either to the East or to West, as per our long term plans of playing proverbial Shravan Kumars!. Somehow, it was decided in favor of the East as the number of leaves needed for the western leg are more.

The meticulous planner that SPV is, he started putting things together in January 2008 itself. Earlier he had thought of including Ganga Sagar too, but the gathered feedback was that there is not much to be done or seen there except during the Makar Sankranti Mela. Eventually the trip was frozen as Delhi-Puri-Delhi/Kanpur. Our family was to get off at Kanpur on the way back in the night of 20.03.08, to celebrate Holi, which was on 21-22.03.08, at our ancestral home in Lucknow, where it is truly wet and wild on Holi, as against the sanitized festivals elsewhere.

We booked the Puri Holiday home. We got our tickets booked in a jiffy. Onward by Neelachal/Puri 2816 Express and Return by Purushottam 2801 Express. Well, Neelachal means Neel Achal-Blue Hill, remember the Neel Madhab, told of above. The place where Jagannath Temple is located is supposed to be the Neel Achal of the yore. And the Purushottam Kshetra was the name of the area since the vedic ages as per the legends. The name of the present temple built by Raja Chodaganga Dev was Purushottam Jagannath Temple. Probably, the name Puri was derived from the word Purushottam-The most noble man. So, a lot is there in a name-the bard must have been jesting when he professed the opposite.

As mentioned above, our fellow passenger in our bay was a lovely lady – Mrs. Mohapatra – traveling with her son Aditya (Adi-4yrs) to Puri. She was a native to Puri, settled in Gurgaon with her Brahmin (Mohapatra) husband, who would not eat meat earlier for quite sometime after their marriage. As we talked, and she did most of which, in the course of the journey, it turned out that they were related to one of the three main priests of the Puri Temple. She was a sweet lady, who managed a whole lot of time for educating us, out of her hectic routines of effort-fully making Adi eat all that he could and probably couldn’t.

Mrs Mohapatra

She narrated to us the entire legend of the Puri and Konark Temples. (I will take up Konark later, in case you are really keen, and I manage to finish this one;-)). We were surprised to know from her that the idols in the Puri temple are made of wood. The wood is no ordinary wood and it is selected over so many stringent criteria and after sighting of special Vaishnav symbols like Sudarshana, Shankhaetc on the tree plank. The priests select the wood. It feels very rubbery to touch. During this discussion itself I came to know about the humongous sizes of the Idols of the Jagannath Temple.

If you want to know further about the Idol replacement -the Nabkalebar  ritual-that last took place in 1996 (yes these idols are not permanent!), here is what I learnt. Hold your breath… The Daru (meaning wood – Neemwood to be precise- in this case) for the idols comes from any part of Orissa. The specifications for the woods are very stringent. Whereas, the Krishna idol is to be made from a black Daru, with four branches sprouting from the main tree, the Balabhadra idols is made from a white tree with seven branches and the Subhadra Idol from a yellow daru trunk with five branches. Apart from this, there are so many other conditions to be fulfilled viz:

1.The main tree must have three other trees in vicinity.

2.These trees are Bel, Varun and Sehad, having different qualities.

3.The tree has to be surrounded by mountains on three sides.

4.A colony of ants, a Shiv temple, a cremation ground, a point joining three roads(Tiraha), a sarovar (Pond) and a running river should also exist close to the divine tree.

5.The tree must be free from any diseases or damage caused by lightening.

6.The tree must not be hosting a guest plant or bird nest.

7.There should be a snake living in a hole close by to protect the plant.

And most importantly, the four signs of lord Vishnu-Shankha-Chakra-Gada-Padma should be clearly discernible on the bark of the tree.

Phew… I am sure they get these simple specs met. Aftar all a Mohapatra (Maha-Brahmin) and a team of 16 priests embark on the mission to find the trunks. The search party is guided by the dream had by the head-priest of the Jagannath Temple.

After a tree is selected for cutting, the chief ‘Mahapatra’  touches the tree with a small axe, which is made of gold. Then his deputy touches the tree with a small silver axe. Then the head of the ‘Maharan’ family touches the tree with an axe made of iron after which the tree is cut with an ordinary axe. During the cutting, 108 different names of Lord Narsinghdev are chanted.

After the cutting ceremony, the wood is loaded on a special four-wheeler, which is hand-drawn all the way to Puri by the head priest and devotees. In 1996, when such a tree was cut last, the special vehicle was hand-drawn for more than 80 km.

As narrated above, the tradition of NeelMadhab vigrahasbeing made of wood started by Raja Ramchandra Dev, also known as Raja Abhinaya Indradymna of the legend told in the begining, in 16th century. But it is apparent that the current form of the deity has metamorphosed over centuries of reproduction of the idols and is influenced by Budhism, Jainism among other styles.

During the journey Mrs Mohapatra told a whole lot about the rituals, the expected lifestyle for the Mohapatrasand Konark temple, in between here chores of spoonfeeding the adamant Adi, by telling him the stories of Demon and Mayavi. It is not possible to narrate the entire talk, as my memory fails me on many counts.

