Among all the temples built during the Ganga period, the Jagannath temple at Puri deserves commendation. As stated earlier, Chodagangadeva might not have started the construction of that temple. He probably, extended the work of the Jagannath temple after 1147 A.D. and failed to complete it during his life time as the Dasgoba inscription states that it was constructed in 1198 A.D. which is certainly after the death of Chodagangadeva. The construction of the temple was completed most probably by Anangabhimadeva III. Be that as it may, with the construction of the Jagannath temple, Puri became a great centre of religion and culture not only in Odisha but also outside of it. However, many later additions to this temple were made during the rule of the Suryavamsi Gajapatis in Odisha.
The huge temple complex covers an area of over 400,000 square feet (37,000 m2), and is surrounded by a high fortified wall. This 20 feet (6.1 m) high wall is known as Meghanada Pacheri. Another wall known as kurma bedha surrounds the main temple. It contains at least 120 temples and shrines. With its sculptural richness and fluidity of the Oriya style of temple architecture, it is one of the most magnificent monuments of India. The temple has four distinct sectional structures, namely –
1. Deula, Vimana or Garba griha (Sanctum sanctorum) where the triad deities are lodged on the ratnavedi (Throne of Pearls). In Rekha Deula style;
2. Mukhashala (Frontal porch);
3. Nata mandir/Natamandapa, which is also known as the Jagamohan (Audience Hall/Dancing Hall), and
4. Bhoga Mandapa (Offerings Hall).
The main temple is a curvilinear temple and crowning the top is the ‘srichakra’ (an eight spoked wheel) of Vishnu. Also known as the “Nilachakra”, it is made out of Ashtadhatu and is considered sacrosanct. Among the existing temples in Orissa, the temple of Shri Jagannath is the highest. The temple tower was built on a raised platform of stone and, rising to 214 feet (65 m) above the inner sanctum where the deities reside, dominates the surrounding landscape. The pyramidal roofs of the surrounding temples and adjoining halls, or mandapas, rise in steps toward the tower like a ridge of mountain peaks
The imposing structure consists of the Vimana, Jagamohana, Natamandira and Bhogamandapa. The last two structures were, perhaps, constructed during the Suryavamsi Gajapati rule. The Vimana of the temple stands at a lofty height of 214 ft. and 8 inches an a square of 80 ft. The heavy plaster of the temple in the exterior prevented the scholars to know about the sculptural decoration of the outer walls. However, the recent removal of plasters from the outer walls of the temple by the Archaeological survey of India brought to light the decorative motif of the temple. The figures in the Vimana are the proofs of the developed art of Kalinga. Among those, the figures of Astadikpa/a, lion standing over crouching elephants, the figure of adult Krishna, the procession of horses and elephants, various sociao-cultural scene, erotic panels etc. The Vimana has been constructed in a Pancharatha plan.
The Jagamohana of the temple like that Vimana, follows a Pancharatha style. The roof of this structure is amply supported by several iron beams. Its outer surface contains some erotic scence. Its height is 120 ft. The Natamandira of the temple is pyramidal in form. It is a square room measuring 69 ft x 67 ft. inside and the outside measurement of it is a square of 80 ft.
Natamandira and Bhogamandapa
The Natamandira depicts the story of the Kanchi-Kaveri expedition which most probably found place there during the glorious reign of Gajapati Purusottamadeva. Like Natamandira, the Bhogamandapa is a pyramidal structure measuring 58 ft. x 56 ft. The sculptures in this structure depict mainly stories related with Sri Krishna’s life like his playing of flute when the cows listen to it with’ upraised heads, Krishna’s various poses, his play with the cowherd women in the boat, Dola yatra etc. The depiction of other deities of Brahmanical pantheon in the Bhogamandapa is quite interesting. The scene of indrasabha, (the court of Indra) Rajyavisekha (investitrue ceremoney) of Ramachandra, God Siva sitting on his bull etc, are depicted marvellously well.
The Nila Chakra (Blue Discus) is the discus mounted on the top shikhar of the Jagannath Temple. As per custom, everyday a different flag is waved on the Nila Chakra. The flag hoisted on the Nila Cakra is called the Patita Pavana (Purifier of the Fallen) and is equivalent to the image of the deities placed in the sanctum sanctorum.
The Nila Chakra is a disc with eight Navagunjaras carved on the outer circumference, with all facing towards the flagpost above. It is made of alloy of eight metals (Asta-dhatu) and is 3.5 Metres (11 feet and 8 inches) high with a circumference of about 11 metres (36 feet). During the year 2010, the Nila Chakra was repaired and restored by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The Nila Chakra is distinct from the Sudarshana chakra which has been placed with the deities in the inner sanctorum.
Nila Chakra is the most revered iconic symbol in the Jagannath cult. The Nila Chakra is the only physical object whose markings are used as sacrament and considered sacred in Jagannath worship. It symbolizes protection by Shri Jagannath.
