Bhubaneswar- Exploring the temples city of India

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Bhubaneshwar is portrayed as Ekamra Kshetra (Temple City). The history of the areas can be traced back to the 7th century BC and earlier. This place is a confluence of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain heritage and encompasses several Kalingan temples. Another interesting fact is Bhubaneswar is the anglicisation of the name Odia “Bhubaneswar”, derived from the word Tribhubaneswara, which means the Lord (Eeswara) of the Three Worlds (Tribhubana), which refers to Shiva. Damn! Enlightening. After exploring Chausathi Yogini Temple & DhauliGiri Shanti Stupa, I finally reached my hotel. I was damn exhausted with the travel, so I decided on an early dinner.

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The Udaygiri caves

In the morning, when I stared out the window. The sky was dark as tar, and the big clouds were moving toward me. I heard a click on the window, and then it became a pitter-patter. Oh, Lord! the rain has not left me alone, but I was determined to explore the city. Hence, I had a quick shower and breakfast and headed toward my destination. First was the twin hills -Khandagiri & Udayagiri- which house shelters carved into the rock with beautiful sculptures and carvings. It was built for Jain monks around the 1st-2nd century BC and is 6 kilometres west of the city centre.

Morning rains from my hotel window

As we drove, the roofs of the cars danced with the spray. And I could hear the whisper of rain through the window. It was like the buzzing of angry honeybees. But finally, we reached the caves, also called the Kattaka Caves or Cuttack Caves. This is mainly because of the partial natural and artificial archaeological, historical and religious caves. The caves are located on two adjacent hillsides, Udayagiri and Khandagiri, mentioned as Kumari Parvata in the inscription of Hathigumpha.

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The Kattaka caves

It was still drizzling outside, but it did not stop me. I got out of the car & and purchased my tickets online. As a precautionary measure under COVID-19, tickets have to be bought on the ASI website. I got my tickets scanned at the entrance and went through the gates. While walking past the gates, millions of droplets fell from the limitless sky, but my eyes rest upon the Udaygiri caves carved into excellence.

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Entrance to Udaygiri caves

These finely decorated caves were built in the 1st century BC. And they are believed to have been carved as residential blocks for the monks of Jaina under King Kharavela. The meaning of Udayagiri is “Sunrise Hill”, which has 18 caves, whereas Khandagiri has 15 caves. And the most important among this group is Ranigumpha in Udayagiri, a two-storey monastery

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I first visited the Rani Gumpha, known as the “Cave of the Queen.” It is the biggest of all the caves, but not an architectural wonder; it has some beautiful old sculptures. It is a double-storey, where the upper part of the central wing has relief images depicting a king’s victory march. Most cells have sculptured images of Dwara pala, though some of them are disfigured.

Disfigured Drawa Pala

The area that connects the centre wing with the right and left wings has sculptures of wild animals, trees laden with fruit, human figures, women playing musical instruments, monkeys and playful elephants located on the panels. The pilasters contain Toranas (arches) decorated with Jain religious carvings and royal scenes. As I walk around the icy rainwater, perfect spheres touch my skin; and the aroma of rain, bright and fresh, meets my nostrils as I breathe.

Sculptures on the upper storey

Each moment brought joy as I walked towards the Hathigumpha (Cave 14) and Ganeshagumpha. These caves are known for their art treasures, sculptures, reliefs, and historical significance. Wandering around the caves in the rain reminded me of my childhood memories.

exploring the caves

After a thorough tour of the caves of Udaygiri, I crossed the road and climbed the steps to reach the caves of Khandagiri. In comparison with Khandagiri, Udayagiri offers more beautiful and better-maintained shrines. 

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way to Chandragiri

Though Khandagiri provides an excellent view over Bhubaneswar from its top, the Ananta Cave (Cave 3) represents reliefs & sculptures of women, elephants, athletes and geese bearing flowers. Lastly, the Jain temple at the top was closed due to COVID. 

