Odisha (Orissa) is the home of some India's most beautiful scenery and impressive temples as well as some its poorest people. Located on India's eastern seaboard but sometimes referred to as India's wild west, this Florida-size state in eastern India south of Kolkata (Calcutta) is an often overlooked part of India with interesting traditions, deeply religious Hindus, remote tribes, frontiers, Odissi classical dance and fiery hot food. Large number of rituals and festivals are held on a traditional lunar calendar These include a festival for new rice, a festival for unmarried girls and a festival of colors. State Tourism Website: www.odishatourism.gov.in
Orissa was the site of the famous Battle of Kalinga in 265 B.C. won by Emperor Ashoka, credited with turning India into a Buddhist kingdom and initiating the spread of Buddhism across Asia. Despite this, the vast majority of population is Hindu; there are few Muslims. The sacred cows here are smaller than those found elsewhere in India.
Odisha cover 155,707 square kilometers (60,119 square miles), is home to about 46 million people and has a population density of 300 people per square kilometer. About 83 percent of the population live in rural areas.Bhubaneswar is the capital and largest city, with about 1 million people. The state has the third largest population of Scheduled Tribes in India. By one coun there are 62 different tribes in Odisha. Religion in Odisha: induism (93.63 percent); Christianity (2.76 percent); Islam (2.17 percent); Sarnaism (1.14 percent); Sikhism (1.05 percent); Buddhism (0.03 percent); Jainism (0.02 percent). Languages of Odisha: Odia (82.70 percent); Ho (7.90 percent); Hindi (2.95 percent); Santali (2.06 percent); Urdu (1.60 percent); Telugu (1.59 percent); Bengali (1.20 percent).
Odisha receives monsoon rains from June or July to September or August. Western Odisha is often hit by severe droughts. Eastern Odisha occasionally gets hammered by Bay of Bengal cyclones. Steep stony mountains called the Eastern Ghats take up a large portion of the state; few cities have more than 300,000 people; and the population density of the state is slightly below India's average. Thick, dense forests cover about 35 percent of the state.
The Odia (Oriya) is the regional ethnic group after which the Odisha (Orissa) state is named. They speak Odia (Oriya), an Indo-Aryan language related to Bengali. It has its own distinctive script. Most Oriya live in the coastal districts and along the Mahanadi and Brahmani rivers Oriya. Fifteen percent of the population is categorized as Scheduled Caste; 23 percent is categorized as Scheduled Tribe, many of whom speak Oriya.
Around 83 percent of the population lives in villages. Many village houses have verandas and cow shed at the entrance. Cattle have traditionally been a form of wealth. Rice is the staple crop. Many places with irrigation produce double and even triple crops. Cash crops include sugar cane, jute, betel nut, coconut, coffee, cocoa, cardamon, pineapples and bananas. Tourist attractions include a 480-kilometer-long coastlines with many fine beaches and Chilika, the largest brackish water lake of Asia, criss-crossed by mangroves forest of Bhitarkanika. Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konarak are considered the most important temple towns in Odisha and all of India.
See Separate Article on BHUBANESWAR
The Eastern Ghats are a discontinuous range of mountains along India's eastern coast. Extending from the northern Odisha through Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu, they are eroded and cut through by four major rivers; the Godavari, Mahanadi, Krishna, and Kaveri. The cradle of Eastern Ghats is Villupuram district in Tamil Nadu. The Eastern Ghats run parallel to the Bay of Bengal. The Deccan Plateau lies to the west, between the Eastern Ghats and Western Ghats. The coastal plains, including the Coromandel Coast region, lie between the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal. The Eastern Ghats are not as high as the Western Ghats.
The Eastern Ghats are older than the Western Ghats, and have a complex geologic history related to the assembly and breakup of the ancient supercontinent of Rodinia and the assembly of the Gondwana supercontinent. The Eastern Ghats are made up of charnockites, granite gneiss, khondalites, metamorphic gneisses and quartzite rock formations. The structure of the Eastern Ghats includes thrusts and strike-slip faults all along its range. Limestone, bauxite and iron ore are found in the Eastern Ghats hill ranges.
As with the Western Ghats, the Eastern Ghats have local names along the discontinuous hill ranges. At their southern end, the Eastern Ghats form several ranges of low hills. The southernmost of the Eastern Ghats are the low Sirumalai and Karanthamalai Hills of southern Tamil Nadu. North of the Kaveri River are the higher Kollimalai, Pachaimalai, Shevaroy (Servarayan), Kalrayan Hills, Chitteri, Javadhu Hills, Palamalai and Mettur Hills in northern Tamil Nadu state. The climate of the higher hill ranges is generally cooler and wetter than the surrounding plains, and the hills are home to coffee plantations and enclaves of dry forest.
