Puri is where the Indian god Lord Jagganath has his temple and his presence is everywhere. Bill posters, cars with slogans, buses, hotels and restaurants named after him. Then there are all the market stalls with tourist souvenirs. He’s big news around here. Sadly non-Hindus aren’t allowed in to his temple so I have nothing to report on how he’s currently looking. However from the replicas around town I can tell you he’s a rather square headed, brightly coloured god who reminds me of the Aztec gods. He is carved from the Neen tree after a vision reveals which tree is the sacred and chosen one. Then the wood carvers begin their big task.
The current wooden god is dressed in a new set of jolly clothes every day and once a year he is literally rolled out for a journey around town. Some twelve thousand devotees are needed to pull the weight of three colossal chariot temples. (He is actually a deity of three wooden figurines ) The largest of these rolling temples is 13 metres high and has 16 wheels each is 2 metres wide.
The short journey around town can take up to 24 hours and then Lord J is placed carefully back in his large static Puri temple until the following year.
This year’s annual ‘trip around town’ in July 2015 is a very special one and will be an international event of the year. It will attract even more pilgrims than usual because a new Lord Jagganath is about to be installed. The Neen tree has been identified, the new god is being carved and he will be inaugurated in front of millions with accompanying international media coverage.
They say that every pilgrim will be able to pull on a chariot rope during the twenty four hours of the festival and ritual. With several million pilgrims expected that’s some logistical challenge for the organisers.
Preparations are currently underway to improve the infrastructure of Orissa and cope with the hordes of visitors. Already the Government has poured in billions of rupees. You can see how they have made a start with many partly constructed roads, fly-overs that hang in the sky, seemingly going nowhere(!), plus large ditches ready for brightly coloured broadband cabling that looks unlikely to be installed in time. July may be a rocky ‘juggernaut ride’ for Lord Jaggannath’s followers.