Jajpur’s Atharanala Bridge – Connecting the Divine Realms
The ‘Atharanala Bridge’ at Puri in Odisha is one of the marvels of medieval engineering. It is a 13th century laterite stone bridge that stands right at the entrance of the town of Puri, offering spectacular views of the Jagannatha Temple.
While Atharnala bridge is Puri is one of the most historic buildings in Odisha, few people realize that there is a second Atharnala Bridge , built at the same time and in the same style, just outside Jajpur town. This bridge, also known as ‘Galgali Sanka’, is said to connect the ‘Biraja Kshetra’ with ‘Jagannatha Kshetra’.
Around 33 kms south west of Jajpur town , is a small non-descript village called ‘Galgali Sankha’. It is situated near the historic Buddhist archeological complexes of Ratnagiri and Udayagiri. Most people would miss this village, except for the Odisha Tourism board, which tells people of its historical significance. Across the small river named Mandakini, is the historic bridge it its district architecture, very similar to the one in Puri. The only difference is that while the Puri Bridge had 18 arches, the one in Jajpur only had eleven arches. It is believed to have been built in the 13th century, during the rule of the Eastern Ganga dynasty.
As per local belief, the bridge at Puri is to be built by the mythical ruler Maharaja Indradyumna. The construction process was unsuccessful until, by the order of the Lord Jagannath, he offered the heads of his eighteen sons into the water of the river. As per historical records, the Puri bridge as well as the Jajpur one were built by King Bhanu Deva I (1266–1278) of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty and continued by Narasimha Deva II (1279–1306).
The Atharanala Bridge in Jajpur is said to be a bridge that connects two ‘divine’ regions – ‘Biraja Kshetra’ and the ‘Jagannatha Kshetra’
The Biraja Kshetra
As per Hindu belief, Odisha is divided into ‘Pancha Kshetras’ with each Keshtra dedicated to different deities. The most important is the Jagannatha Kshetra at Pura, followed by Biraja Keshtra at Jajpur, after them come the Shiva Kshetra at Ekamra , the Surya Kshetra at Konark and the ‘Vinayaka Kshetra’ at Chandikhol in Jajpur.
As per Hindu texts, the Biraja Kshetra is triangular in shape with the temple of Goddess Biraja situated at its center point. Apart from its religious significance, Biraja Kshetra is also steeped in historical and mythological lore. According to Hindu mythology, it is believed to be one of the 51 Shakti Peethas (sacred abodes of the goddess Shakti) in India. It is said that the navel of Goddess Sati, the first wife of Lord Shiva, fell at this spot during her self-immolation at the yajna (sacrificial fire) of her father Daksha. Thus, Biraja Kshetra holds immense spiritual importance for devotees of the Goddess Shakti.
The temple complex encompasses not only the main shrine but also several smaller shrines dedicated to various deities. The temple is situated near the sacred river Baitarani, where devotees often take a holy dip before offering their prayers.
Shri kshetra or Jagannatha Kshetra is one of the many names of Puri. Located on the shore of Bay of Bengal, Puri is an important pilgrimage center and is known for the temple of Lord Jagannath. In Hindu scriptures, such as Skanda Purana and Brahma Purana, Lord Jagannath is Lord Purushottama and Puri is called Purushottama-kshetra. This holy kshetra, in fact, is proclaimed to be the sacred “body” of Lord Jagannath.
The temple, with its towering spires and intricate carvings, stands as a testament to the architectural brilliance and artistic mastery of ancient India. Built in the 12th century by the Ganga dynasty, the temple is a fusion of Kalinga and Dravidian architectural styles, reflecting the cultural amalgamation of the region. The presiding deities of the Jagannath Temple are Lord Jagannath, his brother Lord Balabhadra, and their sister Devi Subhadra. They are worshiped with great reverence and devotion by millions of devotees who visit the temple every year. The idols of the deities are made from neem wood and are replaced every twelve to nineteen years during the famous Rath Yatra, or Chariot Festival.
According to the Hindu scriptures, Lord Jagannath is said to have appeared in Puri to fulfill a promise made to his devotee, King Indradyumna. This is the same King Indradyumna, who is said to have built the famous Atharanala Bridge.
Interestingly, at the center of the Atharanala bridge at Jajpur is a Havan Kund, with signified the connection of the land of Goddess Biraja and land of Lord Jagannatha. This bridge is also connected with the famous 15th century Vaishnavite Saint Chaitanya Mahaprabu. Interestingly, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s grandfather Upendra Mishra originally hailed from Jajpur before moving to Nadia in Bengal. In 1511 CE, during a visit to Jajpur, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited this Atharanala bridge and performed prayers here.
Today, the historic Athranala bridge in Jajpur is in dire state of repairs. It is hoped that like the bridge in Puri, this one too will be restored to its former glory.
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