The Biligiriranga Hills, which run east from the Western Ghats to the River Kaveri, form a forested ecological corridor that connects the Eastern and Western Ghats, and allows the second-largest wild Asian elephant population in India to range between the South Eastern Ghats, the Biligiriranga Hills and Nilgiri Hills, and the South Western Ghats. North of the Palar River in Andhra Pradesh, the central portion of the Eastern Ghats consists of two parallel ranges running approximately north-south. The lower Velikonda Range lies to the east, and the higher Palikonda-Lankamalla-Nallamala Ranges lie to the west. They run in a nearly north-south alignment, parallel to the Coromandel Coast for close to 430 kilometers between the Krishna and Pennar rivers.
The Kondapalli Hills are a range of low hills which lie between the Krishna and the Godavari rivers. The Maliya Range and Madugula Konda Range are located in the northern portion of the Eastern Ghats. The Madugula Konda range is higher than the Maliyas and generally ranges between elevations of 1100–1400 m. Prominent summits include the highest peak of the Eastern Ghats - Arma Konda (1680 meters), Gali Konda (1643 meters) and Sinkram Gutta (1620 meters).
The highest mountain peak in the state of Odisha is Deomali (1672 meters), which is situated in the Koraput district of southern Odisha. It is part of the Chandragiri-Pottangi mountain system. The region covers about three-fourths of the entire Odisha state. Geologically it is a part of the Indian Peninsula which was a part of the ancient land mass of Gondwanaland. The major rivers of Odisha with their tributaries have cut deep and narrow valleys.
Battle of Kalinga
The Battle of Kalinga in 265 B.C. was fought India between the Maurya Empire under Ashoka and the state of Kalinga, an independent feudal kingdom located on the east coast, in the present-day state of Odisha. It included one of the largest and bloodiest battles in Indian history. The conflict was the only major war Ashoka engaged in after his accession to the throne and the battle marked the close of empire building and military conquests of ancient India that began with Maurya king Bindusara. The death and destruction caused by the battle is said to have led to Ashoka decision to adopt Buddhism. [Source: Wikipedia]
Kalinga did not have a king at the time of the battle as it was culturally run without any. The reasons for invading Kalinga were both political and economic. Kalinga was a prosperous region consisting of peaceful and artistically skilled people. Known as the Utkala, they were the first from the region who traveled offshore to the southeast for trade. For that reason, Kalinga had important ports and a powerful navy. They had an open culture and used a uniform civil code.
Kalinga was under the rule of the Nanda Empire until the empire's fall in 321 B.C.. Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta Maurya had previously attempted to conquer Kalinga, but had been repulsed. Ashoka set himself to the task of conquering the newly independent empire as soon as he felt he was securely established on the throne. Kalinga was a strategic threat to the Maurya empire. It could interrupt communications between Maurya capital Pataliputra and Maurya possessions in central Indian peninsula. Kalinga also controlled the coastline for the trade in bay of Bengal.
Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra wrote in “Military History of Orissa”: “No war in the history of India as important either for its intensity or for its results as the Kalinga war of Ashoka. No wars in the annals of the human history has changed the heart of the victor from one of wanton cruelty to that of an exemplary piety as this one. From its fathomless womb the history of the world may find out only a few wars to its credit which may be equal to this war and not a single one that would be greater than this. The political history of mankind is really a history of wars and no war has ended with so successful a mission of the peace for the entire war-torn humanity as the war of Kalinga.”
Ashoka had seen the bloodshed and felt that he was the cause of the destruction. The whole area of Kalinga was plundered and destroyed. Some of Ashoka's later edicts state that about 150,000 people died on the Kalinga side and an almost equal number of Ashoka's army, though legends among the Odia people – descendants of Kalinga's natives – claim that these figures were highly exaggerated by Ashoka. According to their legends, Kalinga armies caused twice the amount of destruction they suffered. Thousands of men and women were deported from Kalinga and forced to work on clearing wastelands for future settlement.
