A heaven on earth is the common description of Puri. Both the devout and the pleasure-seeker bestow such praise on the place. The worlds biggest Vishnu temple dividing the skyline through a host of smaller temples overlooking Puris wide, sprawling, clean, sunny, buoyant, and vibrant beach, which too is one of worlds finest of its kind are its chief attractions. Puri is also famous for the greatest of the temple festivals, the Rath Yatra or the Car Festival which falls in June/July.
According to tradition, Puri was originally a densely wooded hill inhabited by Sabaras, a pre-Aryan and pre-Dravidian tribe. Chodaganga Dev, the illustrious ruler of the Ganga dynasty, built the present Jagannath Temple in the twelfth century A.D. Kapilendra Dev, Purusottam Dev and Prataprudra Dev, all rulers of the Surya dynasty, left their distinctive marks on the history, art and culture of Puri. Jagannath worship flourished even during the Moghul and Maratha periods. The British occupied Puri in 1803 and soon took over the administration of the temple. Modern Puri--its hospitals, its government buildings, its light house, its schools and colleges, its beautiful villas and hotels along the sea front was built during the British rule.
Ai Tota is the place towards the left side of the Gundicha Temple where Chaitanya used to stay during Car Festivals.
On the east of the temple of Lord Jagannath can be seen a shady banyan tree known as Angira Bata surrounded by an old boundary wall. The place is associated with the legendary sages Angira.
Murari Mishra records the first staging of his play at Puri sometime in the 9th century AD. Though the ancient stage is no longer existent, this seventy year old theatre house can still be seen at Puri.
About 3 km from the Jagannath temple, on the Grand Road, is a small white-washed temple for goddess Ardhasani or Mausi Ma. A Subhadra image is worshipped here. The Puranas describe how the goddess used to drink half of the flood water at the time of deluge, thus saving the creation. On his way back from the Gundicha Temple during the Car Festival, Jagannath is offered here a delicacy known as podapitha (fire-baked cake).
A small temple in Tiadi Sahi houses a cluster of eight Shiva lingas made of semi-precious stones which appear different in colour when looked at from different directions.
A marvel of medieval Odishan architecture the Atharnala or the bridge with eighteen arches was built by Bhanu Deba of the Ganga dynasty in the thirteenth century. It is a ferruginous stone structure and is still used as the gateway to the holy city Puri. During the nineteenth century the British Government collected pilgrim taxes here detaining millions of eager devotees enroute for days together.
This is a newly established institution which popularises the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, a twentieth century philosopher of India. It has a small library. Its impressive complex of buildings can be reached by going to the west from Swargadwar.
The impressive temple on the Swarga Dwar Road is dedicated to Lord Shiva. A beautiful Kali image is also worshipped in the near by place.
At a distance of about three kilometre from Atharnala on the Puri-Bhubaneswar road is a small temple dedicated to goddess Batamangala. Pilgrims usually pray this goddess for safe journey to Puri.
The well dug by Guru Nanak popularly known as Dedhasur Bhai Bohu Kua is still to be seen here and this place, the Bauli Math is visited by the devotee round the year.
A small sea-side temple containing the image of the monkey-god Hanuman, a devotee of Rama. The legend goes that once Hanuman went on a short visit to Ayodhya. In the meantime seawater entered the city, causing considerable damage. The devotees prayed to Jagannath who asked Hanuman to explain his absence. On hearing about Hanumans unscheduled visit to Ayodhya, Jagannath got his hands and feet tied with rope (bedi) and asked him to be vigilant on the seashore day and night. There is a popular belief that since then, the sea has not ventured into the city.
This institution is situated near Swarga Dwar. It is a philanthropic organisation which does commendable work during the Car Festivals.
Bhrugu Ashram or Bhrugus hermitage is near Atharanala. It is associated with the sage Bhrugu.
Chakhi Khuntia, a priest of Jagannath, fought the British during Indias First War of Independence in 1857. Khuntia was the family priest of Queen Laxmi Bai of Jhansi who led the heroic revolt against the British. His house is situated in Harachandi Sahi. His descendants still live here and a visit to the house can, however, be arranged through the people living there.
This place on the seashore is believed to be the house of the father of Laxmi, the consort of Jagannath. A small but beautiful temple houses the images of Laxmi and Nrusimha. The belief goes that in ancient times a sacred log of wood came floating in the sea out of which the Jagannath triad were carved. To many, this is also the very spot where vishnu saved the elephant from the clutches of a cruel crocodile.
This is a school teaching the Vedas to the young. The students of this school recite the Vedas to the measured movement of hands, fingers and palms. The Yajna Vedi or the traditional vedic altar for burning sacrificial fire may also be seen by a visitor here.