Puri Town

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Puri Town, 1908

This article has been extracted from



Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Head-quarters of Puri District, Bengal, situated in 19° 48' N. and 85° 49' E., on the coast. It is celebrated as the site of the great temple of Jagannath, by which name it is commonly known. The population, which was 22,695 in 1872 and 22,095 in 1881, increased to 28,794 in 1891 and to 49,334 in 1901. During the great festivals the population is swollen by many thousands of pilgrims, and on the occasion of the Census of 1901 over 17,000 were present in the town. The ordinary resident population is therefore about 32,000, The number of houses in 1901 was 7,521. Puri was constituted a municipality in 1881. The income during the decade ending 1901-2 averaged Rs. 44,000, and the expenditure Rs. 36,000. In 1903-4 the income was Rs. 61,000, of which Rs. 19,000 was derived from a tax on houses and lands (or property tax) and Rs. 12,000 from a conservanry rate; and the expenditure was Rs. 47,000.

Puri is a city of lodging-houses, being destitute alike of manufactures or commerce on any considerable scale. The streets are mean and narrow, with the exception of the principal avenue which leads from the temple to the country house of Jagannath. The houses are built of wattle covered with clay, raised on platforms of hard mud about 4 feet high, and many of them gaily painted with Hindu gods or with scenes from the Sanskrit epics. The intervening sandhills between the town and the beach intercept the drainage, and aggravate the diseases to which the overcrowding of the pilgrims gives rise. A number of measures have recently been taken for the improvement of the sani- tary condition of the town. To prevent overcrowding, iron sheds and resthouses have been erected for the accommodation of excess pilgrims ; arrangements are being made to shelter indigent lepers ; steps have been taken to clean the Swetganga tanfo by means of a pulsemeter pump, and the water is used to flush the drains along the Baradand ; and a complete drainage scheme for the town is in contemplation.

The opening of the railway has greatly mitigated the dangers of the journey. Formerly thousands of pilgrims used to die annually upon the road from exhaustion and want of food. But now pilgrims visit Puri at all times during the year, and this has affected the number that flock to the town during the two chief festivals. Moreover, many pilgrims now hasten away as soon as the gods have left the temple and the dragging of the cars has commenced. For the poorer pilgrims who have to make the journey on foot, pilgrim hospitals have been opened along the Main lines of road, and a medical patrol has been established in the vicinity of the holy city. The great difficulty has been to check the overcrowding in Puri town, but much good has resulted from the work- ing of the Puri Lodging-house Act (Bengal Act IV of 1871).

The Government offices stand on the beach, with a sandy ridge between them and the town. The Mte is salubrious, and the monsoon blows so fresh and cool from the sea that in former days the officials from Cuttack used regularly to come to Puri during the kot season. During the rains it is less healthy. The District jail has accommodation for 126 prisoners, who are employed on oil-pressing and the manufacture of coir yarn. The chief educational institutions are the District school, to which is attached a hostel for non-resident students, the Haras Chandi Sahi middle school for the sons of the pandas or priests of Jagannath, and the Puri Sanskrit school.

The shrine of Jagannath is the region of pilgrimage beloved of Vishnu, known to every hamlet throughout India as the abode of Jagannath, the ‘ Lord of the World’ According to tradition, Jagannath made his first historical appearance in the year A. D. 318, when the priests fled with the sacred image and left an empty city to Rakta Bahu and his buccaneers. For 1 1/2 centuries the idol reMained buried in the western jungles, till a pious prince drove out the foreigners and brought back the deity. Three times it has been buried in the Chilka Lake; and whether the invaders were pirates from the sea or the devouring cavalry of Afghanistan, the first thing that the people saved iyas their god. The true source of Jagannath's undying hold upon the Hindu race consists in the fact that he is the god of the people.

