The City of Temples or ‘Mandira Malini’, Bhubaneswar was once home to at least 2000 temples. Of them, only 700 exist today. Although a majority of them are dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Capital City also houses heritage structures related to Buddhism and Jainism. Each of these structures are characterised by magnificent architectural designs and beautiful sculptures. Apparently, the City derives its names from the Sanskrit name of Lord Shiva, Tribhuvaneswar, and mythological references describe the area as Ekamra Kshetra and Shaiva Pitha. Historians say construction of temples in Bhubaneswar was at its peak between the 7th and 12th century. Almost all the temples can be seen in the Old Town area around the Bindusagar Lake. Here’s a list of 14 temples/heritage sites you can visit to experience the Kalinga style of temple architecture.
1. Chausathi Yogini (64 Yoginis) or Mahamaya Temple is located 15 km away from Bhubaneswar at Hirapur. Located amidst paddy fields, the temple is associated with tantric cult of Odisha and occult practices of medieval times. Built towards the end of Bhauma rule in the 9th century, Yogini Temple is perhaps the smallest of four Yogini temples in the country. While one Yogini Temple is located at Ranipur-Jharial near Titlagarh in Balangir district of Odisha, the remaining two are in Madhya Pradesh. The hypaethral (roof-less) temple facing the east was discovered by Kedarnath Mohapatra of Odisha State Museum in 1953. While 10-armed Mahamaya is the presiding deity of the temple, the heavily ornamented two feet high 64 Yoginis are installed in standing postures, each exhibiting a distinct hairstyle. According to legends, Yoginis accompanied goddess Durga during her war with the demon Mahishasura. In the centre, stands a ‘mandap’ with an image of ‘Ekapada Shiva’, an incarnation of the Lord Shiva. All the sculptures in the temple are carved out of fine-grained gray chlorite, while the outer walls are decorated with images of ‘Katyayanis’. A pond, called Mahamaya Gaadia’, is located in front of the temple adds to the ambience of the place.
2. The twin hills of Khandagiri and Udayagiri, located seven kilometre west of Bhubaneswar, are the earliest groups of Jain rock-cut architecture in eastern India. While Khandagiri means a broken hill, Udayagiri denotes the hill of sunrise. There are total 33 rock-cut caves on both the hills out of which, 18 caves are excavated on Udayagiri Hill while 15 are on the Khandagiri Hill. Generally caves are single storeyed but a few of them are double storeyed. The small caves were constructed for meditation purpose of Jain monks and the height being low, does not allow a man to stand erect. As per the inscription at the site, the caves were first excavated by king Kharavela of Chedi Dynasty and his successors who were devout Jains during the first century BC. At the top of Khandagiri, lies a Jain temple, which was constructed in late 19th century. The 18 caves of Udayagiri include the Hathi Gumpha (elephant cave) with its famous inscription of king Kharavela that talks about his military exploits. Another cave―Rani Gumpha (Queen’s cave) in Udayagiri―is double-storeyed, having a spacious courtyard. This cave is adorned with elaborate carvings on historical scenes, dancers and religious functions. These ASI protected hills can be approached through NH-5. While entry fee for Indian, SAARC and BIMSTEC citizens is Rs 5 per head, foreign visitors have to pay US $2.00 to enter the hills.
3. On the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, off the main road to Puri, stand the fortified ruins of Sisupalgarh that date back to 350 BC. It was the capital of ancient Kalinga during the rule of Chedi Dynasty, which had Kharvela as its king. Historians say that the Hindu epic Mahabharata contains the story of Chedi king Sisupal, a cousin of Lord Krishna who was decapitated by Krishna in an open court. Sisupal was an ancestor of King Kharavela. According to a survey by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), in 1947-48 the fort area was spread over 562.68 acres of land. In 1950, Sishupalgarh was notified as a centrally-protected monument under the Ancient Monuments Act – 1904. Sisupalgarh has a 2000-year-old quadratic defensive wall, measuring 1200 X 1160 m and portions of the surviving wall are as high as 12 m. The first excavation of the site was conducted by famous historian BB Lal in 1948-49, which brought to light traces of an impressive fort, which, according to historians, was built over several centuries with additions, alterations and various fortifications. Over a decade back, RK Mohanty from Deccan College, Pune and Monica Smith from Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, excavated around 18 pillars at the site and found various artefacts like pottery, terracotta ornaments. They found the evidence of an urban settlement and estimated the population of the community at over 20,000, living in a city having well laid-out streets and houses with two or three rooms each.