The war was completed in the eighth year of Ashoka's reign, according to his own Edicts of Ashoka, probably in 262 B.C.. After a bloody battle for the throne following the death of his father, Ashoka was successful in conquering Kalinga – but the consequences of the savagery changed Ashoka's views on war and led him to pledge to never again wage a war of conquest. Ashoka, Rock Edict No. 13 reads: “Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Priyadarsi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dharma, a love for the Dharma and for instruction in Dharma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.
Ashoka's response to the Battle of Kalinga is recorded in the Edicts of Ashoka. The war prompted Ashoka, already a non-engaged Buddhist, to devote the rest of his life to ahimsa (non-violence) and to dharma-vijaya (victory through dharma). Following the conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka ended the military expansion of the empire and began an era of more than 40 years of relative peace, harmony, and prosperity.
Puri (60 kilometers south of Bhubaneshwar and 500 kilometers southeast of Kolkata (Calcutta)) is divided into two parts: the ancient holy town and the new town. A kilometer away from the coast, the ancient holy town is characterized by lofty temple shrines that reverberate with sounds of conch horns, drums and cymbals. The new town is strung out along the beach.
Spirituality and divinity echo through every by-lane of the temple city of Puri. A very popular destination of pilgrimage for Hindus, the city is sprawled along the long and pristine coastline of the Bay of Bengal, in Odisha. Buzzing with devotees, who come here to pay obeisance at the Lord Jagannath Temple, Puri is also known worldwide for the larger-than-life celebrations associated with its presiding deity. The temple is said to contain the largest kitchen in Asia. 650 employees prepare offering for the images of deities in the temple. The images are also washed, clothed and anointed with butter and there are 15 categories priest to take of these duties. Late meals and non-Hindus in the temple bring bad luck. [Source: Bart McDowell, National Geographic, October 1970]
Puri’s coastline is home to some of the finest beaches in the country, offering a variety of water sports activities and wildlife experiences. The city has many attractions for lovers of architecture and history The local fisher-folk add a unique charm to Puri, making it a haven for culture and seafood Even though Puri is visited by tourists throughout the year, it becomes most prominent at the time of the nine-day-long Ratha Yatra festival, held around the months of July-August, when three decorated chariots carry Lord Jagannath and his sister Subhadra and brother Balabhadra.
The city is said to have been sanctified by the great saint Adi Shankaracharya in the 9th century, who later established a monastery here, called Gobardhan Matha. The Matha was also home to several saints and philosophers like Ramanuja, Maraharitirtha, Nanak, Kabir, Chaitanya and Ballav Bhatta. historical documents prove that from the time of the Somavamsis Puri has been at the center of divinity For centuries, and, 11th century onwards, all ruling dynasties of the region extended liberal patronage to Puri's temples and ashrams.
Getting There: By Air: The airport that’s nearest to Puri is at Bhubaneswar which is about 60 kilometers away. It’s connected to New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Visakhapatnam by regular flight services. By Road: Puri’s bus stand is connected to Bhubaneswar (about 60 kilometers) and Cuttack (about 82 kilometers). Direct bus services also connect Puri with Kolkata (about 497 kilometers) and Visakhapatnam (about 445 kilometers). By Train: Puri is serviced by its own train station which is a prominent stop on the East Coast Railway. It is connected to New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Tirupati by regular rail service. The Khurda Road railway station, which is located approximately 44 kilometers away from Puri, is connected to Chennai and Western India by regular train services.
Shopping in Puri
Several government-run and privately-owned stores in Puri sell a variety of handlooms and handicrafts. Passapali, bomkai, sambalpuri and ikat saris are a must-buy. Handicrafts include palm leaf engraving, silver filigree work, horn work, pattachitra, coir products, metal ware, applique, sea shell items, stone statues, wooden statues, papier mache masks and solapith (thermocol) artwork. Utkalika, run by the Odisha State Co-operative Handicrafts Corporation, has an outlet at Grand Center market and offers a fixed price for all products. Pattachitra Center on Nabakalabara road is a great place to buy pattachitra art.
Ananda Bazaar is located next to the Grand Road going through the city. Mahaprasad (special offering to the god) that is sold there. This prasad (offering) is a local speciality that is offered by devotees to Lord Jagannath at his temple. Ananada Bazaar can be understood as a huge courtyard that you can visit right as you exit the temple. There are a number of shops selling sweets. Many food joints also dot the market where devotees can dig into some local dishes.
