Puri Knowledge Guide


Names in history

Puri, the holy land of Lord Jagannatha, also known by the popular vernacular name Shrikhetra, has many ancient names in the Hindu scriptures such as the Rigveda, Matsya purana, Brahma Purana, Narada Purana, Padma Purana, Skanda Purana, Kapila Purana and Niladrimahodaya. In the Rigveda, in particular, it is mentioned as a place called Purushamandama-grama meaning the place where the Creator deity of the world – Supreme Divinity deified on an altar or mandapa was venerated near the coast and prayers offered with Vedic hymns. Over time the name got changed to Purushottama Puri and further shortened to Puri, and the Purusha came to be known as Jagannatha. Sages like Bhrigu, Atri and Markandeya had their hermitage close to this place. Its name is mentioned, conforming to the deity worshipped, as Srikshetra, Purusottama Dhāma, Purusottama Kshetra, Purusottama Puri and Jagannath Puri. Puri, however, is the popular usage. It is also known by the geographical features of its location as Shankhakshetra (the layout of the town is in the form of a conch shell), Neelāchala ("Blue mountain" a terminology used to name a very large sand lagoon over which the temple was built but this name is not in vogue), Neelāchalakshetra, Neelādri. In Sanskrit, the word "Puri" means town or city, and is cognate with polis in Greek.Another ancient name is Charita as identified by General Alexander Cunningham of the Archaeological Survey of India, which was later spelled as Che-li-ta-lo by Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang. When the present temple was built by the Eastern Ganga king Anantavarman Chodaganga in the 11th and 12th centuries AD, it was called Purushottamkshetra. However, the Moghuls, the Marathas and early British rulers called it Purushottama-chhatar or just Chhatar. In Moghul ruler Akbar's Ain-i-Akbari and subsequent Muslim historical records it was known as Purushottama. In the Sanskrit drama Anargha Raghava Nataka as well, authored by Murari Mishra, a playwright, in the 8th century AD, it is referred to as Purushottama. It was only after the 12th century AD that Puri came to be known by the shortened form of Jagannatha Puri, named after the deity or in a short form as Puri. It is the only shrine in India, where Radha, along with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga, Bhudevi, Sati, Parvati, and Shakti, abodes with Krishna, who is also known by the name Jagannatha.

Ancient period

According to the chronicle Madala Panji, in 318 AD, the priests and servitors of the temple spirited away the idols to escape the wrath of the Rashtrakuta king Rakatavahu. In the temple's historical records it finds mention in the Brahma Purana and Skanda Purana stating that the temple was built by the king Indradyumna, Ujjayani.S. N. Sadasivan, a historian, in his book A Social History of India quotes William Joseph Wilkins, author of the book Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Purānic as stating that in Puri, Buddhism was once a well established practice but later Buddhists were persecuted and Brahmanism became the order of the religious practice in the town; the Buddha deity is now worshipped by the Hindus as Jagannatha. It is also said by Wilkinson that some relics of Buddha were placed inside the idol of Jagannatha which the Brahmins claimed were the bones of Lord Krishna. Even during Maurya king Ashoka's reign in 240 BC, Kalinga was a Buddhist center and that a tribe known as Lohabahu (barbarians from outside Odisha) converted to Buddhism and built a temple with an idol of Buddha which is now worshipped as Jagannatha. Wilkinson also says that the Lohabahu deposited some Buddha relics in the precincts of the temple.Construction of the present Jagannatha Temple started in 1136 AD and completed towards the latter part of the 12th century. The Eastern Ganga king Anangabhima III dedicated his kingdom to Lord Jagannatha, then known as the Purushottama-Jagannatha, and resolved that from then on he and his descendants would rule under "divine order as Jagannatha's sons and vassals". Even though princely states do not exist in India today, the heirs of the Gajapati dynasty of Khurda still perform the ritual duties of the temple; the king formally sweeps the road in front of the chariots before the start of the Ratha Yatra. This ritual is called Cherra Pahanra.

