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Puri is a unique place where all shades of Hindu religious faith have converged. A large number of Mathas or religious monasteries belonging to different sects are located here centring round the shrine of Jagannath. The Mathas were originally founded with the purpose of imparting education to chelas or disciples and feeding travellers , asceties and beggars. The Mahantas or the heads of these mathas are usually celibrates, the gadi passing to one of the chelas or disciples by way of succession. The mahantas are the gurus or spiritual preceptors of many people. Most of the mathas of Puri are connected with the worship of Jagannath and have various sevas or duties to perform in the temple. The record of Rights compiled under the Puri Sri Jagannath Temple (Administration) Act, 1952, mentions in detail the nitis to be performed by certain mathas. Some important mathas, closely connected with the daily nitis and the festivals of Jagannath are listed below.
Gobardhana Matha located in Swargadwar is one of the oldest matha in Puri and was founded by Adi Sankaracharya in the 8th century A.D., a centre of learning and culture, an exponent of monism. It is one of the four monasteries (Dhamas) established by Adi Sankaracharya in four corners of India. Adi Sankara who lived around 8th century A.D. is said to have performed a miracle under a Banyan tree beside the chilika lake, where the idol of Lord Jagannath was kept hidden by His disciples to save from the attacks of the enemies. Sankara could intuitively know the presence of the idol of Jagannath and spontaneously composed the famous verse which begins with 'Jagannath Swami Nayana Pathagami Bhabatu Me'. The priests of Jagannath temple used to be trained at the Sankaracharya Matha and only after obtaining a certificate from the matha were eligible to enter into priesthood and perform worship in the temple, but now this function is being performed by the Mukti Mandapa.
This Matha was established by Atibadi Jagannath Das of the 15th century A.D., who was a great religious poet and composed the Odia 'Bhagabata'. The image of Atibadi Jagannath Das is preserved in this matha. Atibadi Jagannath Das was the intimate disciple of Sri Chaitanya and the founder of the Atibadi sect of Vaishnavism. The Odia matha makes arrangement for the Pankti Bhoga in the Jagamohana during Rukminiharan festival and supplies Kala Sari (black cloth) to Goddess Vimala. It is also vested with the duty of cleaning the Ratnavedi and supplying of canopy for the inner sanctuary and the Lord's Pillows. The math provides trimundi chandua and silk clothes for Chaka apasara, till oil for Phooluri Telalagi Neeti, oil and ghee for Deva deepawali. It also repairs Kanakamundi, offers Chakata bhoga in Anasara and Adharpana Bhoga and Panti bhoga on certain days. On the day of Neeladri Bije, the Mahanta makes manjana of Ratnavedi.
Jagannath Ballava Matha
Located on the Grand road, this is closely connected with some important religious rites of the main temple of Lord Jagannath. Ray Ramananda Pattanayak, the contemporary of Sri Chaitanya and a great scholar, author of the 'Clut of Devotion' and also a great administrator, used to stay here in the midst of a beautiful garden from which flowers are sent to the Jagannath temple everyday. During the Dayanalagi festival the deities of Rama and Krishna are taken in procession to this matha, here the deities get their Dayana leaves from the garden of the matha. It supplies kora (a sweet) for Kaliya Dalana Vesha and Pralambasura Badha Vesha.
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