Once home to more than 2,000 temples during the 7th-12th century AD, the city still has managed to preserve more than 500 temples, precisely the reason why Bhubaneswar is called the ‘City of Temples’.
With the ancient sobriquet of ‘Mandirmalini ’ (a garland of temples) over the centuries, it is interesting to analyse as to why Bhubaneswar was established as the capital city of Odisha in the year 1948. Situated on the Mahanadi River delta, Bhubaneswar scored over Cuttack due to its central location, high altitude, vast plateau with ideal uplands and profound allegiance to rich historical and archaeological remnants.
With ample vestiges of Buddhist and Jain history, the city is a historical feast. Apart from topping the recent Smart City challenge, it is also considered to be one of the fastest growing cities in India. The coexistence of ancient temples, Buddhist viharas,Jain rock-cut shelters along with sprawling city squares, modern shopping centres and international food chains is remarkable. Bhubaneswar has all the trappings of a great modern metropolis without compromising on its inherent love for fresh air.
James Fergusson (1808–86), a noted critic and historian rated the temple as “one of the finest examples of a purely Hindu temple in India.” Considered to be the tallest religious shrine of Bhubaneswar, Lingaraj Temple stands at 180 ft high. A 7.5 ft thick compound wall of laterite encompasses the structure with more than 50 small shrines of several Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon.
Built somewhere in the 11th century CE, it is a classic example of Kalinga style of architecture. It is estimated that around 6,000 pilgrims visit this ancient abode of Lord Shiva every day. The practice of taking the lamp (a huge candle) to the temple spire is an age old ritual practiced at Lingaraj Temple every Maha Shivrati. Devouts usually break their fast after this liturgy.
Almost as old as the temple is the largest tank of Bhubaneswar. About 1300 ft. long and 700 ft. wide, this religious water body is embanked with stone, forming magnificent flight of steps. A tiny island protected by stone revetment is situated at the center of the tank with a small temple (Jala Mandir) in the north-east corner. Apart from being a popular picnic spot, this place turns into a visual delight during the occasion of Boita Bandana that commemorates Odisha’s rich maritime history. Also during the festival of Ashokastami, a replica of the Shivalingam of the Lingaraja Temple is taken to the Jala mandir for a ritualistic bath. The observance is celebrated amidst much fanfare among pilgrims.
With the rulers, during the peak of temple construction, favouring Shaivism, almost all the temples during that period are dedicated to Lord Shiva. Mukteswara is another one such temple located near Lingaraj. Considered to be the Gem of Odishan architecture, it was built in the 10th century CE. The combination of the arched stone gateway (inspired by Buddhist architecture), the octagonal temple compound and ostentatious carvings on every inch of the structures is unparalleled in the country. Maintained by ASI (Archeological Survey of India), the place has sprawling lawns, trees and a sparkling pond in the backdrop.
Nandankanan Zoological Park
Situated near the Chandaka Wildlife Sanctuary, the zoo is on the banks of Kanjia Lake. Unknown to many, Nandankanan is the first zoo in India to join the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). Spread across a whopping 990 acres, it also holds the distinction of having the first White Bengal Tiger safari in the world. Apart from being a major crowd puller, white tigers are special because both parents must carry the unusual gene for white colouring and this double recessive allele in the genetic code only turns up naturally about once in 10,000 births. With mind boggling figures of 1,175 birds, 875 mammals, 250 reptiles, 21 amphibians, 11 fresh water and 4 marine aquariums, Nandankanan is one of the largest zoos in South East Asia. It’s a unique amalgamation of zoo, botanical garden and sanctuary.
Udyagiri & Khandagiri Caves
The twin hills of Khandagiri and Udaygiri towards west of Bhubaneswar represent Odisha’s cave architecture dating back to 1st century BCE. These rock cut shelters are believed to have been chiseled out for Jain ascetics by King Kharvela of Kalinga. A 117 line inscription in Brahmi script describing the exploits of its builder can be found in one of the caves. Mostly used for meditation of Jain monks, these ornately carved caves contain several beautiful sculptures and scenes. An early morning visit to this place will bestow you a Buddhesque calm.
Dhauligiri Shanti Stupa
Almost 2,300 years ago, on the foothills of Dhauli, the famous Kalinga war was fought between Emperor Asoka of the Mauryan Empire and the state of Kalinga by the banks of river Daya. Legend has it that the battle was so fierce that parts of the river turned red with the blood of the soldiers. Apparently this gory battle made Emperor Asoka realise the follies of war. It is said that the Emperor sat at this very place and decided to lay down arms and propagate the message of non-violence all over the world. This beautiful white stupa was built by the Kalinga Nippon Buddha Sangha (the joint collaboration of Japanese Buddhist devotees and the Govt of Odisha in 1972) as a symbol of peace to commemorate the historical metamorphosis of one of the greatest Emperors of the world and birth of the Buddhist religion. The dazzling white peace pagoda with all its components of Buddhist architecture and sculptural decoration, of modern make, displaying Buddhist statues in all four directions and stories drawn from the jatakas including that of the Kalinga war in relief panels, is a tourist hotspot.
Written by : Sugato Tripathy