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Culture of Puri

The culture of Puri reflects the ethos of Orissa society. The temple town of Orissa is renowned throughout the world for the Jagannath Temple. The Puri culture is based on Jagannath cult that was shaped by the mingling of various other Indian cults with Vaishnavism.

The rich cultural heritage of Puri is represented by the number of festivals held every year. These festivals not only reflect the traditional heritage of the town but also have a strong religious character. The Ratha Yatra, Car Festival, Chandan Snana and the Snana Yatra are some of the significant festivals that brings alive the religious diaspora of the people. Even the arts, crafts, architecture, hand looms and handicrafts of Puri showcase a temple culture.

As a matter of fact, all the notable cultural events in the social calendar of Puri revolve around the legendary Jagannath Temple. Another, world famous temple, the spectacular Sun Temple of Konark is also located in the vicinity and is the focal point of many a cultural soiree. The gala celebrations of the Konarak Dance Festival also take place within the precincts of the awe inspiring shrine. The festivals are a hit with the patrons of the fine arts and showcase the talent of dancers and give a platform to the talented artists of the place.

Another hallmark of Puri’s cultural legacy is the impressive Odissi Dance, an art that has been perfected over the years. The stone architecture, Patta paintings, shell crafts and fine and intricate applique works earmark the diverse cultural heritage of the ancient town.

In fact, a visit to the picturesque town of Puri opens up a treasure trove of cultural delights for tourists. The people of Puri speak Oriya, the official state language, though Hindi, Bengali and English are widely understood. The city also has several museums and libraries upholding various artifacts and documents related to the culture of Puri.

Ratha Yatra:  The world famous Car Festival of Lord Jagannath is held on’ AshadhaSukla Dwitiya’ -i.e. the 2nd day of the bright fort-night of Ashadha (June- July) every year. This festival is popularly known as Ratha Yatra, Gundicha Yatra and also Ghosha Yatra. On the Car Festival day, the deities are taken out of the temple and placed in their respective chariots, kept near the Singhadwar. The deities are carried to the chariots in a traditional ceremonial manner-first Sudarshana, followed by Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannath. Balabhadra and Jagannath are made to swing forward and backward in a manner called ‘Pahandi’.

The chariot of Lord Jagannath is known as Nandighosha. It has 16 (sixteen). wheels and the colour of the fabrics that cover the roof of the chariot are red and yellow. The chariot of Lord Balabhadra is known as Taladhwaja. It has 14 (fourteen) wheels and the colours of the fabrics are red and green. Subhadra’s chariot ‘Devadalana’ has 12 (twelve) wheels and fabrics are red and black. Sudarshan is seated by the side of Subhadra in her chariot. Madanmohan, a representative deity of Jagannath sits in the chariot of Lord Jagannath. So also two other small idols -Rama and Krishna take their seats in the chariot of Balabhadra. These small idols are made of metal. Thus actually seven deities namely Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra, Sudarshana, Madanmohan, Rama and Krishna are seated on three chariots and moved to a temple known as ‘Gundicha Ghar’ which is at a distance of about 3 kms from Jagannath Temple. The chariot of Balabhadra is dragged first, followed by those of Subhadra and Jagannath.

On the first day if any chariot cannot reach the Gundicha Ghar, it is dragged on the next day. On the ninth day i.e. the Return Car Festival day, the deities are brought to the Singhadwar area of the Jagannath Temple. An important ritual performed, on the 5th day (starting from and including the day of Car Festival) is known as ‘Hera Panchami’, when goddess Laxmi proceeds to Gundicha Ghar to see Lord Jagannath. In the evening of the lOth day (i.e. the 11th day of the bright fortnight of Asadha) the deities are adorned with gold ornaments and dressed gorgeously in their respective chatiots parked in the Simhadwar area. On the same day another ritual called ‘Hari Sayan Ekadasi’ is performed. On the following day i.e. the 12th day of the bright fortnight, important ceremony known as’ Adharapana Bhog’ is performed. A sweet drink is offered to the deities. On the evening of the following day, the deities are taken to the temple in a traditional procession amidst gathering of thousands of devotees.

Snana Yatra: The Snana Yatra (Odia: ସ୍ନାନ ଯାତ୍ରା) is a bathing festival celebrated on the Purnima (full moon day) of the Hindu month of Jyeshtha. It is an important festival of the Jagannath devotees. It is the birth day of lord Jagannath.This is the first occasion in the year as per the Hindu calendar, when the deities Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra, Sudarshan, and Madanmohan are brought out from the Jagannath Temple (Puri) and taken in a procession to the Snana Bedi. There they are ceremonially bathed and decorated for a public audience with the devotees.
It is a belief among devotees of Lord Jagannath that if they make a pilgrimage to see the deity on this day, they would be cleansed of all of their sins. Hundreds of thousands of devotees visit the temple on the occasion. The Skanda Purana mentions that King Indradyumna arranged this ceremony for the first time when the idols of the deities were first installed.
On the eve of the Snana Yatra (which means the Bathing festival, in Sanskrit), the idols of the deities are brought out in a grand procession from the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) to the Snana Bedi (bathing platform). Devotees come to view the deities.

