“Of all the regions on earth, Bharata Khand is the most distinguished. And of all the countries of Bharata Khand, Utkala boasts the highest renown. Its whole extent is one uninterrupted tirtha. Its happy inhabitants live secure of reception into the world of spirits. Those who can even visit it, and bathe in its sacred rivers, obtain remission of their sins though they weigh like mountains. Who shall describe adequately its sacred streams, temples, kshetra, fragrant flowers & fruits of exquisite flavor, all the merits, and advantages of a sojourn in such a land? What necessity indeed can there be for enlarging in the praises of a region, which the Devatas themselves delight to inhabit?” – Kapila Samhita.

“In Utkala (Orissa) there is a kshetra of Lord Krittivasa (Shiva). It removes all sins, and such regions are extremely rare. It has a crore of Shivlings. Is equal in merit to Varanasi. Known as Ekamra, it has eight principal tirthas.” – Brahma Purana.

Bhubaneshwar – Must Visit Heritage City of India

Historical Outline

The region of the present Odisha (earlier Orissa), with varying geographical limits, was variously known as Kalinga, Odra, or Utkala during the ancient and medieval periods. The earliest reference of Kalinga is found in Ashoka’s edicts, Kandhar edict of Shar-i-kuna, and Shahbazgarhi edict. These edicts mention the war of Kalinga and its subsequent inclusion into the Mauryan empire. This war was in the latter half of the third century BCE. The conquest of Kalinga is one of the most important episodes in Ashoka’s life. It is believed that after witnessing the bloodshed in this battle, Ashoka turned towards Buddhist faith and dharma or religious victory.

Kalinga

Kalinga is also mentioned in the famous inscription of Kharavela. In which he is referred to as Kalingadhipati or the overlord of Kalinga. This inscription is dated to the first century BCE. Reference of Kalinga is also found in Pliny’s Natural History as Calingae, situated on the eastern coast of India. Bhishma Parva of Mahabharata mentions Kalinga and Utkala among the provinces of Jambudwipa (India). Sabha-Parva of Mahabharata mentions an ivory gift from the king of Kalinga.

In Drona-Parva of the same epic, we understand that the prince of Kalinga fought on the side of the Kauravas in the great war. Xuanzang, the famous Chinese pilgrim of the seventh century CE, visited the capital of the kingdom of Kie-Ling-Kia identified with Kalinga.

Odra

The earliest reference of Odra is found in the Book VI of Pliny’s Natural History. It mentions a nation, Oratae, whose king had only ten elephants but a large infantry. It also mentions two tribes, Monaedes and the Suari, whose domain was Mount Maleus. Cunningham identifies Oratae with Odra, mount Maleus with Mahendra and Monaedes, and Suaris with Munda and Suar tribes. On Xuanzang’s travels, Cunningham mentions that Wu Ch’a of Xuanzang was Odra. The origin of the word Odra is not very certain. However, the widely accepted theory is that the name was derived from the race inhabiting the region. Mitra mentions Oda race who inhabit various parts of Orissa and are the descendants of the aboriginals.

Utkala

Chapter 10 of Harivamsha Purana mentions the story of Utkala. It says when Vaivasvat Manu performed a sacrifice to Mitra and Varuna, a beautiful lady named Ila appeared from it. When Ila was not ready to go with Manu, Mitra and Varuna transformed her into two, one as man, Suddumnya, and one as female, Ila. Ila with Budha produced Pururava. Suddumnya got three sons, Utkala, Gaya and Vinata. Utkala got his capital at Utkalaa.

Only a few references are provided above. There are many more scattered in different texts, inscriptions, and other materials. This is not the place nor the time to investigate all of these. We only want to highlight a few of the earliest ones. All that quoted above indicate the antiquity of the present Odisha region goes back to the Mauryan times. It is attested by the two Ashokan edicts found in the state.

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Legends

Coming to legends and anecdotes, there are many narrated by early explorers. Stirling 8 mentions, Cuttack pandits believe that upon the decline of the great monarchy of upper India at the dawn of the Kaliyuga, four principal thrones of Hindu princes ruled over the country. These were the Narapatis, Aswapatis, Chatrapatis and Gajapatis. Narapatis were the sovereigns of the Telangana and Karnataka countries. Aswapatis were in the Maratha country. Chatrapatis were the Rajput rulers of Jaipur. The last, Gajapatis, was the title for the rulers of Orissa.

