When I was little my parents took me to Puri- we’re talking really little here, barely 5 or 6. It must have been a week-long trip, from what I have been told and from what I remember. Recently, we made a repeat trip to Puri- tracing steps while adding new stuff to the itinerary. Surprisingly, I had a completely different experience this time around. The first trip left me with pictorial images of the beach, tons of sand and crimson skies during the sunset. This second one was a drastic change in my worldview- Puri this time around was no longer just a beach to frolic around in- perhaps it was a child’s perception which had blocked out all the “no frolic” parts of the trip, but the city seemed to me, as I was now, like a spiritual hub with the Jagannath Temple as its central attraction and the host of friendly pandas (the Jagannath Temple priests) swarming the temple, the streets and even the beaches!
This account will largely be the summation of my second trip- the first is fading in the layers of time. However, since this trip involved a retracing of steps, it didn’t come as a surprise that every experience was a fun re-run for my parents and a shocking revelation for me. A visit to a the Jagannath temple resulted in a meeting with our family panda. He remembered me while I had absolutely no clue that he’d read my fortune for me once before. Like the last time, I was told that I’d excel in fine arts- well, I wouldn’t know about excelling- but he wasn’t entirely wrong. After my parents had finished with puja, we trooped out for a visit to the beach. It was slightly more strongly etched in my mind, or so I thought. The panda who had walked with us reminded me how I had run after a vendor selling shiny stuff and gotten myself lost. I really had forgotten the entire experience.
Even the rath yatra?- My mother wondered. Turns out- that I remembered. But unlike last time this time I realized that what I had mistaken for a “party and fun” was actually religious fervour at its peak- the crowd, the shouts and the entire procession was as much fun as last time, but only now I had grasped the actual seriousness of it. Celebrated on the Ashad Shukla Dwitiya, as Lord Puri Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra set out to visit the Gundicha Temple- I set out to explore my fading memories amidst the shouts of victory and people straining to get one touch of the holy rope pulling the “rath.”
Puri is indeed a spiritual stronghold- and “Puri revisited” turned out for me to be a perfect combination of nostalgic- albeit faintly remembered- reminiscence and spiritual realization.
Contributed by Ateendriya