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As kitchen utensils: Earthen pots handcrafted by artisans are used in Jagannath temple’s kitchen to cook food. Approximately 1000 to 10000 clay pots are used daily and everyday a new batch of earthen pots are brought to the temple to be used for cooking. These pots are used to cook rice, dal, curry and other dishes and are kept atop wooden hearths. Since a variety of dishes are to be cooked in these pots, different sizes of pots are used to cook different items. The food is prepared employing a unique technique. Seven clay pots are arranged one over another, secured with jute ropes, and the whole setup is then placed on the firewood.
To eat Mahaprasad: Not only are these earthen pots used to cook food, they are also used to serve the mahaprasad. Every devotee, regardless of their caste, creed and gender are served the mahaprasad in these pots. To exercise the principle of equality and to ensure that no one is discriminated against in the house of god, every devotee is expected to eat from these pots.
As containers- The artisans in Odisha also make smaller bowls known as olis to offer prasad to the god. These olis are also used to store curd and keep it cold. Since earthen pots are known to retain the quality of the food stored in them, they are useful to keep food items hot or cold for a prolonged period of time.
Adhara Pana ritual- During Adhara Pana Ritual, which entails serving 100 litres of pana (mixture of milk cream, cheese, sugar, banana, camphor, nutmeg, black pepper and other such spices) to the gods, specially made terracotta pots are used.
Besides the Jagannath temple, clay utensils made at Kumbharpada are also exported to other shrines in Odisha such as Ananta Vasudeva, Lingaraj etc.
Jagannath Puri is one of the renowned Char Dhaam religious shrines in the country. Local belief affirms that lord Vishnu (who lord Jagannath is an incarnation of) visits all four pilgrimage sites. At Rameshwaram, he takes a bath followed by meditation at Badrinath. Then, he settles at Jagannath Puri for a meal and rests at Dwarka. Hence, this makes the preparation and consumption of food in Jagannath Puri especially auspicious. Since lord Vishnu himself dines at Puri, all ingredients, items and vessels used to prepare and eat food are of paramount importance. Since food is only cooked in red earthenware pots in the temple’s kitchen, it accords them a remarkable status in Hindu spirituality and traditions.
Other than earthen pots, no other vessels are used to cook the temple’s mahaprasad. According to Ayurvedic beliefs, when food is cooked in earthenware pots, the clay traps and retains a majority of the nutrients in the food. This makes the food more appetising and healthier than if it was cooked in metal vessels. According to Ayurvedic principles, food cooked in earthenware helps reduce acidity due to their alkaline properties and also prevents the consumption of chemicals found in plastic and metallic containers. The clay for the pots is also considered to possess healing properties and improves metabolism.
Everyday, new pots are crafted by the artisans to supply to the temple’s kitchen. No pot is used more than once to cook and serve food to the gods and the devotees. A study revealed that one big pot can cook rice in 15 mins and this rice can be consumed by 10-12 people. Hence, one batch of pots (nine pots that are placed on the hearth at the same time) can feed up to 100 people at a time. Now, there are 175 hearths in the kitchen that are only used to cook rice. This implies that in 15 minutes, approximately 17,500 people can be served piping hot rice! A little over 20,000 people visit the temple everyday and are served food in this manner. Pots make up an exceptional part of this chain and cannot be possibly replaced by modern vessels. Metal utensils require washing after one use and are also not cost-effective. On the other hand, earthen pots are cheap, readily available and can be disposed of without creating much waste. The study also concluded that within three hours, more than one lakh people can be fed in Jagannath Puri’s kitchen which is touted as the world’s largest kitchen!
The design on the earthen pots is quite fascinating too. Made by beating the pot with curved wooden tools, the design looks similar to petals and fish scales. This design is characteristic of Puri’s pots and gives the pottery its unique charm. The design is not lavish and excessive because the pots are not design pieces but are actually utilised to cook and serve food. Due to rapid industrialisation and wide leaps in technology, many products are now being manufactured by machines. Even in such a time and age, artisans in Puri especially craft earthenware pots for the temple everyday. Since the inception of mahaprasad offerings in the temple, the potter community in Odisha has been responsible for crafting earthenware pots for the temple’s use. The use of these pots have survived the tide of time and hence, naturally, this handcrafted item holds great significance in this day and age.