Puri

Puri in Orissa has long been a very famous Hindu pilgrimage site. Stirling was told that Utkala-Desa contains four pilgrimage centers, each one for a specific sanctity. These were Hara-Kshetra, Vishnu or Purshottam-Kshetra, Arka or Padma-Kshetra, and Vijayi or Parvati-Kshetra. Hara-Kshetra is the modern Bhubaneshwar. Purshottam-kshetra is Puri. Arka-Kshetra is Konark. Parvati-Kshetra is in Jajpur.

Stirling

On Bhubaneshwar Stirling writes, “At Balwanta, on the new road, sixteen miles from Cuttack, the attention of a traveler is attracted by a lofty massive tower of stone, rising from amidst the thickets which skirt the adjoining frontier of Khurda. A path leads through the woods towards the object of curiosity, and conducts, at the end of about six miles, to a gently swelling rocky elevation or Tangi formes of beds of the iron clay.

On reaching which you will find yourself, with astonishment. In the center of a ruined city, consisting entirely of deserted and dismantled towers and temples sacred to the worship of Mahadeo. Under the innumerable titles, which absurd legends or the fancy of his votaries have assigned to that deity. From amidst the whole, the great pagoda of the Ling Raj, or Lord of the Lingam, lifts its singular form. Eminently conspicuous both for size, loftiness, and superior style of its architecture.”

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Capital of Odisha

Bhubaneshwar is the present capital city of Odisha. In 1936, during the British rule over India, Odisha became a separate province, taken out of Calcutta Presidency, with its capital at Cuttack. After independence, and after the reorganization of states in 1956, Odisha was one among the 14 states. Its capital was shifted here from Cuttack in 1948.

Lingaraj temple of Bhubaneshwar
The famous Lingaraj temple of Bhubaneshwar

Bhubaneshwar boasts of a very rich and continuous heritage of more than 2000 years. While it carries us back to the dawn of the dated Indian history, it also brings us back to the last heydays of Hindu supremacy. The earliest known history of the place can be traced to Sisupalgrah, the antiquity of which is established back to the period of 3rd-4th BCE.

Sisupalgarh

Sisupalgarh was a prosperous town before and during the Mauryan period. After conquering Kalinga, Ashoka divided it into two divisions, Toshali and Samapa. To earn faith and trust in his newly conquered territory, Ashoka set up two edicts. One at Dhauli and the other at Jaugada, instructing his officers on the expected conduct. The division mentioned in the Dhauli edict is Toshali.

Elephant sculpture carved out of a rock at Dhauli, Bhubaneshwar
Elephant sculpture carved out of a rock at Dhauli

Panigrahi identifies Sisupalgarh as Toshali. Explaining that Dhauli does not exhibit any antiquity prior to the Mauryan reign. Buddhism would have been the religion in vogue during the Maurya rule. However apart from the Asokan edicts and few remnants of pillars and capitals, nothing much of that period has survived.

King Kharavela

Kalinga did not stay with the Mauryas for long as it was soon wrested back by King Kharavela, of the Chedi dynasty. Kharavela is said to be its sole sovereign during the first century BCE. Kharavela was ruling from the capital Kalinga-Nagara which may be safely identified with Sisupalgarh. During the rule of the Chedi dynasty, Jainism outgrew over Buddhism. Many cave shrines were excavated in the vicinity of the city, at Khandagiri and Udayagiri hills.

After the rule of Kharavela, Odisha went into obscurity as its political history is very dark for that period. We get to see some light once the Guptas started their rule over major parts of India. We do not clearly know what political significance the city enjoyed during the Guptas. However, it is suggested that the Vigraha dynasty was ruling over Kalinga under the patronage of the Guptas. While all of India witnessed a Brahmanical revival under the Guptas, the city came out of the yolk of Buddhism and Jainism and embraced Shaivism. This movement was highly influenced by the Lakulisa sect. From this time onward, Bhubaneshwar started to be known as Ekamra-Kanana, Ekamra-Vana, or Ekamra-Kshetra or Ekamra.

