64 Yogini Shrines
Location: Hirapur & Ranipur-Jharial
On the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, 15 km south-east of the city, is a small, circular temple, the Yogini Temple, dating to the early ninth century. It is hypaethral (open to the sky), and belongs to a genre of architecture completely apart from the major Orissan school. Although it seems that temples of this type existed throughout India at one time, today only four remain. Two of them are in Odisha (Formerly Orissa); the shrine at Hirapur, and one at Ranipur-Jharial, located 104 km from Bolangir.
The temple's circular wall, which is barely 2 meters high, contains 64 niches within its inner circumference. All except one of these contain an image of a Yogini Goddess. Some of the Goddesses are portrayed with sensual bodies and jewelled bodices, others with horrific shrunken features, still others with animal heads. Even today, standing in the deserted temple with bright sunshine pouring in, one senses a strange emanation from the temple, and this feeling is in keeping with its original purpose. Active between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, the cults responsible for these temples worshipped Yogini Goddesses in expectation of the direct acquisition of supernatural powers. The Yoginis were thought to be able to confer on their devotees the power to become microscopic or gigantic in size, to control the body and mind of oneself and of others, to fly, become invisible, and myriad other useful abilities. Worship seems to have centered on the repetition of the names of the Goddesses, and in later centuries, when active use of the shrines ceased, worshippers transferred their devotions to mystical paper diagrams.
Known to the pilgrims as ' Tulasi Kshetra', Kendrapara houses the temple of Lord Baladeva. The rites and rituals of Lord Jagannath at Puri are generally followed here which make Kendrapara, located 95 km from Bhubaneswar, equally attractive.
The typical feature of this temple built in 7th century AD is that it is a double storied temple with a tall linga (2.74 meters high from the floor level) which was said to be originally a free- standing Ashokan pilar. To enable the devotees to reach the top of the linga, and to perform ritualistic worship, the bada is built in two tiers, the upper tier, approachable by a flight of steps against the northern wall of the lower tier, is pierced with a door on the West side; the lower one looks like a platform and is provided with four doorways, one on each side, leading to the floor of the sanctum. Both the tiers are pancharatha on plan and have five-fold divisions.
A product of the 11th century AD, Brahmeswar, is a milestone in the temple building activity of Odisha (Formerly Orissa). The slab-sealing interior is carved as an inverted lotus with serpentine figures at corners. The procession of armed infantry, cavalry and elephants, animals and birds adorn the friezes of the structure.
Daiteswar temple is located on the left side of the road leading to Kedar Gouri temple from Parsurameswar temple. It is a single shrine of Rekha deula built with sandstone. The temple faces east and the door-jamb has carved designs. The Outer walls of the temple are found plain and without moulding or designs. From architechtural features the temple is datable to 10th - 11th century AD.
The temple was in a collapsing stage and recently structural conservation and part renovation work was done from funds awarded by 11th finance commission.
The temple of Lord Jagannath ('Lord of the Universe') at Puri is one of the most sacred pilgrimage spots in India, one of the four abodes (dhamas) of the divine that lie on the four directions of the compass. The present temple structure was built in the twelfth century by the Ganga king, Chodagangadeva, replacing an earlier structure which probably dated to the tenth century.
Long before one reaches Puri, the 214 feet (65 meters) spire of the temple can be seen towering over the countryside. This visual dominance is symbolic of the influence which the temple commands over almost every aspect of life in Puri. The huge temple compound, each side of which measures 650 feet (some 200 meters), is surmounted with a 20 foot (6 meters) wall. Within the compound is a city, or, more accurately, a universe unto itself. With 6000 direct temple servitors, a temple kitchen which feeds 10,000 people daily (and some 25,000 on festival days), and a central deity who has become the focus of religious life throughout Odisha (Formerly Orissa), the Jagannath temple is truly an institution unique in the world.
Until recently, almost the entire temple was covered in white plaster, so much so that European sailors in previous centuries used it as a navigation point, referring to it as the 'white pagoda' (in contrast to the 'black pagoda' of Konark, further up the coast). Scholars, however, were long puzzled by the plain facade on this holiest of holy temples, and wondered why it was untouched by Odisha (Formerly Orissa)'s rich sculptural heritage. The answer was found in 1975, when archaeologists first began removing the plaster, and found that the sculpture underneath indeed rivals that of the other masterpieces of Orissan temple art. The best guess as to the reason for applying the plaster originally is that an eighteenth century ruler decided that this would be a way to protect the temple from the ravages of the salty sea air. Succeeding rulers continued the practice. As the old plaster is being removed, archaeologists are also repairing the corroded iron dowels in the original structure, and replacing broken stones with new ones. Finally, a clear, thin coating is being applied to the entire structure, to preserve it for the centuries to come.
