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Scenes from Orissa
Jagannath Temple, Puri

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Puri is a seacoast town along the Bay of Bengal in the state of Orissa in eastern India. It is one of the traditional four principal pilgrimage sites in India. The focus of the pilgrims who travel here is the famous temple to the god Jagannath.

The Jagannath temple in Puri was built approximately 1135-1150 by King Codaganga of the Eastern Ganga dynasty. This was during the classical period of temple building in Orissa (approximately the eighth through thirteenth centuries). The temple is dedicated to Jagannath, who is identified by his devotees with Krishna. It is also dedicated to Balabhadra and Subhadra, the brother and sister, respectively, of Jagannath. These three together are the principal deities of the temple, whose images reside in the temple's sanctuary.

A famous festival related to the Jagannath temple is the ratha yatra, or chariot festival, which occurs yearly in June or July. During this festival, the three deities are taken from the temple and placed in large chariots which are then drawn along Grand Road to the Gundecha temple, a few kilometers away. After they have stayed in that temple for seven days, the deities again ride the chariots back to their home temple. This festival is very ancient and in fact is described in an account by an Italian friar who traveled to India in the fourteenth century.

Grand Road, which is indeed a very large thoroughfare, can be seen in some of the pictures below. Today there are many shops along the road selling items of every description, not only religious mementos but many consumer goods as well.

The architecture of the temple follows the pattern of many Orissan temples of the classical period. The main shikhara, or tower, rises above the inner sanctum where the deities reside. Subsidiary shikharas rise above ante-halls. The temple complex is surrounded by a wall, on each side of which (that is, east, south, west, north) is a gopura or gate, over which rises a pyramid-shaped roof. The Jagannath temple is one of the largest in Orissa. The temple complex covers several square blocks and contains dozens of structures, including a mammoth kitchen. Truly, the Jagannath temple at Puri is an architectural and cultural wonder.

Approaching the temple

Jagannath temple

View through a narrow lane approaching the Jagannath temple. This lane approaches the east gate, the so-called Lion Gate, of the temple. One of the temple's shikharas, or towers, is visible.

Jagannath temple Leaving the lane (in the previous picture) the visitor enters a square (actually the beginning of Grand Road) in front of the main east gate of the temple. A small crowd stands around the Sun Pillar (taken from the famous Sun Temple of Konarak, northeast along the Bay of Bengal from Puri) that is placed in front of the gate.
Jagannath temple Street next to the Sun Pillar in front of the Lion Gate.

Grand Road

The wide thoroughfare known as Grand Road begins in front of, and immediately to the east of, the Jagannath temple. Here we are looking at the origin of Grand Road from an upper storey of a building just outside the temple complex. The temple is to the left of the point of the photographs. After beginning at the east of the Jagannath temple, Grand Road proceeds in a generally northeast direction to the Gundecha temple. This is the route followed by the rathas (cars or chariots) during the annual Car Festival in June or July, in which the gods Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra leave their home in the Jagannath temple for a temporary stay in the Gundecha temple.

The street near the temple is a commercial district. Most of the storefronts and stalls on the left side of the street sell cloth for women's saris. The storefronts and stalls on the other side of the street sell many other kinds of items, including religious items, food, handicrafts, clothes, elecrtronic gadgets, etc.

Grand Road Grand Road Grand Road
Grand Road, looking away from the Jagannath temple toward the Gundecha temple. Grand Road. Grand Road.

Lion gate

At each of the four cardinal points along the wall that surrounds the temple complex is an entry gate to the temple. The Lion Gate is the eastern and principal entry to the temple. It is so named because of the statues of lions near the entrance.

Jagannath temple Outside doorway of the Lion Gate.
Jagannath temple Inside the Lion Gate, with statues of lions.
Jagannath temple Roof of kitchens, to the left of, and next to, the Lion Gate. The kitchens prepare prasad, or offered food, to thousand of pilgrims each day.

Temple towers

Jagannath temple

The main shikhara (or tower) of the Jagannath temple, seen behind two smaller shikharas, as viewed from the upper storey of a building next to the Lion Gate.

Jagannath temple The shikhara of a gopura (or gate construction) with its pyramidal roof, at the Lion gate.
Jagannath temple The main shikhara of the temple. The shikharas over the ante-chambers are painted. In the main shikhara, whose stone is unpainted, we see the the main body of the tower surmounted by a disc-shaped form called an amla and a crown, known as a kalasha.

Circumambulating the temple

Jagannath temple A view of the street along the south side of the temple.
Jagannath temple A small gateway on the south side of the temple, with passing rickshaws.
Jagannath temple A view of the main shikhara from the street on the south side of the temple.
Jagannath temple A view of the street along the west side of the temple, with parked pedal and auto rickshaws.
Jagannath temple The Tiger Gate on the west side of the temple.

Pictures and text Copyright © 2000-2007 by Kalarte Gallery and Bernard Cesarone.

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