Shri Jagannath is the Lord of the Universe. His Holy Kitchen is considered as the largest and the biggest kitchen in the world. It is situated south-east direction of the outer compound of Jagannath Temple. The kitchen is an institution by itself. It is not only big, organized and disciplined but also permanent in nature. Basic features and old values are scrupulously prescribed here. Apart from the Deities, Mahaprasad is also another divinely distinctive part of the temple that has kept the inflow of devotees to Puri since many years.
Why it is the Biggest Kitchen?
Chief Chef, cooks and helping hands of the Kitchen
It is believed that Goddess Mahalaxmi cooks in the kitchen Herself in disguise, Goddess Mahalaxmi is the chief chef of the temple kitchen. The process of preparation of food is thus considered very sacred. Around 500 cooks and 500 assistants serve here every day for preparing food for the Deities, all are felt to be Her helping hands.
As per temple record, the cook is known as 'Suara'. Only Suaras are allowed to cook food on the hearths in the temple kitchen. The assistants are divided in two categories based on their access to the temple kitchen. Those who can enter the temple kitchen are called 'Jogania' and those who are not allowed to enter the kitchen are called 'Tunia'. Nearly 300 Joganias and 200 Tunias are helping the main cooks (Suaras) in the temple kitchen. The Joganias are responsible for various tasks like carrying water from the wells, washing and cleaning of the earthern pots, filling the earthern pots with required ingredients like raw rice, lentils, vegetables etc. The Tunias work from the open courtyard outside of the temple kitchen and help in washing the raw ingredients, cutting and chopping them, grinding spices and grating coconuts.
There is another category of assistants, who are responsible to carry the food from the kitchen to the offering hall (Bhoga Mandapa), they are called 'Mahasuara'.
In charge of purification of food in the Kitchen
The food in the temple kitchen is prepared in such a pure way and with deep devotion; great spiritual impact is felt, both by those who cook and those who eat. It is also said that if Goddess Laxmi is dissatisfied with the food preparations by the cooks or the food is cooked in an impure way, a dog will appear mysteriously on the temple premise. As no dog is allowed to enter the temple, this dog is said to be 'Kutama Chandi', a tantric Goddess in charge of purification of food. The dog always appears and disappears mysteriously. If this happens and the dog is seen, all the food items cooked in the kitchen must be buried and prepared again.
Fuel, Fire and protector of the fire of the Kitchen
The fuel of the kitchen is mostly wood and charcoal. The required timber for the kitchen was previously supplied from different forests of the State. But after nationalization of forests, the State Forest Corporation is providing timbers for cooking purpose.
The name of the holy kitchen fire is 'Vaisanava Agni'. Both in Sanskrit and local Odia language, 'Fire' is known as 'Agni'. The kitchen fire has never been put out and it has continued since many years. It is the responsibility of Akhand Mekap to keep the fire burning throughout all days and nights. The food cooked in the kitchen is being served to Lord Vishnu, so the fire is known as Vaisanava Agni.
There is a small Shiva temple in front of the south doorway of bhoga mandapa (offering hall) and behind the kuruma bedha. It is known as Agneswara Mahadeva temple because it is situated towards the agneya diga (south west direction). A Shiva Linga is worshipped in this temple. It is believed that Lord Agneswara is the protector of the fire of temple kitchen.
Agneswara temple is located at the right side of the passage which is used by the servitors to carry the food from temple kitchen to the offering hall. It is also believed that if any food item is not properly cooked then it will be cooked fully by the blessing of Lord Agneswara on its way to offering hall.
Types of cooking in the Kitchen
Four types of cooking are prepared in the kitchen of Jagannath Temple. Those are Bhimapaka, Nalapaka, Souripaka and Gouripaka.
Types of rice item cooked in the kitchen
Both in Sanskrit and local Odia language, 'Rice' is known as 'Anna'. In the kitchen of Jagannath temple, four types of rice are prepared. These are Sali-Anna, Khira-Anna, Dadhi-Anna and Sitala-Anna.
Vegetables restricted inside the kitchen
The most delicious Mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath is cooked as per pure Odia style, the ingredients used are of Indian origin. Only authentic Indian vegetables are used in the preparation of Mahaprasad and allowed inside the Jagannath temple kitchen.
Potato, tomato, cauli flower, cabbage, lady finger, drumstick, onion, garlic, coriander, green chili, red chili, bean, bitter gourd, carrot, turnip, beetroot, corn, green peas, mushroom and capsicum are strictly prohibited for use in the temple kitchen while preparing the Mahaprasad.
Water needs of the Kitchen
There are nine wells inside the temple premises, out of which two are used to cater the water needs of the temple kitchen. These are named as 'Ganga' and 'Jamuna' and both are near the kitchen itself. They are named after the two famous Holy rivers in India. The Ganga well is square shaped and the Yamuna well is circular. The radius of the wells is more than 10 feet and depth is 100 feet each.
The water is drawn from these two wells by the servitors responsible for supplying water to the kitchen. They pore the water in the openings in the wall meant to store water inside the kitchen.
On an average 25,000 to 30,000 people visit Jagannath temple daily. On Saturdays, Sundays and other holidays the visitors count goes up to 40,000 to 50,000. But on special festive days the visitors count exceeds 1 lakh.
All the necessary commodities for the temple kitchen are brought from Mahalaxmi Bhandar, which runs by Suara Nijoga Cooperative Society. Devotees can purchase and consume Mahaprasad in Ananda Bazar (The food mart of Jagannath Temple) and they can also place order for Mahaprasad for mass gathering. Mahaprasad orders also come from nearby areas who take it to their villages and hometowns to serve to the guests on various social occasions like marriage, sacred thread ceremony, funeral rituals etc.Source: Odisha Review Magazine