The poor outcast learns that there is a city on the far eastern shore, in which priest and peasant are equal in the presence of the ' Lord of the World.’ In the courts of Jagannath and outside the Lion Gate thousands of pilgrims every year join in the sacrament of eating the holy food, the sanctity of which overleaps all barriers of caste, for a Puri priest will receive food even from a low-caste Hindu. The worship of Jagannath aims at a Catholicism which embraces every form of Indian belief and every Indian conception of the deity. He is Vishnu under whatever form and by whatever title men call upon his name. The fetishism of the aboriginal races, the nature-worship of the Vedas, and the lofty spiritualism of the great Indian reformers, have alike found refuge here. Besides thus representing Vishnu in all his manifestations, the priests have superadded the worship of the other members of the Hindu trinity in their various shapes, and the disciple of every Hindu sect can find his beloved rites and some form of his chosen deity within the sacred precincts.

It has been supposed that the worship of Jagannath is an adaptation by the Brahmans of some Buddhist cult. Puri probably was the original place where the famous tooth relic of Buddha was worshipped ; and it is noticeable that the wooden image of Jagannath contains a certain article, about which the priests Maintain perfect silence, and which is never replaced by another new piece, whenever the image is renewed. The crude form of the images of Jagannath, his brother Balaram, and his sister Subhadra, with their round shapeless heads and their arms represented by stumps only, strangely resembles the Buddhist symbol of a wheel supported by a trisula or trident. The abolition of caste rules in regard to the mahaprasad, or the sacred food cooked in the temple, recalls the protest of Buddhism against caste prejudices. In some modem representations of the ten incarna- tions of Vishnu, the place of the ninth or Buddha incarnation (avatar) is occasionally occupied by the figure of Jagannath.

The temple appears to have been built by king Choda Ganga in the second half of the twelfth century, not, as tradition has it, by Ananga Bhlma. It soon became famous, and the devotion of centuries has made Jagannath a very wealthy god ; the income was estimated in 1877 at more than 7 lakhs, though the temple authorities deny that it reaches anything like so high a figure and allege that it is only a little over one lakh. The immediate attendants on the god are divided into 36 orders and 97 classes, at the head of whom is the Raja of Khurda, the representative of the ancient royal house of Orissa, who takes upon himself the lowly office of sweeper to Jagannath. Decora- tors of the idol, priests of the wardrobe, cooks, dancing-girls, grooms, and artisans of every sort follow. A special department keeps up the tempie records, and affords a literary asylum to a few learned men.

The sacred enctoswe is ready in the form of a square, 652 feet long by 630 broad. The interior is protected from profone eyes- by a massive stone wall 20 feet high. Within rise about 120 temples dedicated to the various forms in which the Hindu mind has imagined its god. But the great pagoda is the one dedicated to Jagannath. Its conical tower rises like an elaborately carved sugar-loaf, 192 feet high and surmounted by the mystic wheel and flag of Vishnu. Outside the principal entrance, or Lion Gate, in the square where the pilgrims chiefly throng, is an exquisite monolithic pillar, which stood for centuries before the temple of the Sun at Konarak. The temple of Jagannath consists of four chambers, communicating with each other : namely, the hall of offerings ; the pillared hall for the musicians and dancing-girls; the hall of audience; and lastly the sanctuary itself, containing rude images of Jagannath, his brother Balaam, and his sister Subhadra. The service of the temple consists partly in a daily round of oblations, and partly in sumptuous ceremonials at stated periods throughout the year. The offerings are bloodless ; but, never- theless, within the sacred enclosure is a shrine to Bimala, the stainless queen of the Ail-Destroyer, who is annually adored with bloody sacrifices.

Twenty-four festivals are held, consisting chiefly of Vaishnavite commemorations, but freely adinitting the ceremonials of other sects. The car festival, which takes place in June or July, is the chief event of the year. The great car is 45 feet in height and 35 feet square, and is supported on 16 wheels of 7 feet diameter. The brother and sister of Jagannath have separate cars a few feet smaller. When the sacred images are at length brought forth and placed upon their chariots, thousands fall on their knees and bow their foreheads in the dust. The vast multitude shouts with one throat, and surging back- wards and forwards, drags the wheeled edifices down the broad street towards the country house of the god. Music strikes up before and behind, drums beat, cymbals clash, the priests harangue from the cars, and singers engaged for the purpose chant coarse songs to induce the crowd to pull vigorously. The distance from the temple to the country house is about a mile ; but as the heavy structures have no contrivance to guide them and the wheels sink into the sand which in some places covers the road, the journey sometimes takes several days.