What is Mahaprasad
There are four sacred Hindu shrines in India which have been accorded the status of Chaar Dham. One of them is the Jagannath temple at Puri which is known for its vibrant Rath Yatra and delicious mahaprasad. According to local legend, all four shrines house different incarnations of lord Vishnu and at Puri, the great lord eats his meals. Hence, the temple’s mahaprasad acquires a special flavour and is considered to be a divine meal.
Also known as Chappan Bhog, the mahaprasad of Jagannath Puri consists of 56 food items. Primarily, two types of mahaprasad are sold in the temple’s Anand Bazaar. These are the sakundi mahaprasad and the sukhila mahaprasad. The former consists mainly of rice dishes, curries, ghee, dal, porridge and vegetable preparations. Dry sweet meals are characteristic of the sukhila mahaprasad.
Besides sakundi and sukhila mahaprasad, another variety of prasad known as nimalya is sold too. Nirmalya mainly consists of dry rice. It is believed that this rice has been dried in Kaivalya Vaikunth. Flower garlands and sandalwood paste which have been offered to the lord also comprise nirmalya. According to local belief, if a devotee is offered nirmalya on their deathbed, then they surely attain a place in heaven.
On a daily basis, six meals are offered to the lord and the other gods housed in the Puri shrine. These are the Gopal Vallabh Bhog, Sakala Dup, Chatra Bhog, Madhyayan Dhup, Sandhya Dhup and Bada Simhara Bhog. All these meals are offered to the lord at a stipulated time in the day and consist of a certain number of items. Some items in the meals are local Oriya dishes while others like khichdi and saag are commonly known. Following are the specifics of each meal-
Gopal Vallabh Bhog
The first offering of the Prasad to Lord Jagannath is made at 8:30 am. Seven dishes are a part of this meal considered to be breakfast for the lord. They are Khua (Condensed milk), Lahuni (Butter), Nadia Kora (grated sweet coconut), coconut water, Khai (rice puffs sweetened with sugar) and Dahi (curd), and Pachila Kadali (ripe bananas).
At 10 am, another offering known as Sakala Dhup that is the first cooked meal is made. The temple’s helpers known as sevaks offer this meal in 16 upchars. Dahi Amlu, Hanskeli, Sanakanti, Bundi, Nukhura Khichdi, Majuri Khichdi, Dal Khichdi and Ada Pachedi are part of this meal.
Bhog Mandap is served half an hour later according to the demand of the devotees.
Madhyadhan Dhup is offered at 12:30 by performing 16 upchars. Different types of sweet cakes are offered during this Puja like Bada Pitha ,Bada Arisa,Matha Puli,bada Bada, Sana Kakara, Jhadei Naada,Gaja, Biri Badi, kadamba Handi ,Bada Oli Marichi Pani , Pita Anna, Marichi Ladu jadeinada Gula, Tripuri.
This meal is served between 7 and 8 pm, after the evening aarti has been performed. Items are also prepared on request of devotees. The following items are presented for this Bhog. Chipuda Pakhala, Sana Oli Pakhala, Puli , Hata Poda Amalu, Sana Amalu, Pani Pakhala, Math Puli.
Bada Singhara Bhog
This is the last prasad offered to the gods in Puri and is served at 11:15 pm. Before bhog is offered, the murtis are donned in silk dresses and garlands. Hymns from the Gita Govind are sung too. 5 upchars are performed by the temple’s helpers and the following items are served- Suar Pitha, Rosa Paika, Mitha Pakhala, Kanji, Sarapuli Pitha, Kadali Bada
On festivals and other celebrations, the mahaprasad may include more than 56 dishes. For instance, on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, as many as 84 items are part of the mahaprasad.
