Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Postcard From Puri: Jagannath Dham, Odisha

A replica of Jagannath temple deities in Ahemdabad
Replica of Jagannath Dham deities in a temple in Ahmedabad.

Happiness is...
finding an old family album.

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A lot can happen over a photo album.

Photo albums often act as the wifi connection to a part of our past which has been left untouched since many long years.

Connections… which often translate into memories captured by the heart, sometimes shy of renown, and yet full of joy, reflection and wonder.

I recently dusted and pulled out an old photo album from my closet and as I browsed through its dog eared pages, I was instantly transported to a couple of decades back in time.

The album had 'Puri' written on it in a neat, carefully penned cursive writing, my brother's, who must have been around 12 at that time. I rolled my fingers on the words before thumbing through several faded pictures sticking to the plastic cover, trying to bring the memories to life.

So, there were pictures of the four of us posing in front of the Jagannath Puri temple with the Lord of the Universe, Lord Jagannath presiding over us and the gorgeous architecture towering behind us. In another, we were seen laughing, playing with the waves and splashing water on each other on the Puri beach and ah, here was me and my brother posing in the balcony of our hotel room fighting for frame space and there we went again! This time in front of the famous stone wheel engraved in the walls of the 13th century beauty carved in sandstone, the Konark Sun temple!

Jagannath Puri Photo from the Konark Sun Temple
The boy with a know-it-all kinda mischievous glint in his eyes and this petite girl, awww!
but I honestly don’t have a clue as to why was I smirking?

(Edit: My brother tells me it was because I wasn’t been given the camera to click pictures!!) 

For the next two hours, I found myself enjoying a parade of sweet memories conjured by the humble pictures revolving around our yatra to Shree Jagannath Dham, one of the four sacred 'chaar dhams' (four vital Vaishnava pilgrimage points set by Guru Shankaracharya) that lie in the four directions of the Indian compass viz. Badrinath Temple in the north, Jagannath Puri in the east, Dwarka in the west and Rameshwaram Temple in the south.

I reminisced of the times when we, as a family, were fonder of all of us posing in the picture frame as unlike now when I prefer taking pictures minus any member of the family in it.

A wisp of nostalgia was here, for company.

Out of the plethora of Puri hotels, my parents had chosen one from where we enjoyed a wonderfully spectacular unobstructed view of the mighty health-giving ocean from the balcony and a private access to the beach.

Interestingly, I realized, how vaguely I remembered the place itself – the intricacies of the many small but nevertheless significant temples dotting the vibrant and living Puri temple, the image of the Jagannath Mahaprabhu along with His sibling Balabhadra and Subhadra, the forts, palaces, stupas, beauties in ruins – I didn’t remember much of any of it except that the hallowed grounds of Jagannath Mandir, which draws millions of devouts from all over the world throughout the year, was a massive huge place.

Perhaps, the reason behind such forgetfulness was because I had not captured these moments … even though I was travelling and could be seen in most of the pictures, I wasn’t really present from a place where I could allow life to touch me, surprise me, wash me, nourish me, and transform me. There was this all important pilgrimage to Jagannath Dham and quite a few pictures captured in pixels but hardly one that I could pick and call to be really really mine.

However, one thing that was purely for mine to keep, and cherish, was the joy that sprang in my heart as I kept savoring the beautiful love palpable between the people in focus … the kind that could only be felt beyond the roll of the photo film … the kind that could only be seen within the pixels of the photo album.

As I proceeded to keep the album back in the cabinet, I felt my heart, full in gratitude and my lips beaming in joy.  How time had flown! ... meandering through the realms of the past, connecting to the abyss of memories, watching moments play through the reel of time. 

A lot can happen over a photo album.

Photo Albums can take you to places from your past and then, before you know it, in your own heart as well so that you can dig out a fresh pale of joy from the well of happiness. 

Jagannath Puri Dham, Orrisa, Pinterest

Why not go, and grab one of your old photo albums from the closet today?!!
And oh, please DO come back to tell me about it!
I'd love to hear all the interesting tales you found in your antique!

A Few Fast Facts From Jagannath Puri Temple, Odisha!