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Ekamra

The earliest epigraphical reference of Ekamra comes from an inscription dated in 280 years of the Gupta era, corresponding to 600 CE. The inscription belongs to the Vigraha dynasty. It mentions Ekambaka which can be identified with Ekamra. With an increase in religious activities, Bhubaneshwar soon attained the status of a celebrated tirtha. A Bhaumakara period, 9th-10th century CE inscription mentions that a certain ruler names Santikaradeva visited Ekamra-Tirtha paying homage to Bindusagara with land donations. Many later inscriptions in Bhubaneshwar retain the name of the region as Ekamra whose presiding deity was Krittivasa. On its presiding deity, the place was also known as Krittivasa Kataka.

References

Reference to Ekamra region is found in Kapila-Samhita, Purushottama-Mahatmya, Ekamra-Chandrika and Tirtha-Chintamani. Kapila Samhita is the oldest among all and its name occurs in few Puranas. It is considered among 18 Upa-Puranas and can be assigned to 11th century CE. Kapila Samhita describes the tirthas of the Utkala region, Hara-Kshetra, Arka-Kshetra, Purshottam-Kshetra, and Parvati-Kshetra.

Ekamra Purana professes to be an upa-purana and is a Shaivite work. Purushottama Mahatmya is shorter than Ekamra Purana however it claims to be part of Skanda Purana. This claim is not genuine as Narada Purana does not count it as a part of Skanda Purana. This work is dedicated to Jagannatha and praise of Puri. Ekamra Chandrika is a pilgrimage guide describing temples, holy pools, and water bodies of Bhubaneshwar. And the religious merits in visiting these places and performing religious duties at these places. It does not contain many legends and anecdotes but focuses on religious mantras etc.

Tirtha-Chintamani of Vachaspati Mishra is a work of 13th CE. It contains a brief description of all principal pilgrimage places of India which a pious Hindu must visit at least once in his lifetime.

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Kapila Samhita

In Kapila-Samhita, in a reply to a request from king Shalyajit for an account of all holy places, Kapila says, “Among continents, that of Bharata, and among countries, that of Utkala, are the noblest, and nowhere on the face of the earth is there a country like unto it. Its holy places were, in a former age, described by the great sage Bharadvaja for the edification of the sages assembled near the sacred waters of Pushkara, and I shall relate to you what I have heard of it.” The work then describes successively the origin of the four sacred Kshetras of Orissa. Sankha Kshetra or Puri, Arka Kshetra or Konarka, Viraja Kshetra or Jajpur, and Padma kshetra or Bhubaneshwar. Later authorities add the fifth Kshetra, for Ganesha in Darpana. However, it did not rise too much in importance in the later period.

Treta Yuga

On the foundation of the place, Kapila Samhita mentions, “It was in the Treta Yuga that Shiva wishing to retire from the din and sin of over-crowded Benares, sought the advice of Narada. At the suggestion of that sage, took up this quiet, secluded, delightful retreat for his abode.” Mitra tells that it appears that nothing was omitted in the way of details to make it (Bhubaneshwar) the exact counterpart of its prototype (Varanasi). Every temple, every sacred poll, every rivulet, every ceremonial, every observance, and every legend of Varanasi were reproduced at Bhubaneshwar.

On the origin of the name Ekamra, Kapila Samhita mentions, “In a former age there existed on this spot a mango tree of great merit. Because there was only one tree, the place is called the grove of one mango tree (Ekamra Vana). A lofty tree with magnificent branches, decked with gem-like leaves, and bearing fruits which bestowed the fourfold blessings of virtue, wealth, desirable objects and salvation.”

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Shiva Purana

Shiva Purana narrates a story in a reply to a query from Durga on which place is most sacred to Shiva. Lord replies, “O daughter of the king of mountains, O Devi, you have much-adored me. I will, therefore, describe to you my Ksetra on the earth for your gratification. In the grand Utkala Ksetra, near the southern ocean, there lies a fine river that takes its source from the foot of Vindhya mountain and runs towards the east. From it has proceeded a charming stream by the name Gandhavati, which is the very same as Ganga and flows northwards here.

On it, sports flocks of geese and Karandavas (wild ducks) amidst golden lotuses: and its water destroys all sins and unites with the southern ocean. On its bank stands a forest, sacred to me, which removes all kinds of sin. It is the holiest of all holy places and is known by the name Ekamra. It is filled with grandeur, and the six seasons are ever-present there. O Parvati, that is my kshetra: it is as even as Kailasa itself.”