4. Also known as Mausi Maa temple of Lord Lingaraj, Rameshwar Temple is just two km away from Lingaraj temple. The temple houses a Shiva Linga within a circular ‘yonipitha’ made of chlorite. There is also an image of the Durga that is worshipped within the sanctum. Historians say that the temple was built during the late Soma Vansh period that can be traced to the early part of the 12th century AD. The Jagamohan (assembly hall) of the temple was built much later. According to legends, when Lord Ram was returning from Lanka after victory over Ravana, goddess Sita asked to worship Shiva at the site of the temple. Seeing her devotion, Ram built a lingam at the site for the purpose of her worship. Every year during Rukuna Rath Yatra, the annual chariot festival of Lord Lingaraj, bronze images of three deities―Chandrasekhar (the representative of Lord Lingaraj), Rukmini and Basudeva are taken to Rameshwar Temple in a colourful procession. The festival is also called Ashokastami and the deities stay in the temple for four days before returning in the chariot to Lingaraj Temple. The temple stands amidst a beautiful park and within its precincts, lies a lily pond.
5. Another richly carved temple belonging to the 12th century, Megheswar Temple is also dedicated to Lord Shiva. Built in Saptaratha style of temple architecture, the temple is decorated with carvings of graceful dancers, animals, birds and flowers. Located at Pandav Nagar on the Tankapani Road, the temple complex houses two more temples of Bhaskareswar and Brahmeswar, which are equally ornate. The Bhaskareswar Temple is different from all the temples of the State in terms of structural pattern. The temple is raised on a circular platform and a nine-feet-high Shiva Linga is enshrined inside it. According to an inscription on the premises, the Megheswar along with the water tank near it, came into existence at the instance of Svapnesvara, brother-in-law of the Ganga King Rajaraja during the reign of the latter’s brother Anangabhima (1192-95 AD). The Brahmeswar Temple on the premises resembles Mukteswar temple as far as the carvings on the walls are concerned. There is depiction of dancers and musicians on the exterior walls of the temple and in the West side of the structure, there are figures of Lord Shiva and Chamunda.
Anata Basudev Temple
6. A 13th century edifice dedicated to Lord Krishna, Ananta-Basudev is the only important Vaishnava Temple in Bhubaneswar. Like Jagannath Temple in Puri, idols of Lord Krishna, Lord Balaram and goddess Subhadra are worshiped here. The idols here are made of granite unlike in Puri, where three deities are carved out of wood. While the idol of Lord Balaram stands under a seven hooded serpent, of which Lord Krishna holds a mace and a conch. Another similarity between the Jagannath shrine and Ananta-Basudev Temple is its ‘bhoga’ (prasad), which is sold and served at the Ananda Bazaar, located within the temple premises. The prasad at this temple is the most sought-after holy meal in Odisha after Lord Jagannath’s ‘abhada bhoga’. The epigraph on the temple premises reads that it was constructed by Chandrikadevi, daughter of Ananga Bhimadev III in the Saka era of 1278 AD. Located close to the Bindusagar Lake, the temple is visited by thousands of devotees during Janmastami. On the walls of the temple, there is a sculpture of Varaha (boar) incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Apparently, the design of Ananta-Basudev is completely different from other temples in old Bhubaneswar. What makes it different from the rest is that the temple, comprising Jagamohana, Bhoga Mandap and Nata Mandira, stands on a uniform platform.
7. A late 8th century temple dedicated to goddess Chamunda, Vaital Deul is also known as Tini Mundia temple. Located within a walking distance from Lingaraj Temple, Vaital Deul is in the shape of a sanctuary tower and popular as a Shakti Temple. Associated with tantric cult, sacrifice and eroticism, the temple has eerie carvings in the sanctum that has an idol of eight armed Chamunda, locally known as Kapaḷini, the terrifying form of goddess Durga (Mahishasura Mardini). The presiding deity sits on a corpse flanked by a jackal and an owl, and is adorned with a garland of skulls. She holds a snake, bow, shield, sword, trident, thunderbolt and an arrow, and is piercing the neck of the demon. In front of the Jagamohana, there is a stand post where sacrificial offerings were made. On the outer walls of the temple are carvings of Sun God, Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati in her Shakti form and scenes from hunting processions. Some of the early erotic sculptures in Odishan art are found here; erotica later became a conventional motif, present in almost all forms of decorative temple architecture. On the eastern face of the temple, one can see an extremely fine image of the Sun God flanked by his sisters―Usha and Pratyusa―in a chariot, which is driven by Aruna. The Vaital Deul complex also houses another temple by the name of Sisireswar.
