Hinduism Puri
Animesh Mohapatra, Jatindra Kumar Nayak
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0280


Puri is a famous centre of pilgrimage situated in the state of Odisha, which lies on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. “Puri” refers both to the temple town, which is the district headquarters and the district. At different points of time, the town was known variously as Purushottama Kshetra, Shrikshetra, Jagannath Puri, and as only Puri, which means a city. The abode of Lord Jagannath, Puri is one of the four dhams sacred to Hindus. The coastal town is a railway terminus and is the summer residence of the governor of the state. The municipality of Puri, comprising an area of 16.84 square kilometers, was formed on 1 January 1881. According to the 2011 census report the population of the Puri town is 200,564. One finds a description of Purushottama Kshetra in the “Vaishnava Khanda” of the Skanda Purana. Here it is mentioned that Purushottama Kshetra is located in the land of Utkal (a part of modern Odisha), which is famous for its many shrines and places of pilgrimage. Although the monumental edifice dedicated to Lord Jagannath is the most famous temple of the place, the town and its neighborhoods are dotted with numerous temples, big and small. These include the five major Shiva temples—Lokanath Temple, Markandeshwara Temple, Jambeshwara Temple, Banambara Temple, and Kapalamochana Temple. In Puri, people offer worship to a number of goddesses, who include Batamangala, Baseli, and Basantei. Several colorful festivals are celebrated in the town year-round, drawing a large number of people from other parts of the state and the country. The most famous among these is Ratha Yatra or the Car Festival. Several sects have established mathas (monasteries) in the temple town, including Gobarddhan Matha, Ramanuja Kota, Emar Matha, Satalahadi Matha, Kabir Choura Matha, Mangu Matha, and Nandini Matha. Notable among the temples in the neighborhood of Puri are Alarnath Temple, Baliharchandi Temple, Sakshigopal Temple, and Ramchandi Temple. Tanks sacred to the pilgrims in Puri include Indradyumna Tank and Narendra Tank. The temple town is surrounded by sixteen shasana villages, brahman settlements founded by the kings of Odisha, and brahmans from these villages are entitled to take part in the proceedings of the Muktimandap, an assembly of pandits located in the premises of the Jagannath Temple. The unique ethos of Puri has inspired creative writers and travelers alike. Therefore, several poems, plays, novels, stories, and travel narratives are set in the temple town portraying its fascinatingly multilayered culture. As a separate entry is devoted to Jagannath Temple, we have chosen to throw light on different aspects of life in the town surrounding it.


The abundance of attention Jagannath Temple receives for obvious reasons has tended to obscure aspects of the town of Puri. However, it is impossible to understand one without taking the other into consideration. This section includes texts belonging to the colonial period in view of their historical importance and contemporary studies, which have an empirical and analytical focus. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Ghose 2019, originally published in 1848, provided the most comprehensive introduction to Puri. Mitra 1880 is an influential archaeological text from the late nineteenth century. Apart from throwing light on the architectural features of the Jagannath temple, the author provides details relating to the geographical location, population, and history of the place. However, some of Mitra’s observations relating to the history of the town and the temple have been disputed by modern historians. Two chapters in Hunter 1872 focus on Puri and the pilgrims visiting it. Of the pilgrims Hunter approvingly observed that they were a disciplined lot. He also elaborated on influences of various thinkers, such as Ramanuja, Kabir, Chaitanya, and Ballabha Swami, which shaped the composite and tolerant ethos of the temple town. One finds in Hunter’s account a fairly detailed description of Swargadwara, the Gateway to Heaven or the “Shrine of Death.” Smith 1868 was written at a time when Christian missionaries had launched a strident attack on Lord Jagannath, Ratha Yatra (Car Festival), and local belief systems, all rendering Smith a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the place and the people. O’Malley 1908 furnishes extremely useful information on the town of Puri and the district as a whole written from the point of view of a colonial official in the early twentieth century. Acharya 1949 offers details on nomenclature, history, and climate of the temple town. Citing Bangla, Odia, and Sanskrit sources, Mukherjee 1979 provides an account of life in the temple town in the early sixteenth century. Mahapatra 1996 makes available a wealth of information on the local parlance used by priests and the local people in everyday communication in the temple town. Ahuja 2009 explains how the pilgrim town was transformed after the introduction of the railways in the 1890s. It shows how members of the Bengali middle class traveling by train to Puri significantly contributed to its emergence as a holiday resort. Pati 2001 and Ghosh 2019 discuss the impact of colonial modernity on the temple town in the nineteenth century in the fields of health and urbanization, respectively. Cort and Mishra 2012 and Schömbucher 2001 present richly detailed pictures of the lives of two different communities, namely, potters and fishermen. Taken together, these texts provide a nuanced perspective on the ways in which the pilgrim center responded to and was shaped by the radical reordering of the economy and modes of governance during colonial rule. They also indicate how new forms of technology contributed to the transformation of the pilgrimage center into a tourist destination, and they identify factors that mark the process of urbanization of Puri.