Every item in the mahaprasad and daily offerings is cooked in the temple’s kitchen using traditional cooking tools. The Odisha earthenware pottery plays a significant role in the cooking process. All food is cooked in them and devotees are served the mahaprasad in these pots too.
How is the mahaprasad cooked?
The process for cooking mahaprasad in Jagannath Puri has virtually remained the same since the inception of this practice. Even with the advent of modern tools and utensils, food for the mahaprasad is prepared using the earthen pots hand-crafted by the artisans.
The fire for the hearths is obtained from Rosha Homa which is believed to be a holy source of fire. This fire is never doused and is kept burning even when no cooking is taking place in the kitchen. According to a study, there are close to 250 wooden hearths inside the temple’s kitchen. These hearths are divided in three types of categories: anna chuli that is used for preparing rice, ahia chuli used for making dal and curry and finally, the pitha chuli which is used for baking.
At one time, nine pots can be placed on one hearth for cooking. There are different ways in which nine pots can be placed together in a hearth. According to the first way, the nine pots can be stacked on top of each other in order of decreasing size. The food item kept in the smallest pot, which is kept right at the top, gets cooked first followed by contents in the second pot and so on. Another way in which nine pots are arranged on top of the hearth is in the 6 + 3 formation. Six pots are placed on the bottom and the rest three are kept on top of them. In the 5 + 3+ 1 formation, the pots form a sort of pyramidal structure. Five pots form the lowest rung, three form the middle rung and only one pot is kept on top. According to a study, these pot arrangements are in line with traditional science and Vedic practices. The pots are tied with jute ropes to prevent falling off from the hearth.
After the food is cooked, it is carried to the garbagriha using bamboo sticks. It is then kept in front of the god, a few hymns are uttered and then the food is considered to be blessed by the god. This prasad is then sold to devotees waiting at Anand Bazaar which is located in the temple’s vicinity.
Utkal Khand of Skanda Puran
One particular story narrated in the Utkal Khanda of Skanda Puran refers to the divine, healing and purificatory powers of the Mahaprasad. According to the story, a group of Brahmins arrived in Puri to pray to Lord Jagannath. Upon reaching there, the Brahmins paid their visit to the lord and even decided to perform a yagna in his name. The yagna lasted for about three days and was completed successfully. However, the Brahmins refused to serve the temple’s common mahaprasad as prasad for their yagna. The Brahmins argued that since mahaprasad at the temple was prepared and eaten by non-Brahmins too, it would contaminate the holiness of their yagna. Hence, they bought new ingredients and prepared a prasad different from the temple’s mahaprasad. This prasad was served to everyone who attended the yagna. Unfortunately, everyone who consumed the prasad fell ill and the Brahmins were shocked and turned to the lord to ask for a cure. One day, a divine voice replied to the Brahmins’ plea and asked them to feed every sick person a mouthful of the temple’s mahaprasad. To their surprise, as soon as the ill ate some mahaprasad, they became healthy again! The Brahmins realised the healing powers of the mahaprasad and why everyone, regardless of caste, gender and creed must be allowed to prepare and consume the mahaprasad. Everyone was understood to be equal before god.
The Skanda Puran also mentions that consumption of mahaprasad can absolve one from maya and get moksha.
Jagannath Kaifiyat scripture
A story written in the scripture attests to the healing properties of mahaprasad food. It follows that once a man who was mute was sitting outside Jagannath temple. He was hungry and saw some earthenware pottery containing food nearby. Without knowing that the pots contained mahaprasad for the lord, he ate some of the food in them. To his surprise, once he had finished eating the food, he regained his voice and was able to speak. From that day onwards, he sang lord Jagannath’s hymns and praises, thanking the lord for his miraculous gift of speech!
