Garden gives peek into plants used for Lord Jagannath

Garden gives peek into plants used for Lord Jagannath

Garden gives peek into plants used for Lord Jagannath

Lakhs of devotees from different parts of the country and abroad throng the Odisha temple town of Puri every year to witness the world famous Rath Yatra or the car festival of Jagannath, Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra, the three presiding deities of the Puri shrine. And one of the main attractions of the grand religious event has always been the three colourful wooden Raths or chariots that carry the three deities from the main shrine to another temple in the town for their 13-day-long sojourn.

As the more than 30-foot-high giant Raths begin their journey on the Bada Danda or Grand Road in front of the main temple, devotees rush to touch them to get the blessings of the three deities. But majority of them (the devotees) may not be aware of interesting facts about the chariots-- the multi-wheel wooden vehicles are made of timber from 13 different species of trees, some of them belonging to rare categories.

The three deities suffer from fever after they get a bath in 108 buckets of holy water on the day of Snana Purnima just before the annual Rath Yatra. They retire to Anasara Ghar or the sick chamber for 15 days for treatment. They get well only after they are offered Dasamula, an Ayurvedic drug. The designated servitors of the shrine prepare the drug with the help of 10 different plant species.

While in sick chamber, the deities are also applied Phuluri, a fragrant herbal oil, for their quick recovery. The temple Baidas (designated servitors who function as physicians) prepare the special oil with the help of more than 10 plant species.

During Rath Yatra, the three deities wear Tahia or a special floral crown on their heads while being shifted from the shrine to three chariots. More than 6-foot high crowns are prepared with the help of wood and flowers from 13 different species of trees and plants.
According to experts, nearly 200 species of trees and plants and products prepared from them are used during the daily rituals as well as special occasions and festivals in the Puri temple. And now the people and devotees will get an opportunity to see all these plants at one place, thanks to Bhubaneswar-based Regional Plant Resource Centre (RPRC), a government of Odisha organisation which functions under the department of forests and environment.

The RPRC has recently opened a specially designated garden within its premises where 125 of these plants and tree species have been on display for public viewing. Spread over five acres, the garden has been appropriately named as “Jagannath Vatika”.

“The Jagannath cult and the Puri temple are closely associated with forests, plants and trees. Nearly 200 species of plants and trees as well as their products are used during special occasions, festivals and daily rituals in the popular shrine. The main objective behind setting up the garden is to create awareness among the people about these plants and their conservation and preservation for future as well as their sustainable utilisation. Currently we have 125 species and it will go up 200 shortly,” said Dr P C Panda, the principal scientist at the RPRC.

Last year, the Puri temple had celebrated Nabakalebara in which the three wooden idols of the important shrine were replaced with new ones. The festival was celebrated after 21-long years. During this special occasion, the RPRC authorities had come out with the idea to have this unique garden. They approached the government which gave the go ahead for the project. “We began the work immediately and it took almost one year to set up the garden,” Panda said.

It was, however, not an easy task to see the project through. The RPRC officials had to visit several places both within the state and outside to collect the tree and plant species some of which were bracketed in rare category. The officials managed to collect majority of the species from different districts within the state. But some of the species had to be brought in from the north-eastern states as well as southern states like Karnataka.

Moreover, a lot of research work had to be done to identify the right species of plants and trees. Therefore, the RPRC authorities got in touch with a number of research scholars and experts besides going through books and literature on Jagannath cult and culture as well as Puri temple. “The people of Odisha are extremely fond of the Puri temple and the three presiding deities. They are highly emotional, sensitive and touchy about them. Therefore, we had to be very careful. One mistake would have landed us in trouble,” Dr Panda maintained.

Jagannath devotees have come forward to contribute to the new garden. A case in point is a Bhubaneswar-based retired engineer who had a few plant species in his small garden. “When he came to know about our plan to set up the garden, he hired a vehicle and landed here with plant species at his cost,” said a RPRC official.

The garden has already generated a lot of interest though it was inaugurated less than a month back. “Hundreds of enthusiasts are visiting the garden every day. They include both elderly people as well as youngsters,” Dr Panda said adding that the garden would be soon having an interpretation centre too.

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