The cars are dragged from the temple to the country house by the assembled pilgrims and by some of the townspeople who hold revenue- free lands granted to them as remuneration for the work ; when the pilgrims are insufficient to drag the cars back, coolies are engaged from the neighbouring villages. In 1904 the pilgrims alone pulled the cars to the country house in four hours and brought them back again to the temple without such assistance. In a closely packed eager throng of 100,000 men and women, many of them unaccus- tomed to exposure or labour, and all of them tugging and straining at the cars to the utmost under a blazing sun, deaths must occa- sionally happen. At one time several people were killed or injured every year, but these were almost invariably the result of accidental trampling. The few cases of suicide that did occur were for the most part those of diseased and miserable objects, who took this means to put themselves out of pain. The official returns place this beyond doubf. Nothing, indeed, <?ould be more opposed to the spirit of Vishnu-worship than self-immolation. Accidental death within the temple renders the whole place unclean,

The pandas or temple priests employ a body of emissaries, number- ing about 3,000 men, who wander from village to village within their allotted beats, preaching pilgrimage as the liberation from sin; they travel through India in this way, enlisting pilgrims and receiving a commission for so doing. Nothing can exceed the liberality of the pilgrims to their spiritual guides; but it is to be feared that this liberality is preyed upon, and that many pilgrims are in a state of destitution before the time comes for them to turn their backs upon the holy city and set their faces once more homewards. In 1902 a fund was started for the relief of destitute pilgrims, It has now been placed on a permanent basis, and is managed by a committee of five non-official and three official members. The District Magistrate is the president of the committee ; Government makes an annual grant equal to the amount that is raised by subscriptions and donations, subject to a maximum of Rs, 1,000 a year. The object of the fund is to afford relief to destitute pilgrims, especially in the shape of travelling and diet expenses, and thus enable them to return to their homes.

The town contains several ancient tanks, which are regarded as tirthas or sacred places and in which the pilgrims bathe from religious motives. On its wesstern outskirts, at a distance of about 2 miles from the Great Temple, stands the sacred temple of Loknath, or ' Lord of Regions’ The divinity is held in very great esteem by the people of the District, and the place is largely visited.

[Sir W. W. Hunter, Orissa, vol. i, pp. 81-167.]

The 21st century

Purified drinking water: 2021

Debabrata Mohapatra, July 27, 2021: The Times of India

Purified drinking water in Puri: 2021
From: Debabrata Mohapatra, July 27, 2021: The Times of India

Puri, which attracts two crore tourists every year, has earned the distinction of becoming the first Indian city to get round-theclock piped pure drinking water. Launching “Sujal — Drink from Tap Mission” via a virtual platform, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik said on Monday Puri has joined cities like London, New York and Singapore in supplying quality piped drinking water from taps 24x7.

“The launch… in Puri is a new chapter in Odisha’s development. It makes the heritage city the first in India to achieve this milestone, matching the standards of supply of drinking water in many foreign cities,” Patnaik said.

‘Water scheme will eliminate use of 3 crore plastic bottles’

Around 2.5 lakh people of Puri and two crore tourists visiting the city every year can now get quality drinking water from taps, doing away with the need to store and filter water,” Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik said.

Drinking water fountains have been set up at 400 locations in the pilgrim town to ensure that visitors don’t carry plastic bottles. The government hopes that the Sujal piped water scheme will eliminate the use of 3 crore plastic bottles, thereby preventing the formation of 400 metric tonnes of plastic waste in Puri every year.

“Sujal, which is a transformative project under the government’s 5T charter (Transparency, teamwork, technology, time frame and transformation), has been commissioned in only nine months. The project will subsequently be extended to 16 other urban localities,” he said. Quality drinking water is closely linked with good health, the human development index and the economy, the chief minister said.

The initiative has been launched under the “Jalsathi” programme and involves joining hands with women’s self-help groups (SHGs) under Mission Shakti, a state initiative to empower women, as per government.


