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History of Puri

The earliest history of Puri has it that it was once a thickly wooded hillock inhabited by the Sabaras, a Pre-Aryan and Pre-Dravidian tribes of the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family. The sacred Buddhist site called Dantapura (town of the tooth) may also have been here, as legend has it that Buddha’s tooth was kept here before being spirited off to Sri Lanka.

Till the seventh and eighth centuries, the city was a provincial outpost along the coastal trade route linking eastern India with Southeast Asia. Shankaracharya, the Hindu reformer, declared Puri as one of his four mathas (centres for the practice of a new ascetic form of Hinduism). Learned and holy men came here to debate the new philosophies from across the whole subcontinent, a tradition that is still carried on to this day.

The kings of the Ganga dynasty consolidated the religious and political importance of Puri in the beginning of the 12th century. In 1135, Anantavarman Chodaganga founded the great temple in Puri, and dedicated it to Purushottama, one of the thousand names of Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity. The Gajapati rulers changed the town’s name to Jagannath in the fifteenth century. Puri remained a temple town, a holy place till the British realised its potential as a seaside resort. Since then, Puri has developed into a pilgrimage cum holiday destination with the Rath Yatra, the annual festival at the Jagannath Temple still the main draw.

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