  • Acharya, Chintamoni. Puri. 2d ed. Berhampur, India: Students’ Store, 1949.

    This slim volume provides details about the nomenclature, history, and climate of Puri. It also gives information on festivals, mathas and mahantas, places of interest, and accommodation for visitors to the town. The book contains photographs of important places such as Narendra Tank, Gundicha Temple, Loknath Temple, Raghunandan Library, Hazarimal Darmashala, and the governor’s residence. This is one of the earliest accounts of the temple town written in English by an Odia author.

  • Ahuja, Ravi. Pathways of Empire: Circulation, “Public Works” and Social Space in Colonial Orissa, c. 1780–1914. Hyderabad, India: Orient BlackSwan, 2009.

    A section titled “Pilgrims and Railways: An ‘Unreasonable Appropriation,’” in chapter 7 of the book, presents a vivid picture of how the pilgrim town was transformed after the introduction of the railways in the 1890s. Ahuja shows how a large number of pilgrims traveling by train to Puri led to the loss of importance of sacred sites along the earlier routes. He also explains how pilgrimage came to be intertwined with new commercial pursuits.

  • Cort, Louise Allison, and Purna Chandra Mishra. Temple Potters of Puri. Ahmedabad, India: Mapin, 2012.

    The book presents a richly detailed account of the lives, functions, and tribulations of the potter community performing sacred tasks at the temple of Jagannath. The authors focus on potters residing in three localities of Puri, namely, Tikarpada, Kumbharpada, and Gopalpur, and they explore their fraught relationship with other servitors of the temple, especially the cooks. Accompanied by a DVD on the production of pots, this valuable work contains 268 photographs, thirty drawings, and three maps.

  • Ghose, Brij Kishore. The History of Pooree: With an Account of Juggunnath; Also a Succinct Description of the Southern Division of Zillah Cuttack. Edited by Shekhar Bhowmick. Kolkata: Prapti, 2019.

    Originally published in 1848. Ghose’s book is divided into four parts and its first part gives a historical account of Jagannath Temple. The second part of the book gives information on the festivities of the temple and expenses on the annual ceremonies. Part 3 paints a grim picture of pilgrim mortality in Puri. The final part furnishes details about crops grown here. One of the earliest accounts dealing exclusively with Puri, the book was first published by Orissa Mission Press.

  • Ghosh, Ujaan. “Combating ‘Filth’: The Temple, the State, and Urbanization in Late Nineteenth-Century Puri.” Modern Asian Studies 53.6. (2019): 1849–1891.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X18000069

    Discusses the process of urbanization of the pilgrim town in the nineteenth century, arguing that Puri owes its distinctiveness as an urban center to the temple of Jagannath functioning as an alternative public body. The urbanization of Puri, he affirms, cannot be adequately understood without considering the complex negotiations between the state and the temple. The article is indispensable for urban historians working on pilgrim centers.

  • Hunter, William Wilson. Orissa: Or the Vicissitudes of an Indian Province under Native and British Rule. London: Smith, Elder, 1872.