Sushmita Choudhury and Debabrata Mohapatra, August 5, 2021: The Times of India

Sources: Jal Jeevan Samvad, World Bank, Down to Earth, News reports, Odisha Government’s Drink from Tap Communication Strategy, Press Information Bureau

The Puri project, Highlights of how Puri managed to get drinking water in all its taps, as in August 2021
From: Sushmita Choudhury and Debabrata Mohapatra, August 5, 2021: The Times of India
Where you can drink tap water, as in August 2021
Source: Globehunters;
From: Sushmita Choudhury and Debabrata Mohapatra, August 5, 2021: The Times of India
Households with tap water supply, as on 15th August 2019- 30th June 2021
From: Sushmita Choudhury and Debabrata Mohapatra, August 5, 2021: The Times of India

Sanekusi is just 55km from Guwahati, yet not one house in this Assamese village has access to tap water supply. They have cellphones, a couple of the well-off households boast TVs, Covid-19 vaccination started several months ago, yet life for the majority of the villagers still begins with a workout at the tube well.

So when the septuagenarian priest of the local temple heard of Puri’s recent feat in promising 24x7 safe drinking water on tap, he called it a miracle. “It must be a miracle because it was Lord Jagannath’s place that made this possible, not a big city like Delhi or Mumbai,” said Dharmeshwar Sarma.

Lord Jagannath or a chief minister who seems determined to provide water on tap to the entire state, the fact is that engineers, scientists, and more joined hands to ensure that Puri became the first Indian city with piped drinking water.

Given that in urban India, as many as 50 million people lack access to safe, affordable drinking water, as per a UNICEF India report, the temple town has certainly made history. “The launch of ‘Sujal: drink from tap mission’ in Puri is a new chapter in Odisha’s development. It makes the heritage city the first in India to achieve this milestone, matching the standards of supply of drinking water in many foreign cities,” said Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

He added that around 2.5 lakh people of Puri can now get quality drinking water from taps, doing away with the need to store and filter water. Furthermore, drinking water fountains have been set up at 400 locations to ensure that the two crore annual visitors do not need to carry plastic bottles. This, the government hopes, will reduce plastic waste by 400 metric tonnes.

With this achievement, Puri becomes the first city in the country to put a tick mark against Goal 6 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all' by 2030.

How did this drinking water project begin? 
 It started in October 2017, when chief minister Naveen Patnaik launched an ambitious project – to provide tap water supply to every house in the state. With the state machinery geared towards this, the target was achieved in two years. In Puri alone, water supply connections were provided to 76% of the households by 2018-19. In comparison, as per the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) 76th round, only 40.9% of households in urban India boasted piped water connections in the same period.

With tap water no longer a distant dream, Patnaik set his sights higher; in August 2019, he announced that his government would begin work to supply guaranteed, drinking quality water through the taps.

In October 2020, the government set out to cover Puri city under the state-funded “drink from tap” mission. The target was to provide IS-10500 quality continuous piped water supply to every household in Puri city – including about 66,000 persons living in slums and the annual tourist population of two crore.

The logistics involved

It took the Odisha government nine months to put in place a fool-proof technology to ensure proper filtration, monitoring, continuous quality check of the water, and cleaning of the storage areas, to supply pure water through taps 24x7. The entire project cost Rs 24 crore, and the government outsourced the job to a private agency.

To ensure purity and quality of the tapped drinking water, the government adopted methods involving state-of-the-art engineering features such as real time surveillance of water quality parameters at every few hundred meters of pipe network system, automatic sensors, activators, 100% metering of house connections, smart water management techniques with Geographic Information System (GIS)-based consumer and asset mapping.

Is this free?

The state government charges a connection fee of Rs 3,600. For those who cannot afford to pay this upfront, the government offers an interest free instalment system at Rs 100 a month for 3 years. Poor households have been completely exempted from payment of connection fees.

“We have a quick redressal of consumer complaints through real time surveillance of the water supply operations, establishment of 24X7 customer service centre attached with exclusive quick response teams for immediate resolution of issues. Besides, “on the spot water quality test” with deployment of “lab on wheels” are with us to help maintain high quality services,” secretary of Odisha housing and urban development department, G Mathi Vathanan said.

Which city is next in line?