Lord Jagannath and goddess Vimala
In Jagannath temple, the mahaprasad is first served to goddess Vimala and then to lord Jagannath. There is an interesting anecdote about this peculiar ritual too. It follows that one day, Narad Muni chanced upon Radha and Krishna. He saw that Radha was feeding Krishna food that she had cooked and a few morsels of food had fallen from mouth to the ground below. Hurriedly, Narad muni took a few of the fallen morsels and ate them. Then, he visited lord Shiva in mount Kailash. Narad still had a few grains of rice stuck on his mouth and upon seeing him, lord Shiva immediately realised that Narad muni had eaten some of lord Krishna’s food. So, lord Shiva took some grains from Narad muni’s mouth and ate them too. Shiva’s consort Pravati was present there too but she was disappointed that she could not eat some of Krishna’s pious meal. Immediately, she prayed to lord Krishna who arrived at Kailash and heard her plight. He promised her that in Kalyug, he would take the form of lord Jagannath and reside in Puri. There, a shrine for her in the form of goddess Vimala would be present too. Krisha added that prasad for lord Jagannath would become mahaprasad only after being served to goddess Vimala first.
Brahma Puran, Purshoruttam Puran and Kurma Puran
According to all three holy texts, the Jagannath temple is a holy place for people to offer pinda with mahaprasad. Pinda is usually offered by people who have lost both parents. If pinda is offered with mahaprasad in Puri, then the dead ones will attain moksha.
Lord Vishnu’s connection with potters
According to local beliefs, artisans who make pots for the temple were chosen by lord Vishnu himself. The potters believe that they share a special connection with the god who Lord Jagannath is considered to be an incarnation of. Lord Vishnu is represented with four hands and each hand carries a specific object or symbol that represents his various powers and attributes. These objects resemble items used by the potters to hand craft pots for the temple’s kitchen. The objects in Lord Vishnu’s hands may vary depending on the specific depiction or context, but some of the most common objects held by Lord Vishnu include:
Sudarshan Chakra- It is a spinning disc-like weapon that represents Lord Vishnu’s power to destroy evil and protect the universe. The sudarshan chakra is similar to the potter’s wheel (chakrado) upon which he crafts his pots.
Shankh- The shankh (conch shell) represents the primordial sound AUM or Om, and is blown to announce the victory of good over evil. A miniature conch-shaped tool is also used by the potters in Odisha.
Padwokamal ful (lotus flower)- The lotus flower represents purity, beauty, and enlightenment, and symbolises Lord Vishnu’s transcendence above the material world. Pottery for the temple is beaten on its outside surface to make shapes that resemble the petals of a lotus flower. In this process, a tool known as padwoful supports the pot from the inside while it is being beaten.
Gada (mace)- Lord Vishnu also holds a mace in his hand that represents his physical strength and power. A similar shaped tool called a piton is used by the potters to beat the thick walls of the pot to flatten them and shape them thinly. Piton is an integral tool in the pot-making process
Excavations of pottery in India have confirmed the earliest existence of the craft to be in the Mesolithic Age. As a practice, pottery making flourished during the Indus Valley Civilisation but its spread remained limited to the North Western parts of India only. Later, in the Vedic era, almost every region of India developed its unique pottery style. A Black and Red ware (BRW) type of pottery was characteristic of the Central and Northern parts of India, of which Odisha is also a part. In the later phases of the Vedic Age, BRW pottery was replaced by the Northern Black Polished ware pottery. Mentions of pottery can also be found in texts belonging to the Vedic Age.
Yajur Ved:German indologist Wilhelm Rau’s work reveals that pottery has been described in the Yajur Ved. In a sacrificial hymn in Yajur Veda, it calls upon a potter’s son for trouble. According to Rau’s study, pottery in the Vedic Age was plain, non-embellished and hand-crafted by artisans.
Ramayana:A 1981 thermoluminescence study on pottery confirmed the presence of pottery in sites associated with Ramayan. Such sites include Ayodhya, Sringaverapura and Nandigram, amongst others. Traces of Northern Black Polished ware and Black Slipped Ware were found at these sites.
In Ramayan, one of Ravan’s brother is named Kumbhakarna. When translated from Sanskrit, Kumbhakarna means pot-eared. He is probably described so due to his huge stature and powerful physique. His name testifies the presence of knowledge of pottery and pots during Ramayan.