It is not clear when the town started to be known as Bhubaneshwar. An inscription in Lingaraja temple, dated in 12th century CE, mentions the presiding deity as Tribhubaneswara. The name Bhubaneshwar was evidently derived from Tribhubaneswara and it soon became popular than Krittivasa.

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Shakti Tirtha

Bhubaneshwar was not only celebrated for its Shaivite character but also as a sacred Shakti Tirtha. Its chief goddess was known as Kirtimati. A reference of whom is found in Matsya Purana. Another tantra text, Tantrasara, names the chief goddess as Bhagavaha. Utkala Khanda of Shiva Purana mentions four shakti pithas, Kedara and Gauri as Bhava pitha, Uttaresvara, and Uttaresvari as Mahasmasana pitha, Gopalini in Lingaraja as Sva pitha and Vaidyanatha as Brhat pitha.

Early European Explorer

Andrew Stirling was the earliest European explorer who left his account about the Orissa region, geography, and culture. He writes, “At all events, the European observer will soon discover, that notwithstanding its Puranic celebrity, the soil of the country is generally poor and unfruitful. All its natural productions are of inferior quality. Its inhabitants rank the lowest, in the scale of moral and intellectual excellence, of any people on this side of India.”

W W Hunter

W W Hunter was the next European who wrote about Orissa. He writes, “The people of whom it treats have fought no great battle for human liberty. Nor have they succeeded even in the more primary task of subduing the forces of nature to the control of man. To them, the world stands indebted for not a single discovery that augments the comforts or mitigates the calamities of life. Even in literature – the peculiar glory of the Indian race – they have won no conspicuous triumph. They have written no famous epic; struck out no separate school of philosophy; elaborated no new system of law.

Yet, if I have in any degree done justice to my materials, these pages can well dispense with the plots and scenic effect of history. Nature, long grown cold and inert in Europe, here toils as wildly as primeval labor, as if the work of creation still lay before her…. Within the single province of Orissa, she has brought together, as in a great museum, specimens of all her handicrafts, from the half-formed amphibious region around the river-mouths, to the chaos of primitive rock which walls out the seaboard from the inner table-land.”

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Rajendra Lal Mitra

Rajendra Lal Mitra was the first Indian who wrote about the place. He writes, “…Bhuvanesvara in the present day is a small, insignificant, uninviting place with no wealth, no commerce, and no manufactory, peopled by hungry priests, and desolate in every respect. It is nevertheless, a most interesting field for the antiquarian, abounding as it does in architectural remains of the highest value, and connected as it is with historical associations of rare importance.”

Though the region was not famous or industrialized during the 18th century CE however it soon became very famous for its antiquities and archaeological remains.

Fergusson

Fergusson writes, “In Orissa, on the contrary, the style is perfectly pure, being unmixed with any other, and thus forms one of the most compact and homogeneous architecture groups in India. And as such of more than usual interest. It is consequently in this province that the style can be studied to the greatest advantage.”

Bhubaneshwar the City of Temples

Stirling mentions that natives told him that there were originally more than 7,000 places of worship dedicated to Shiva, containing no less than a crore of Lingas. Though we cannot confirm if there were ever 7,000 temples adorning this great city, however, Bhubaneshwar can be safely termed as the “City of Temples”.

At present, the city has more than 500 hundred temples. About 50 among those that have considerable antiquity. With the heritage belonging to different religions and sects, i.e. Buddhist, Jainism, and Hindu, all found confined to the environs of the city. Bhubaneshwar is the true contender for the greatest heritage city of India.

Though the city now represents a Hindu cultural and religious center, however exposure of the town to different faiths in the past had given its pluralistic character resulting in the amalgamation of all faiths and religions.

Architectural Lineage of Bhubaneshwar

Architecture is an important feature of any civilization which helps in understanding its advancements into civil and religious facets. Among all the ancient civilizations of the world, Indian civilization holds a unique position being an incessant entity producing a ceaseless outlook from its inception. In its religious growth, temples have played a major role in providing means and measures towards worship and rituals. India has many famous temple cities, prized for their architectural value, religious importance, and localized rituals.

