The best thing to do, were it possible, would be to take a low balloon flight over Bhubaneshwar to view the magnitude and concentration of temples in this town. It literally abounds with hundreds of exquisite temples spread around a central lake called Bindu Sarovar, the nucleus of the universe. The earliest temple dates to the seventh century, but the history of this region extends far further back than the Christian era.
The present state of Orissa was renowned in ancient times for its seaports facing the Bay of Bengal on the east coast of India, looking out at the distant islands of Java, Bali, and Indonesia. We hear of its strategic significance in the account of a terrible battle of conquest in the third century BC when the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, with his capital at Pataliputra (Patna, Bihar) waged war on Kalinga (the ancient name of Orissa). The contents of his rock edict (No. 13) can only be described as one of the most dramatic and epoch-making religious conversions in history:
When the king, Beloved of the gods [Priyadarshini] and of gracious men, had been consecrated eight years Kalinga was conquered, 15,000 people were deported, 100,000 were killed, and many times that number died. But after the conquest of Kalinga, the Beloved of the gods began to follow righteousness [the Buddhist dharma], to love righteousness and to give instruction in righteousness.
When Emperor Ashoka surveyed the carnage and bloodshed that his armies had caused the decided to follow the middle path expounded by the Buddha, here to the battlefields of Kalinga. To mark the historic event the hillock site called Dhauli (8 kilometers south of Bhubaneshwar) was honoured by Emperor Ashoka by a sculpture depicting a huge standing elephant cut out of the rock. On a large rock surface carved with a set of edicts, Emperor Ashoka records his policy on non-violence, his desire to give up military conquest for spiritual victory (or political gain!) and to pacify the newly-conquered people of Kalinga. Dhauli is a sort of two thousand year old version of Hiroshima. It stands testimony to the senseless cruelty and inane violence of human nature and the need for non-violence or ahimsa. Today Japanese Buddhists have marked the site by building the Shanti (Peace) Stupa at Dhauli, a reminder that wisdom is the only hope of ushering in an era of lasting peace and happiness.
At Udayagiri and Khandagiri (6 kilometers south of Bhubaneshwar) is a series of rock-cut caves in the eastern region are extremely interesting early samples of architecture in a style that reached its climax of development at Ajanta, Ellora, and Elephanta in Maharashtra in western India. Honeycombing the entire face of hillside of sandstone are over thirty-five caves of the Jain community. The most beautiful at Udayagiri are the Hathi Gumpha (the elephant cave), which has carved stone elephants at the entrance and the Rani Gumpha (the Queen's cave), which is a double-storey residential apartment scooped out of the living rock, with pillared verandas, and beautiful sculptured panels on the side walls of the entrance courtyard.
From the seventh to the thirteenth centuries the focus of architecture in the region was on the construction of temples to the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. The Bhauma Kara dynasties in the seventh to eighth centuries built temples in their capital, and the tradition was carried on by the Gangas through their reign beginning from the twelfth century. One can almost trace the development of this distinct school of architecture from its inception, with the phase of early experimentation, given expression in the monuments of Bhubaneshwar and its most mature, perfected phase in the magnificent temples of Puri and Konarak.
The Parashurameshvara Temple is small, decorative example of the best-preserved earliest temple from at Bhubaneshwar. It dates back to the seventh century and is built within an enclosure. The temple consists of a main garbha griha or sanctum with a tower-like roof, referred to in local terminology as the rekha deul. This tower (only 12.80 meters high, and yet to rival that of the Lingaraja temple at 36.5 meters) is conical in shape and is made up of discrete horizontal levels which curve inwards as they meet the pinnacle, surmounted by a cushion-shaped amalaka and a kalash or pot of ambrosia. The front face of the tower has prominent arched windows and sculpted motifs. The hall in front of the tower is rectangular with a two-tiered flat roof which, as the style progressed, was to give way to more dramatic many-tiered pyramidal roofs. The walls of the mandap (locally called jagamohan or pida deul) are elaborately carved with sculptured panels and lattice windows. The west facing windows have a lively band of musicians and dancers carved on them. As you perform a pradakshina of the temple you will see several beautiful sculptures, such as that of the pot-bellied Ganesh, the lord of good fortune, on the southern side and of Karttikeya, the chief of the army and son of Shiva. Below the figure of Karttikeya is his animal emblem, the peacock (who seems busy guzzling grain at his master's feet).
Thought not in practical sightseeing order, to maintain chronological sequence one needs to describe the eighth century Vaital Deul Temple (at some distance from the Parashurameshvara Temple, to the west of the Bindu Sarovar). It is quite distinct from any other and also has some of the finest sculpture. The temple has a sanctum but instead of the usual conical roof above, the tower here sloped like a pyramid surmounted by a long valuated cap (a little like the gopurams of southern India). The front face of the temple tower has a wonderful ornate design and in the sculptured windows are the figures of the Cosmic dancer Shiva and below, Surya the sun god riding on his seven-horsed chariot. On the main body of the temple are some dramatic works of sculpture. Mahishasuramardini depicts the goddess Durga spearing the demon Mahisha and ending his reign of terror (she, in her more awesome manifestation as Chamuunda, is also the deity worshipped within the sanctum of this temple). There is a figure of Parvati on the south and Ardhanareshvara (half man and half woman, symbolizing the concept of singularness in Hindu philosophy) on the west wall.