8. Kedar Gauri Temple, located in old town area, is one of the eight Astasambhu (8 Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva) temples in Bhubaneswar. There are several legends associated with the construction of Kedar Gauri Temple. According to one, there lived a couple, Kedar and Gauri who decided to marry. The society, though, was against the union that led them to flee from village. During the journey, Gauri felt hungry and Kedar went to search for food during when he was killed by a tiger. When Gauri heard this, she jumped into a pond. After hearing the tragic episode, king Lalatendu Keshari raised a temple, called Kedar Gauri. Dedicated to Lord Shiva (who is also called the Kedareswar) and goddess Gauri, the temple is situated 40 m south of the Mukteswar Temple. In its premises there are two ponds―Khira Kund and Marichi Kund―that are said to have sacred powers. The temple is also famous for the Sitalsasthi Festival during when Lord Lingaraj from Lingaraj Temple is brought in a marriage procession to Kedar Gauri Temple, where he gets married to Devi Parvati. Other attractions of Kedar Gauri Temple are an 8-feet statue of Hanuman and goddess Durga standing on a lion.
9. Situated around a kilometres east of the Lingaraj Temple, the Brahmeswara Temple was built by Somavamsi king Udyotakesari’s mother, Kolavati Devi, in honour of the deity Brahmeswara (a form of Lord Shiva) in 9th century. Standing tall at 60-feet, the walls of the temple are exquisitely carved inside and outside with sculptures of several gods and goddesses, animal, birds, erotic couples, damsels and religious scenes. The carvings over the doorframe contain beautiful flower designs as well as flying figures. Like Rajarani Temple, there are images of ‘Dikpalas’ or guardians of the eight directions in Brahmeswara, besides a number of tantric-related sculptors. A carving of ‘Chamunda’ appears on the western facade, holding a trident and a human head, standing on a corpse. Lord Shiva and other deities are also depicted in their horrific avatars. Historians say this was the first time that iron beams were used in the construction of a temple in Odisha. One of the lost inscriptions of the temple stated that Kolavati Devi presented ‘many beautiful women’ to the temple, and it has been suggested that this is an evidence of the ‘Devadasi’ tradition, which assumed great importance in later Odishan temple architecture and temple life.
10. The 11th century Rajarani Temple, also known as Indreshwara Temple or the temple of love, stands amidst well maintained gardens in Old Bhubaneswar. Famous for its sculptures and successive tiers of projections rising to form the main tower, the temple derives its name from a variety of sandstone (dull red and turbid yellow sandstone) used to build it. With the outer walls ornately carved with numerous erotic sculptures of couples, Rajarani is a reminiscent of the temples of Khajuraho. The temple is aesthetically stunning with carvings of tall and slender nayikas (temple figures) carved in high relief on the walls―figures in amorous dalliance and in acts, such as fondling her child, looking into the mirror, taking off her anklet, caressing the bird, playing instrument, holding branches of trees etc. Around the entire structure are sculptures of ‘Dikpalas’ or guardians of the eight directions carved around the temple. The temple does not have an idol in the sanctum sanctorum, but its strong Shaivite association can be testified from the figures of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati on the platform and Shaiva Dwarapalas (doorkeepers) on the entrance doorjambs. The temple, located on the Tankapani Road, is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a ticketed monument. While there is an entry fee of Rs 5 for Indian visitors, foreigners have to pay Rs 100 to enter the temple premises.
11. Siddheshwar Temple dates back to 10th century and is located within the premises of the Mukteswar temple. Historians say all the 10th century temples in Bhubaneswar reveal the unification of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temple architecture. Siddheshwar Temple is taller than Mukteswar temple and its outer walls are covered with minimal carvings. The temple is not as ornate as Mukteswar but has a charm of its own as far as the construction pattern is concerned. The temple tower, built in Pancharatna style of classical Kalinga School of temple architecture, is grouped by a row of miniature turrets and all four sides of the tower are surmounted by four lions. While Lord Shiva is worshipped in the sanctum sanctorum, a beautiful figure of Lord Ganesh in standing posture is another attraction of the temple. The Ganesh idol that is kept covered with a thick layer of red vermillion has been installed at the eastern base of the temple spire. One has to walk through a beautifully maintained garden to reach the temple.
