The Jagannath Temple at Puri, Odisha, is an important Hindu pilgrimage centre. Along with Rameswaram, Dwarka and Badrinath, Puri forms a set of four places which Hindus wish to visit at least once.
Jagannath is another name for Lord Vishnu or Krishna, and means ‘Lord of the Universe’. Krishna’s brother Balaram or Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are also worshipped at the temple. The main temple stands in a huge compound, which has many smaller temples and shrines.
The Jagannath Temple was built in the 11th Century. The idols are all carved from wood from the Neem tree. They are different from idols in most other temples, as they don’t have hands. The idol of Subhadra is painted yellow, while Balabhadrada’s idol is white in colour, and Lord Jagannath is black.
The kitchen in the Jagannath temple complex is said to be the largest in the world! The food cooked in it is distributed as prasad to the thousands of devotees who come to worship at the temple each day.
The Jagannath Temple has many unusual ceremonies. For the last 800 years, every evening, two members of a specially chosen family have been carrying a new flag up the 165-foot main tower and tying it to the pole there. They use no special boots or other equipment, and no supports to climb the tower!
The Rath Yatra or Chariot Festival held every year in June-July is the most important ceremony. Lakhs of pilgrims take part in it. The chariot is 45 feet tall and has 16 wheels. It is very heavy. Over 4000 people are needed to pull it. The idols are taken in it in procession to another temple, where they are kept for a few days before being brought back to the main Jagannath Temple.