Medieval and early modern periods

The history of Puri is on the same lines as that of the Jagannatha Temple, which was invaded 18 times during its history to plunder the treasures of the temple, rather than for religious reasons. The first invasion occurred in the 8th century AD by Rastrakuta king Govinda-III (798–814 AD), and the last took place in 1881 AD by the monotheistic followers of Alekh (Mahima Dharma) who did not recognise the worship of Jagannatha. From 1205 AD onward there were many invasions of the city and its temple by Muslims of Afghan and Moghul descent, known as Yavanas or foreigners. In most of these invasions the idols were taken to safe places by the priests and the servitors of the temple. Destruction of the temple was prevented by timely resistance or surrender by the kings of the region. However, the treasures of the temple were repeatedly looted. The table lists all the 18 invasions along with the status of the three images of the temple, the triad of Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra following each invasion. Puri is the site of the Govardhana Matha, one of the four cardinal institutions established by Adi Shankaracharya, when he visited Puri in 810 AD, and since then it has become an important dham (divine centre) for the Hindus; the others being those at Sringeri, Dwarka and Jyotirmath. The Matha (monastery of various Hindu sects) is headed by Jagatguru Shankarachrya. It is a local belief about these dhams that Lord Vishnu takes his dinner at Puri, has his bath at Rameshwaram, spends the night at Dwarka and does penance at Badrinath.In the 16th century, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu of Bengal established the Bhakti movements of India, now known by the name the Hare Krishna movement. He spent many years as a devotee of Jagannatha at Puri; he is said to have merged with the deity. There is also a matha of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu here known as Radhakanta Math.In the 17th century, for the sailors sailing on the east coast of India, the temple served as a landmark, being located in a plaza in the centre of the city, which they called the "White Pagoda" while the Konark Sun Temple, 60 kilometres (37 mi) away to the east of Puri, was known as the "Black Pagoda".The iconic representation of the images in the Jagannatha temple is believed to be the forms derived from the worship made by the tribal groups of Sabaras belonging to northern Odisha. These images are replaced at regular intervals as the wood deteriorates. This replacement is a special event carried out ritualistically by special group of carpenters. The city has many other Mathas as well. The Emar Matha was founded by the Tamil Vaishnava saint Ramanujacharya in the 12th century AD. This Matha, which is now located in front of Simhadvara across the eastern corner of the Jagannatha Temple, is reported to have been built in the 16th century during the reign of kings of Suryavamsi Gajapatis. The Matha was in the news on 25 February 2011 for the large cache of 522 silver slabs unearthed from a closed chamber.The British conquered Orissa in 1803, and, recognising the importance of the Jagannatha Temple in the life of the people of the state, they initially appointed an official to look after the temple's affairs and later declared the temple as part of a district.

Modern history

In 1906, Sri Yukteswar, an exponent of Kriya Yoga and a resident of Puri, established an ashram, a spiritual training center, named "Kararashram" in Puri. He died on 9 March 1936 and his body is buried in the garden of the ashram.The city is the site of the former summer residence of British Raj, the Raj Bhavan, built in 1913–14 during the era of governors.For the people of Puri, Lord Jagannatha, visualized as Lord Krishna, is synonymous with their city. They believe that Lord Jagannatha looks after the welfare of the state. However, after the partial collapse of the Jagannatha Temple (in the Amalaka part of the temple) on 14 June 1990, people became apprehensive and considered it a bad omen for Odisha. The replacement of the fallen stone by another of the same size and weight (7 tonnes (7.7 tons)), that could be done only in the early morning hours after the temple gates were opened, was done on 28 February 1991.Puri has been chosen as one of the heritage cities for the Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana scheme of the Indian Government. It is chosen as one of the 12 heritage cities with "focus on holistic development" to be implemented within 27 months by the end of March 2017.Non-Hindus are not permitted to enter the shrines but are allowed to view the temple and the proceedings from the roof of the Raghunandan library, located within the precincts of the temple, for a small donation.


Cultural activities, including the annual religious festivals, in Puri are: The Puri Beach Festival held from 5 to 9 November every year, and the Shreekshetra Utsav held from 20 December to 2 January every year. The cultural programmes include unique sand art, display of local and traditional handicrafts and food festival. In addition, cultural programmes are held for two hours on every second Saturday of the month at the district Collector's Conference Hall near Sea Beach Police Station. Odissi dance, Odissi music and folk dances are part of this event. Odissi dance is the cultural heritage of Puri. This dance form originated in Puri from the dances performed by Devadasis (Maharis) attached to the Jagannatha Temple who performed dances in the Nata mandapa of the temple to please the deities. Though the devadasi practice has been discontinued, the dance form has become modern and classical and is widely popular; many of the Odissi virtuoso artists and gurus (teachers) are from Puri. Some of the notable Odissi dancers are Kelucharan Mohapatra, Mayadhar Raut, Sonal Mansingh, and Sanjukta Panigrahi.