Because of the temple's intense religious importance and hallowed traditions, entrance is forbidden to non-Hindus. To have a good view of the temple and its compound, visitors are welcome to ascend to the roof of the Raghunandan Library which is across the street.
In the bazaar area surrounding the temple, dozens of shops display and sell images of the central temple deity, Lord Jagannath, presented in a trinity with his 'brother' Balbhadra and his 'sister' Subhadra. The pervasive quality of the Jagannath cult will be seen when travelling in other parts of Odisha (Formerly Orissa), where the distinctive image of Jagannath appears with great frequency. Even to the non-religious eye, the image is fascinating, perhaps because of the unlikely combination of the endearing, charming form with an undeniable sense of power.
Even the non-Hindu visitor to Puri will feel some of the power of this throbbing pilgrimage center. The bazaar streets immediately surrounding the temple are filled with activity and bustle, but it is all infused with a palpable sense of gentleness and good spirit. Walk around the bazaar in the early evenings just as the lights are coming on. (Don't worry, your taxi or rickshaw driver will keep an eye on you, and appear like magic when you are ready to leave). Look up to the magnificent tower of Jagannath towering over everything, surmounted by the flag of Vishnu flying in the breeze. Gaze at the faces of the pilgrims entering or leaving the temple, inhale the scents of incense mixed with the tantalizing sizzles of frying sweets and snacks, and just let your feet take you where they may. Even the most secular-minded of visitors are bound to feel that they, too, have embarked on a kind of pilgrimage to a uniquely special place.
This is the main shrine of the Kedar-Gouri Complex, which can be approached on the east from the Lewis Road or on the West from the Haramandir Chhak. The architectural features as well, the sculptural style noticed on the sculptures of this temple would place it during the Somavamsi rule in Odisha (Formerly Orissa) datable to the 11th century AD. This temple is " Pancharatha" in design and contains a 'Rekha Deula' and a "Pidha Jagamohana". The temple faces south and the height of the sanctum would be about 13.7 meters.
Konark Sun Temple
The magnificent Sun Temple at Konark is the culmination of Orissan temple architecture, and one of the most stunning monuments of religious architecture in the world. The poet Rabindranath Tagore said of Konark that 'here the language of stone surpasses the language of man', and it is true that the experience of Konark is impossible to translate into words.
The massive structure, now in ruins, sits in solitary splendour surrounded by drifting sand. Today it is located two kilometers from the sea, but originally the ocean came almost up to its base. Until fairly recent times, in fact, the temple was close enough to the shore to be used as a navigational point by European sailors, who referred to it as the 'Black Pagoda'.
Built by King Narasimhadeva in the thirteenth century, the entire temple was designed in the shape of a colossal chariot, carrying the sun god, Surya, across the heavens. Surya has been a popular deity in India since the Vedic period and the following passages occur in a prayer to him in the Rig Veda, the earliest of sacred religious text:
"Aloft his beams now bring the good, Who knows all creatures that are born, That all may look upon the Sun. The seven bay mares that draw thy car, Bring thee to us, far-seeing good, O Surya of the gleaming hair. Athwart in darkness gazing up, to him the higher light, we now Have soared to Surya, the god Among gods, the highest light."
So the image of the sun god traversing the heavens in his divine chariot, drawn by seven horses, is an ancient one. It is an image, in fact, which came to India with the Aryans, and its original Babylonian and Iranian source is echoed in the boots that Surya images, alone among Indian deities, always wear.
The idea of building an entire temple in the shape of a chariot, however, is not an ancient one, and, indeed, was a breathtakingly creative concept. Equally breathtaking was the scale of the temple which even today, in its ruined state, makes one gasp at first sight. Construction of the huge edifice is said to have taken 12 years revenues of the kingdom.
The main tower, which is now collapsed, originally followed the same general form as the towers of the Lingaraja and Jagannath temples. Its height, however, exceeded both of them, soaring to 227 feet. The jagmohana (porch) structure itself exceeded 120 feet in height. Both tower and porch are built on high platforms, around which are the 24 giant stone wheels of the chariot. The wheels are exquisite, and in themselves provide eloquent testimony to the genius of Odisha (Formerly Orissa)'s sculptural tradition.
