Puri: For lakhs of devotees thronging the Jagannath Temple in Puri, the flag atop the 12th-century shrine named 'Patitapaban Bana' is the first glimpse of the lord before setting foot inside temple.

It is believed that a mere sight of the flag uplifts the downtrodden - that's how it derived its name - Patitapaban.

Jagannath researchers and people responsible for hoisting the flag atop the Srimandir are of the opinion that it is the most sacred part of the temple and is synonymous with Jagannath Culture.

"This is an integral part of the temple. Every nation has its own flag. The symbol on the flag depicts the very existence of that particular nation or the State along with the culture and tradition. The darshan of the flag uplifts the deprived. The symbol on the flag is the symbol of 'Parambramha.' Without even coming to visit the temple, devotees in and around Puri offer Prasad to the Lord by seeing the flag," said Jagannath culture expert, Surya Narayan Ratha Sharma.

This flag is changed daily by 'Chunara Sebakas (servitors)' of the temple and is considered as one of the most daring rituals of Lord Jagannath. Mostly in summers the flag is changed at around 5 PM in the evening while in winters it is done a little earlier. Devotees gather to watch the ritual daily while there are many Jagannath devotees who show interest and donate the flag as a mark of their devotion.

Hoisting the flag at the top of the temple is the most important service that we perform daily apart from other rituals that are under our 'Nijoga (servitor association).' It is risky as we have to climb to the top of the temple.

--- Sarat Mohanty, Chunara Sebaka

Asked about the experience of climbing to the top of the temple, he replied that it is very hard to explain in words.

"We see the Bay of Bengal on one side while Sulari Hills near Balugaon of Khurda can be seen from the other," he added.

According to historical scriptures, previously long flags were installed at the top and those were called 'Sagarbhija Bana.' And a few decades ago flags measuring 151 hand length were hoisted by the 'Chunara Sebakas.'

"The last time a flag measuring 151 hand length was hoisted in 1993 when Bollywood actor and politician Sunil Dutt donated the flag for his son Sanjay Dutt who was under the trial in TADA court and I was given the responsibility to perform the ritual that day," said Sarat Mohanty.

"Later, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) asked to reduce the flag's length first to 21 hand length and then to 14-hand length to avoid damage the temple because of air friction," added Mohanty.