12. A few metres away from the Mukteswar Temple, stands the small but lavishly decorated Parasurameswar Temple that dates back to the Sailodbhava period between the 7th and 8th centuries AD. It has all the elements of the pre-10th century style of Kalinga architecture like pine spire and pyramid covered hall. Although the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is among the first Hindu religious structures to contain depictions of Sapta-Matrikas-Chamunda, Varahi, Indrani, Vaisnavi, Kaumari, Sivani and Brahmi. The temple also contains the earliest representation of a six-armed Mahisamardini Durga image.
Parasurameswar is the only temple with a surviving Jagamohana. Among other carvings are those of Lord Shiva subduing the demon king Ravana, who is seen trying to uproot Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. The deity is also sculpted as Nataraja in various tandavas (dance poses) in the temple. In the courtyard, there is a Sahasralinga decorated with a thousand miniature versions of it. The Jagamohana has four latticed windows that are decorated with beautifully carved bands of dancers and musicians, while there is a frequent representation of Lakulisha throughout the outer walls of the edifice. He is sculpted in meditating in Buddha-like form with four disciples at his feet.
13. Considered ‘Gem of Kalinga School of Temple Architecture’, Mukteswar Temple is famous for its exquisite and beautiful sculptures in red sandstone. It is one of the most refined temples of Odisha owing to its elegant proportions and delicate carvings. A mid-9th century edifice, the 34-feet-high Mukteswar Temple is adorned with ornate carvings of Panchatantra stories, heavily ornamented female figures with expressive faces, faces of Buddhist and Jain monks, with every minute detail carved to utmost precision. The diamond-shaped latticed windows in the north and south walls of Jagamohana (assembly hall of the temple), depict scenes of frolicking monkeys and ceiling of the temple is decorated with eight lotus petals. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The most beautiful element of this temple is a decorated stone ‘torana’ (archway) in front of the Jagamohana, which dates back to 900 AD. The archway is decorated with carvings of reclining women, animals, flowers and a combination of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain motifs. On the twin pillars of the archway are delicate carvings of scroll bands, beads and ornaments. A small water tank, locally known as Marichi Kunda, lies just behind the temple. On the door frame of Marichi Kunda is a seated figure of Lakulisha, a prominent Shaivite revivalist, reformist and preceptor of the doctrine of the Pashupatis, one of the oldest sects of Shaivism. The temple is located off the Lewis Road in the older southern part of Bhubaneswar. Every year, Odisha Tourism and Culture Department organised the Mukteswar Dance Festival on the temple premises in January-February.
14. Lingaraj Temple, built in 11th century, is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is considered as the largest temple of the city. Built by king Jajati Keshari of Soma Vansh, the main tower of this temple measures 180-feet in height. It is built in red stone and is a classic example of Kalinga style of architecture. The temple is divided into four sections―Garbh Griha (sanctum sanctorum), Yajna Shala (the hall of yajnas), Bhoga Mandap (the hall of offering) and the Natya Shala (hall of dance), and the spacious courtyard of the magnificent shrine comprises 50 small temples that are dedicated to several Gods of the Hindu pantheon. In the sanctum sanctorum, the linga of Lord Shiva is regarded as ‘Swayambhu’ (self-originated) and worshipped as both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. It is said that when construction of Lingaraj Temple was about to be completed, Jagannath culture started growing in Odisha. Hence, the presiding deity here is known as Hari-Hara; Hari denotes Lord Vishnu and Hara meaning Lord Shiva. The Shivalinga in the sanctum of the temple rises to a height of 8 inches above the floor level, and is 8 feet in diameter. Although thousands of devotees visit the Lingaraj every day, the temple comes alive on the occasions of Shivaratri and Rukuna Rath Yatra. This temple is only accessible to Hindus. Located to the north of the temple is Bindusagar Lake, one of the popular picnic spots in the city. About 1300 ft long and 700 ft wide, this lake turns into a visual delight when thousands of people set sail tiny boats on the occasion of Boita Bandana that commemorates Odisha’s rich maritime history. On the western banks of the lake, lies the beautiful garden of Ekamravan (literally meaning one-mango-tree forest). Ekamravan finds mention in ancient Hindu mythological texts as an entire forest that comprised a single mango tree. It was a key element in the abode of Lord Shiva and his divine consort, Goddess Parvati. A variety of plants traditionally associated with Hindu gods and goddess and having spiritual and medicinal significance can be found in Ekamravan.