Puri is a good place to purchase pattachitra. A traditional art form, pattachitras are miniature paintings with religious themes. Stories from the Hindu epics and legends from the lives of Hindu gods and goddesses are painted on a specially treated fabric called patta. The word 'pattachitra' literally means a painted piece of cloth. With bright colors and intricate details, these paintings can be used as wall decor items. Many are produced in Raghurajpur and Dandasahi villages, on the outskirts of Puri,
Sacred Tanks and Sights in Puri
Sights in the old town include Indradyumna Tank, Sakshi Gopal temple, Raghurajpur artisan village and the 13th century Atharnala Bridge (85x11 meters and still in use). Jagannath Temple is one of the grandest temples in India (See Below). About a mile way from this temple is the Garden House of Lord Jagannath
Puri has five sacred tanks known as the Pancha Tirtha: 1) Indradyumna, 2) Markandeya, 3) Sweta Ganga , 4) Narendra Sarovar and 5) Rohini Kunda. Sweta Ganga is a holy bathing tank located opposite Ganga Mata Math. Devotees believe that Goddess Ganga resides here so that she can visit and serve Lord Jagannath regularly and that's why many believe that the perennial tank never runs dry.
Markandeya Tank is perhaps the most important of the five Pancha Tirtha. It is said that a pilgrimage to Puri is incomplete unless one bathes in all these five tanks. Markandeya is said to be the place where gods saved sage Markandeya from the sea. There is another running myth that says it's a bathing place where Lord Vishnu resides as a neem tree.
Narendra Sarovar (of the Jagannath) is the largest of Puris holy ponds or tanks. Also called Sri Chandana Pukur, it is the place where legend says Lord Jagannath comes during the annual Chandan Yatra (held in April-May) for nauka lila (boating excursion). The Chandan Yatra (sandalwood voyage) also marks the beginning of the grand Rath Yatra (chariot procession). During the yatra, thousands of devotees take a dip in the tank as they believe it would wash away their sins. A small island at the center of the tank houses a temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath and his siblings, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra. During the festival, beautifully decorated boats are used for taking the lord around the tank. As the boats do rounds of the waterbody, devotees throng its banks, dancing and singing.
Markandeswar Temple is believed to be the place where sage Markandeya meditated on Lord Shiva. A Shiva temple was constructed on the spot where the sage meditated. Markandeswar Temple is one of the pancha tirthas of Puri and can be reached from Markandeswar Chowk on the side of Markandeswar tank, which lies to the north of the renowned Jagannath temple of Puri.
Jagannath Temple is the most important temple in Puri and Eastern Indian. Built in 12th century during the reign of King Chodaganga Deva, the temple contains a Kalinga-style spire that rises 65 meters (213) in the air. Within the high walls enclosing the temple are many other smaller shrines that merit attention. Anada Bazaar, once the biggest food market in the world, is within its wall. The temple is said to contain the largest kitchen in Asia. 650 employees prepare offering for the images of deities in the temple. The images are also washed, clothed and anointed with butter and there are 15 categories priest to take of these duties. Late meals and non-Hindus in the temple bring bad luck.
Sri Jagannath Temple is one of the most revered and sacred pilgrimage sites in India. Its main deity is Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The majestic temple is said to have been built by king Anangabhimadeva, also known as Angangabhima III of the Ganga dynasty. Some historians say the construction of the temple began during the reign of king Chodagangadeva, the founder of the dynasty, in the 12th century. Built on a gigantic raised platform, the magnificent temple soars above all neighbouring buildings and dominates the skyline of Puri. Its 65-meter-high spire is visible even from the outskirts of the city.
The temple complex is enclosed within two concentric walls, the Kuruma Bheda (inner wall) and the Meghnad Pachira (wall). The main entrance to the temple is through the Singhadwar or the Lion Gate, which is guarded by two imposing stone lions in a crouching position. On the pilasters next to the door are a couple of statues of guards. There are three other gates facing the three of the cardinal directions and are known as the Elephant Gate, the Horse Gate and the Tiger Gate (also called the Khanja Gate). Inside the temple complex, there are 6,000 servitors and kitchens that feed around 10,000 people every day. Every year, the temple celebrates the Ratha Yatra (chariot) festival with great exuberance. It is one of the most widely-attended spiritual extravaganzas in the country.
