EXPLAINER | Significance of opening all four gates of Puri Jagannath temple

The opening of the four gates had figured prominently in the BJP’s election manifesto for Odisha and the issue was raked up by several party leaders during their poll campaigns.
Devotees enter and leave through a gate of the Jagannath Temple after Odisha government opened all four doors for the public in Puri on Thursday.
Devotees enter and leave through a gate of the Jagannath Temple after Odisha government opened all four doors for the public in Puri on Thursday.Photo | Debadatta Mallick, EPS

After four years of persistent demands by devotees, the 12th-century Shree Jagannath temple in Puri fulfilled their wishes by opening all four gates on Thursday.

Within six hours of taking oath on Wednesday, the new BJP government in the state, led by Chief Minister Mohan Majhi, approved the proposal for the opening of the four gates of the shrine for devotees in its first Cabinet meeting. Simultaneously, the proposal was also cleared by the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee.

The Cabinet also cleared a proposal for creating a corpus fund of Rs 500 crore in the next state budget for conservation, maintenance and management of the temple.

After ‘Mangala Alati’, the first ritual of the temple, the four gates were opened in the presence of CM Majhi and his Cabinet Ministers, MLAs and Puri MP Sambit Patra on Thursday.

In fact, the opening of the four gates had figured prominently in the BJP’s election manifesto for Odisha and the issue was raked up by several party leaders during their poll campaigns.

"We passed the proposal to open all four gates of Mahaprabhu Lord Jagannath’s temple in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. Today at 6:30 am, I, along with my MLAs and Puri MP, attended the Mangala Alati. In the presence of everyone and the district administration officials, all four gates of the shrine were opened," Majhi said after stepping out of the temple.

Significance of four gates

An east-facing shrine, the Shree Jagannath temple or Srimandir, spreads over an area of 10.734 acres, enclosed by two rectangular enclosures: Meghanada Prachira or Bahara Bedha or the outer wall, and Kuruma Prachir, or Bhitara Bedha or the inner enclosure.

The temple was built during the rule of Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva, the founder of Ganga dynasty.

There are four gates or ‘Dwaras’ through which one can step into the temple: Singha Dwara or the Lion's Gate, in the east (main entrance); Vyaghra Dwara or the Tiger Gate, in the west; Hasti Dwara or the Elephant Gate, in the north; and Aswa Dwara or the Horse Gate, in the south.

While it is believed that entering the temple through the Lion's Gate would bring 'mokshya’ to a devotee, the western gate is represented by a tiger, which is symbolic of ‘dharma’. The Horse Gate represents ‘kama’ and one has to sacrifice the feeling of lust to enter through this gate. The Elephant Gate represents prosperity.

Surendranatha Das, an eminent researcher of Jagannath culture, said the four gates were always in use but there are certain specifications.

“Like, the Puri Gajapati or Maharaja of Puri during his ‘raja niti or deba puja’ enters the temple through the Dakshina or south gate. For other rituals of the temple, he enters through the main entrance. There is also a tradition of seers and saints entering the temple through the south gate. Similarly, ‘Daru’ or the sacred logs for making the new idols of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra are brought into the temple through Uttara Dwara. Servitors enter through the Paschima or West gate,” he said.

Need for opening the four gates

It was during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 that the state government, which was then led by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), decided to close all the doors except the Lions Gate.

“After the pandemic threat was over, the doors remained closed to facilitate work on the Srimandir Heritage Corridor project (also called Srimandir Parikrama project), which was one of the most ambitious projects of BJD in Puri,” said an officer of the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) requesting anonymity.

With one gate open for the entry of devotees, it often led to overcrowding outside the temple, and poor crowd management worsened things further.

SJTA sources said since the temple has been reopened after COVID-19, there is an average footfall of 50,000 daily and the number goes up to several lakhs during festive occasions and weekends. Devotees had to wait for several hours in a half-kilometre-long barricade to enter the temple through the Lions Gate in a phased manner. In December last year, this had led to a stampede-like situation outside the temple.

“Although all four gates were open until yesterday, devotees could only enter through the Lions Gate. The west gate was for the entry of temple servitors and the north and south gates were used by devotees and servitors for exiting the temple. The Lions Gate was partitioned by a rope and it was also used by devotees to exit the temple,” said Durga Dasmohapatra, the general secretary of Daitapati Nijog, a category of servitors who perform the important rituals of the Rath Yatra.

On Thursday, all four gates were opened for both the entry and exit of devotees, he explained.

However, entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple still awaits streamlining. Currently, inside the sanctum sanctorum, devotees are just getting a glimpse of the Trinity.

“They are hardly being given a minute to offer prayers before being asked to leave the sanctum sanctorum. The new government can think of addressing this problem too,” said Das.

Inside the Bhitara Bedha or inner enclosure, there are four gates again into the sanctum sanctorum.

Dasmohapatra informed that entry of devotees into the sanctum sanctorum is being currently done through ‘Sata Pahacha’ Dwara (seven steps in the north entrance of the main temple), as per the existing arrangement.

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