At the base of the collapsed tower were three subsidiary shrines, which had steps leading to the Surya images. The third major component of the temple complex was the detached natamandira (hall of dance), which remains in front of the temple. Of the 22 subsidiary temples which once stood within the enclosure, two remain (to the west of the tower): the Vaishnava Temple and the Mayadevi Temple. At either side of the main temple are colossal figures of royal elephants and royal horses.
Just why this amazing structure was built here is a mystery. Konark was an important port from early times, and was known to the geographer Ptolemy in the second century AD. A popular legend explains that one son of the god Krishna, the vain and handsome Samba, once ridiculed a holy, although ugly, sage. The sage took his revenge by luring Samba to a pool where Krishna's consorts were bathing. While Samba stared, the sage slipped away and summoned Krishna to the site. Enraged by his son's seeming impropriety with his stepmothers, Krishna cursed the boy with leprosy. Later he realized that Samba had been tricked, but it was too late to withdraw the curse. Samba then travelled to the seashore, where he performed 12 years penance to Surya who, pleased with his devotion, cured him of the dreaded disease. In thanksgiving, Samba erected a temple at the spot.
In India, history and legend are often intextricably mixed. Scholars however feel that Narasimhadeva, the historical builder of the temple, probably erected the temple as a victory monument, after a successful campaign against Muslim invaders.
In any case, the temple which Narasimhadeva left us is a chronicle in stone of the religious, military, social, and domestic aspects of his thirteenth century royal world. Every inch of the remaining portions of the temple is covered with sculpture of an unsurpassed beauty and grace, in tableaux and freestanding pieces ranging from the monumental to the miniature. The subject matter is fascinating. Thousands of images include deities, celestial and human musicians, dancers, lovers, and myriad scenes of courtly life, ranging from hunts and military battles to the pleasures of courtly relaxation. These are interspersed with birds, animals (close to two thousand charming and lively elephants march around the base of the main temple alone), mythological creatures, and a wealth of intricate botanical and geometrical decorative designs. The famous jewel-like quality of Orissan art is evident throughout, as is a very human perspective which makes the sculpture extremely accessible. The temple is famous for its erotic sculptures, which can be found primarily on the second level of the porch structure. The possible meaning of these images has been discussed elsewhere in this book. It will become immediately apparent upon viewing them that the frank nature of their content is combined with an overwhelming tenderness and lyrical movement. This same kindly and indulgent view of life extends to almost all the other sculputres at Konark, where the thousands of human, animal, and divine personages are shown engaged in the full range of the 'carnival of life' with an overwhelming sense of appealing realism.
The only images, in fact, which do not share this relaxed air of accessibility are the three main images of Surya on the northern, western, and southern facades of the temple tower. Carved in an almost metallic green chlorite stone (in contrast to the soft weathered khondalite of the rest of the structure), these huge images stand in a formal frontal position which is often used to portray divinities in a state of spiritual equilibrium. Although their dignity sets them apart from the rest of the sculptures, it is, nevertheless, a benevolent dignity, and one which does not include any trace of the aloof or the cold. Konark has been called one of the last Indian temples in which a living tradition was at work, the 'brightest flame of a dying lamp'. As we gaze at these superb images of Surya benevolently reigning over his exquisite stone world, we cannot help but feel that the passing of the tradition has been nothing short of tragic.
The town of Khiching, which is now a rather remote destination in the northern area of Odisha (Formerly Orissa), was obviously once a religious center of some importance. The temples which remain today, although interesting in their own right, are but the humble remnants of a more glorious past.
The large temple of KICHAKESWARI, originally probably dating back to the 7th or 8th century, was reconstructed from the ruins of an earlier temple in the early 20th century. The reconstruction,which used the traditional technique of moving large stone elements up a huge earthen ramp, proved that the ancient skill of temple building and architecture survived into the current century.
Unfortunately, scholars feel that the constructed temple does not reflect the true form of the original, and that the shape now is a bit disproportionate. Nevertheless, the sculptures on this and other Khiching temples are exceptionally beautiful. Large, tall images, they are slender and graceful, reflecting a remarkable sophistication and deftness of touch. In addition to the temples, there is a small museum in Khiching with some very fine images.
Leaning Shiva Temple
Huma, 32 km from Sambalpur and 350 km from Bhubaneswar is adorned with a leaning temple dedicated to Lord Bimaleswar. On the river Mahanadi, it is a scenic spot of great excellence. The Kudo fishes here are believed to belong to Lord Siva and they are very friendly to visitors.
The great Lingaraja (eleventh century) dominates the landscape of Bhubaneswar and is visible from as far as 15 kms away. This temple represents Orissan temple architecture at its most mature and fully developed stage and has been described as 'time quintessence of Orissan architecture'.