The state government plans to replicate similar facilities in 17 more urban centres including the Odisha capital Bhubaneswar in the next two years. Around Rs 900 crore will be spent from state’s resources for the purpose of extending the quality piped water supply in other places.

How many countries offer drinkable tap water?

Of the 195 countries in the world, only around 70 currently have safe to drink tap water. These countries include those in Europe and North America, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in Asia. Several Middle East nations, including Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel, also make the cut (some of these countries are marked in the map below).

However, with piped water supply, it is crucial to regularly monitor the water quality. For instance, although tap water in the US is considered safe to drink, in recent times there have been reports of lead contamination from aging pipes and other toxic particles in the water supply in several cities, including Washington DC. In the case of Puri, sources say that the drinking water will be sourced from the Mangala river. To ensure purity and quality of the water, the district administration has installed an online water quality analyser at the Mangala Ghat water treatment plant.

Where does India’s water scarcity fit in?

While pan-India access to safe drinking water on tap is certainly desirable, at the same time the country will have to think long and hard about water management and conservation. According to the World Bank, India is home to 18% of the global population but has only 4% of the global water resources. Its per capita water availability is around 1,100 cubic metre (m3), well below the internationally recognised threshold of water stress of 1,700 m3 per person, and dangerously close to the threshold for water scarcity of 1,000 m3 per person. In fact, the availability of water per person in the country has fallen almost 400% in the last 60 years.

South African city Cape Town’s brush with Day Zero, the point when the city would be forced to shut off its municipal water supply due to paucity of the resource, should serve as a lesson. It would be a sad state of affairs for the country to be forced to go back to community water taps like the South African city currently after enjoying the benefits of potable tap water.

In the face of Cape Town's water scarcity in 2018, the city authorities introduced strict water rationing

What about Har Ghar Jal? 
 While Odisha is now working to extend the Sujal mission to 16 other urban localities, the rest of the country at this point can only dream about drinking tap water directly like in the developed countries. The focus of the Modi government currently is the Jal Jeevan Mission of the Ministry of Jal Shakti.

The campaign aims to provide a Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC) to every rural household by 2024. The idea is to ensure water supply at a service level of 55 litre per capita per day (lpcd) through a tap connection. Since the launch of this campaign on August 15, 2019, more than 4.63 lakh households have been provided with tap water connection. In five states and Union Territories – Telangana, most recently – every household now boasts tap water supply.

But on the flipside, less than half the households in 17 states and Union Territories have tap water connections as of August 2. It’s not due to a paucity of funds, either. The Modi government allocated Rs 2.87 lakh crore for the Jal Jeevan Mission over five years in the Union Budget 2021.

“Work is yet to be started in about 3.86 lakh (63%) villages, mainly in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Assam,” noted Bharat Lal, Additional Secretary and Mission Director National Jal Jeevan Mission in June.

Why is this a problem? 
 Niti Aayog’s 2019 composite water management index noted that India’s per person disease burden due to unsafe water and sanitation is 12 times higher than Sri Lanka’s and 40 times higher than China’s.

Over 2.33 lakh children in India die of pneumonia and diarrhoea before reaching their 5th birthday, according to the 2020 Pneumonia and Diarrhoea Progress Report. That’s 26 children every hour, making India one of the world’s 15 highest burden countries, the report released by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and International Vaccine Access Center added.

Furthermore, when water comes from improved and more accessible sources, people spend less time and effort physically collecting it, which in turn means that they can be productive in other ways. According to the World Health Organisation, every dollar investment on providing clean water and sanitation to citizens leads to a return of $5.5 in a country.

So, installing water pipes is only one part of the challenge. The bigger problem is to ensure safe water supply. As Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF Associate Director, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Section, put it, “Mere access is not enough. If the water isn’t clean, isn’t safe to drink or is far away, and if toilet access is unsafe or limited, then we’re not delivering for the world’s children.”

See also

International Puri Beach Festival

Jagannath culture/ cult

Jagannath Puri: temple

Jagannath Puri: temple cuisine

Puri, the pilgrimage (main page)

Puri District, 1908

Puri Subdivision, 1908

Puri Town

Puri, Dasnami Sannyasis

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