The humble hamlet of Puri is one of the four sacred abodes of Hinduism where ancient legends still live on. Puri is a seaside town in eastern India and it attracts pilgrims, adventurers and explorers.
Puri is home to Hindu god Vishnu, Popularly known in India as Lord Jagannath which means the Lord of the universe. Puri is also called ‘Shri Purushottam Dham’ the abode of Lord Vishnu on earth. As we know Hindu’s believe in holy trinity ‘Brahma: the creator’, ‘Shiva: the destroyer’ and ‘Vishnu: the preserver’. According to beliefs, Vishnu takes various Avatars down the ages to protect humanity from evil. Lord Vishnu is also worshipped as Krishna or Narayan and in Puri, Vishnu worshipped as Lord Jagannath.
Situated around the four corners of country Puri, Rameshwaram, Dwarka and Badrinath make a Chardham of four holy abodes of Hinduism. As these Dhams are holy and considered sacred by Hindu’s to be visited once in their lifetime (Chardham Yatra).
The Idea of yatra has special importance in the holy city of Puri where gods themselves go on a journey every year. This immensely popular event called as RathYatra (Chariot parade). The Lord Jagannath and their siblings Balbhadra and Subhadra travel distance about 3KM from their resident Jagannath temple to neighbouring Gundicha temple in three magnificent chariots one each for Lord Jagannath, his brother Balbhadra and his sister Subhadra. The home of Lord Jagannath attracts lakhs of pilgrims every year to catch a glimpse of their beloved god during Rathyatra, in the hope of gaining Nirvana or salvation.
Legend of Lord Jagannath
Once upon a time, a king named Indradumnya ruled central India. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and had an ardent desire to see him. One day traveller came visiting the court and told him Vishnu was worshipped in his truest form as a Neel Madhav in Odisha. The king ordered his confident Vidyapati to go to Odisha and search for Neel Madhav. After reaching Odisha Vidyapati found a tribal leader Vishwavasu secretly guarding Neel Madhav. He pleaded Vishwavasu to show him the place of worship but tribal leader Vishwavasu refused. Vidyapati continued to stay in the village.
After a few days, he fell in love with tribal leader Vishwavasu’s daughter and got married to her. Soon after the wedding, Vidyapati persuaded his wife to convince his father-in-law for just one glimpse of Neel Madhav. On his daughter’s insistence, Vishwavasu finally agreed but on one condition, Vidyapati would be taken blindfolded. But Vidyapati managed to outsmart his father-in-law, on his way he dropped mustard seeds to track his way back with the king. Upon reaching the secret cave, once the blindfold was removed Vidyapati was spellbound to see the most magnificent image of Neel Madhav. He rushed back to tell his King, who at last started his journey to see a glimpse of his beloved god. But later when the king reached a secret cave with Vidyapati he found it to be empty.
The king was depressed, where destiny would lead him next, would lord Vishnu ever appear to him again?
But after that king received a divine vision that he should go to Puri and draw ashore a log of wood which would be floating on the waves. The king obeyed and found a log floating on shores of Puri. He brought that log to the palace only to face a greater challenge, no one could carve through that hard would. Then One day Vishwakarma: artisan of gods appeared as an old carpenter and he convinced the king that he could carve out the idols on the condition that no one should disturb him for 21 days and the king agreed.
But after 15 days queen Gundicha grew impatient and persuaded the king to open the door. And there to his dismay, he saw that carpenter had disappeared only leave behind the wooden images in their incomplete form. And it believed that the same form of these iconic wooden idols is housed in the famous Jagannath temple in Puri.
Why non-Hindu’s not allowed in the temple?
There was a time in history when people from all religions were allowed to enter Puri Jagannath temple. But after Mughal invaders started destroying Hindu temples and idols, temple priests become protective about temple and idols.
Specially Puri temple was invaded and looted by Muslim invaders for around 17 times before the 18th century. It generally believed that the statue of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra were kept hiding in the caves of the Trikut for a period of 144 years during the invasion. Because of this reason the temple priest started to considering every foreign and non-Hindu as a threat to temple and Deity. And to keep it safe from invasion they stopped allowing foreigners and non-Hindus in the temple.
And this rule is still intact as even then prime minister Indira Gandhi also denied entry into this temple in 1984. Apart from Hindus Buddhist, Jains and Sikhs are allowed in Puri Jagannath temple.