The deul (tower) of the Lingaraja reaches a height of just over 180 feet (55 meters). It is completely curvilinear, and the extraordinary soaring tower can be seen to incorporate miniature replicas of itself, in turrets inserted on the ribs of the spire. In addition to the deul and the jagmohana (porch), the Lingaraja adds two new structures: the natamandira (hall of dance) and the bhoga-mandapa (hall of offering). The former was undoubtedly associated with the rising prominence of the devadasi system. Many of the sculptures on the temple itself represent groups of people engaged in various religious and musical activities, and these perhaps relate to the increasing range of activities carried out at the temple, for instance in the two new structures.
By the time the Lingaraja temple was constructed, the Jagannath cult had become predominant throughout Odisha (Formerly Orissa). This is reflected in the fact that the temple deity here, the Svayambhu linga, is not, as in all other cases, strictly a Shiva linga. It is considered to be a 'hari-hara' linga, that is, half Shiva, half Vishnu. This and the variety of deities represented elsewhere on the temple, once again point out the basically syncretic nature of so much of Orissan religion.
There are 150 subsidiary shrines within the immense Lingaraja complex, many of them extremely interesting in their own right.
The famous Madhava temple(13th century) is located on the eastern bank of the Prachi River, about 6 kms. from Niali (Cuttack District). The area between Niali and Madhava appears to have been the principal centre of the Madhava (four-armed Vishnu) cult in Odisha (Formerly Orissa), made famous in Sri Jayadeva's Gita Govinda. The temple is also sometimes referred to as "Durgamadhava" because of the presence of a small Durga image next to Madhava within the sanctum. This joint worship of Durga and Madhava is unique to Orissan Vaishnavism, and is yet another testament of the great Orissan process of synthesis. Madhava is a temple in active worship, and, in fact, draws a large number of pilgrims from all over Odisha (Formerly Orissa).
Lovely Mukteswara is "the gem of Orissan architecture in sand stone" - says M.M. Ganguly. Belonging to the 10th century AD; the temple rises to a height of 10. 51 meters with every inch of the exterior embellished with superb artistry. Mukteswar with its special features marks a crucial turning point in the tempo of the Orissan temple architecture providing interesting study for the scholars and connoisseurs of art. The ceiling of the Hall of Audience is adorned with an exquisitely carved lithic canopy of an eight-petalled lotus having on each petal an icon of a deity. The magnificent arched gateway, the Torana, in the front of the Mukteswara is a unique piece of stonework, which has no parallel in the field. The graceful feminine figures in languorous poses are as captivating as the figures of monkeys and royal peacocks on it. The Mukteswara for more than ten centuries has gracefully remained as a standing invitation to hold back the visitors for quite some time.
Vidala-Nrusingha & Harishankar
Location: Nrusinghnath, Gandamardhan Hills
Located in the sacred Gandhamardan Hills, which according to legends, Hanuman carried on his shoulders from the Himalayas as described in the ancient epic Ramayana, the temple at Nrusinghanath is an important pilgrimage site. It is also an exceedingly fascinating and beautifully located temple and is worth the journey to this rather remote spot.
The present temple, located at the source of the Papaharini stream, is a 14th century structure built on a more ancient site. The four pillars within the Jagmohana suggest that the earlier temple was built in the 9th century. The beautiful doorframes have been dated to the 11th century.
The site of the temple is unique. Stone steps wind up the hillside behind the temple, leading past a waterfall, and eventually curving under the falls to a spot where some beautiful, and very well- preserved relief sculptures are found. The climb to the carvings and return journey will take about an hour. Since shoes are not permitted on these sanctified pilgrimage steps, those with tender feet should take along a pair of heavy socks for the climb.
On the opposite slope of the hill on which the temple is located, is the Harishankar Temple. Between the two temples there is a 16 km. plateau, littered with Buddhist ruins that scholars feel may be the remains of the ancient university of Parimalagiri, referred to by the seventh-century Chinese traveler Hiuen T'sang as 'Po-lo-mo-lo-ki-li'. The trek along this plateau is a long one, but for the serious student of history, it is an unforgettable experience.
Hailed as the earliest surviving temple, this highly ornate monument is 12.80 meters high and belongs to the middle of the 7th century AD. It is furnished with four latticed windows and grill decoration of ‘bands of animated musicians and dancers, remarkable for ingenuity of conception, beauty of design and rhythmic vigour writes Debala Mitra. "Every Stone here is of informative character”, says Percy Brown.