It was 16.03.08- a Sunday – morning. Our train had bounced backfrom Kharagpur, where it had stopped for anout 15 minutes and we sipped the station tea. We had entered Orissa and the sight of freshly tarred GQ highway (Calcutta-Chennai, along the east coast), without much traffic was an inviting one. We were in the the Jaipur Keonjhar area. The sight of spring bloom in Orissa was mesmerizing, what with the rows of orange and red flowers of Palash probably, which gave a very exotic look to the otherwiseplain terrain.

Palash Springing (correct me)

Going Fishing
Further on, we were awestruck to see the width of river Mahanadi. After passing Bhuabneswar, we also sighted the Dhauli stoop, atop a hillock, beside rever Daya, which was on our itinerary for Tuesday. Train was running late by about two hours and instead of the scheduled arrival of 12:10 at Puri it would arrive by 14:30. We had exhausted our foodstuff and the pantry was closed for the day and our coach was at the back end of the train (we started at front, but after reversal at Kharagpur our position also reversed) usually falling few kilometers beyond/ahead of stations, where the train stopped.

Please Read further in The Juggernaut and Older Stories-II

Thanks. Do remeber to key in your feedback, please.


  • nandanjha says:

    Whooo. What a story. From Doors to Duty-Free to Mohopatra.

    I would have to come back and read this again, probably a couple of times to really get it well. I have never been to that area but I really want to be there sometime. Our pilgrimage motivation is less so I would have to find something else to take me there.

    There is a annual film festival on the beach, its called BYOFF (Bring Your Own Film Festival) , may be do a visit when its on.

    And do do do write on other places, break them in multiple parts if that helps but dont make it short :)

  • nh24 says:

    Nandan, Thanks a lot.
    This is probably one of my most self-indulgent peaces of prose. I have split it into two parts.
    Nandan, If you like Seafood, this place is for you. I will show you more day-snaps of the beach in the next peacepossibly you will see and it is one of the cleanest ones. If you like Tiger safari, you can have one at Nandan Kanan.
    It was some effort in taking snaps from the tapes on the camera itself. I could not carry my still camera as it was gone capturing Eiffel tower.
    I will be grateful if guests/members remember to drop in their valuable comments

    Rajeev Tivari

  • Nipun Mishra says:

    Undoubtedly a wonderful effort…in conjunction with good piece of info to explore mesmerizing part of India …waiting for other part asap…

  • nh24 says:

    Hi Nipun,
    Thanks for the kind words. Do go thorugh the second part of this, already posted, and also the Himalayan Pilgrimage and leave your feedback on them too.

  • Shubha Tewari says:

    Awesome. Your way of narration is really inspiring. It will motivate the others also for pilgrimage.

  • nh24 says:

    Thank you Dear Shubha,

    In fact our idea of trips is liek ‘fun at work’. When we think of pilgrimage, what comes to mind is a low cost affair, without any auxiliary tourist activities, whereas, we try to pack something for everyone, even if we have to skip some of the serious stuff. For example, in this case, we did not devote much time for other temples of Bhubaneswar except for the Lingaraj, though there are hundreds of Shiv Temples there. Instead we included a trip to Nandan Kanan with ropeway ride, toy train ride and lots of white tiger spottings for the kids.

    We also devoted a whole day for Chilika, where we tried to spot some really elusive dolphins.

    And all of us had a great time every morning on the beach.

    Thanks for your visit and comments.


  • bikerdude says:

    Amazing piece of info regarding the tree selection… I would have forgotten half of it when putting it on this forum :-)…

    Truly an amazing description of the proces sof selection and cutting of the tree for idol making… Wonder if anyt tree actually exists which would meet all the pre-requisites for it to be converted into an idol.

  • Thanks so much, Manish. To be honest, I also sourced some information from the net.

    The criteria for selection of tree are really stringent, but I guess they manage to find it every 12 years.

    I am sorry – I forgot to respond early to your comment, though I had read it.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Beautiful piece of article Rajeev.

    Such an informative piece about Jagannath Puri. I love stories and it has so many. And let me tell you that picture of Lord Jagannath has come very nicely. Anyone who will reach this page will not be able to stop himself from clicking and reading more about it & for sure the story will make that person happy for clicking it to read more.

    Again like everyone else I also wondered that how difficult it is to find such trees to make idols. But as its for Lord Jagannath, it should be special.

    Talking about Dolphins and white tigers you have already made me eager to read on Chilika and to remind you that you still have to share NandanKanan story with us.

    Great post :)

  • Manish,
    Thansk a lot for the encouraging words. I am so glad that you liked the post. I will come up with something on NandanKanan and Konark as well. In the meantime tell me what you think of the Chilika post and the second one in Juggernaut series.

    There has to be something extraordinary about such an ancient and widely reverred temple. Probably idol replacement is one such unique aspect.

    Thanks again Manish, for reading and caring to put your valuable commment and the encouragement for more.

  • Ipari gp,daru, emel?gp, emel?, id?szakos biztonsgi vizsglat, zembehelyezs
    orszgosan. (f?knt Budapest s Pest megye)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *