Puri is one of the four 'dhams' of the Hindus along with Varanasi, Dwarka and Rameshwaram. Puri is well-known for a 12th-century temple called "Jagannath" erected in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple of Lord Jagannath is a colossal one. Since the town is a religious place and a sea resort, it attracts devotees in large numbers. Puri is also famous for its car festival.
Lord Jagannath, the symbol of universal love and brotherhood is worshiped in the Temple along with Balabhadra, Subhadra, Sudarshan, Madhaba, Sridevi and Bhudevi on the Ratnabedi or the bejeweled platform. The Deities, Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Chakra Sudarshan are made of margosa wood. These three together are the principal deities of the temple, whose images reside in the temple's sanctuary.
The temple was originally built by the Kalinga ruler Anantavarman Chodaganga (1078 - 1148 CE). Much of the present structure was built by King Ananga Bhima Deva in the year 1174 CE. It took 14 years to complete and was consecrated in 1198 CE. It is believed that the image of Jagannath was buried thrice in the Chilka lake for protection from invaders.
The vast temple complex occupies an area of over 400000 square feet, and is bounded by a 20 feet high fortified wall. This complex contains about 120 temples and shrines. The shikhara of the Jagannath temple towers to a height of 192 feet.
The temple shows the characteristic form of the Orissan variant of the Nagara architectural style. It was begun around the 12th century and has been added to and repaired in the time since then. The most important element in the Nagara style is the "shikhara" ( temple tower ) and in the Orissa variant these towers are soaring and tall, in contrast to the smaller entrance-halls leading up to them.
Structurally the temple has four chambers. The outermost is the Bhogmandir, the next is the Nata-mandir pillared hall for music and dance, the next is the Jagamohana - or the mandapa where devotees gather for worship and the last is the sanctum or the Deul enshrining the deities.
Car Festival, The Ratha Yatra :
A famous festival related to the Jagannath temple is the ratha yatra, or chariot festival, which occurs yearly in June or July. The city reverberates with activity when spectacular wooden images of the deities kept at the temple are taken out in the streets on giant chariots nearly 14 metres high, in honour of Lord Jagannath amidst mammoth gathering. After they have stayed in that temple for seven days, the deities again ride the chariots back to their home temple.
Jagannath's chariot is a 35 feet square, rising to a height of 45 feet, with 16 wheels, 7 feet in diameter. More than 4000 people drag the chariot. Hundreds of thousands gather from all over the country to witness this festival.