On the day of the Snana Yatra, the deities are bathed with 108 pots, of ritually purified water drawn from the northern well of the temple to the accompaniment of religious incantations. In the evening, at the conclusion of the bathing ritual, Jagannath and Balabhadra are dressed up in elephant headgear representing the God Ganesh. This form of the God is called the ‘Gajavesha’.

After the Snana Yatra the Gods are traditionally believed to fall ill and are kept in a sick room to recuperate in privacy under the care of the Raj Vaidya. During this period known as Anasara the Gods cannot be seen by devotees. At this time three pata chitra paintings are displayed for devotees to view instead It is said that with the Ayurvedic medication (‘pnachan’) administered by the Raj Vaidya the Gods recover in a fortnight and resume giving an audience to their devotees.

During the Anasara period devotees head to the Alarnatha Mandira in Bramhagiri in the belief that Jagannath manifests as Alarnatha during this period

Suna Besha:  Also known as Raja or Rajadhiraja besha or Raja Besha or Rajarajeshwara Besha, is an event when the Lord Jagannath and other deities Balabhadra, and Goddess Subhadra are adorned with gold jewelry. Suna Bhesha is observed 5 times during a year. It is commonly observed on Magha Purnima (January), Bahuda Ekadashi also known as Asadha Ekadashi (July), Dashahara (Vijyadashami) (October), Karthik Purnima (November), and Pousa Purnima (December). The name Suna Bhesha is derived from two words, ‘Suna’ meaning “gold” and ‘Bhesha’ meaning “costume”.

While one such Suna Bhesha event is observed on Bahuda Ekadashi during the Rath Yatra on the chariots placed at the lion’s gate (also called Singhadwara.[6]); the other four Beshas’ are observed inside the temple on the Ratna Singhasana (gem studded altar). On this occasion gold plates are decorated over the hands and feet of Jagannath and Balabhadra; Jagannath is also adorned with a Chakra (disc) made of gold on the right hand while a silver conch adorns the left hand. However, Balabhadra is decorated with a plough made of gold on the left hand while a golden mace adorns his right hand.[4]

Nabakalebara :(Odia: ନବ କଳେବର) is a symbolic recreation of the wooden forms of four Hindu deities (Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Sudarshana) at Jagannath Temple, Puri. In the cult of Jagannath, the ritual is performed during the eighth, 12th, or 19th year after the previous Nabakalebara.
Nabakalebara is a combination of two Odia words: naba (new) and kalebara (body), translated as “the change of one’s physical form.”
The year of Nabakalebara is when the full moon occurs twice during the month of Ashadha. Every three years in the Hindu calendar, a lunar month is excluded from the calculation to maintain a balance between lunar and solar years. This period is called Adhikmasa or Malamasa. A year with an extra month (अधिकमास or मलमास or पुरुषोत्तममास )is considered auspicious for the ceremony, which typically occurs every twelve to nineteen years. The three deities undergo the process of Nabakalebara in the year in which the adhikmasa falls. The deities are carved from a special type of neem wood, known as daru bramha. Preparations for the ceremony begin in the month of Chaitra. The most recent ceremony was in 2015, 19 years after the 1996 ceremony. Over three million devotees were expected to visit the temple during the Nabakalebara 2015.

Gupta Gundicha Yatra:  A Secret car Festival of Lord Sri Jagannath, continue for nine consecutive days as like Rathyatra, In accordance with tradition & ritual of Sri mandir. This Gupta Gundicha is celebrated from Aswina Krusna Dwitya to Aswina Sukla Prtipada tithi. After completion of lunch Shree Durga Madhab in Gupta Gundichaof Deities in the Sri Mandir. The Vimanbadu servants ( who carry the chariot) carry Sri Durga – Madhab ( Sri Jagannath & Jaya Durga ) in a chariot to the temple of Narayani at Dolamandap Sahi. At Narayani Temple some special puja (rituals) are conducted. This festival come to an end on Dasahara. This ritual named as Durga Madhab worshping, This tradition had been began by the King of Utkal Chodaganga Deba as reveled from mythological information. It is also ascertained that just before Kanchi expedition, the chief general of Army Godabari Rajaguru started worshiping of Durga Madhab. In whole india worshiping of God Iswar (Siva) and Pravati is being made, but is a rare tradition that in Srikshetra Puri, Durga Madhab worshiping is being made, which is an unique phenomenon.

Chandana Yatra : (Odia: ଚନ୍ଦନ ଯାତ୍ରା) also known as Gandhalepana yatra (Odia: ଗନ୍ଧଲେପନ ଯାତ୍ରା) is the longest festival observed at Jagannatha temple at Puri, India. Chandana Yatra meaning Sandalwood Voyage in Sanskrit, which continues for 42 days is observed in two parts: Bahara Chandana and Bhitara Chandana.
Bahara Chandana

Decorated boat of the deities in Narendra tirtha
Bahara Chandana starts from Akshaya Tritiya and continues for 21 days. Construction of the chariots for the annual Ratha Yatra festival starts from Akshaya Tritiya.

