The Jagannatha Puri temple is built on a gigantic raised platform in the heart of the city. The temple complex is bounded by a wall about seven meters high; this includes the height of the platform. The surface area of this platform is over 420,000 sq. ft. This enclosure has 4 gates, facing the 4 directions. On the east-facing gate, there are stone images of 2 lions and it is called the Lion Gate. The north, south and west facing gates are called the Elephant Gate, Horse Gate and the Tiger Gate respectively. The Lion Gate is mainly meant for the Lord Himself in as much as, the logs of wood out of which the Deities are made of make their entry into the temple when the Nava-kalevera ceremony takes place. There are pyramidal erections over the four gates.
As we arrive at the vast open area in front of the Lion Gate, we see a ten meter tall monolithic pillar known as Aruna Stambha. According to scriptures, Aruna is the charioteer of the Sun-god. The world renowned Konark temple (also called Sun temple) was designed in the form of a breathtaking chariot and this pillar with the beautifully carved Aruna sitting on its top was installed right in front of the temple’s porch. When the temple was forsaken and there was no presiding deity in it, this pillar was removed from Konark and was fixed in front of Jagannatha temple in Puri where we see it now.
Immediately after we get into the main gate and go forward, we find a flight of steps. They are locally called Baisi Pahaca, literally meaning, 22 steps. The history of this flight of steps has not been revealed. Great reverence is shown to this flight of 22 steps. Parents bring their kids and make them roll over the steps from top to bottom in anticipation of spiritual bliss and devotees also walk on the steps which are believed to throb with spiritual vibrancy.
As we cross the main entrance and ascend the flight of steps to the main temple, we find to our left, the huge kitchen area of the temple. Some tourists comment that due to this kitchen, the Puri temple can be termed as the biggest hotel in the world. The kitchen can feed even one lakh people with only 2-3 hours’ notice. The process of preparation is hygienic and the traditional method of preparation of food for so many people in so short a time, surprises many people. To the right, within the enclosure is the market where prasadam is sold and it is popularly called Ananda Bazar. Ananda Bazar literally translates as pleasure market. At the end of the stairs, we have to cross another gate that enters a second compound wall and then we have to turn left to go towards the Ganesh temple. There are attractive carvings on the sides of this entrance of the inner compound wall.
As we cross the gate, we can see immediately in front of us, the first section of the Jagannatha temple which is called Bhoga Mandapa (Refectory). The other sections that are located to its west alongside are – Mukhasala, Nata Mandira and Bada Deula. On the tiled surface of the enormous Bhoga Mandapa, there are several sculptures that portray stories from the scriptures and they are very much appreciated by art-critics and pilgrims. There are about 30 temples around the main temple and to follow a time-honored practice; a devotee has to circumambulate the main temple. If one wants to see the main temple quickly, he has to visit at least three of the most important temples before coming to see Lord Jagannatha. The 3 main shrines are (i) Vimala temple (ii) Ganesh temple at the foot of the Kalpavata (a very old banyan tree) and (iii) Lakshmi temple.