Mahabharat:Remnants of pottery have also been found in Meerut and are believed to belong to the Mahabharat age. Meerut is considered to have been a part of the Hastinapur kingdom during Mahabharat. Researchers excavated Northern Black Ware pottery from Meerut which date back to a period between 1300-800 BC, which is when the Mahabharat is supposed to have taken place.
In Mahabharat, evidence of pottery can also be found in the origin story of Dronacharya. It is believed that Dronacharya was born when his father, Rishi Bharadwaj deposited his semen in a pot. Dronacharya was then born in that pot and brought to Rishi Bharadwaj’s ashram. He was named ‘Drona’ (vessel) due to him being born in a pot. One can find several mentions of pots in Krishna Leela. Krishna’s favourite snack item makhan (butter) was stored in clay pots and hung from ceilings. Krisha was notorious for breaking pots with stones and stealing butter from them.
History of pot-making in Jagannath Puri temple
Madala Panji: The most prominent and well-preserved document containing information on Jagannath Puri is the Madala Panji. According to the text, king Anangabhim built the temple and started the 36 niyogs or services within the temple.
According to one source, pot-making was intrinsic to Puri from 500 BCE. When Adi Shankaracharya initiated the ritual of making mahaprasad in the temple’s kitchen, potters were invited to provide pots for cooking and serving. In the beginning, potters from a specific locality in puri known as Kumbharpada, monopolised the craft and sale of pots of the temple. This clearly illustrates that such potteries have existed for more than 2000 years.In recent times, potters from different localities have begun to partake in this ritual. Localities such as Nua Sahi, Tikarpara village and Gopalpur are also involved in pottery.
This design of the pt is highly functionalm the form of the pot also follow the function. Only the bottom round of the pot is beaten, while the upper part of the pot, near its mouth, remains smooth-surfaced and without any design. The pot’s aesthetics are minimalist and retain their functional aspect. Since pots are used to cook only once, potters do not spend time painting over their surfaces and embellishing them.
In Puri, pots of different sizes are made to offer prasad to different gods. In recent times, the potters of Puri have come up with size categories and have started to name pots and bowls after the various maths (religious monasteries) inside the temple. There are three pot size categories: big, medium, and small. The biggest pot is named Karma Bai, and the names of some pots include Emar, SriRamadasta, Nambari and Dhala, amongst others. Besides, clay-based plates and bowls are also named in a similar fashion. According to one study, it is essential for pots in the temple to be categorised size-wise. This is because the mahaprasad includes a plethora of items, some of which require pots of larger size to cook while others can be cooked in smaller ones. For instance, rice and dal are usually cooked in big and medium sized pots, while sweets and side dishes are cooked in small earthen pots. Artisans follow the kitchen’s requirements in their form and size. The ancient technique of cooking in earthen pots over wood fire hearths (by placing nine pots one above the other in ‘6+3’ or ‘5+3+1’ pattern) is a treat to watch as it is a combination of Vedic ritual and ancient science.
According to some sources, clay for the pots used to be sourced from fields around the temple’s vicinity. However, due to urbanisation, these fields have been converted to concrete jungles. Hence, clay is now collected from fields farther away from the temple. This has made the job of artisans more tedious as one has to arrange tractors and trucks to store and transport the clay.
According to a study on the culinary heritage of Jagannath temple’s mahaprasad, not enough tourists and devotees know about the specialty of earthen pottery and hence, the craft remains unrecognised. If more awareness about the temple’s history and its unique mahaprasad was made available to the public, then the artisans’ hard work and skill might be better appreciated by the masses.
The pot-making process can roughly be divided into three stages: preparation of clay, pot-making, and baking.
For pot-making, one requires simple raw materials. Of prime importance in the pot-making process are clay, water and fuel.
Clay: To make fine earthen pots for mahaprasad at Jagannath Puri temple, potters use red clay. In the past, this clay was easily sourced from the vicinity of agricultural lands and fields. It was available in abundance at a short distance from the temple at Puri. However, at present, it is believed that the red clay is sourced from Chandrapur that is located at a distance of about 15 kms from the temple. Once a month, artisans arrange for trucks and tractors to collect and transport red clay to their workshops.