Architectural timeline of Bhubaneshwar
Architectural timeline of the heritage city

Varanasi, Ujjain, Dwarka, Mathura, Puri, Tirupati, Rameswaram are few famous pilgrimage sites however most of these lack surviving antiquities from an early period. Khajuraho, Mahabalipuram, Ajanta, Ellora, Badami, Sanchi, Nalanda are few religious centers, famous for their art and architecture with considerable antiquity. However, these witnessed an epoch during a certain period soon waning into oblivion or ruins.

City boasting of its art and architecture

When we look out for a temple city reflecting the ceaseless pattern of the Indian civilization, Bhubaneshwar rises as a very strong contender. In fact, it may be the only Indian city boasting its art and architecture starting from the very earliest times of the recorded Indian history to the last heydays of Hindu supremacy. The city merits over others on three very significant grounds. First, it showcases a continuous art activity for more than two millenniums. Second, it has monuments belonging to three major ancient religions of India, Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist. Third and last, it still enjoys the status of a sacred pilgrimage site and many of its temples are under worship and veneration.

Sisupalgarh

The architectural journey of Bhubaneshwar started with Sisupalgarh, a ruined fortified town, occupation of which can be dated back to the 3rd-4th century BCE. It is believed that it was a prosperous town before the Maurya occupation and probably also served as the capital of the old Kalinga region. What remains now of this town are few standing pillars dating to the 4th century CE. Excavations have revealed structures suggesting it was once a very populous town with a well-planned layout and structure befitting a capital town.

Ashoka – Maurya Emperor

The next epoch came during Ashoka (268-232 BCE), the famous Maurya emperor. Ashoka got a vast and wide kingdom from his father which covered most of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan except the southern states of India and the Kalinga region. Ashoka fought his only war to wrestle Kalinga into his dominion. This war turned out to be a key event in his life. After witnessing the massacre in the battle, Ashoka stopped hostility against his neighbors and started following the path of dharma-Vijaya. Ashoka was a Buddhist and he made many provisions to propagate the religion far and wide.

Bhubaneshwar has always been part of the Kalinga region. Rock edicts of Ashoka numbering I-X and XIV with in addition to two separate Kalinga edicts are found etched into a rock-face on Dhauli hill. Adjacent to these edicts is a relief sculpture of an elephant, depicted only with its forepart emerging out of the rock face. This elephant is among the very few survived remains of Mauryan art. Though it lacks the characteristic Mauryan polish however it is very true to its animatic features.

King Kharavela

Soon after its Maurya occupation, Kalinga was wrestled back by King Kharavela (1st century BCE). As he was a Jain therefore the art and architecture of that period was primarily Jaina in character. Many caves and rock-shelters were excavated for Jain recluses during his time. The majority of these caves are situated on two opposite hills, Udayagiri having eighteen caves and Khandagiri having fifteen caves, situated in the vicinity of the city. These hills are also famous for the solitary inscription of King Kharavela. The caves are famous for their relief carvings, especially the ones depicting themes from Shakuntala and Vasavadatta stories.

The history of Bhubaneshwar, or Kalinga, after king Kharavela to the rise of the Guptas, is very obscure. Not much is known except findings of few coins belonging to the Satavahana, Kushana, and Murunda dynasties. Unfortunately, we also do not have any surviving architectural edifice belonging to that period. It appears that not much was happening towards constructional activities as the region was under political turmoil or under very small regional powers.

Guptas

With the Guptas starts the golden period of Indian art and revival of Hinduism. However, the city did not prosper much in the artistic aspects during the Guptas. The Guptas ruled the region through their proxies or territorial chiefs. As there is no Gupta period monument found in the city, it suggests that those territorial chiefs did not take any big constructional activity during their tenure.

Sailodbhava Dynasty

The golden period of Bhubaneshwar’s artistic lineage came under the Sailodbhava dynasty (6th-8th century CE). Some of the characteristic features of this early period temples are three-molding pabhaga (base), the improper joining of deul (vimana) and Jaganmohana (mandapa), presence of eight grahas (planets), excluding Rahu, over sanctum doorway lintel, and T-shape sanctum doorway. The last is a reminiscence from their counterparts from the Gupta period.

