PURI is undoubtedly the spiritual capital of the entire eastern region. Millions of pilgrims come to Puri to have a darshan of Lord Jagganath who is believed to have been worshipped from the Dwapara Yug. The epicenter of Sanatan Dharma, Puri has attracted great saints and seers from all ages who got inspiration from this holy land. Sikh Guru, Nanak found his Panch Pyares in Puri who worked dedicatedly to spread Sikh religion for the protection of the sacred Bharat Varsha. Myths and mysteries still surround this small gem of a town. Nostradamus had forecasted “a man from the east will rise from his seat… would be the next incarnation of God.” The incarnation will protect the good and vanquish the evil forces. Lord Jagganath’s temple document Malika also has similar description of a Kalki Avatar who will ride a celestial horse and eliminate evils from this sacred land Bharat. According to mythologies sage Parushram toured India seventeen times to eliminate corrupt politicians and kings. With its myths, mysteries and natural beauties Puri not only attracts millions of pilgrims but has become the hub of small economic activities. In India faith stimulates economic growth which is not understood by the planners with mono sectoral bias.
Pilgrim who come to Puri carry with them a piece of patta chitra or appliqué work as they believe the pilgrimage is not complete without having an artifacts from Puri. Nobody knew it before that a kind of belief would make the handicrafts of Puri popular in the international craft bazaars. Stone carvings, solapeet work, appliqué work, patta chitra, palm leaf paintings and seashell work have become famous in both domestic and international craft bazaars. Today the cost of a genuine patta chitra of 15 square feet varies from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 4 lakh in the international market. The appliqué and stone artisans of Puri add high value to the products. The profession of stone carving has a bright future as the demand for aesthetic carvings on buildings, temples and conference hall is growing al over the world. Interestingly all these craft traditions have originated from the temple rituals. Patta chitra artist are engaged in Puri temple to paint the Lord’s throne, pendals, temple walls, on tassar clothes and doors. Applique umbrella and fans are used in all religious functions held in the temple. The picturesque sand beach of Puri has inspired hundreds of sand artists who made their name and fame across the world. The one is the internationally acclaimed Sudarshan Pattnaik who has won many International awards for sand sculptures.
The State can cash in on the opportunity of channeling those activities into entrepreneurship. There is a need to free the craft trade from the influence of middlemen. In the absence of transparent supply chain genuine artisans do not get direct access to market. Lack of education among artisans, absence of healthy cooperative societies and corruption mars the scope of a better handicraft economy. Many intricate appliqué stitching patterns have disappeared and the quality of patta chitra has also deteriorated due to commercialisation which gives little regard to quality. There is need to involve genuine artisans while making development plan for the artisan community.
Puri is also known for many delicious local eatables namely kheera, rasabali, malpua, rabidi and gajas, etc. Every day 56 types of sweet items are offered to Lord Jagganath. The skill of making eatables has also originated from the Lord Jagganath temple. Over the years those eatables have become popular. Unfortunately, many eatable vendors in and outside the temple sale poor quality stuff to pilgrims, which will ultimately affect the business prospect of the eatable sector. The demand for milk products in Puri has triggered dairy activities in nearby villages between Puri and Konark. Rearing cows, planting coconut, cashew, casuarinas, palm trees and growing paddy, various fruits and vegetables have become the routine activities of the villagers who also earn some income from tourism in winter months also. Lakhs of foreign tourists throng the golden sand beach of Puri which is one of the rarest in the world. The Balukhand Sanctuary and tourists spots like Konark, Bali Harchandi, Nua Nai and Ramchandi still preserve their pristine glory. These potential can be knitted together to make the villages of Puri self-sustainable economic units. There is no need of any foreign university with one lakh students which will completely upset the ethnic culture of Puri. The temple town has already witnessed a dilution of culture due to foreign tourists’ public behaviour. The biggest threat to Puri is the change of societal behaviour due to western influence. The youth in this region are shy of doing physical work and are hankering for cushy government jobs. In the process they lose both and let hardworking outsiders control business in Puri. Liquor and drugs are freely available in the temple town and local youth have fallen prey to this dangerous drug ring.
The town which was once know for its wrestlers, have lost most of its wrestling akhadas(centres). The social and cultural forums have almost disappeared from the town. People are influenced to buy more consumer products than to invest in productive assets. The present economic crisis which originates from the rampant destruction of eco friendly economic activities across the world has contaminated this pilgrim town.
This is high time for the intellectual, retired person and conscious citizens to fight the menace of societal behavior change and save the ethnic culture of Puri town. Unfortunately majority of Orissan intellectuals involve themselves more in talks than to start real ground work.