The Nila Chakra (Blue Discus) is the discus mounted on the top shikhar of the Jagannath Temple. As per tradition, daily a different flag is waved on the Nila Chakra. The flag hoisted on the Nila Cakra is called the Patita Pavana (Purifier of the Fallen) and is equivalent to the image of the deities placed in the sanctum sanctorum.
The Nila Chakra is a disc with eight Navagunjaras carved on the outer circumference, with all facing towards the flagpost above. The Nila Chakra is dissimilar from the Sudarshana chakra which has been placed with the deities in the inner sanctorum.
Nila Chakra is the most revered iconic symbol in the Jagannath cult. The Nila Chakra is the only physical object whose markings are used as sacrament and considered sacred in Jagannath worship. It symbolizes protection by Shri Jagannath.
The name Nilachakra is a mysterical term as it never looks blue (Nila). This wheel symbolizes the Chakra of Lord Srikrishna and there is an interesting story on this score which may delight the reader.
Once the Chakra of the Lord indulged in self pride that he has played the decisive roles in Mahabharat War and other events by beheading great heroes, while his master only passed the orders with his usual smiling lips. Lord Jagannath, being incarnation of Visnu (Srikrishna) the Almighty had that extraordinary ability to perceive others feelings. The Lord can tolerate any mischief but not the self pride. On perception of the feelings of his loving weapon, Lord wanted a reform in him then and there. So He asked Chakra to go to Hanuman and tell him to come at once. Chakra was shocked as he was engaged in such a petty job which he thought to be below his dignity. But being an obedient attendant, in a twinkle of eye flew to Hanuman and passed on the order of his master. Hanuman is again a symbol of super Divine having the power of perception of everything. So he casually treated Chakra and sent him back by telling I am coming, you go . This was the second jolt for Chakra, as Hanuman treated him as an ordinary messenger, instead of an ambassador of the great Lord and did not carry the order of his master at once. Indulgence in self pride often eclipses the wisdom and prudence and that happened in case of Chakra. Thus he forgot that Hanuman possessed the power of flying in lightning speed. Chakra got the third jolt when coming back to the temple found Hanuman coming out of the temple after meeting with his master. Now the Chakra came to senses and prostrated before his master admitting his folly. The Lord not only excused but blessed him and awarded with highest position in the temple complex. The master wanted that his devotees should first get a glimpse of his faithful weapon from a distance and then only blessed one would be able to get His darshan. In fact the wheel with it s flag is visible from a distance of about 10 kms from the temple.
Garuda, in Indian traditions is considered as the vehicle of Vishnu. Lord Jagannatha is considered identical with Vishnu and Krishna. Hence his Vahan-stambha is placed in the nata-mandira of the temple. The tradition of erecting pillars in honour of Vishnu goes back to 2nd century B.C. There is a pillar in honour of Vasudeva at Basnagar (Vidisha) in Madhya Pradesh.
In the Natamandira of the temple on the eastern side a unique Garuda stambha is located. In the first sight it looks like an ordinary stone column surmounted by a Garuda figure on the top. But on examination its shaft seems to be a remnant of a plant of a past geological era. The shaft bears the impression or traces of a Sal tree shorn of its bark. The impression of the Sal tree is readily preserved. The total height of column along with the pedestal and the Garuda capital is about 10 feet. The height of shaft is about 7 feet. The column is not made up of an ordinary stone but a Salagrama stone. It is the largest Salagrama stone, unique in the fossil record of India. This Garudastambha, made up of fossil, is quite harmonious to the chaturdha-darumurthis on the ratnavedi made of salagrama stones. The erection of Garudastambha in Vishnu temples became quite popular in the Ganga period following the model of Jagannatha temple. We find Garuda stambhas in later temples such as Madhavananda temple (13th century) at village Madhava in Cuttack district and Ananta Vasudeva Temple in 1278 A.D. at Bhubaneswar. Inside the Jagannatha temple the Garudastambha is considered very holy and it has its own rituals and devotees usually have a darshan of the lord from this place.
Baisi Pahacha (22 Steps)
One has to climb up 22 steps before reaching the main temple. These are known as Baisipahacha. These 22 steps are considered as very sacred in Hindu philosophy and they represent the total number of feet of ten Avatars of the past millenniums. Some others opine that before going near Ratnabedi for a Darshan of Lord Jagannath one has to cross Astabaikuntha viz Sri Baikuntha, Swetadwipa Baikuntha, Seshasai Baikuntha, Parabyoma Baikuntha, Garvodaksal Baikuntha and Kailash Baikuntha. After the above 8 steps, there are 14 Bhuvanas. Out of these Bhuvanas 7 are connected with Earth and 7 with Patal . The former are Bhu , Bhurba , swah , Mahah , Jana , Tapah , and Satya whereas the later are Atal , Sutala , Bitala , Talatala, Mahitala , Rasatala and Patal.
Yet another hypothesis coexists which describes that one has to leave behind, control and sacrifice 22 Prakruti before getting a scared Darshan of Lord Jagannath. These are ten senses (5 Kamendriya and 5 Gyanendriya) 5 Panchamana namely Mana, Aman, Biman, Kuman and Sumana. 7 Vikaras i.e. Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha(emotion), Lova(greed), Ahankar(selfpride), Irsha (jealousy) and Ghruna(hatred). Thus the 22 steps carry much significance in Hindu philosophy.
The Singahdwara, which in Sanskrit means The Lion Gate, is one of the four gates to the temple and forms the Main entrance. The Singhadwara is so named because two huge statues of crouching lions exist on either side of the entrance. The gate faces east opening on to the Bada Danda or the Grand Road. The Baisi Pahacha or the flight of twenty two steps leads into the temple complex. An idol of Jagannath known as Patitapavana, which in Sanskrit, means the “Saviour of the downtrodden and the fallen” is painted on the right side of the entrance. In ancient times when untouchables were not allowed inside the temple, they could pray to Patita Pavana. The statues of the two guards to the temple Jaya and Vijaya stand on either side of the doorway. Just before the commencement of the Rath Yatra the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out of the temple through this gate. On their return from the Gundicha Temple they have to ritually placate Goddess Mahalakshmi, whose statue is carved atop the door, for neglecting to take her with them on the Yatra. Only then the Goddess allows them permission to enter the temple. A wonderful sixteen-sided monolithic pillar known as the Arun stambha stands in front of the main gate. This pillar has an idol of Arun, the charioteer of the Sun God Surya, on its top. One significant thing about Arun stambha is that prior it was located in the Konark Sun temple, later, the Maratha guru Brahmachari Gosain brought this pillar from Konark. The Puri Jagannath Temple was also saved by Maratha emperor Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj from being plundered at his times from the Mughals.
Apart from the Singhadwara, which is the main entrance to the temple, there are three other entrances facing north, south and west. They are named after the sculptures of animals guarding them. The other entries are the Hathidwara or the Elephant Gate, the Vyaghradwara or the Tiger Gate and the Ashwadwara or the Horse Gate.
In addition to the Garuda column inside the Natamandira in front of the Jagannatha Temple, there is a monolithic pillar crowned by a squatting figure of Garuda. Aruna is the charioteer of the Sun God. Hence the pillar is called the Sun Pillar or Arunastambha. Originally this beautiful pillar was erected in honour of the Sun God at Konark. In front of the eastern gateway of Jagamohan there was this beautiful pillar called Arunastambha.
The placing of Arunastambha in front of the temple of Lord Jagannatha is quite appropriate as from the Vedic times, the Sun God is considered identical with Vishnu.