On the first 21 days the representative idols of the main deities of the Jagannath temple as well as five Shivalingas known as the Pancha Pandava are taken in a procession from the Singhadwara or the Lion Gate of the Jagannatha temple at Puri to the Narendra Tirtha tank. The deities Madanamohana, Bhudevi, Sridevi and Ramakrishna participate in this yatra for 21 days. The deities are taken on two chapas (boats), namely, Nanda and Bhadra, on an excursion around the Narendra Tritha. After various rituals the deities are taken to the Narandra pond located near the Jagannath Temple and they are placed on grandly decorated boats for an evening cruise of the tank.

Bhitara Chandana
The last 21 days include rituals held inside the temple itself. Instead of the daily cruises, the playful ride happens here on four occasions, the Amavasya, the full moon night, on the Shashti and the Ekadashi of the bright fort night.

Devadashi Dance: Among the 36 different services (seva) offered to the Lord, the rituals performed by Devadasis, also known as Maharis, was the only category where women were allowed to serve Lord Jagannath. Many historians assert that this is the only Vishnu Temple in the country where women could perform specific rituals other than dancing and singing.
Before his sleep, music and dance was presented to the Lord which symbolised the cultural significance of the Jagannath ‘belief’ and the Lord’s accent on music and various forms of art to ‘cleanse’ mortals and souls. Ratna Singhasana is “Aum”, the original sound of creation. The music, dance and art forms outside are the different vibrations for humans to move back into those vibrations and dissolve themselves to be one with the Universe. And that is the oneness or the Advaita philosophy that represents Vedanta.
Odishan art forms and their diversity centre around Lord Jagannath’s philosophy, beliefs and practices. Music and dance with musical instruments, became an integral part of the Lord’s services. In Jagannath Temple, many scenes of musical instruments such as veena, flute, mardala, dambaru, kahali and mrudanga indicate that these musical instruments were in popular use in the temple. The rulers of Ganga dynasty encouraged “Geeta Govinda” to be included as a part of the ceremonies of Lord Jagannath. As per the Madala Panji Kabi Narasingha Dev (1282-1307 AD), the successor of Langula Narasingha Dev, the patron of the Konark Temple, introduced singing of “Geeta Govinda” dance in the temple[1]. Poet Jayadev of 12th Century was a dedicated devotee of Jagannath.

Shreekshetra Utsav:
Puri is not only a land of temples, beaches and secnic spots, but also a land of festivals. Visitors could enjoy their visit throughout the year in Puri. Every season Puri brings a host of colourful festivals . To showcase the city’s art, craft, culture, cuisine and to highlight the history, rich tradition and cultural heritage of the holy city to pilgrims and tourists, the annual ‘Shreekshetra Utsav – The Puri Festival’ organised in Puri every year.The different parts of ‘Shreekshetra Utsav : The Puri Festival’ are Shree Jayadeva Odissi Sangeet Samaroh, Odissi Food Festival, Handicrafts Expo, Handloom Expo, Shrimad Bhagabata Parayana and Sand Art Exhibition.The main part of the Shreekshetra Utsav is the Shree Jayadeva Odissi Sangeet Samaroh. This is organised jointly by the Department of Tourism and Culture, Government of Odisha, the District Administration – Puri and the Odisha Sangeet Natak Academy. The main aim is to popularize the Odissi dance and music among the tourists.The main aim of the Odissi Food Festival is to popularize the Odishan mouth watering cuisines among the visiting tourists.The objective of Handicrafts Expo is to display and sale the Odishan Handicraft products of Odisha with special emphasis on the handicrafts of Puri and surrounding areas.The prime objective of the Handloom Expo is to showcase and sale the Odishan Handloom products.Shrimad Bhagabata Parayana is organised to highlight the ancient religious traditions of Odisha which includes presentation and discussion on the Odia epic ‘The Bhagabat’.The aim of Sand Art Exhibition is to popularize the famed sand art of Puri.Every year large number of tourists are flocking to Puri from across the country and abroad to celebrate and enjoy the Puri Festival. The festival also gives boost to tourism in Puri.

Puri Beach Festival: The Puri Beach festival is a celebration of the art, craft, culture, sports, cuisines and other aspects of tourism of Orissa. On a single platform witness the cultural heritage of not just Orissa but many other states. The festival offers a captivating and enchanting experience of all. Get ready for a platter of cultural events. There will be classical and folk dance performances in the evenings. Watch the captivating forms of dance accompanied with melodious strains of classical music. Handicraft exhibitions are particularly attention grabbing. Witness the forms of tribal and other arts & crafts of Orissa. Do not miss the traditional beach sports like beach volleyball, Kabadi, Malkhamb (pole gymnastics). The sand art is definitely the highlight of the festival. Regatta boat or yacht races are also quite popular. From food festivals to rock concerts, beach parties to fashion shows, the Puri Beach Festival has almost everything for every age group.

The venue of the festival, the Puri Beach is packed with visitors throughout the day. Do not miss to snack on the delicacies. Shopping in the beach market is a good experience. Take home handicrafts, shell jeweler and other remembrances of the festival.