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Puri is a small coastal town located in Odisha famous for being the abode of Lord Jagannath, the principal deity of the state. Jagannath has been derived from the odia word ‘Jagga’ meaning world and ‘Natha’ meaning lord. Together the words represents ‘Lord of the World’. The Puri Jagannath Temple is a part of ‘Char Dham’ (Four Hindu pilgrimage sites on four corners of the country; east, west, north, and south. It is believed that visiting all four ‘dhams’ in one’s lifetime helps them achieve ‘Moksha’ or salvation upon death.) and is presided by three main deities namely Jagannath (an avatar of Lord Vishnu), his elder brother Balaram, and their younger sister Subhadra.
It is the only Hindu temple where siblings are worshiped together. The English word ‘juggernaut’ meaning destructive all powerful force has been derived from Jagannath. The peculiar physical appearance of the idols can easily be spotted on first glance.
Designing Jagannath and his siblings
The idols are missing arms and legs and appear to be unfinished. There is an interesting legend surrounding the idols. A long time ago, the king of Puri, Indradyumna had a dream where Lord Vishnu (Hindu god of creation) spoke to him and asked him to collect trunks of trees floating in a water body and carve statues of the deities. The next day, the king sent out his men, asking them to collect the floating trunks.
Once the trunks were successfully delivered at the king’s court, Indradyumna started wondering who would be the perfect person to carve the statues since no one had actually seen the gods in person. While pondering, an elderly man entered into the court. He told the king that he heard the story about his divine dream and wishes to carry out the task of carving the idols. The king was skeptical.
But he had no idea about the true identity of the old man. He was ‘Viswakarma’ ,the architect of the gods. Viswakarma said that he would like to be given a room along with the trunks that they have collected from the water. But he had one condition. The doors had to be sealed shut for 21 days and under no circumstance should it be opened for the next 21 day. Indradyumna and his queen Gundicha agreed with hesitation.Viswakarma was granted his request. Everyday they could hear sounds of hammer striking against the surface of the wood and chiseling sound of wood carving. But a few days in, the sounds suddenly stopped.
The deafening silence began to worry the queen. She went to the king and expressed her concerns that maybe the old man has died of starvation. If this were true, then they would be cursed by the gods for killing the old man. Upon insistence, the king ordered his guards to open the door. Peering inside, the king, queen, and their guards saw the unfinished idols of three gods with Balaram and Jagannath having half arms and no legs. Subhadra having no arms at all.
To this day, all the replicas of the idols are created in an unfinished manner to reflect the legend associated with it. It is said that the imperfection of the gods reflects that every being is flawed. Nothing in this world is ever perfect. However once a year, during the time of Rath Yatra the idols are adorned with arms and legs made out of solid gold and this image of the idols is called “Suna Besa” meaning golden guise.