Adorned with centuries of culture in architecture and religious places, Odisha (formerly known as Orissa), is a culmination of both. It is probably one of those places in India, where the shrines and temples of deities are as much as listed (if not less) in tourism as any other tourist spots.
Built with a lot of history and masonry that revolutionized the face of upcoming designs in the rest of the country, there are some of these religious places that are not only pious but also have very unique features about them that sets them apart from every other.
The Konark Sun Temple
The ‘sun’ has had various designated roles to play in the hymns of Vedas. Sun or Surya, as the eliminator of darkness. Or, as the deity that was personified. Or even, as the gem embellishing the sky. It is not astounding that a Sun Temple has been dedicated in the most pious places of India. The Konark Sun Temple was established in the 13th Century CE for the Eastern Ganga Dynasty’s Narasimhadeva I. It is one of the very few Hindu temples whose construction plans and records were found in the form of manuscripts written on palm leaves in Sanskrit language.
The Konark Sun Temple takes up one of the parts of The Golden Triangle, along with Bhubaneshwar’s Lingaraj Temple and the Jagannath Temple in Puri. All three come together in epitomizing the cultural reference of Odia expression in the temple architectures. The Sun Temple embodies the Nagara architecture in Odisha technique. Since the year of 1984, the temple has earned itself a place in the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Being quite the topic of controversy, the carvings along the high walls of The Sun Temple, has been nitpicked and questioned for either being inappropriate or unsophisticated. Yet, many have also supported exclaiming them to be a marvel of art and expression on a stone at its best. One of such praisers has been Rabindranath Tagore himself.
Now the tranquil region of Konark with not so tranquil past has intrigued, inspired and invoked to pen down the various tragedies surrounding the legends tied to the place. Some of which include BajiRout by Sachidananda Routray and Gopabandhu Das’s Dharmapada.
The Mukteshwar Temple
Right at the heart of the capital city of Odisha, Bhubaneshwar, lay home to one of the shrines of Lord Shiva. The term Mukteshwar translates to ‘Lord of Freedom’. Hailing from the 10th Century BC, it is concurrently known to be the ‘Gem of Odisha Architecture’, it has garnered itself a spot in the Protected Monuments in India. Having a right juxtaposition of architecture and sculpting, the temple has numerous lingas (shrines) of Lord Shiva ruminating in various positions.
Although only 35ft high, what sets the temple apart from rest is the intricate architecture and profuse amounts of sculptures spread across its entire ground. The inextricably adorned main arch of the temple (or torana)is unique to every other temple established in the entire region, which also marked the step towards a new culture by the masons. The torana represents a sway towards Buddhist architecture while the rest and the main temple, Jagamohana temple, was built upon the Kalinga architecture.
Every year people from all corners gather here for the 3 long days of the Mukteshwar festival held in the arena during the months of January to February. In this festival, famous dancers participate to revel in the Indian classical dance form, Odissi, along with the Odissi music. You can hear the sounds of classical instruments like the mardala being played in the background.
Wooden Sun Temple
Not astonishing that many believe that there is only one Sun Temple in Odisha. The infamous Konark Sun Temple, being quite renowned among tourists and the Odisha tourism, could easily overshadow any other. Nevertheless, there is more than one Sun Temple in Odisha and it is called the Wooden Sun Temple or as the locals call it, Biranchi Narayan Sun Temple. Situated 94kms far away from the town of Chhatrapur, in Buguda, this Sun Temple is dedicated to the Lord Viranchinarayana. It is also known as the Wooden Konark because konark comes from two words where kon means corner and arka meaning the sun.
Renovated in the year of 1790 after the succession of the King Srikara Bhanjadeva, the deity of the temple, Surya, comprises the Hindu Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). The whole temple, except for certain regions, are entirely covered and made in wood. The walls of these wooden built places are covered with murals depicting The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. The decorated roof and 46 pillars that lift up the entire temple are noteworthy.
Both the Sun Temples are built in two different directions. The Konark Sun Temple, established facing East, makes the rays of the sun fall on the idol as soon as the sun rises. Whereas, the Wooden Konark is built facing West. It is said that due to this feature, when the golden rays of sun take a dip into the horizon, the last rays of sun befalls on the feet of the idol of Surya.
Dated back to the middle of 11th Century, the Rajarani Temple carries the architecture that were resembling and aspired from in other temples (like the Khajuraho Temple) in central India. The Rajarani Temple is also located in the capital city of Odisha, Bhubaneshwar. A peculiar feature of this temple is that no one knows for sure but only can speculate to which deity the temple is dedicated to, as there are no certain pictures of a certain God inside the temple.
Initially known as the Indreswara, it is locally referred to as the ‘love temple’ due to the erotic carvings in and around the entire temple. The temple is based on Kalinga architecture with a touch of pancharatra style. These unconventionally sensational carvings continue throughout the temple and suddenly end at the assembly hall (jagamohan), creating a striking aesthetic to uplift the entire place. The erogenous women and couples, especially standing on lotuses, are looked down upon by many, simply ignoring the architectural beauty that represents within.
There is a spacious garden that surrounds the antiquated temple, adding a touch of contemporariness to the place. Every year on the dates of 18th to 20th of the month January, a music festival called the Rajarani music festival is held at the temple premises. First held in the year 2003, it is organized by the Government of Odisha and during this music festival all the three major classical music (Carnatic, Odissi and Hindustani) are all given priority. Artists from different areas of the country come and participate in this 3 days long music festival.
Invaded and tried to have been demolished for about eighteen times, built in the 12th Century CE by the king of Ganga Dynasty, the Jagannath Temple is one of the hotspots of tourism in Puri. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishu whose other form is known as Jagannath. The trio of Subhadra, Balabhadra and Jagannath are worshipped in this sanctum.
Having walls up like forts and covering a surface area of 400,000sqft, the entirety of the Jagannath Temple consists of about 120 temples and shrines, with the tallest temple towering 65m. Encompassing such a huge area of architectural beauty in Odia style, it is considered to be one of the most significantly majestic monuments in India.
Each passing day there are daily prayers and bhog (prayer offerings in the mode of food) conducted for thousands of people that visit the place. Aside those daily prayers, even on the various pious days, offerings are given to the deity. One especially that stands out is the Chariot festival or the Rath Yatra during the month of June. Beside this, Jhulan Yatra in the monsoon season and Dol Yatra in the month of spring are elaborately conducted. During any of these festivities, the entire street is filled with colours and lights, with people all around the country coming to visit Puri for one reason (other than the chilling beach, of course!)
These aforementioned temples barely skim and touch the entirety of the treasure that is found in Odisha. The state is filled with generations of tradition and history that the locals are trying to keep it going and preserve. You don’t even have to be an avid history buff to admire how exquisite these sites are. Dating back hundreds of years, the sheer architectural marvel and intriguing history of this place is reason enough to make it to your bucket-list.