The temple consists of four structures: Vimana or Bada Deula (sanctum sanctorum), Jagamohan or Mukhasala (the porch), Natamandir (the audience hall) and Bhogamandap (bhoga is the food offering made to gods). While the mysticism of Lord Jagannath may dwarf the architectural marvels of the temple structure, it does have several unique features. It is said the main temple has been constructed in such a way that no shadow of it falls on the ground at any time of the day. There are several other points of interest, like the Nilachakra or the blue wheel perched on top of the temple. Made of eight metals or asta dhatu, devotees believe that sighting the Nilachakra is as good as a sight of the lord Himself. Atop the Nilachakra is the Patitapabana or the flag that is changed every day at sunset. For believers, a sight of the fluttering flag is divine. Devotees also hold the mahaprasada or the offering of food to the lord, in great esteem. A serving of rice, vegetables and cereals, it is cooked in earthen pots on wood and charcoal fire. Also revered is the Aruna stambha or the Sun pillar, the 33-ft-high monolithic pillar of black chlorite in front of the Lion Gate. The capital of the pillar is surmounted by a squatting Garuda (the mythological bird mount of Lord Vishnu).
Raghurajpur (52 kilometers south of Bhubaneswar, five kilometers north of Puri) is a heritage crafts village and is famous for pattachitra paintings. This art form is dated back to the 5th century B.C. They are painted on a piece of cloth and feature mythological themes. Visitors can also buy tussar paintings, palm leaf engravings, pottery, paper mache items, masks carvings of wood and stone, and cow dung and wooden toys here. It is possibly the only place in India where there is such a large congregation of artists.
Raghurajpur is also well known for the Gotipua dance troupes which is the precursor of the popular and globally appreciated Odissi classical dance. Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the doyen of Odissi classical dance, was also born in this village. Raghurajpur holds the distinction of being developed as Odisha state's first heritage village and as a crafts village. After this initiative, the village got an interpretation center, commissioned artworks adorning the homes of the artists, as well as a rest house. Back in the 1940s too, the artisans here were facing difficulties and their incomes were low.
An American woman named Helena Zealy is said to have taken on the onus of reviving the pattachitra art. She organised several pattachitra exhibitions in the U.S. and invited connoisseurs over to the village. It was largely due to her efforts that the pattachitra art form earned international applause. Raghhurajpur is also the only place where one can find patas. These are traditional decorations used under the throne of Lord Jagannath and on the three chariots during the Rath Yatra festival that takes places every year in the town of Puri. The charming town of Raghurajpur is located in the midst of groves of coconut, palm, mango and jackfruit. There are two main streets in the village with around 120 houses. The homes are decorated with mural paintings.
Beaches Near Puri
Beaches in Odisha include Gopalpur, a modern beach resort with a wide beach, sand dunes and a medieval jetty where boats left for Indonesia, and Chandipur, a beautiful beach where the tides moves in and out 52 meters (170 feet) Puri has several popular beaches with white surf and fine sand. Water sport activities such as jet skiing and banana boat rides can be enjoyed on the beachfront between the lighthouse and the Mangala river. A hovercraft operates between Panthanivas in Puri and the Ramchandi Beach near Konark.
Puri Beach is a stretch of fine golden sand dotted with stalls selling sumptuous sea food and knick-knacks. It is popular with pilgrims who come to worship Lord Jagannath at the famous temple located nearby. The grand Marine Drive road running parallel to the beach is a popular spot for long walks. There is a good choice of hotels and guesthouses near the beach. Sometimes the waves are good for surfing. Visitors can take a stroll on the beach and check out pearls and seashell souvenirs sold by local vendors and as marvel at impressive sand sculptures, including the work of internationally recognised local artist, Sudarshan Pattnaik. The beach hosts the annual Puri Beach Festival every November that sees huge crowds. Shacks along the beach sell fried and grilled prawns, crabs and fish, freshly caught from the sea, along with vegetable pakodas (fritters). The a lighthouse is open from 4:00pm to 6:00pm. One can get a spectacular view of the sea and the beach from the top of the lighthouse.