Near the Parashurameshvara Temple is the most perfect 'gem of Orissan architecture', the Mukteshvara Temple (late tenth century). Stylistically it is petite, and a landmark in Orissan temple development. It stands at one end of a large enclosure, which boasts several other temples, and has its own small ornamental enclosure wall around it. The Mukteshvara Temple faces west, and on the eastern side, behind it, is a holy water pond where pilgrims can still be seen bathing. In front of the temple is a beautiful opulent gateway. It has two sculpted pillars that hold up an arched lintel with reclining women whose sensuous forms follow the curve of the gateway. From a distance one is able to appreciate its overall design and plan. The temple consists of a sanctum with a conical rekha deul above it. The tower is made up of horizontal levels, and a series of amalaka and cushion-like motifs have been added along the entire outline of the rekha deul as if to outline and highlight its elegant form. In front is a square mandap or jagamohan with a low pyramidal tiered roof that was to become the hallmark of the mature Orissan temple style. The outer temple wall is profusely adorned with pure, decorative sculpture and figurative art. There are figures of celestial females standing beside half open doorways and elfish dwarf characters up to all kinds of tricks. Around the temple, in the niches, are Ganesh, Kartikkeya, Parvati, and the strange figure of Lakulisha, the Shaivite teacher and guru.
Not far from the Mukteshvara temple is the Rajarani Temple built in a lovely reddish-gold sandstone (a superior stone and perhaps the origin of its strange name which literally means the king-queen temple). Surrounded by empty space the temple stands serene and majestic, glowing in any light of day. Here the temple has reached a new stage of development. The tower is elongated and consists of many miniature towers clambering up its conical surface (like the temples of Khajuraho). The mandap or jagamohan has a square body and a many-tiered pyramidal roof above. The treatment of the wall surface around the duel (the mandap is quite plain) is especially beautiful, with long rows of projecting wall spaces, like faceted pilasters, adorned with rows of images of the guardians of the cardinal directions and graceful female figures: one fondling her baby, another clasping a branch of a tree, a third applying her make-up or merely admiring her beauty in the mirror, wearing her ankle bells, or talking to her pet parrot. There are also lady musicians and dancers, all of whom seem to be celebrating life and all that is beautiful.
The Lingaraja Temple represents in its magnificence and grace the mature and highly developed temple form of the Orissan style. Enclosed within a compound wall is the towering vitality of the Lingaraja's rekha duel rising to height of 36.5 meters. The Lingaraja temple is still used for worship and is open to Hindus only. A viewing platform outside the compound provides the best view of the temple and its plan. Surrounding the main temple are a number of smaller shrines, cluttering up the compound slightly; yet this plan is extremely interesting in that it provides an insight into how the temple grew. With popular favour, and with additional donations, buildings sprang up within the complex, making it a heavenly mini-universe marked by the presence of many gods and goddesses. An inscription within the complex records the donation of a village, the income from which would provide oil for a lamp to be continually burning at the temple (referred to as Krittivasa). The inscription dates to AD 1114-15, in the reign of the Ganga King Anantavarman Chodaganga.
The temple consists of four parts (not just the two, as in the earlier examples), the sanctum with the high tower, the mandap or jagamohan, the nat mandap (dance hall), and the bhoga mandap. In later years, as temple functions were expanded, a dance tradition grew as a form of worship of the gods. The dance, performed by special devotees in the temple, was based on devotional poetry and music which described the wonders and magnificence of the deity of the temple. Today Odissi, which was born in the temples of Orissa, is performed not in temples, but on the stage as a classical dance form. The outer walls of the temple are embellished by superb sculptures that cover every inch of wall space, sometimes hidden by a protecting pillar or lost in the shadows of the towering superstructure. In these sculptures one can see the inspiration of dance, music, and poetry for which Orissa is famous.
What's In The Neighborhood
There are several other temples that can be seen in the Mukteshvara complex, in the Lingaraja temple complex, and around the city. There is a fine State Museum which has a special collection of early Orissan sculptures and exquisite palm leaf manuscripts. Orissa is also the home of many beautiful handicrafts, appliqué work from Pipli (en route to Puri), ikat textiles, palm leaf paintings, patta-chitras prepared on stiffened cloth with bright colors and intricate filigree silver jewellery.
Dhauli is 8 kilometers south of Bhubaneshwar and the rock-cut caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri are 6 kilometers away. Bhubaneshwar is a good starting point for day or longer trips to the holy pilgrimage center of Puri (65 kilometers away) and its pretty beach (though the temple is only open to Hindus). From the capital city of Bhubaneshwar one can travel by road (64 kilometers away or 33 kilometers from Puri) for a day trip to the fabulous Sun Temple at Konarak.
How To Get There
Bhubaneshwar is well-connected by road, air, and rail links to Calcutta and other major cities of India. There are daily tours to both Konarak and Puri organized by the State Tourism Department. There is a reasonable range of hotels both at Bhubaneshwar and Puri to stay in when visiting this land with a rich and ancient cultural heritage.
Rajarani Temple, Lingaraja Temple, Lingaraja's rekha, Mukteshvara complex, Lingaraja temple complex, State Museum, Sun Temple at Konarak, Bhubaneshwar, Bindu Sarovar, Christian era, Bay of Bengal, Emperor Ashoka, Dhauli, Shanti Stupa at Dhauli, Udayagiri, Khandagiri, Ajanta, Hathi Gumpha, Rani Gumpha, Bhauma Kara dynasties, Parashurameshvara Temple, pida deul, Vaital Deul Temple, Mukteshvara Temple