Mukti Mandapa is a combination of two words ‘Mukti’ and ‘Mandapa’. In local Odia language ‘Mukti’ means ‘salvation or freedom’ and ‘Mandapa’ means ‘platform’, so ‘Mukti Mandapa’ means ’Platform for salvation or freedom’. Mukti Mandapa is situated in front of Adi Nrusingha temple and by the southern side of Lord Jagannath Temple of Puri. MadalaPanji, the chronicle of Jagannath Temple, mentions that it was built in 15th century at the request of queen Gauri Mahadevi, the consort of King Mansingh of Jaipur who was the commander-in-chief of Moghal emperor Akber.
The Mukti Mandapa is a council of Pandits (Brahmin Scholars) and acted like a final judiciary system related to various religious matters. Shankaracharya of Puri Govardhana Matha is the permanent president of Mukti Mandap. Disputes arising out of religious matters with regard to worship and religion are referred to this council of the Pandits for discussion and final verdict. In the old days all the disputes were first referred to the King of Puri who, when required, used to call the Mukti Mandapa Pandits to pass the final verdict on religious matters. As per the belief, devotees will free from all their sins if they will follow and perform rites and rituals prescribed by Mukti Mandapa Pandits. Devotees visiting Jagannath Temple always touches their heads at the feet of the Pandits sitting on Mukti Mandapa to get their blessings and counseling for problems related to their personal and social life.
Mukti Mandapa is made of black granite stones. The height of the platform is five feet and the area of the platform is nine hundred sqft and is in square shape. The platform is open from all sides and having a roof at a height of thirteen feet from the ground level. The roof is supported by sixteen pillars, twelve pillars around the periphery and four pillars in middle portion. The height of each pillar is eight feet. Idols of different Hindu Gods and Goddesses (Lord Nrusingha, Lord Ganesh, Goddess Durga, Goddess Kali, Lord Brahma, Lord Shri krishna) made of stone are placed in different parts of the platform. It is believed that these sixteen pillars symbolize the sixteen Brahmin Sasanas (settlements or villages) established around Puri city by Ramachandara Dev, the first king of Bhoi Dynasty. In Odia language the sixteen Brahmin Sasanas is known as ‘Shohala Sasan’. Initially the chief priest of these 16 villages is allowed to sit in the Mukti Mandapa, but the number has been increased and now 8 more villages have been included in the allowed list to make it 24.
Apart from providing solutions to different religious and social disputes, the Pandits of Mukti Mandap are also engaged in various other activities. The yearly religious Odia calendar, popularly known as Panji, published by different publishers are submitted to Mukti Mandapa council for their approval and to authenticate specific dates of different religious rites and festivals. During Nava Kalevara festival, various rites associated with it are performed by the Pandits of Mukti Mandapa. As per the ritual, every day two big thalis (plates) of Anna (rice) Mahaprasada are supplied to the Mukti Mandapa Pandits after morning and mid-day dhupas (offerings to Lords).
Mukti Mandapa council is the highest respected body of Jagannath Temple. A committee of nine Pandits as selected by other Pandits of Mukti Mandapa is considered as the core committee to take immediate decision for religious and administration disputes of Jagannath temple. Mukti Mandapa is also considered as platform of vast knowledge and experience. This system is still in trend and the decision of the Mukti Mandapa is accepted as final verdict even today.