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During my temple rounds in Odisha, Kumar the driver enjoyed accompanying me, he had gained easy access to most temples without paying the customary donations to the priest. Maussi Maa and Jagannath were the two temples he refused to step in but preferred waiting outside. Before checking out Jagannath temple, Kumar made an unexpected stop at a Japanese temple that was en route.

 image1.JPGThe Buddha temple on Station road is popularly known as Japanese temple. The stone masonry yard that adjoins this temple has incredible statues that are carved out of sandstone here. One of the masons alleged that many Japanese come here to pay their obeisance to the Buddhist order they follow. No one around could enlighten me of a statue in marble, a holy man in meditative pose at a corner of the Japanese temple.

 IMG_4230.JPGSome decades ago I had visited Jagannath temple and I distinctly remember the temple complex outside littered in sludge and muck. There was milling crowd all jostling at once to enter. I was steered by a tout who assured me that I would be taken without a hitch straight to the sanctum sanctorum. It was a nightmare and oil spill on the floor made approach to the temple treacherous. I slipped and fell several times, each doorway entrance to the inner sanctum were priests waiting to grab money from my wary clasped hands!

image1 (1).JPG Jagannath temple is one of the holiest, venerable temples in India for the Vaishnava sect. The historic temple is one of the four holy Dhams drawing millions to seek blessings of Lord Jagannath and was built in 1078 during the Kalinga reign.

 image2.JPGA good friend Deepa, an Oriya from Bhuvaneshwar gave me great insight to some of the myths and stories behind the great Jagannath temple. My visit this time around was with her as she had an important ceremony to conduct. Orissa, in general, seemed a far cry from my last visit to Puri, the roads appeared clean, the temple surrounding more organised and neat. There were a few touts hanging around and the general public could access the temple grounds freely. Non-Hindus are disbarred.

 image3.JPGThe renowned Jagannath temple is admired for its temple architecture and design. The quintessential fluted stone masonry is prevalent in most of the big temples of Orissa. As with the Lingraja, and Maussi Maa, Jagannath temple complex is expansive and the many domes of smaller temples within lead to the highest dome where the 3 idols made of wood are housed in the main inner sanctum. Every 14 years the idols of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are reestablished and is subject of one of the greatest folklores.

 image4.JPGReams can be written on some of the miracles, mysteries and architectural highlights of this temple, one must look out for the flag that flutters opposite to the wind directions, the chakra on top that appears to face all directions, the main dome never casts a shadow whatever time of day! Pragmatists claim it’s the engineering feat of the temple design but devotees that flock to this temple are ardent believers in the implausible and mysteries that have remained unanswered.

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IMG_4226 (1).JPGSince ancient times Puri has held sway as the most powerful seat of spiritual sanctity. The temples that proliferate are reminiscent of Bali where I did a similar temple journey. A tout at Jagannath temple was telling me the number of annual religious festivities that take place here in Puri is unrelenting, practically every month!

IMG_4224.JPGThe Jagannath temple holds 13-14 annual festivities of which the Rath Yatra is the most important of festivals. Millions of people congregate to witness the route taken and for the devout, it’s not to be missed. Puri has always stood its ground against several Muslim attacks since the 4th cent AD to plunder its wealth which was well known, today this temple town of innumerable Hindu Monasteries is a great source of revenue to the State exchequer.

IMG_4223.JPGThe temple rounds in Puri left me searching for answers on a higher plain! What is it that makes people go in search of God, can one pray without asking for favours! Does a pilgrim Centre wake up that inert apathy to piety? The Russian lady in Puri alleged I lack Krishna consciousness! The temples that I visited next were undeniably overwhelming, it aroused my curiosity and the peace that we all are constantly searching for.

 P_20161201_132615_1_p.jpgThe next big temple is very significant, as this was the temporary abode of Lord Jagannath’s Aunt Subadhra Devi dotingly called Maussi Maa. (Grand road not too far from Jagannath temple). According to legends, when Goddess Lakshmi Devi returned to her father’s abode, Lord Jagannath had to leave his residence with Balabhadra to fend for himself.

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In his absence, his Aunt (Maussi Maa) held fort and even prevented a catastrophic storm by swallowing water of the sea thus saving the dwelling of Lord Jagannath! To this day most locals claim that Puri has never been inundated and suffered from floods. The famous Rath Yatra stops here on its return journey and offerings of Podha Pitha (baked rice cake) to the presiding deity is conducted in a grand way befitting the Maussi (Aunty) of the Lord.

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Beware of several stops by the priests at this temple, as was the case with other temples in Puri. The beauty and architecture of Maussi Maa temple are evolved and majestic. Many concur that this temple is the prototype of the Jagannath temple but on a much smaller scale. The grand entrance with its geometric levelled ceilings has many smaller temples dedicated to the presiding deity, Lakshmi, Ganesh within the complex. Priests bless the devotees for a sum amount and it is advisable not to accept trinkets and such from them as it leads to unpleasant bargaining.

