Jagannatha Puri: The City of Jagannatha – The Lord of the Universe
Puri is one of the four holy dhamas and is important mainly to Vaishnavas and Smartas.
Jagannatha Puri is one of the four holy dhamas of India. The others are Dwarka, Rameswaram and Badrinatha. Jagannatha Puri is called Shri Purusottama Dhama or Martya Vaikuntha, “the abode of Lord Vishnu on earth”.
The Jagannatha Temple here is one of the major temples in India. The main deities in the temple are Lord Jagannatha, his brother Baladeva (or Balarama) and his sister Subhadra. Lord Jagannatha is another name for Lord Krishna. The name Jagannatha literally means “Lord of the Universe”.
It is said that construction of the present temple was begun by King Chore Ganaga Deva and completed by his descendant, Anangabhima Deva in the Twelfth Century. The main temple structure is 214 feet high and is built on elevated ground.
A major reason Puri is so important is because the bhakti saint, Chaitanya spent much time there. He lived there for the last eighteen years of his life. He used to regularly visit the Jagannatha temple. In front of the altar of Lord Jagannatha is a column on which the statue of Garuda is situated. It is called the Garuda Stambha and it is revered and worshipped, as Chaitanya usually saw Lord Jagannatha from a distance behind this column. Behind that column is a moat-like kunda, or lake, which was sometimes filled with Chaitanya’s tears. An impression of Chaitanya’s hand-print is found imbedded in the column. Because of Chaitanya’s living here, Puri is especially important to the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the followers of Chaitanya. It is also the site of one of the four main monasteries established by Shankara and is therefore central to the Smarta tradition.
It is said that one can make great spiritual advancement by honouring Lord Jagannatha’s maha-prasad, pure vegetarian food offered to Lord Jagannatha. Every day fifty six varieties of bhoga (vegetarian foodstuff) are offered to Jagannatha. There are many other important temples that can be visited, such as Gundicha Mandir, Narasimha Temple, Tota Gopinath Mandir as well as Haridas Thakur’s samadhi (memorial).
Jagannatha Puri is also famous for it’s annual Ratha Yatra procession where three large carts carrying Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra are pulled though the streets by devotees. This festival is now replicated in many other cities throughout the world, usually in the summer months.
Jagannatha Puri is situated 250 miles south of Calcutta.