20.12.2015 - 23.12.2015 35 °C
If there ever was a part of this expansive and colourful country that was worthy of the term “Temple City” – the beautiful Oriya city of Bhubaneshwar would be it. With almost a 1000 temples dotting the landscape of this part of the world that was once the seat of the Kalinga dynasty, it represents the magnificence of a kingdom that ruled millenniums earlier. As you explore this city, you quickly discovered that most of the heritage places in this city are concentrated in the “Old Town” area.
I had once made a hurried day visit to this quaint historic city on work and explored a fraction of its breath-taking expanse and had vowed to one day return. My second visit spanned 4 days and this is a brief travelogue of the beauty I saw.
The Mukteshwar Temple built in the 10th Century AD is one of the smallest temples rising to a full height of just 35 feet but it is also one of the temples with the most detailed and ornate craftsmanship. The decorated archway in front of the main temple is a significantly differential feature in comparison to the architecture of the rest of the temples and it also holds some of the most ornate carvings of tales from the Panchatantra on the sides. The Siddeshwar temple, where both Shiva and Vishnu are worshipped is also present in the same complex and was a beautiful addition to this entire experience. The annual Mukteshwar Dance Festival in hosted in January every year and I was lucky to watch a dancer perform in the deserted courtyard just for herself and God making the beginning of a hectic week seem so tranquil.
The entire Old Town area is criss-crossed with narrow lanes and hidden jems. I stumbled upon artisans creating palm leaf engravings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Also nestled in these bylanes was a worshop producing beautiful tribal and bastar art works. I managed to pick up a few pieces directly from them which I am pretty certain I would have had to pay anywhere between 5 to 10 times if I had picked it up at an emporium.
The Lingaraj Temple which is one of the largest and most celebrated temples in the region is not written about here since my visit turned out to be a harrowing experience due to the harassment by the pandas in the temple who are just looking to making a quick buck in the name of devotion and destroy every bit of the faith that brings people to holy place. To the extent where I later heard that people are pointedly avoiding paying a visit to the Lingaraj Temple as it has already gained an infamous reputation due to the pandas notoriety.
Constructed in 650 AD, the Parasurameswara Temple is widely considered the oldest temple in Bhubaneshwar and was commissioned by the Shailodbhava Kings. I visited this temple on a Monday morning and found myself alone except for the priests in the temple courtyard. Most of the temples in the area are dedicated to Lord Shiva – the patron God of the Kalinga empire, but Parasurama temple is dedicated to an avatar of Vishnu. Among many other stories, it is said that Parasuram at some point decided to do devout austerities to please Shiva and Lord Shiva rewarded his devotion by granting him an axe. I had never seen a temple dedicated to the Parasuram avatar of Vishnu (actually I did not know that they had temples dedicated to Parahsuram), so it turned out to be a good occasion to understand more about the mythology related.
Also, the Parasurameswara temple was one of the few temples that used to house Devadasis.
20 kilometers outside of Bhubaneshwar in the middle of rice-fields filled landscape lies the beautiful, roofless, circular Chaunsath Yogini Mandir which is a sight shrouded in mystery. The temple dates back 1200 years and was lost for generations until it was rediscovered in 1953 according to the Archeological Survey of India plaque at the entrance. This perfect example of tantric worship which involves the five elements of nature - fire, water, earth, sky and ether and reflects the role of feminine power, is one of only four hypaethral temples in the country. The visit to the temple was fairly brief but once done, you can spend some sitting on the platform facing the temple and take a walk around the temple which has paddy fields and beautiful water bodies.
Set in a garden and peaceful surroundings, I managed a brief stop over at the Rajarani Temple which is named a temple but was actually a pleasure resort for a king and a queen. I heard another version for its unique name that it was derived from the kind of sandstone that was used in its construction. There are no idols here and the architecture is delightful.
As my cab whizzed passed the temples dotted landscape on my way to the airport, I remember thinking to myself that this city is truly a heritage wonderland.