    Hunter’s book, which constitutes the second volume of The Annals of Rural Bengal, includes two chapters focusing on the temple town and the pilgrims visiting it. It may be mentioned here that many of Hunter’s observations are based on records and reports that cannot be entirely relied upon given their biases and lack of accuracy. However, Hunter’s book remains a valuable account of the temple town written in the nineteenth century from the point of view of a colonial administrator.

  • Mahapatra, Sidheswar. Puri Boli. Bhubaneswar, India: Orissa Sahitya Akademi, 1996.

    Translated as: “The local parlance of Puri.” Although Mahapatra focuses upon distinctive patterns of speech one comes across in the town, he also illuminates varied aspects of popular culture in Puri. In the book, the town emerges primarily as a fun- and pleasure-loving place. Local inhabitants’ irrepressible zest for life is reflected in the playful irreverence of their everyday speech.

  • Mitra, Rajendralala. Antiquities of Orissa. Vol. 2. Calcutta: W. Newman, 1880.

    The book contains a chapter on Puri (pp. 99–144), which includes an account of the town as it appeared to a Bengali scholar in the 1870s. He dwells at length on the architectural features of the Jagannath temple and the festivals celebrated there. He also throws light on temples in and around Puri dedicated to other deities.

  • Mukherjee, Prabhat. History of the Chaitanya Faith in Orissa. Delhi: Manohar, 1979.

    Mukherjee mentions that Chaitanya (b. 1486–d. 1533), the famous Vaishnava saint, after embracing the life of a sanyasi, spent most of the rest of his life in Puri. He makes references to the festivals celebrated in Puri, in some of which Chaitanya participated fervently. In this book, Puri emerges as an important meeting place for scholars from different parts of India belonging to various religious sects.

  • O’Malley, L. S. S. Bengal District Gazetteers: Puri. Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1908.

    The volume provides a richly detailed account of the place and people inhabiting it. An alphabetical list of important places comprises the final chapter of book. An entry on the town of Puri remains an indispensable guide to its history and traditions. Although dated, it retains much of its relevance even today. It may be noted that Puri was divided into three districts—Puri, Nayagarh, and Khordha—in 1993 and O’Malley’s gazetteer covers the undivided Puri district.

  • Pati, Biswamoy. “‘Ordering’ ‘Disorder’ in a Holy City: Colonial Health Interventions in Puri during the Nineteenth Century.” In Health, Medicine, and Empire: Perspectives on Colonial India. Edited by B. Pati and M. Harrison, 270–298. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2001.

    The essay focuses on colonial health interventions in Puri in the nineteenth century. It closely examines two reports prepared by F. J. Mouat and David Smith on the health and sanitary conditions of Puri. Pati contends that their recommendations were not implemented on account of the lack of seriousness on the part of the colonial government and its fear of backlash from “natives.”

  • Schömbucher, Elisabeth. “Inviting Deities into Lord Jagannātha’s Town: The Religious Practice of the Vādabalija Fishermen of Puri.” In Jagannath Revisited: Studying Society, Religion and the State in Orissa. Edited by Hermann Kulke and Burkhard Schnepel, 49–64. Delhi: Manohar, 2001.

    This book chapter constitutes a study of how a fishing community from Andhra Pradesh that migrated to Puri in the 1950s accommodate their deities into the prevailing religious ecosystem of the town. Their deities are invited into their new place of residence and are offered worship there. The study includes interviews with members of the Vadabalija community living in Pentakota in Puri and shows how complex and fascinating negotiations take place among diverse systems of religious faith and practice.

  • Smith, David B. Report on Pilgrimage to Juggernauth in 1868. Calcutta: Calcutta Central Press, 1868.

    In this volume one finds a detailed sanitary survey of Puri after the devastating famine of 1866. Contrary to the standard missionary accounts of the Ratha Yatra, Smith’s report presents the pilgrims assembled during the festival as “very orderly and well-behaved” and the “general demeanor of the people” as “dignified and decorous.” Smith also draws attention to the poor lodging facilities in the temple town and suggests remedial measures.

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