The earliest temple in the city, the Shatrughneswara Group, belongs to this dynasty. There are three temples in this group, Lakshmaneswara, Bharateswara, and Shatrughneswara. All there were found in many ruins and are extensively renovated mostly utilizing original material. These are simple structures consisting of a deul (vimana) sometimes with attached Jaganmohana (mandapa). Other notable temples of this period are Svarna-Jaleswar and Parasuramesvara Temple.

Parasuramesvara Temple

Parasuramesvara Temple is among the most exquisite temples in Bhubaneshwar. This is highly ornate and decorated with various images and reliefs. The presence of Sapta-Matrikas on its Jaganmohana suggests the influence of shakti-worship. Another interesting feature of these early temples, as well as few later temples, is the presence of the Lakulisa image suggesting the influence of the Lakulisa sect in and around the city during that period and after.

Bhauma-Karas

Bhauma-karas (8th-10th century CE) succeeded the Sailodbhavas. This dynasty is famous for its female rulers, the last four rulers of the dynasty being females. Not much changed in the architectural themes however few new techniques were introduced. Pabhaga moldings increased to four from three and parsva-devatas started being carved with blocks of the wall. This technique of carving parsva-devatas from wall blocks made it difficult to remove those thus in most of the temples we find these in situ.

Some notable temples belonging to the later Sailodbhava period and early Bhauma-karas period, corresponding 7th century CE, are a small temple in Yamesvara compound, ruined Pachimesvara temple, Mohini temple, Uttaresvara temple, Talesvara temple, Paramguru temple, Gauri-Shankar-Ganesh temple, and New Bhavani Shankar temple. These all temples, as well as few later temples, are all situated around the pond Bindusagar.

Bindusagar

By this time, the sanctity of Bindusagar was well established and many temples started getting erected around its periphery. Early Bhauma-karas were Buddhist but soon they adopted Shaivism which also boosted temple construction activities.

A huge lake Bindusagar or Bindu Sarovar in Bhubaneshwar
A huge lake Bindusagar or Bindu Sarovar, see Lingaraj temple in the background

Architectural advancements were visible in later Bhauma-kara temples (8th century CE) where we find the joining between the deul and Jaganmohana getting perfected. It all started with the Markandesvara temple however, the paragon of this period is the Vaital temple. We found glimpses of shakti-worship (Shakta) in the Parasuramesvara temple however, it culminated into Vaital which is a true epitome of the Shakta sect. On the etymology of the temple, Panigrahi suggests that it is derived from the word vetala meaning spirit. He suggests that the temple was the shrine used by the kapalikas and tantriks to invoke spirits.

Another interesting feature of the temple is that it is of khakhara order (oblong deul), all the earlier temples were of Rekha-order. The presiding deity, Chamnunda, is in her fiercest form. Sisireswara temple, situated in the same compound, is slightly earlier than the Vaital temple.

Mahamaya temple, Hirapur
Unique circular shape of Chausath Yogini Temple
The unique circular shape of the Chausath Yogini Temple

Another late Bhauma-kara temple, dated in 9th century CE, is the yogini temple or Mahamaya temple situated at Hirapur, a small locality located around 15 KM from the city. The temple is dedicated to sixty-four yoginis with Chamunda, known as Mahamaya, as their presiding deity. As per tradition, this temple is said to be constructed under the patronage of the Bhauma-kara queen, Hiramahadevi, daughter of Simhamana and the queen of Lonabhadra alias Santikaradeva.

After the Bhauma-karas, Somavamshis took over the control of the city and around the region. Various architectural feats were achieved during their rule. They embark on their architecture journey with quite a bang, Mukteshvara temple, considered by many as an architectural jewel of Odhisa.

Mukteshvara temple
Toran and landscape view of the Mukteshvara temple
Stone carved Toran and landscape view of the Mukteshvara temple

Mukteshvara temple is hailed as the culmination of the incessant experimentation taken by the Orissan artisans. These experimentations are evident in earlier shrines. Thus, Mukteshvara stands as the end of an artistic epoch. A few of its distinguished features are its low decorated enclosure wall, Torana at the entrance, and sculpted ceiling in its mandapa. These elements were used for the first time in Orissan art and were not used after for any other temple, thus putting Muktesvara temple in a very distinguished category. Naga-Nagini pillars are first introduced here and this theme continued in many later temples.