Swargadwar Beach (close to the Jagannath Temple) is believed to be the bathing site of Sri Chaitanyadev, a revered Vaishnava saint. Thus, it holds religious significance apart from being very picturesque. Thousands of devotees visit the nearby Mahadadhi bathing spot throughout the year to take a dip in the holy waters. As popularly believed in Hinduism, those who do take a dip, attain salvation and reach heaven after they die. Devotees offer prayers so that they and their loved ones go to heaven after death. The beach has been blessed by a peaceful and surreal ambience. Close by is the Swargdwar cremation ground, which holds immense significance too. Swargadwar literally means “door to heaven,”
Gopalpur (16 kilometers Berhampur and 173 kilometers from Puri) is a small town and popular beach resort whose inviting golden sands and clear and blue waters lure visitors from all over the country. Lying on the Bay of Bengal, it attracts surfers and boating enthusiasts. In ancient times this beach served as an important port for the seafarers of Kalinga. During World War II soldiers and supplies were delivered her for the Burma Road. It was here that the first ever modern hotel was built in Odisha in 1914. The beach is lined with casuarina groves and is one of the cleanest in India. Even though the sea may be too rough for novice swimmers to go swimming, there are plenty of other activities that can be enjoyed. You can take a quiet stroll and soak in the sights of the beach or roam around the town to look at beautiful old buildings; seafood lovers will find plenty of food joints to indulge themselves and courtesy the Kalinga Divers Association, there are boating and water sports facilities available as well. The ruins of a port, a lighthouse and a few colonial-style old bungalows stand testament to Gopalpur's past as a bustling commercial town until about 1942, when its port ceased operations.
Konarak and Its UNESCO World Heritage Site Sun Temple
Konarak (32 kilometers from Puri) contains a beautiful temple nestled between sand dunes on splendid coastal landscape. The temple's name means the "Sun's Corner" and it is built in the shape of chariot drawn by seven exquisitely carved horses, representing a victory over darkness. Built to commemorate victory over Muslims in a 13th century battle, it is famous for it Black Pagado, which features scores of graphic sculptures of erotic couples and frisky animals. The temple was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. In the late 1990s a two-ton stone slab fell off the monument. Kornak also hosts the Kornak Dance Festival.
Dedicated to Surya or the Sun God and designed like his chariot, the massive and magnificent Sun Temple at Konark (kona meaning angle and ark referring to the sun) is one of the finest examples of ancient Indian architectural heritage. The breathtakingly temple was described by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore as the place where the language of stone surpasses the language of man. Seemingly rising from the depths of the sea, the temple is two 2 kilometers away from the Bay of Bengal coastline. Built in the 13th century by Ganga king Narasimhadeva I, the temple with stunning sculptural details, marks the most evolved period in the Kalinga architecture. It is said that the temple was designed in such a way that the rising sun's first rays would illuminate the deul (sanctuary) and the presiding deity. The temple stands on a base of a total of 24 intricately carved wheels, 12 on each side. Four of the 24 wheels can be used as sundials to tell the time! According to experts, the temple was used for prayers only for a short period and in the 17th century, the presiding deity may have been moved to Jagannath Temple in Puri.
According to UNESCO: “On the shores of the Bay of Bengal, bathed in the rays of the rising sun, the temple at Konarak is a monumental representation of the sun god Surya's chariot; its 24 wheels are decorated with symbolic designs and it is led by a team of six horses. Built in the 13th century, it is one of India's most famous Brahman sanctuaries. The Sun Temple at Konârak... is one of the outstanding examples of temple architecture and art as revealed in its conception, scale and proportion, and in the sublime narrative strength of its sculptural embellishment. It is an outstanding testimony to the 13th-century kingdom of Odisha and a monumental example of the personification of divinity, thus forming an invaluable link in the history of the diffusion of the cult of Surya,the Sun God. In this sense, it is directly and materially linked to Brahmanism and tantric belief systems.”
“On the eastern coast of India, south of the Mahanadi Delta, is the Brahmin temple of Kimarak (still spelled as Konârak or Konârka), one of the most famous Brahmin sanctuaries of Asia. Konârak derives its name from Konârka, the presiding deity of the Sun Temple. Konârka is a combination of two words, kona (corner) and arka (Sun). It was one of the earliest centers of Sun worship in India. Built around 1250 in the reign of King Narasingha Deva (1238-64), it marks the apogee of the wave of foundations dedicated to the Sun God Surya; the entire temple was conceived as a chariot of the Sun God with a set of spokes and elaborate carvings.
History of the Konarak Sun Temple
According to UNESCO: “The Puranas, other religious texts also point towards the existence of a Sun temple at Konârak long before the present temple. Konârak was once a bustling port of Kalinga and had good maritime trade relations with Southeast Asian countries. [Source: UNESCO]
“The present Sun Temple was probably built by King Narashimhadev I (1238-64) of the Ganga dynasty to celebrate his victory over the Muslims. The Sun Temple is an exceptional testimony, in physical form, to the 13th-century Hindu Kingdom of Odisha... Its scale, refinement and conception represent the strength and stability of the Ganga Empire as well as the value systems of the historic milieu. Its aesthetical and visually overwhelming sculptural narratives are today an invaluable window into the religious, political, social and secular life of the people of that period. The Sun Temple is directly associated with the idea and belief of the personification of the Sun God, which is adumbrated in the Vedas and classical texts. The Sun is personified as a divine being with a history, ancestry, family, wives and progeny, and as such, plays a very prominent role in the myths and legends of creation.
