City Monument – Jagannath Temple, Hauz Khas Road
Vision in white.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Amid acres of dusty brown ruins, rises an apparition in spotless white.
This afternoon, Sree Jagannath Mandir is looking like an edifice of ice. The only notable interruption to its serene whiteness is the flag atop its shikhar, sporting the playful colour of summertime Amaltas. And those grey pigeons too, restlessly perched along the temple’s towering shikhar, like mountaineers on the Everest slopes.
Overlooking the Hauz Khas Village road, the temple has been holding its own since the 1970s, in a historic district over-saturated with centuries-old monuments. The inner sanctum is presided over by the trinity of Bhagwan Jagannath, the black-faced idol with round staring eyes, his brother Balbhadra, and their sister Subhadra. Jagannath is a Vishnu avatar, mutters priest Parmanand Sathpathy, reverently preparing a bowl of sacred tulsi-flavoured water. He shares his homeland Odisha with the world’s greatest shrine to Sree Jagannath. Every year, in Odisha’s coastal town of Puri, a rath yatra is undertaken, in which the three deities are carried out in a chariot wheeling through massive crowds of pilgrims. The procession is propelled into such unbelievable kinetic energy that, once set in motion, it appears unstoppable. The English word juggernaut is borne out of this phenomenon.
This year’s rath yatra is to begin next month, on 20th June. That day, the Hauz Khas Village road will fill up with pilgrims, drawing very many Oriya speakers of the Delhi region. Some of these fellow citizens might opt for temples closer to their home, for shrines dedicated to Jagannath exist in Gurgaon (sector 15), Ghaziabad (Vaishali), Noida (sector 121), as well as in Faridabad (sector 15A). But the grandest of all the Jagannath temples in the capital region is here, at Hauz Khas, priest Parmanand asserts.
As the evening progresses, the temple courtyard grows thicker with devotees. Snuggled on papa’s lap, little Ishant’s large buttony eyes widen on spotting a crouching lion’s flame-like tongue. The child puts his hand inside the lion’s roaring mouth. The statue is one of the temple’s singhdwar, the child’s father explains.
Meanwhile, the Amaltas-hued flag is starting to flutter more rapidly. A dust storm might be approaching.