Sand: Sand opens up the clay to allow it to dry evenly to prevent cracking.
Ash: Ash helps remove stickiness from the clay. It is sprinkled or rubbed over the pot’s surface.
Water: In contrast, water is readily available for use to the potter and can be sourced from one’s home.
Fuel: Potters often use dried coconut shells and sawdust as fuel to keep their hearths burning.
Spinning wheel: It is a tool used in pottery making for shaping clay. The spinning wheel is essentially a large, flat disc that rotates on a vertical axis. The potter sits in front of the spinning wheel and uses their hands to shape the clay as it spins.
Jaali: It is to refine the clay from solid particles.
Piton: (a wooden plank with a handle): used to beat the pot to flatten and enlarge its outer surface.
Padwoful: a solid spherical object to support inside while beating outside
Thread: to cut the clay pot from the wheel
Bhatti: (kiln) to bake clay products: There are two types of kilns used to bake pottery in Kumbharpada. The first ones are huge structures that are approximately 10 to 12 feet in height. They are used to bake big vessels, like pots. The other type of kiln is much smaller (up to 5 feet) and is used to set teacups, small bowls, and lamps. The smaller kilns are used by potters to bake bowls known as olis, in which devotees offer food to the god. These olis are mainly crafted by the women of the potter community, while the men are responsible for crafting the pots. Dry twigs and logs of Casuarina, commonly known as the Jhau tree, are used as fuel wood.
The pot-making process can roughly be divided into three stages: preparation of clay, pot-making, and baking.
Preparation of clay: Once the potters obtain the mud for the clay, they break it into smaller pieces using a wooden stick. The mud is beaten, and larger chunks of stone are smashed to make fine particles of mud. This mud is then filtered through a sieve to further eliminate any big rocks, dust, or unwanted material from it. What remains is a finer layer of mud that has been soaked in water for about a day. After a day of being soaked, the mud absorbs the water and becomes gooey like clay. Then, using their legs, the potters kneaded this clay to make it soft and malleable. This clay is used to make pots.
Pot-making: Products like simple small pots, serving plates, and diyas are directly made by hand, while bigger pots are made using the potter’s wheel. The clay is placed over the potter’s wheel, and the potter carefully uses his nimble hands to give it shape. At first, smaller pots are made and kept aside for a day until the clay hardens a bit. These small pots have thick walls and are not the final product. The potter beats these pots with his wooden tools to expand their thick surfaces into thinner walls. One tool is kept inside the pot, touching its curved surface, while the other wooden tool beats the surface outside to flatten it and give it a precise shape. In this way, the small pots are converted into large ones by beating them. This beating also gives the pot its unique design, which can be likened to flower petals and scales on a fish’s body. Once the pot is crafted, it is left out to dry for about a day. The potter takes out any extra clay stuck to its surface and rubs the pot with ash to form a solid exterior.
Baking: Once the desired shape and size have been achieved, the potter places his pots on a hearth to bake them solid. Traditionally, the potters of Puri use two types of kilns to burn their earthen clay vessels. It is made out of clay, mud, and bricks. It is used to bake vessels like pots, diyas, small plates, etc. Numerous pots are stacked on top of one another to form a pyramid. Mud is filled in the cracks between the pots, and then the pots are baked. On the bottom of the pyramid is a big opening where a fire is lit to bake the pots. Potters in Puri use sawdust and coconut shells as fuel. After removing the baked pots from the kiln, they are kept out to cool and then transported to the temple in bamboo baskets. Men and women carry these baskets filled with freshly baked pots on their heads.
Pottery making involves working with clay, which is a natural resource that is abundant and renewable. However, there can be material waste in pottery making at various stages of the process. specially during the firing stage, pottery is heated to high temperatures to harden it and make it durable. However, not all pottery survives the firing process. Pieces may crack, break or explode due to various factors such as air pockets, uneven drying, or temperature fluctuations. This can result in waste material that cannot be salvaged.
List of craftsmen.