  • One of the chaar dhams located in Odisha, a small state in East India, Jagannath Puri temple (Shrimandira) is dedicated to Lord Jagannath (a form of Vishnu) and was built in the year 1078.
  • Apparently, the flag atop the temple is said to flutter in the opposite direction of the breeze but this claim has not yet been fully verified by all.
  • The images of the deities are carved in wood unlike the common tradition followed in other temples where deities are generally worshipped in stone or metal.
  • The engineering structure of the temple is such that the shadow of the main dome does not fall on the ground at any time.
  • The wheel of time, the ultimate weapon of Lord Vishnu, Sudarshana Chakra, installed 2000 years ago on top of the temple, can be seen to always face towards you, irrespective of where you stand.
  • Usually in coastal areas during the day-time, the breeze blows from the sea towards the land and during evening hours it blows from the land towards the sea. But Puri does not follow the status quo – here, this scenario is reversed
  • The one of its kind Jagannath Rath Yatra meaning the festival of the chariots is perhaps the most popular and unique chariot festivals of the world dating back to the puranas. It’s a time when the Lord Himself, in His original Self, steps out of the temple to meet His devotees during the month of Asadha allowing everyone an equal opportunity for a holy view or darshan. Seated alongside are His siblings Subhadra and Balabhadra, ad together the three deities are taken from the Jagannath Temple in the chariots amid interesting rituals and much fanfare to the Gundicha Temple, where they stay for seven days.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Unlocking Umbria: 5 Ways How I Dream Of Discovering This Region Someday!

Recently someone mentioned Umbria in one of my conversations over email. The conversation ended and we both went our separate ways but the name stuck with me.


Curious, I googled to see and read more about this place and before I knew, I was busy oohing and aahing over a heap of jaw-dropping images.

Mystical Umbria, Italy
Aha, so there it was: Umbria was in Italy!

I closed my eyes for a second as my heart skipped a beat and my mind raced across time zones playing tricks with my imagination.

Arti, how would it be if you were to rent a house in Umbria and go about exploring this part of the world?

I heard a tiny voice within.

Immediately, my lips parted in a wide smile and my eyes opened again to devour all the beauty that remained, this time with a renewed vigor, a heightened sense of enthusiasm and wonder!

Countryside Umbria, Green heart of Italy

How picturesque everything was: the lush green landscape, the pristine hills, woods and valleys of the countryside, the historical towns winding across the highways, untouched and untainted with not a person in sight, crammed with the bountiful treasures of centuries old architecture, art, culture and traditions preserved from the past … the montage of sights that played before my eyes on the computer screen were endless sending my dream liner flight of fantasy in a delightful tizzy!

Umbria Speaks in Silences!

Umbria was clearly rich in her visual appeal, very very rich, in fact. But it was the tangible feeling of peace and tranquility washing me ever so subtly that drew me even more closely to the region.

Peaceful landscape at lake Traismeno, Umbria, Italy

Perhaps, the balming peace was the result of the fact that Umbria was also the birthplace of several saints like St Benedict and St Francis of Assisi being the most famous, and for religious traditions that earned the region such names as Umbra santa, Umbra mistica and la terra dei santi (the land of saints).

Perhaps, the secret to the balming peace lay in the fact that Umbria never believed in beating her own trumpet, even happily letting herself be sidelined, almost ignored, by Irish tourists which for centuries had put more spotlight and popularity on her glamorous neighbors – Tuscany, Rome, Florence and Venice – aptly justifying the name Umbria which is associated with the word Ombria meaning shadow in Italian.

Or perhaps, it was simply another one of those secrets that Umbria oh-so-neatly tucked beneath her surface, for the seriously discerning, classy and inquisitive visitors who were willing to get past the sparkle and the glam and step in the shadows, beyond the glitz of the canals and bridges and other things known, to discover all the exciting, veiled and deeper things, unknown!

Whatever the reason of Umbria’s beguiling appeal, one glimpse of the region left me bewitched enough to sit up and take notice, and I couldn’t help but take my wide-eyed-dream further by jotting down a small list of things that I would love to experience if I ever got an opportunity to actually discover Umbria someday!

Taking the pilgrim trail to Assisi.