Located 115 km from Bhawanipatna, Budhikomna houses the famous temple of Pataleswar, made entirely of brick in Trirath style. The architectural design is quite interesting to art-lovers and general visitors alike.
Rajarani (11th Century AD), the temple composed of temples, is a variety by itself. The structure rising to a height of 17.98 meters in fine grained yellowish sand stone presents a dramatic sequence in temple building activities. Closely clustered with its own miniature replicas or Anga Sikhara projections, Rajarani has family resemblance with Kandariya Mahadeva temple of Khajuraho. The slender waisted life-size figures languorously posed, reflect the artists' realistic appreciation of the wealth of feminine charm a sumptuous feast for the visitor's eye. As felt by Charles Fabri the Rajarani holds many surprises.
Situated on an island in the Mahanadi River, about 10 kms. from Badamba in Cuttack District, the Simhanath temple (c. 9th century) is interesting for its images of Shaiva, Shakta, and Vaishnava cults of Hinduism. The jagmohana (porch) appears to be influenced by the Vaital Deul temple in Bhubaneswar. The Simhanath temple combines older features with new and energetic experiments. This can be seen in such things as the elongation of the Paga images which crown the niches, and in the addition of a third terrace to the roof of the jagmohana.
From architectural features as well as sculptural style noticed on this temple it can be dated to 8th-9th Century A.D. This temple was constructed during the Bhaumakara rule in Odisha (Formerly Orissa). The temple facing east is a single shrine built in "Rekha" order of Kalingan style of temple architecture. The temple is " Pancharatha" in plan, over a raised base to a height of about 3.7 meters. State Archaeology has renovated this temple recently.
The Parsurameswara and Mukteswara temples represent clear steps in the development of the major Kalinga style of Orissan temple architecture. The Vaital Temple (c. AD 800) represents an entirely different line. It belongs to the Khakhara order (a subdivision of the Kalinga school of architecture) which was used for shrines devoted to tantric cults. The deul (tower) of the temple is the most striking difference. It is rectangular in shape, positioned at a right angle to the Jagmohana (porch). The roof vault is derived from earlier free-standing buildings made of wood and thatch. The horseshoe-shape of the chaitya arch became an enduring motif, turning up not only in actual structures, such as the Vaital Temple, but frequently in sculptural decoration. On the Vaital Temple, the outer surface of the vault is absolutely plain, in contrast with the heavy sculptural embellishment of every other existing Orissan temple tower. The shape of the more common Temple form has not been ignored, however; it has been carefully inserted, in miniature form, on the four corners of the Vaital Temple's jagmohana (porch). A brief look at the Vaital Temple will show an extremely accomplished style of sculptural decoration. A slightly closer look will reveal some of the darker facets of the sculpture's content, and the temple's nature. Tantric worship, which combined elements from certain sects of both Buddhism and Hinduism, centered on the worship of shakti, the female life force. It developed elaborate rituals involving magic spells, secret rituals and sacrificial offerings.
The interior of the Vaital Temple's inner sanctum is almost completely dark, in keeping with the esoteric rites believed to have been performed there. The temple deity of Chamunda (tantric form of the Hindu goddess Durga) is dimly visible behind her grille, portrayed with a garland of skulls around her neck, seated on a corpse, flanked by an owl and a jackal. Her emaciated body, sunken eyes, and shrunken belly are quite remarkable, and even the usually staid and unflappable Archaeological Survey of India, in their guide to Bhubaneswar, cannot help but remarking that she displays the 'most terrible aspect conceivable'. The 15 niches which adorn the interior wall around her are also filled with a series of singularly strange images. In front of the entrance to the sanctum is a 'fourfaced' linga adorned with unusual carvings. Next to it is a post, to which sacrificial offerings were tied. The entire atmosphere is, in the words of one specialist, disquieting. The Archaeological Survey, sums it up more directly: 'weird'. On the outer, eastern face of the tower (back, thankfully, in the sunlight), there is an extremely fine image of the sun god, Surya, with a sensitive and beautiful face. He is flanked by Usha and Pratyusha, twin sisters of the dawn, while his chariot is driven by Aruna. This is a motif that will be remembered, and later developed fully in the Sun Temple at Konark. The first erotic sculptures known in Orissan art are found here, in a sunken transitional panel on the super-structure. It has been suggested that these images, which are a sort of catalogue of positions, had real relevance to the tantric rituals of this particular temple. Once presented here, they acquired the force of convention and temple builders in later centuries may have accepted them as a standard part of the temple decoration repertoire.