What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear about Odisha? Politics? Regular cyclones? The Rasagola versus Roshogolla battle? If you went a little further and managed to answer ‘Shri Jagannath Dham’, you are not far behind. Simultaneously considered to be the all-father yet the beloved son of every Odia household, Shri Jagannath, fondly referred to as ‘Kalia’ is the heart and soul of Odisha.
Located in the coastal town of Puri in the Puri district, Shri Jagannath Temple is one of the most crucial of the Chaar Dhams. Suggested to have been built around the 12th century CE, the temple primarily worships Shri Jagannath along with his Brother Shri Balabhadra, Sister Maa Subhadra and Chakraraj Shri Sudarshana. Blessed by the lord the temple is believed to be a combined manifestation of the Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakta sects, and has lived through over eighteen foreign invasions and attacks. It’s only the grace of Shri Jagannath’s presence that has bagged Puri the name of ‘ShriKshetra’ or the holy land. And indeed, neither the beauty nor the significance of the temple can be described in mere words. But is the Odishi cultural heritage all about The Jagannath Temple? Let us find out in this journey of discovering Odisha.
The city of Puri alone, houses numerous other temples that are not only a representation of Odisha’s rich culture and heritage but also are marvels of architecture: Lokanath, Sakhigopala, Markandeshwar and Alarnath being a few of them. And while each of them has a cultural significance as crucial as the other, the most prominent among them is of the Konarka Surya Temple.
Built around the 13th century CE, the temple is a conception of acute engineering dexterity and is a working sundial in itself! The temple is designed in the shape of a huge chariot and is resplendent with fine stone carvings all over. Also, as interesting as its architecture is the story behind its making. Legends say the construction of the temple was actually completed by Dharmapada, who was the 12- year-old son of Vishu Maharana, the temple’s main architect. To protect his father and the 1200 other craftsmen involved in the making of the temple from execution, Dharmapada not only completed the construction of the temple over a single night but also sacrificed his life to prevent the story from spreading in a show of absolute selflessness.
While we are discussing temples, most worthy of mention is the capital city of Odisha. Even though it does not house the Jagannath Dham, Bhubaneswar is known as the ‘Temple City’ or ‘Mandira Malini’ and rightfully so. From Shri Lingaraj to Mukteshwar, and from Shri Ram Mandir to Ananta Vasudev, the city is adorned with over a thousand temples, each more intricately designed than the other, and has a history of over 3000 years.
Why only temples, Bhubaneswar is also acclaimed world-wide for the Great Kalinga War fought between the unconquerable Kalinga Empire and the Maurya Empire. The battle is presumed to have been fought beside the Daya River, where the Dhauli Shanti Stupa stands today. A place of immense historical significance, the Dhauli Hills are home to several major rock inscriptions of Chakravarti Samrat Ashoka and are also a tourist haven. Similarly, famous are the Khandagiri and Udayagiri hills that house the very ornately carved elephant caves. Believed to have been carved during the reign of Mahameghavahana Aira Kharavela, the caves are said to have been homes to Jain monks, whose voices reportedly still resonate within the caves.
Speaking of legendary emperors and their stories, The Tarini Shakti Peetha located at Ghatagaon of the Kendujhar district, is also said to have come into existence under similar circumstances. According to popular folklore Shri Ram had worshipped Maa Durga and had established her shrine in the forests of Vijayanagaram under the name of Maa Tarini, from where she had been brought to Kendujhar by Raja Govinda Bhanja in a very interesting turn of events. The king had made the goddess’s abode at the banks of the Baitarani River, where she came to be worshipped as the Queen of the Sal forests, a deity who is said to actually speak to her devotees.
The story of Ghatagaon is sure to ring a distant bell of Maa Kalijai’s legend in every travel-enthusiast’s heart; because this legend is the one that shall take us to Asia’s largest brackish water lake, Chilika, which is a winter heaven for tourists and migratory birds alike. During peak migratory seasons, the lake hosts over 300 species of birds, including several threatened ones. It is also home to the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and houses several rare raptor species as well. And Maa Kalijai is believed to be the maiden goddess who looks over the entire lagoon and prevents all kinds of mishaps from taking place.
When we are speaking about Odisha’s waters, how can we forget the number of beautiful beaches that adorn the coasts of the state? From Chandrabhaga to Mahodadhi and from Gopalpur to Chandipur, beaches are totally not something Odisha lacks. Odisha is also home to several stunning waterfalls, like Devkund and Bhimkund, each of which has a story marked with historical and cultural importance alike. Also, worth mentioning is the fact that both waterfalls are located in the Similipal Tiger Reserve, which is the only forest that is home to every single species of orchid found. The state also houses the world’s longest dam, The Hirakud Dam built over Mahanadi; India’s first multipurpose river valley project undertaken post-independence.
Another amazing superlative, the largest Shivling, Bhusandeshwar, which is believed to have been established by Lankapati Raavan himself, is also present in Balasore district of Odisha. Interestingly, the Sahasralinga, which is a single stone structure that has a thousand Shivlings embedded in it, can be found in multiple temples of the state including the 7th century Parshurameshwar and the 9th century Gouri Temple, both of which are in Bhubaneswar. Among the many other sculptural marvels of Odisha is the Huma Temple of Sambalpur. While the world marvels at The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Odisha preserves her own leaning temple which leans at an angle of almost 14 degrees! The largest open-air theatre is also located in Bargarh district of Odisha. An annual drama-based theatrical performance, the Dhanu Jatra, is performed across an 8 km radius and recounts the story of Shri Krishna restoring peace by killing his demon uncle Kansa.
Not just heritage, Odisha is also rich when it comes to fine arts, festivals, literature, and cuisine. With the APJ Abdul Kalam Island, Rourkela Steel Plant, Pathani Samanta Planetarium et cetera being in Odisha as well, the state can in no way be said to have been left behind in the field of science and technology either. And when it comes to saving the honour of Maa Bharti, Odisha has contributed her fair share of brave sons in every turn. Enlisting every achievement and everything that is good in Odisha is a task that can only be compared to filling the ocean with a bucket.
Nestled between the majestic Eastern Ghats and the dancing waves of the Bay of Bengal, Odisha is not said to be India’s best kept secret for nothing. Although it is mostly Jagannath Dham that the state is renowned for, Odisha is bejewelled with numerous other ethereal beauties, modern and ancient alike. So, this Utkala Divas, the day when Odisha was formed as the first linguistic state of India in 1936, dedicated a moment to the wonderful state. Go back to the question asked at the beginning of the page and this time, think before you answer. Because the crown sure completes the king, but the king is not limited to his crown. And by Shri Jagannath’s grace, Odisha is a lot more than the Jagannath Temple.
Wishing a very prosperous Utkala Divas to all our brothers and sisters in Odisha.