High up on my list comes taking the pilgrim trail to this town of roman origin, Assisi, best known as the birthplace as also the burial place of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and nature. I remember being introduced to his prayer as a student of my Catholic school:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

St Francis Di Assisi Chapel, Umbria, Italy

With his words already ringing in my heart, I would love to be enthralled by his profound legacy in person through the imposing Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi. Walking beneath the immense cathedral brimming with innovative and beautiful frescoes depicting his life scenes by the likes of Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini and bathing in the quiet tranquility would be quite an enlightening experience for sure!

Watching the Sunset in Piazza

In Perugia, the capital of Umbria, I would love to walk over and into the historic maze of narrow cobbled streets leading to the widely celebrated Piazza IV Novembre, once the meeting point for the ancient Etruscan and Roman civilizations. Framed by aesthetically pleasing tiled roofs stretching over the hills and tastefully done Italian architecture, the Piazza is the place where I fascinate standing in the center and ending my day.

ask how?

Piazza in Perugia, Umbria, Italy

By simply gaping at the last bits of the setting sun; the rose-petaled hues in the sky above juxtaposed with the jewel toned hues of the monuments below, and me standing in the midst of such colorful intensity! Me thinks, it would make for a fine landscape treat after having spent hours discovering the historical riches of the region, what say?

Immersing in Nature’s Solitude at Lake Trasimeno

Umbria’s largest lake Lake Trasimeno has 3 islands, 2 of which have ferry services to them. Surrounded by pretty old villages unaltered by the passage of time, isolated castles, low ring of mountains and cities perched on panoramic hilltops, the lake is touted as the blue heart of a green Umbria!

Solitude is the only word that came to my mind as I savored the sights of Lake Trasimeno sitting in my armchair.

Peaceful landscape at lake Traismeno, Umbria, Italy

The lake looked enticing, like a poem waiting to be written by a poet… a song waiting to be sung, a painting waiting to be painted. Not sure if I am capable to do justice to any of these things, but I would definitely love to explore more of the charming beauty, wander in the woods, go off beat, discover a perfect spot to sit and simply immerse myself in the quiet thrill of nature’s solitude.

And oh! As an afterthought, there is indeed one thing that I can do apart from the creatives mentioned above: After coming back, I promise to write a blog on it!

Exploring the hillside starting from Marmore waterfalls To ValNerina beyond.

Ever heard of a MAN-MADE waterfall?

Fret not if your answer is no. You are not alone!

Man made Marmore waterfalls, Umbria, Italy

Wrapped up in a green forest, is an incomparable beauty constructed almost 2000 years ago called Marmore Falls. Jumping down from an impressive height of 165 m, with two rivers merging together like long lost lovers, the sight of the cascading man made waterfall, the largest in the world was not only novel but also awe-inspiring to say the least. I wondered what it would be to get up to and into the balcony of lovers, a small terrace at the end of a tunnel excavated in the rock, and actually soak myself in this divine spectacle. Who knows, I could even try my hand at a few extreme sports activities!

Getting lost in Valnerina and finding a Gelato!

From the divinity of the Marmore waterfalls, where next?

Villages of Valnerina, Umbria Italy

Driving to the lovely valley of Valnerina, passing through a string of beautiful villages, halting when I feel like it, sniffing the air of freedom and taking my time to explore the enchanting wooded hillsides, poplar trees or photogenic bridges would be a great delight. I would be ending my day breaking ice with people over guess what?! ICE-CREAMS! I’d be so excited to try their gelatos (apparently also the world's best!), and I read they have one such parlour under the beautiful village of Arrone.

See this picture!

Gelato Ice cream, Umbria, Italy

Can’t wait to unlock the key to my Italian dream called Umbria because I know, how much more colorful and vibrant dreams can look when they jump out from the screen in your life for real... and why not? Yes, someday!

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Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.
– Anna Akhmatova. 

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Been to Umbria or dream of being someday?
I’d love to hear about your favourites:
the towns and villages and experiences that you'd like to have –
leave a comment below and share your dreams!

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Disclosure: This post contains a sponsored link but all the opinions, as always, are my own. All images from Pixabay!