Temples of Orissa - Jagannath Temple

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

The Jagannath temple is situated in Puri, on the east coast of India, in the state of Orissa. The main presiding deity is Lord Krishna or Jagannath. It is an ancient shrine having a wooden image. There are also wooden images of Balabhadra or Balarama and Subhadra who were the brother and sister of Krishna respectively. The place of Puri along with its temple has reference in Brahma Purana. The Rig Veda mentions about Purushottama in the form of a wooden image made out of a log of wood floating on the ocean.

The original temple was built by the Kalinga ruler Anantavarman Chodaganga and the present temple was built by the king Ananga Bhima Deva. It is believed that the Lord Jagannath here was buried thrice in the Chilka Lake to protect him from the invaders. The temple of Jagannath Puri has a rekha dwell with curvilinear tower on a pancha ratha plan. It is one of the tallest monuments of the country. It stands on an elevated platform of stone. The temple has four gates at four directions of the Meghanad Prachir. The gates are referred to as the lion gate, the horse gate, the tiger gate and the elephant gate. The place of Puri is also one of the four peethas established by Sri Adi Shankaracharya. Ramananda who was the follower of Sri Ramanjua and Chaitanya of Radha-Krishna cult are associated with this temple.

According to the legend, the original image of Jagannath was found at the foot of a fig tree, in the form of an Indranila or the Blue Jewel. Due to its brightness, Dharma requested it to be hidden in the earth. King Indradyumna of Malwa in order to find this performed severe penances, and was instructed by Vishnu to go to the Puri seashore, and look for a floating log, and design an image from its trunk. The king discovers the log of wood. Vishnu and Vishwakarma in disguise as artistes prepared the images of Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra. These wooden images were worshipped and renewed during special occasions.

There is a sacred banyan tree which is revered as a manifestation of Vishnu. As per the legend, the pilgrims are required to worship first at a Shiva temple, and then at the banyan tree and then at the shrine to Balarama before proceeding to worship Jagannath. Later Subhadra should be worshipped.

There are as many as 24 festivals associated with the temple. The most important among them is the Rath Yatra or the Chariot festival in the month of June-July. There will be a spectacular procession of the three colossal chariots for Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra taken out through the streets of Puri.


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