Mukteshvara is one of the most famous temples and probably the most photographed one. In the words of Debala Mitra, “… most handsome, a charming epitome of the perfection of Orissan temple architecture – faded, colorless, joyless, but beautiful past effacing even by the decay of a thousand years, which has furrowed its brow, and wrought wrinkles on its once glistening surface”.

Rajarani temple
Popular Rajarani temple, Bhubaneshwar
Popular Rajarani temple

The next marvel from Somavamshis is the Rajarani temple, belonging to the 11th century CE. With the Rajarani temple, the architects started giving much emphasis to the height of the temple. To achieve the same, they started constructing temples over raised platforms of around 3-5 feet high. The height of jangha was significantly increased and to keep the old look and feel, it was divided into two stories separated by a middle band. The height of the gandi (shikhara) was also increased by placing more tiers.

Brahmeswara Temple
Landscape view of Brahmeswara temple complex in Bhubaneshwar
Landscape view of Brahmeswara temple complex

The next temple in order is Brahmeswara Temple. It is an important temple as it contains a foundation inscription helping in setting the chronology in proper order. It is a Panchayatana style temple, the earliest of its kind here. The temple reaches a considerable height of 60 feet without using the platform device. Like Muketshvara temple, the ceiling of Jaganmohana is decorated however not to the extent as in the former temple. The inscription mentions that Kolavati, mother of the Somavamshi king Uddyota Kesari, donated few devadasis to the temple. It is the first reference to the Devadasi tradition among the city temples.

Somvanshi Architecture

The Somavamshi architecture culminates into the famous Lingaraja Temple which shows all the major elements of Kalinga architecture. Lingaraja is the presiding deity of Bhubaneshwar and was known in its inscriptions as Kritti-vasa and Tribhubaneswar. The temple reaches an impressive height of 180 feet and is composed of a deul, followed by Jagamohana, a Nata-mandapa, and a Bhoga-mandapa. The complex also houses many subsidiary shrines of various ages.

The start of the 12th century brings Odisha into the Eastern Ganga dominion. The early decades of the same witnessed decline of the Bhauma-karas and soon the Eastern Gangas established their control over the territory. During their tenure, the older traditions were solidified, and few new elements got introduced. The decoration over the temple exterior was very much curtailed. Nava-Graha (nine planets) panel started being accompanied with ganas at the terminals. River goddesses were brought back accompanying dvarpalas at door jambs.

The Ganga tradition started with smaller temples, Koti-Tirtheswara temple, Subarna-Jaleswara, and Sampurna-Jaleswara. It soon reaches its height starting with Siddhesvara Temple, followed by Ramesvara, Bhaskaresvara, and Megheswar temple.

Mausi-Ma temple

Ramesvara, also known as Mausi-Ma temple, is situated at the grounds with considerable antiquity. Lord Lingaraja pays his visit to this temple during his annual Ratha yatra suggesting that the Ramesvara temple held quite an importance before the rise of the Lingaraja cult. Bhaskaresvara temple is also situated at a site of antiquity which can be taken back to the Mauryan Buddhist period. Finding the remains of various Buddhist artifacts, not very far from the temple, proves the point. Inside its sanctum is a very high Shivalinga, and the temple is constructed in a very peculiar manner to house the same.

However, this Shivalinga in fact is the remains of an Ashokan pillar which was utilized by the temple architects as Shivalinga.

Megheswar temple

Megheswar temple is an important temple as it has a foundation inscription, which can be safely dated to the end of the 12th century CE. The grandeur of the Odishan architecture reached its zenith with the Megheswar temple which is one of the first Nava-ratha plan temples in Odisha. As the architects were experimenting to move from Sapta-ratha plan to Nava-ratha, therefore this did not result in a perfect model rather a contracted one. In this contracted model, the pagas are of varying width resulting in a non-symmetrical appearance.

13th century CE brings the first major Vaishnava temple in the city, Ananta-Vasudeva Temple. It was built by Chandrika, the daughter of the Ganga king Ananga-Bhima III. Like Lingaraja temple, Ananta-Vasudeva also showcases all major components of a Kalinga temple, comprising of a deul, a Jagamohana, a Natya-mandapa, and a Bhoga-mandapa. The presiding deities of the temple are Ananta, Vasudeva, and Subhadra.

