By air to Bhubaneswar (Puri is 62 km from Bhubaneswar), road and rail.


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Puri Tourist Office

Tel: (06752) 222740

The temple of Lord Jagannath ('Lord of the Universe') at Puri is one of the most sacred pilgrimage spots in India, one of the four abodes (dhamas) of the divine that lie on the four directions of the compass. The present temple structure was built in the twelfth century by the Ganga king, Chodagangadeva, replacing an earlier structure which probably dated to the tenth century.

Long before one reaches Puri, the 214 feet (65 meters) spire of the temple can be seen towering over the countryside. This visual dominance is symbolic of the influence which the temple commands over almost every aspect of life in Puri. The huge temple compound, each side of which  measures 650 feet (some 200 meters), is surmounted with a 20 foot (6 meters) wall. Within the compound is a city, or, more accurately, a universe unto itself. With 6000 direct temple servitors, a temple kitchen which feeds 10,000 people daily (and some 25,000 on festival days), and a central deity who has become the focus of religious life throughout Odisha, the Jagannath temple is truly an institution unique in the world.

Until recently, almost the entire temple was covered in white plaster, so much so that European sailors in previous centuries used it as a navigation point, referring to it as the 'white pagoda' (in contrast to the 'black pagoda' of Konark, further up the coast). Scholars, however, were long puzzled by the plain facade on this holiest of holy temples, and wondered why it was untouched by Odisha's rich sculptural heritage. The answer was found in 1975, when archaeologists first began removing the plaster, and found that the sculpture underneath indeed rivals that of the other masterpieces of Odishan temple art. The best guess as to the reason for applying the plaster originally is that an eighteenth century ruler decided that this would be a way to protect the temple from the ravages of the salty sea air. Succeeding rulers continued the practice. As the old plaster is being removed, archaeologists are also repairing the corroded iron dowels in the original structure, and replacing broken stones with new ones. Finally, a clear, thin coating is being applied to the entire structure, to preserve it for the centuries to come.

Because of the temple's intense religious importance and hallowed traditions, entrance is forbidden to non-Hindus.

To have a good view of the temple and its compound, visitors are welcome to ascend to the roof of the Raghunandan Library which is across the street.

 Jagannath ImagesIn the bazaar area surrounding the temple, dozens of shops display and sell images of the central temple deity, Lord Jagannath, presented in a trinity with his 'brother' Balbhadra and his 'sister' Subhadra. The pervasive quality of the Jagannath cult will be seen when travelling in other parts of Odisha, where the distinctive image of Jagannath appears with great frequency. Even to the non-religious eye, the image is fascinating, perhaps because of the unlikely combination of the endearing, charming form with an undeniable sense of power.

Even the non-Hindu visitor to Puri will feel some of the power of this throbbing pilgrimage center. The bazaar streets immediately surrounding the temple are filled with activity and bustle, but it is all infused with a palpable sense of gentleness and good spirit. Walk around the bazaar in the early evenings just as the lights are coming on. (Don't worry, your taxi or rickshaw driver will keep an  eye on you, and appear like magic when you are ready to leave). Look up to the magnificent tower of Jagannath towering over everything, surmounted by the flag of Vishnu flying in the breeze. Gaze at the faces of the pilgrims entering or leaving the temple, inhale the scents of incense mixed with the tantalizing sizzles of frying sweets and snacks, and just let your feet take you where they may. Even the most secular-minded of visitors are bound to feel that they, too, have embarked on a kind of pilgrimage to a uniquely special place.