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.
The 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.
Some 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!
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.
A 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.
The 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.
Reams 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.