Yamesvara temple

Yamesvara temple is another interesting specimen from that century. It is built at a site where the remains of many earlier shrines are found. Within the complex stands another smaller temple dated to the 7th century CE. The tradition that Lord Lingaraja visits Yamesvara temple during his annual sojourn also suggests the antiquity of the site. The temple consists of a deul and Jagamohana standing on a high raised platform.

Another interesting edifice from this period is the twin temples of Sari and Suka. Like the Yamesvara complex, this complex also has three earlier shrines dating to the 7th century CE. Sari temple is famous for its exquisite carvings. However, as it was built with soft sandstone material it is much weathered. Though these are later in the date from Lingaraja and Ananta-Vasudeva, these are devoid of Nata-mandapa and Bhoga-mandapa.

Mangalesvara Temple

There are not many notable temples belonging to the 14th century CE. The most important one is Mangalesvara Temple, dedicated to Shiva. Nothing special to be mentioned about this shrine. It is a simple structure composed of a deul and a Jagamohana. The exterior is very plain. Except for the provisions of images at usual places, all of which are missing at present. Another temple of this period is Chinamanisvara Temple. However, it is much renovated at later times hiding almost all its older features.

The decline of the Eastern Gangas started with the early decades of the 15th century CE. They were soon replaced by the Gajapati dynasty, led by their famous king Kapilendra Deva who came to the throne in about 1434 CE. Kapilesvara Temple is a sparkling piece of architecture from this period. Local traditions fix the site as the birthplace of sage Kapila. The temple has a deul, a Jagamohana, a Nata-mandapa and a Bhoga-mandapa. An interesting feature of this temple is its adjoining tank.

There are many temples near and around Kapilesvara temple, the region known as Kapilesvara Temple Precinct. Few of these temples are older than the main Kapilesvara temple. Lord Lingaraja pays his tribute by visiting the precinct, Sanisvara Temple and Kapilesvara Temple, on the first Saturday after Shivaratri.

Brahma Temple

Another notable Gajapati period temple is the Brahma Temple located on the eastern embankment of Bindusagar. A local tradition states that when Brahma came to Bhubaneshwar for the coronation of Lord Lingaraja, the latter asked him to stay forever. Brahma stated that he would not be able to stay forever. But he will visit every year in the month of Chaitra. The temple was constructed to honor the same legend.

After the death of Kapilendra Deva, the dynasty went into family feuds from which it never recovered. They started losing their hold over southern and western territories, apart from constant threats from the Bengal Sultanate. In 1541, after a coup, Govinda Vidyadhara started the Bhoi dynasty which only lasted for less than two decades. In 1559, the Bhoi dynasty came to an end through another coup by Mukunda Deva.

The final blow to the city came in 1568 when the armies of Bayazid Khan Karrani, son of Sulaiman Khan Karrani, the ruler of Bengal, stormed into the city under general Kalapahad. Soon after, by 1590, Odisha was brought under the Mughal empire, during the rule of Akbar the Great.

Temple construction activities mostly ceased after the 15th century CE. The main reason would be political instability in the region. The situation continues during the rule of the Bengal Sultanate and later Mughal rulers.

Bhaskaresvara temple landscape view
Bhaskaresvara temple, Bhubaneshwar

List of heritage temples to visit in Bhubaneshwar

  1. Udayagiri Caves
  2. Shakuntala scene from Rani-gumpha
  3. Vasavadatta scene from Rani-Gumpha
  4. Shatrughneswara group of temples
  5. Svarna-Jaleswar
  6. Parasuramesvara
  7. Pachimesvara
  8. Mohini
  9. Uttaresvara
  10. Talesvara
  11. Gauri-Shankar-Ganesh
  12. New Bhavani Shankar
  13. Markandesvara
  14. Sisireswara
  15. Vaital
  16. Mahamaya
  17. Muktesvara
  18. Rajarani
  19. Brahmesvara
  20. Koti-Tirtheswara
  21. Subarna-Jaleswara
  22. Sampurna-Jaleswara
  23. Siddhesvara
  24. Ramesvara
  25. Bhaskaresvara
  26. Megheswar
  27. Ananta-Vasudeva
  28. Yamesvara
  29. Sari
  30. Suka
  31. Chitrakarni

This is a guest post by Saurabh Saxena of the Puratattva portal.



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