Odisha has been on my “to see” list for quite sometime. However, for one obscure reason or the other, it never quite happened.
Eventually, late last year, I did undertake the Odisha visit, the 18th (or is it the 19th?!) State of our great country I was seeing.
My wife and I, along with some of our friends calling ourselves the Odisha Juggernauts, embarked on our journey on 3rd December.
We flew from Mumbai to Bhubaneshwar. Like many other airports in India of today, it was neat and clean. We then drove straight to the Lord Jagannath Temple Town Puri, 40 km away. The drive was scenic and the highway smooth and therefore the journey comfortable.
Bhubaneshwar, Puri and the Sun Temple Town Konark are like three corners of a triangle all within 50 odd kms from one other. One could conveniently see all the three important towns — Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath Temple and therefor one of the four Char Dham holy cities, Bhubaneshwar with Lingaraj and so many other old temples, and Konark with the incomparable Sun Temple, albeit in ruins.
Sant Kabir and Lord Jagannath Temple connection
Let’s now “go back” to Puri.
After resting for a short while in the Hotel Mayfair Waves with the Bay of Bengal visible from our rooms, we were taken on a green tour on cycle rickshaws to the Old Town, ending with a quick visit to the home where the immortal 15th Century Sant Kabir had stayed. He is said to be a devotee of Lord Jagannath. It is said that there is an underground route, unused for many years now, from where Sant Kabir resided in Puri to Benares.
Lord Jagannath Temple Visit
We then walked to the Temple and the Priest took us around all the important sights in the Temple, including Darshan in the main Garbhagriha of Lord Jagannath with His Brother Balabhadra and Sister Subhadra, perhaps the only temple with all the three statues made of wood and not stone or metal. Once every eighteen years or so, on the specific auspicious day, the statues are given a ceremonial ‘burial’ in a designated place in the Temple, and replaced with newly carved wooden statues from a sacred Neem Tree.
It is worth mentioning some of the many interesting stories connected to the Temple.
First and foremost, the temple and the idols. Lord Vishwakarma, the celestial architect of Gods was commissioned by King Indradyumna to build the temple. Lord Vishnu, disguised as a carpenter agreed to make the deities, on the condition that He should not be disturbed till the work was completed. After fourteen days, the Queen became anxious and was worried that the carpenter was dead as no sound was coming from the temple. When they opened the door, they saw Lord Vishnu at work. He then immediately left, leaving the idols unfinished. Lord Jagannath idol was without any hands and the other idols too are not complete. And this tradition continues till this date.
Every day, a Panda (the Priest) changes the Temple Flag flying atop the Temple Gopuram. It is said that the Flag flutters in the opposite side of the wind.
Prasadam is cooked every day in the old, traditional pots with four or five pots placed on top of one another. The food in the top pot is said to be cooked first and then in that order. On not a single day, is the food less and every devotee gets his/her quota of God’s Prasadam.
There are no birds whatsoever in the vicinity and therefore no bird droppings!
In June/July every year, during the auspicious Ashadha Month, Lord Jagannath, His elder Brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra are taken in three separate chariots (the “Rath”) from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple, situated about 2kms away. For the next nine days, the Idols are in the Gundicha Temple, making their journey to their aunt’s place. Thereafter, they return to Lord Jagannath Temple. The ceremonial pulling of the three chariots by devotees is the origin of the word “Juggernauts”!
One can go on and on about the Lord Jagannath Temple. However, I am going to stop here and let all you, readers, to discover other things for yourselves!
Record for posterity for our progeny
As advised and urged by the Pandits (Pandas as they are referred to here), some of us left details of our names (husband, wife, children, parents etc), including our gotras (the Rishi we set to originate from). Based upon this, the Pandas were able to retrieve records of our forefathers who had visited the Temple many, many years back and had left their details there. In fact, for many of us, it helped us to get to know the names of our great great grandfathers etc., which was hitherto unknown!
Char Dham Yatra
Whilst pilgrimage to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri are referred to as the Char Dham Yatra, I was informed that it is actually the chhota Char Dham Yatra.
Visits to Badrinath, Rameshwaram, Dwarka and Puri are the Char Dham Yatra, representing the four Yugas — Sat Yug, Threta Yug, Dwapara Yug, and Kali Yug.
In the evening, after a relaxed party over drinks, followed by a sumptuous dinner, we retired for the night.
Day 2: Traditional Paintings, Gotipua Dance
The next day was an action packed day. First a visit to a quaint little village with skillful locals using eco friendly material, parchments etc for their paintings. Many of us bought quite a few paintings there.
We then went to another village where we were treated to a wonderful recital of the traditional Gotipua Dance performed by men dressed as women. They transported all of us to a different ethereal world even though the surroundings were in the open, in a humble village with the ground as the make shift stage.
It is said that men dressed as women used to take over the duties of the Temple Devadasis (the Temple Courtesans) during their monthly periods. Gotipua as well as Mahaari are the traditional dance forms of Odisha, apart from the world famous Odissi Dance.
After a sumptuous local cuisine lunch and a short siesta, we were off to Konark, 40 km away, to see the ruins of the world famous Sun Temple. The Temple is designed in the shape of the Sun God’s chariot, with twelve wheels representing each month of the Hindu Calendar and drawn by seven horses, each representing the seven metres of Sanskrit prosody or Chandas, the limbs of Vedic Studies.
Originally, the Temple had a main temple of the Sun God, unfortunately not there anymore, having been completely destroyed and razed to the ground, with no remnants either; a second mandapa, the assembly hall for the people; and a third platform for dancers to perform with the openings here designed in such a way that the Sun Light would always fall inside when the dancing took place, irrespective of the time of the day or season.
Even in the second too portions are in ruins and being restored. However, even what is present today is awe inspiring, with its grandeur in its hey days that could very well be visualized.
Ruins of the Bhoga Mandapa (the dining hall), Mayadevi and Vaishnava Temples, kitchen and wells are some of the subsidiary shrines around the main temple.
World Famous Sand Art
Every year, at the beach in Konark, around this time of the year, there is a sand art exhibition. Artists from all over the world display their artistic capabilities, based upon the theme of the day. We managed a quick dekko of the same before rushing off to our next programme.
Annual Konark Dance Festival
We drove back to see traditional dances, in the vicinity of the Konark Sun Temple.
We were fortunate to witness two lovely dance recitals, first the traditional Assamese dance Sattriya followed by a Odissi dance recital, the latter led by an Indophile from Italy. These were at the Annual Konark Dance Festival with the Temple in the background giving it a surreal feel and experience.
Sattriya perhaps takes its name from the Vaishnava Monastery of Assam, Sattra. Ms.Anwesa Mahanta has been researching, practising, interpreting and perfecting this art since the last 25 years, having learnt her formal lessons under the guidance of the eminent maestro Padmashri Ghanakanta Bora. She and her troop kept us enthralled and spellbound throughout their one hour or so non-stop performance. When her programme eventually came to an end, we all felt “Dil Maange More”!
An Italian by birth and an Odia at heart, Ileana Citaristi and her troop of dancers then provided us a feast for our eyes and ears and indeed our inner Atma with a tremendous rendition of Odissi Dance.
We then returned to our Hotel in Puri.