Tuesday, October 19, 2010

DAY 18 - In Bhubaneswar

It was destination Puri today, to visit the Jagannath Temple. An early morning start was warranted to be ahead of the rush hours in the temple. Walking barefoot on the stone steps inside the temple after the sun is out would be a huge challenge. The car was parked well ahead of the temple in a designated area. V Sriraj, an amiable gentleman who is the Manager of the local PNB Branch, accompanied us to the temple. From the car park there are buses and autos that ferry pilgrims and tourists to the temple. At this point you face the Pandas for the first time. They are everywhere – reportedly 6000 of them work in the temple and they control everything. We were lucky to get a not-so-pushy Panda to conduct us around. The footwear, mobiles, camera, etc were deposited in an efficiently run cloak room. Once inside the temple, the pushing and shoving can be quite disconcerting, if you have not been warned of it. There are many places of worship and prayer inside the temple where you could be made to part with handsome sums of money if you have not been forewarned. Sriraj was there to raise the alarm, where warranted. We were able to go very close to the sanctum sanctorum, where Balaram, Subhadra and Jagannath are worshiped. Legend has it that the figures of the three are incomplete because the Queen wanted to take a peek at the unfinished work of the carpenter, who insulted by the Queen’s interference, left the work incomplete. The idols are made of Neem wood and are replaced every 12 to 15 years – there is a ‘Samadhi’ in the temple premises, where the the burial rites are held. Prior to that, the souls are transferred from the old to the new idols. The annual ‘Rath Yatra’, normally in the month of June, brings thousands of pilgrims to witness the spectacle of Lord Jagannath being taken to His Mausi’s house to recuperate after a bout of illness. During the ten days that Lord Jagannath is ill, the temple is closed for worship. Nandini was my ‘tutor’ on the rounds of the Museum, liftings the clouds of ignorance about the Hindu Pantheon.
A morning well spent, refreshments were due at the Cafe Coffee Day outlet near the car park.  The next destination was the Sankaracharya Mutt – one of the four established by Sankaracharya himself. The present incumbent was on a spiritual tour of Vrindavan. The bed used by Sankaracharya over 2500 years ago is still preserved in the Mutt and is open for public viewing once a  year.
Nostalgia welled up when Sriraj placed banana chips on the table in his house, where we had gone to meet his wife, Priya, and feisty son, Karthick. The banana chips were fresh from Calicut; the plate was nearly empty by the time we left after a hot cup of coffee. Much of the route from Puri to Konarak was reminiscent of Kerala, with a lot of greenery on either side of the narrow road. Toshali is a resort en route, where we had a fabulous buffet lunch. The fish, mutton and paneer preparations were super. After the heavy meal a round of the Konarak Temple under the hot sun was a tough proposition. We hired an accredited guide, Deepak Panda, and a photographer hired himself to click us at strategic locations. The guide kept us enthralled for nearly two hours explaining the history, the vaasthu of the temple, the panels on the Chariot, the various places of interest in the complex, etc. The destruction of the temple in 1848 is attributed to a ‘Tsunami’.  Pipili is famous for appliqué work. Many shops dot the highway linking Bhubaneswar. Wall hangings, bags, umbrellas, etc make good gifts and memorabilia. Hard bargaining is called for.

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