There won't be any snaps of the temple to make this post arresting .... but I hope the read will be interesting enough. :-)
I have always secretly wanted to have the "Anna Bhog" or the "Abadha bhoga" of the temple. But the only problem is to be in the temple at the right time. We enquired at the front office at the hotel but did not get the exact time of Bhog. Actually nobody can say the right time ... it all depends on the temple and puja timings.
Anyway, we had a hurried bath and left for the temple. All we wanted was to offer puja and have a darshan.Our taxi dropped us at the stop near the temple from where the temple bus picks up devotees who don't want to walk the half kilometre distance to the temple. The buses are marked "Swargadwar".... the name of the place where the temple is situated. We did not want to walk in the sun ... and also lose time ... and decided to take the bus. On reaching the temple gate we left our shoes at the entrance. No leather belts or wallets are allowed inside. Also no cameras or mobiles. The police check at the entrance and are helpful too.
We climbed the "Baaisi Pahacha" or the "Twenty two Steps" to reach the inside the temple. As usual we were swarmed by the Pandas ... who we kept ignoring. But to get a good darshan and smoothly offer puja one does need a panda to guide inside this temple. We kept going on and a few followed us. Finally we allowed a young panda, who we guessed to be not more than 20 yrs of age to guide us. And again we lucked out. He was extremely sincere and efficient and took us around happily.
First we had to book the Prasad at the counter. I love the different kinds of sweets in the prasad like Khaja, Gaja, Suji gaja, laddoo, etc. After booking the prasad the panda took the counterfoil from us and asked us to follow him. It suddenly struck me and I asked him if we can get the Anna bhog also. He said as the Bhog puja was going on right then, we can. So we went to the Anna bhog counter and booked a bhog ... giving our selection of sabzis. Then the panda asked us if we wanted a darshan from outside or go right upto Lord Jagannath. We were dumbfound. Even though I have been to this temple numerous times , I have never been inside the Sanctum Sanctorum. Our panda took us to a special line that will go directly inside and asked us to wait while he went and got our prasad for offering.
We waited in the short line and watched the other restless people waiting too. The door to the lord was closed as it was his lunch time and bhog was being offered. There was a middle aged South Indian couple in front of us in the line who started chatting with us. Soon there started a long procession of temple pandas from indise the sanctorum carrying large earthen pots of food ... the Anna Bhog after the offering. This line was endless. We watched in wonder .... it is indeed a blessing to be able to see this. Our friends' panda got them a fistfull of rice bhog which they accepted with reverence ... and promptly shared a few grains with us. We were being blessed at every step that day. After that our panda arrived and the line started to move. There were a few steps that we descended and found ourselves in pitch darkness .... except for the huge, round glowing eyes of the Lord .... watching over us .... and the whole universe.
The floor was filled with water and slippery. But all we could see was the Lord. Sitting there right in front of us .... with Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra beside him. We were so close to him ... I was fiiled with strong emotions and my eyes kept filling with tears.
We are not supposed to touch the Lord directly ... but touched the platform with our heads. Then we did a parikrama around him .... in the cold, dark, wet and narrow area. There was no rush ... nobody yelled at us or pushed us out. Everyone of us took in the experience to our fill. And slowly came out. Almost all were at a loss for words after such a divine experience.
After that our panda took us around the temple showing us small other mandirs of different gods and goddesses. Numerous people were also there ... some having the bhog there ..... some still waiting. Hundreds of people eat bhog in the temple everyday ... and thousands of others who take them away.
Another thing that we had on our agenda for Puri was to buy some khaja ... a kind of layered sweet ... deep fried till very very crispy ... and dunked into thick sugar syrup just once .... so that it has a glaze all over. There are shops on the immediate right of the temple ... and we bought a good lot from there.
We returned to our hotel and had the bhog as our lunch ... my wish was fulfilled. Jagannath's bhog is completely Satvik ... cooked in earthen pots and even use jaggery and not sugar. Rice,dals,fresh vegetables and coconut is used. This food is extremely tasty and one must try it at least once if visiting Puri.
After resting for a little while we set off for a walk on the road that runs parallel to the beach and shore. We walked the whole length of the road right up to Swargadwar. It was a market area with numerous shops on clothing and sarees of Orissa. Set about shopping for sometime and bought some lovely Sambalpuri cotton dress sets and kurtas for hubby and other friends. While walking those narrow streets we noticed people setting up huge cauldrons of cooked vegetables, dal, ghugni and were cooking hot rotis right there on the stove. The smell was awesome and the food looked good. On enquiring they advised us to roam around and come back anytime we wanted dinner....they will be open till late night.
We started to walk back, this time right on the beach . Another good luck had favoured us on this visit. The Puri Beach Festival was on in full swing .... another wish come true. Right on the sands was a mela. And an exhibition and a display of sand sculpture. There was a huge stage and cultural programme was on in full swing. We pulled, rather dragged 2 chairs and sat down. The dark sea was thundering right beside us and the stage was alight .... dancers displaying the Odissi dance.
Awesome experience. After a while we walked up to the water and sat very near to it. A guy appeared out of nowhere and claimed that we must buy masala muri and tea from him to use the chairs free. Happily we agreed. And so had masala muri peppered with sand and lukewarm tea with the dark sea spraying us once in a while .... all the while thundering and roaring.
We walked back to get our dinner packed and walked back to the hotel. We had this wonderful dinner of homecooked food .... mixed vegetable fried in very little oil, channa, a dal and fluffy phulkas. Bliss at last !
Next day we leave for Chilika. :-)