Outer-walls and Doorways
The entire Jagannath temple is surrounded by an outer wall known as the Meghanada Prachira. Historians point out that this wall did not form a part of the Original plan of the temple. It gave the temple the form of fort having four gate-ways. The gateways of the temple definitely added grandeur to the structure. The eastern gate is popularly known as Simhadvara. On either side of the entrance, the figure of big crouching lion with a crown on the head is found. Two rubust figures, Jaya and Vijaya are found on the pilasters of that door. This gate is famous among the pilgrims as Jaya Vijaya dvara. This gate is the main entrance to the temple. This gate contains the images of Patitapabana, Ganesha, Hanumana etc. In front of the gate is Aruna Stambha (the Surya pillar) which was brought from Konarka and installed there during the Maratha rule. The southern gate or Asvadvara comes next in order of importances. The gate is so named because two big horses (one black and another white) with their riders (Balabhadra and Jagannath respectively) are found on the pilaster of that door. This reminds the people regarding the legend of the Kanchi-Kaveri expedition of Purusottamadeva. The northern gate has two colossal elephants on either side. For that reason it is known as the Hastidvara. It comes next in importance to the Asvadvara. The last entrance gate to the temple of God Jagannath is known as the Vyaghradvara. It is due to the presence of two big tiger images there. Their presence gives a grandiose look to the gate. The religious significance of these four gates is well discerened. The Simhadvara represents Dharma (piety); the Asvadvara, Jnana (knowledge); the Hastidvara, Aisvarya (material prosperity) and lastly, the Vyaghradvara represents Vairagya (renounciation).
Immediately, after the entrance into the temple through Simhadvara, a pilgrim has to cross Baisipahacha (22 steps) which, as per the Hindu belief, represent twenty-two sins of human life. When one crosses these steps, he crosses all the sins and attains Punya (religious merit). The main shrines in this area are the gateway of Kurma bedha and Saraghara of the Suras. The Small shrines in this Baisipahachas area are Kasivisvanatha, Ganesa, Nrusimha and Ghantamundia Thakurani. At the top of the Baisipahacha, a double wall divides the area into two, the outer one and the inner. One can notice the shrines of Nrusimha, Barabhai Hanumana, Gopala, Rama and Budhima in the area stretching between the Asvadvara and the inner inclosure. Towards the western gate four important tirthas (places of pilgrimage) of India vizthe Vadrinarayana, Ramanatha, Krishanatha and Jagannath are found. If one visits these four shrines, he attains Punya.
Outer-enclosure after Hastidwara
The outer enclosure, after the Hastidvara is significant with the presence of the shrines of Sitala, Uttarayani, Hanumana, Somanatha, Dhavalesvara and Patalesvara. Four epigraphs of the famous Ganga monarch Anangabhimadeva III found in the Patalesvara temple describe the rituals of the Jagannath temple.
The Rosasala or the kitchen of Lord Jagannath is regarded as the greatest kitchen of the world. Here, rice and vegetables are cooked simultaneously by earthern pots kept over one another. The cooked rice and curry are offered to the God as Bhoga which becomes Mahaprasada after the offering is made.
Among the important shrines in the southern side the Astadhatu (made of eight metals) image of Nilamadhava in the shape of Lord Jagannath is important. The Kalpabata is another notable thing inside the temple complex where the women, desirous of son, bind threads in the branches of that great banyan tree.
The Muktimandapa (hall of salvation) is another sixteen pillared eleved rectangular building measuring 30 ft. x 38 ft. It was constructed by Gajapati Prataprudradeva. There the Brahmin Pandits, apt in sastric law assemble and give their expert guidance to people to get rid of sins. For centuries, this Mandapa has allured the attention of the people of Odisha and India as
Close to the Muktimandapa there is Rohini Kunda. It contains an image of a crow with four hands. The water of this Kunda is regarded as sacred by the pilgrims who sprinkle the same over their head.
Temples inside the Temple Complex
Among other small temples inside the Jagannath temple complex, the Vimala temple deserves commendation. From the iconographic point of view, its construction can be dated before the construction of the Jagannath temple. The sacrifice of the goat before goddess Vimala on the Dasahara festival clearly indicates the Sakta-tantric character of the temple. The shrines of Sakshigopala, Kanchi Ganesh, Panchasakti Nilamadhava and Bhadrakali. The temple of goddess Laxmi is another notable architectural splendour inside the temple complex of Lord Jagannath. The scene of elephants pouring water over the head of that goddess makes the pilgrim spell-bound for its artistic excellence. The temple of Navagraha including the Sun god is another shrine inside the temple complex. It indicates the Saura cult had gained momentum during the glorious days of the Gangas as is evident also from the Sun temple at Konarka.
The Anandabazar is another notable site inside the temple complex. Here, the Mahaprasada of the Lord is sold. At that place, male and female irrespective of caste and creed take the prasada together. Besides, Anandabazara , the Koili Vaikuntha, Nilachala Upabana (garden) and a museum (recently opened) etc. are other noticeable features of the temple of Lord Jagannath.