“A unique artistic achievement, the temple has raised up those lovely legends which are affiliated everywhere with absolute works of art: its construction caused the mobilization of 1,200 workers for 12 years. The architect, Bisu Moharana, having left his birthplace to devote himself to his work, became the father of a son while he was away. This son, in his turn, became part of the workshop and after having constructed the cupola of the temple, which his father was unable to complete, immolated himself by jumping into space.”
“The temple fell into disuse in the early 17th century after it was desecrated by an envoy of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The According to legend the temple was constructed by Samba, the son of Lord Krishna. Samba was afflicted by leprosy and after twelve years of penance he was cured by Surya, the Sun God, in whose honour he built this temple.”
Konarak Sun Temple Architecture and Features
The main entrance of the temple, the Gajasimha (gaja meaning elephant and simha referring to lions) derives its name from two massive stone lions crushing elephants. This gate leads to the finely carved Natya Mandapa (dancing hall). Wide steps that are flanked by horses rise to the Jagamohan (assembly hall). Though carved in stone, the life-like horses seem to be straining at their reins, each sinew bulging. The temple has three impressive carvings of the Sun God at three strategic locations to catch the sun at dawn, noon and sunset. The carvings at the base of the temple and on its walls chronicle everyday activities. While the Konark Temple is unique, there are several other chariot-temples in the places like Hampi (Karnataka), and Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu). The Konark Sun Temple is visited by lakhs every year and the annual Konark Festival held here is famed for its cultural importance.
According to UNESCO: The Sun Temple is the culmination of Kalingan temple architecture, with all its defining elements in complete and perfect form. A masterpiece of creative genius in both conception and realisation, the temple represents a chariot of the Sun God, with twelve pairs of wheels drawn by seven horses evoking its movement across the heavens. It is embellished with sophisticated and refined iconographical depictions of contemporary life and activities.
“Against the horizon, on the sandy shore, where the rising Sun emerges from the waters of the Gulf of Bengal, stands the temple, built from stone and carefully oriented so as to permit the first rays of the Sun to strike its principal entry. It is a monumental representation of the chariot of Surya pulled by a team of seven horses (six of which still exist and are placed on either side of the stairway leading to the sanctuary). “On the north and south sides are 24 carved wheels, each about 3 meters in diameter, as well as symbolic motifs referring to the cycle of the seasons and the months. These complete the illusionary structure of the temple-chariot. Between the wheels, the plinth of the temple is entirely decorated with reliefs of fantastic lions, musicians and dancers, and erotic groups. Like many Indian temples, the Sun Temple comprises several distinct and well-organized spatial units. The vimana (principal sanctuary) was surmounted by a high tower with a shikhara (crowning cap), which was razed in the 19th century. To the east, the jahamogana (audience hall) dominates the ruins with its pyramidal mass. Farther to the east, the natmandir (dance hall), today unroofed, rises on a high platform. Various subsidiary structures are still to be found within the enclosed area of the rectangular wall, which is punctuated by gates and towers.
Chilika Lake (30 kilometers southwest of Puri) is large lagoon connected to the Bay of Bengal. It is doted with many islands and contains a wildlife sanctuary for migratory birds. Many birdwatchers flock here in the winter when birds from as far away as Siberia winter here.
Chilika Lake was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Chilika Lake is a brackish water lake and a shallow lagoon with estuarine character spread across the districts of Puri, Khurda and Ganjam in Odisha in eastern India. Fed by 52 rivers and rivulets, the waterspread area of Chilika varies between 900 to 1165 square kilometers. during summers and monsoon respectively. The pear shaped lagoon is about 64.5 kilometers. long and its width varies from 5 to 18 kilometers. It is connected to the Bay of Bengal by a 32 kilometers long and 1.5 kilometers wide channel that mostly runs parallel to the Bay separated by a narrow spit whose width varies between 100 meters to several kilometers. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The lagoon can be broadly divided into four ecological sectors based on salinity and depth, namely the southern zone, the central zone, the northern zone and the outer channel. A number of islands are present in the lagoon, prominent among which are Krushnaprasad, Nalaban, Kalijai, Somolo and Birds Islands.”
