Matthas and ashramas can basically be called monasteries preaching Hinduism and the Jagannath culture. There were set up by the ‘sadhus’ or the saints that came to the city to have ‘darshan’ or visit the great lord Jagannath.
As reported by the Gazetteer of the British East India Company in 1929, “Mathas are monastic houses originally founded with the object of giving religious instructions to chelas or disciples and generally of encouraging a religious life.” The functions of these Mathas include one Preachment and propagation of Hinduism and the Jagannath culture.
Providing shelter and food to pilgrimage coming to puri, providing accommodation and financial help to meritorious students. Participating in the rituals of the Jagannath temple.
Some Matthas were also set up for defense and protection purposes. There were four defense Matthas that were built by the Narsimha Dev-1 namely, Bagha, Khaki, Hati, and Nirmohi Matthas. These Matthas were significantly different because these consisted of some of the very valiant, brave and powerful saints and ‘sadhus’ who in the time of danger could protect the temple from the Mughal or the British or any other non-hindu clans from destroying down the temple.
This could be one of the reasons why such a prominent place of worship is still standing untouched after so many invasions and destruction. There are numerous Matthas in puri who not only belong to different sects of Hinduism but they also other sects of other cultures and religions too one of the main reason for the same could be that Puri is a highly devotional and religious city and people who come here are expected to be exploring their religious or spiritual side of being and so these Matthas and Aashramas not only support your stay but also offer different ways to become more connected to your spiritual being and attain peace and joy .
Some of the sects of Hinduism to which these Matthas and Aashramas are affiliated to are Angira sect, Adwait sect, Ramanandi sect, Ramanuja sect, Atibadi sect, Gaudiya sect, Pancha Ramanandi sect, Gauda Mahaba sect, Nimbarka sect, Anant sect, Utkal Vaishnav sect, Madhabacharya sect, Dashanami sect, Pustimarga sect etc. Some of the Sikh sects and ashrams are also very active in this place, for example, Guru-Nanak and Kabir sects.
These Matthas are spread across wide spaces which were gifted by the kings of the region to the saints who came in as pilgrims but wanted to stay back there, preach the Jagannath culture and provide service to the community.
These spaces provide ample opportunities for anyone to practice really any recreational activities. Among the daily bhajan-kirtans, anyone willing to volunteer for any activities held in and outside the temple and the Ashrams are welcome.
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Sometimes great sadhus who preach the Jagannath or Krishna culture all around the world hold ‘Pravachans’ or spiritual lectures for anyone who is willing to listen starting from the disciples to the pilgrims who come to visit the city to the people od the ciry itself. These Matthas and Aashramas become very active during the Ratha yatra, Janmashtami and Nanda-ustava.
The food served there are prepared through the proper scriptural descriptions of ‘Satvic Bhojan’. This is a type of cuisine that is pure vegetarian and the only kind of lubricant used is ghee and is prepared without onion or garlic.