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existing caves

By the end of the cave tour, the rain has also subsided. Our next destination was the Lingaraj temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it’s one of Bhubaneswar’s largest and oldest shrines. It is believed the deity of Lingaraja was originally under a mango tree (Ekamra). As recorded in Ekamra Puran, a Sanskrit treatise of the 13th century. And Shiva is revered like Harihara, a combined form of Vishnu and Shiva. Bhubaneswar is also the Ekamra Kshetra.

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Pond at the entrance of the temple

Finally, we reached the temple, but it was closed due to COVID for the past 6months. However, offerings were made outside the temple through the priest. The priest told me that Lingaraja, literal sense, is the king of Lingam, the iconic form of Shiva. Shiva was worshipped initially as Kirtivasa and later as Harihara and is commonly called the Tribhuvaneshwara (also called Bhubaneswar)- master of three worlds, namely, heaven, earth, and the underworld. His wife is known as Bhuvaneshvari.

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Lord Shiva Picture Courtesy: temple priest

Since I wanted some pictures, one of the priests walked me to the back of the temple. I followed him, reached the rear door, climbed a few steps to a raised platform and could see the temple’s whole complex. The priest then informed me the temple was supposed to be constructed by the Somavamsi dynasty’s kings, with subsequent additions from the Ganges’ rulers. I saw that the main shrine was divided into four parts: Yajna Shala, Natya Shala, Garbh Griha and Bhoga Mandap. The temple complex has another 50 shrines and is surrounded by a sizeable composite wall. Every delicacy of sculpture & carving on the temple’s Shikhara & outer body was a beauty to look at.

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The Lingaraj temple

The priest told me a fascinating mythological history associated with the temple. Once Lord Shiva told his beloved Parvathi why he preferred the city of Bhubaneshwar over Banaras. After hearing the story, Parvathi embarked on the journey to find evidence of it. As a result, she took the form of female cattle and explored the city. While on her trip, two demons entered her path that would marry her. Even after her constant refusal, they followed her, and to keep herself safe, she disappeared and made herself accessible. Knowing the after impact, Lord Shiva created the BinduSagar Lake to bring eternity to space. I also saw the Sarovar, which is 50m away from the temple. Amazing! So many stories hidden in Indian mythology.

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Bindu Sagar Lake

I walked further to see the temple of Prasurameswara, a marvellous example of Nagra-style architecture. The temple is an example of the mastery of stone carving, decorated with various Indian deities. As soon as we returned to the temple, I picked up my Prasad and made my way to the car. Although I wanted to visit RajaRani temple & Mukteswar temple, the priest confirmed they were closed. 

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Prasurameswara Temple

Driving back to the hotel, I toured the temple of Bhramheswar. It was also closed due to COVID, could not go inside. But I saw the doors were ornamented with sculpted figures and the nine planets in Indian astrology. The towers were also adorned with armoured figurines and mythical deities. Hence I clicked a photograph from the outside.

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Bhramheswar Temple

When we got to the hotel, it was late evening; hence I ordered tea and a snack. I started packing since it was the last day of our tour. The evening proceeded by watching the television, with an early dinner and then bed. Located on the Kuakhai River, Bhubaneswar’s history dates back to the 3rd century BC. Here the stage of Orissan architecture, culture, rich history and urban growth is displayed, I would like to know more, but the rain and COVID-19 did not permit it. Consequently, I left for Kolkata early the following day as I had a 10-hour drive ahead, but believe me, the rain did not leave my side.

Skyline when way back home

While driving back home, I thought of the line said by Daniel Libeskind- “To provide meaningful architecture is not to parody history, but to articulate it.” Quite! True.

How to Reach

By Air:

The closest airport is Biju Patnaik International Airport, 6 km from the city centre. You can reserve a taxi from the airport. 

By Rail:

Bhubaneswar Railway Station is the town’s central railway and is located in the centre of the city. Superfast trains and passenger trains are readily available from the station. Travellers can also get more train stations in the town, which are easily accessible with various public transportation availability. You can book a taxi or take buses to your destination.

By Road:

To reach within and around the city, you can get different modes like bus, taxi and auto-rickshaw. Bhubaneswar BusStation is within 8 km of the town. And you can get buses operated by Orissa State Road Transport Corporation (OSRTC). Private buses are available here as well. 





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