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The main temple with fluted towers has the exemplary temple structure of Jagannath and even houses the 3 idols of the same size (again a prototype). Incidentally, apart from the 9 day Rath Yatra festivity, Maussi Maa remains open more as a temple visit.

(to be concluded)-6

IMG_4187.JPGNext-door to Gauranga is a significant Hanuman temple. I loved the magnificent arches and niches with life-size statues of the Monkey god. Daria Hanuman has interesting curio shops leading to the main temple.

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I met many ISKCON followers on this street, mainly foreigners, who flock to seek peace in this holy city, some as distant like Russia!

IMG_4198.JPGThe fervour and simplicity of Puri town are indeed very compelling, it left a void, it left me speechless, I really had to rustle up that passion and match up with the other devotees who throng these temples. I was humbled when a Russian ISKON follower replied that, I am lamenting because I haven’t been Krishna awakened! She is probably right.

IMG_4190.JPGChakra Nrusingha Temple- or Chakratirtha is located 3 Km away from Jaganatha Temple and not too far from Sonar Gauranga, is another important pilgrim centre.

IMG_4192.JPGA board at the entrance declares that the temple is the holy abode of Lord Jagannath’s  father in law.

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The connection to Jagannath temple doesn’t end there, the first wood(daru) that was found floating here, was commissioned to mold the statues of Lord Jagannath and his two consorts. So also the massive Chakra that was displaced from Jagannath temple dropped here and is worshipped within the main temple.

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The third angle interested me most, that when Mahalakshmi was peeved with the Lord concerning a domestic issue she resided here at her father’s house. Lord Jagannath had to make amends by offering her Rosogollas and to this day during the annual festival at Nrusingha, this tasty delight is made here as Prasad. Bengal really has no claims on origins of the Rosogollas the way Puri, Odisha has accomplished!

(to be concluded)

IMG_4165.JPGThe Lakshmi temple at entrance 

SRI SONAR GOURANGA TEMPLE- complex dedicated to Lord Chaitanya Prabhu, has series of Temples and other stand-alone buildings inside.

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The building that houses the wooden slippers of Lord Chaitanya when he took Sanyas here.

The arid sprawling land also houses an old dilapidated building that belongs to the information bureau of the complex appeared uninhabited as were rest of the temples.

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A creaky gate opens to what appears like private property. Sonar Gauranga is very much part of the temple round and important pilgrim centre.

 IMG_4179.JPGSonar Gauranga is the oft-visited temple here in Puri town. From what I gathered, that this is where Krishna conscious gained movement, as it’s the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

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Jaganatha temple at Gauranga

Gauranga(fair skinned) is thus significant in expressions to Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya.

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Being such an important documented place, the many temples dedicated to Lord Gauranga (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) appears disregarded in terms of maintenance and visual appeal.

(more temple round to cont)

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I started with the lesser-known temples. My main focus was to admire the ancient architecture, capture beauty of the temple façades, and gain some interesting insights into myths and mythology on some of the temples.

I hailed an auto, was so lucky that I got Kumar as the driver-guide who promised me that he would show me around as none other (expedient if he accompanied me). Most locals find it difficult to enter some of the well-known temples, and I figured out why!

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Temples in Orissa have certain attributes that are so enduring and attractive. The archetypal colorful lion with its paw up in blessing form, symbolic of Lakshmi temples. The lions on both sides are a riot of colors, bulging large eyes, seated, and is the first welcoming figure nearby the temple arch.

IMG_4220.JPGAll around the arched entrance and open courtyards are stories and tales of Hindu folklore painted on the walls, bright statues of gods and goddesses ensconced in niches. Ceilings intricate with geometrical patterns.

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 Kumar failed the test here in explaining the stories of the temples, only locating them was his forte. I had to rely on the priest to tell the tale, and that is when I realised that I should have held my purse strings tighter.

 (to be cont)

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Arriving early morning at Puri has it’s own charm, the peal of temple bells, the hum of holy chants accompanied by Aarti (lighting of lamp to the gods) the sombre priests, the fragrance of flowers and incense is very soul stirring.

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Puri is the pilgrim centre of the East, a prominent Hindu one. Foreigners and Indian tourists flock to this temple city not just to soak in the Hindu flavour but also to holiday along the famous beaches of Puri.

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The fervour and craving most temples in Puri attract devotees by the droves are unmistakably so ingrained among the locals. The askew glance shot at me by the Pandas (priests in Oriya) at my short hair and slightly western clothing was a bit deterring.

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Morning bathing ritual is mandatory before entering any temples in Puri! Like in Bali I noticed every corner, every lane has temples big and small.

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