“The Chilika lake is of estuarine character in an ephemeral environment. It has been indicated in the geological studies that in the Pleistocene era, the northeastern region was lying under the sea and the coastline extended along the western shore of the lake. It is supported by the fact that the Konark Sun Temple which was originally built on the seashore is now about 3 kilometers away from the coast. A fossil found on the southwestern edge of the respect indicates the formation of the lake about 3500 to 4000 years ago.”
Berhampur (171 kilometers from Bhubaneswar) is a vibrant industrial town located to the south of the Chilika Lake. It is famed for its ikat silk textiles. The town is also known for artisans who make brass and bell metal ware, horn toys, wood carvings and carpets. There are shrines dedicated to Thukurani, Jagannath and Nilakantheswar Shiva here, along with a museum that houses a collection of sculptures, and specimens of anthropological and natural history. Gopalpur-on-sea, a deep sea resort, is a major tourist attraction located close by. Jaugarh, another popular place, is noteworthy because it is home to Ashokan rock edicts and other archaeological ruins. From this, one can conclude that the place was a part of Mauryan emperor Ashoka’s empire.
Wildlife and Ecosystem of Chilika Lake
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Chilika Lake is the largest brackish water lake with estuarine character that sprawls along the east coast of India. It is considered to be the largest lagoon in India and counted amongst the largest lagoons in the world. It is the largest wintering ground for migratory waterfowl found anywhere on the Indian sub-continent. It is one of the hotspot of biodiversity in the country, and some rare, vulnerable and endangered species listed in the IUCN Red List of threatened Animals inhabit the Lake area for at least part of their life cycle...A survey of the fauna at Chilika by the Zoological Survey of India in 1985-87 recorded over 800 species in and around the lagoon. The list includes a number of rare, threatened and endangered species including the Barakudia limbless skink.[Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The Lake is a highly productive ecosystem, with rich fishery resources. The rich fishing grounds sustain the livelihood of more than 0.2 million fisherfolk who live in and around the lake. It has a great heritage value and maritime trade to the far east countries used to take place from here. It is also the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent and supports some of the largest congregation of migratory birds from large parts of Asia, particularly during the winters that arrive from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and South East Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas to feed and breed in its fertile waters.
“The lake has several islands and form important habitat for the birds and animals. The hydrological system of the lake comprises of inflow of freshwater on a perennial basis from the Mahanadi river, and several rivers which are not perennial. On the east side the lake has the Bay of Bengal. The unique ecological system of the lake represents significant ongoing ecological and biological process and supports important communities of plant and animals on its freshwater coastal and marine ecosystem.
“Chilika lake is a assemblage of marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystem, that support amazing biodiversity. It is a home to highly endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. According to the 2013 census, about 150 dolphins are found here and is, therefore, considered as the largest lagoon supported population of the World. It is the largest wintering ground of migratory birds in Indian sub-continent and support about 225 species at different part of their life cycle. The rich fish fauna comprising of about 317 species.”
Koraput (500 kilometers away from Bhubaneswar) is home to the Kolab reservoir and is located in an area with deep, terraced valleys, thick forests and waterfalls. Home to various tribes of Odisha, Koraput showcases the colors of tribal life and a rich folk culture. The region's bustling and lively tribal market is at the heart of Koraput, where one can soak in the vibrant culture of tribes. In ancient times, Koraput was under the rule of tribals, following which it was taken over by the Solar dynasty, whose king Vikram Dev is said to have shifted his capital to Jeypore, about 23 kilometers from Koraput.
Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is located at Jeypore, which is 25 kilometers away. By Road: Since NH 26 passes through the area, one can find plenty of buses to Bhubaneswar and other nearby cities. By Train: The place is well connected to Bhubaneswar, Kolkata and other important cities.
Deomali is the highest peak in Odisha. Reaching a height of 1,672 meters, it is located in the Chandragiri-Pottangi subrange of the Eastern Ghats and is surrounded by deep green forests and dotted with brooks and deep valleys. One can find a rich variety of flora and fauna. This off-beat attraction is a serene stopover for those who want to witness nature at close quarters. Adventure lovers also find this place appealing as they can engage in various activities like hang-gliding, mountaineering and trekking. The top of the mountain has a five-kilometer-long flat surface from where an M-shaped peak can be spotted. From here, one can avail picturesque views of surrounding areas. Deomali is predominantly inhabited by tribes such as Kandhas, Parajas, Bhumia, Malis and Bhotias.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020