Bhubaneswar (220 kilometers southwest of Kolkata (Calcutta) is the capital and largest city in Odisha state, with about 1 million people. Located on the Mahanadi delta, the city is famous for it large number of temples and shrines, many built between the 6th and 12th centuries, that are some of finest examples of Hindu architecture in the world. At one time, it is said, there were thousands of temples in Bhubaneswar; today, 500 still stand. The Great Temple, built for the sun god in the seventh century, is decorated with detailed carvings and is a stunning masterpiece. Utkal University, founded in 1943, and Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, founded in 1962, are located in Bhubaneswar.

Bhubaneswar is one of the most ancient cities in India. It is widely considered to be the seat of Tribhubaneswar or Lord Lingaraj, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, and is an important Hindu pilgrimage center. Kalinga-style architecture intermingles with Buddhist and Jain structures in the Old Town. In addition to this, the city is dotted with verdant parks, gardens and water bodies and is noted for indigenous crafts like silver filigree, pattachitra paintings, appliqué work and metal work. Among the city’s culinary delights are great seafood and delectable vegetarian fare. There are bazaars and malls for shoppers.

Several big melas or fairs are held in Bhubaneswar. organised in the city throughout the year. All of them are great ways to imbibe the local flavor of the region.

Today, Bhubaneswar is a modern, industrial city as well a a curious blend of rural and urban culture. In some places, wide treelined avenues bustling with traffic give way to paddy and vegetable fields; and modern stores yield to small village tanks that reverberate with sounds of temple bells.

It comfortably straddles the old and the new, and gives visitors a chance to enjoy the best of both worlds. Several large companies have set up their offices here. A number of hotel chains, budget hotels, guesthouses and lodges offer accommodation facilities across the city, truly making it a tourist-friendly destination in the eastern part of India.

Getting There: By Air: Bhubaneswar’s Biju Patnaik International Airport is connected to major Indian cities like New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. By Road: Baramunda is the major bus station of Bhubaneswar. It is connected to many Indian cities like Konark (about 65 kilometers), Puri (about 61 kilometers), Raipur (about 550 kilometers), Ranchi (about 469 kilometers) and Kolkata (about 441 kilometers) by privately-operated as well as state-run bus services. By Train: Bhubaneswar has its own railway station which connects it to Indian cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

History of Brubaneswar

Bhubaneswar’s original name is believed to be Ekamra. Numerous mythological references and epigraphic sources describe the region as Ekamra Kshetra and Saiva Pitha. Evidence of this is found in the many temples located in and around the Old Town area, which is said to have once housed about 2,000 temples.

Brubaneswar is near where one of most important battles in the history of the world took place. Not far from present-day Brubaneswar airport, India's greatest emperor, Ashoka, conquered the kingdom of Kalinga in the third century B.C., it is said, at the cost of 100,000 lives. The emperor was so appalled by the massacre he converted to Buddhism and sent Buddhist missionaries to the four corners of Asia to spread the religion. For many centuries afterwards India was primarily a Buddhist nation. Today the wheel Ashoka, used to symbolize his conversion, is the dominant feature on India's flag.

After Ashoka's conversion Brubaneswar became an important pilgrimage center. At one time it is believed the city contained 7,000 temples (of which about 500 remain). Many temples were built between the 6th and 12th centuries under the Keshari and Eastern Ganga Dynasties. In 1803 the city came under British control and was part of the Bengal Presidency until 1912. After Indian independence in 1949 Bhubaneswar was transformed into a modern city with wide roads, gardens and parks according to a design by German architect Otto Königsberger. In 1956, the capital of Odisha moved to Bhubaneswar from Cuttack.

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.

Temples in Bhubaneswar

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Bhubaneswar “contains scores of ancient stone temple which vary in size from the gigantic structures like the great Lingaraja, 128 feet high, to the miniatures of a few feet set up in waysides or along the banks of the ancient tanks. The area, in which the ruined or living monuments are scattered, extends over 10 miles and are testimony to Bhubaneswar’s continued occupation throughout the ages. The property, In addition to its spiritual, religious and architectural wealth, has abundance of archaeological evidence, manifest in the extensive ruins of Sisupalgarh, Ashokan rock edicts and evidence of ancient wall at Dhauli hillock. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The next link in the chain of the historical monuments is found at Udayagiri and Khandagiri, the twin hillocks, situated about 6 miles to the northwest of the temple town. These hillocks are honeycombed with rock cut caves originally meant for the Jain ascetics. These caves with their bas-reliefs and Bahmi inscriptions provide us with the early specimens of art and architecture of the place, which can be approximately seen in one of these caves, known as the Hati Gumpha. This unique historical document throws considerable light on the early history of Kalinga and India in the 1st B.C. and 1st century.

“Next, in order of antiquity are the numerous temples mostly situated in the present town, of which the earliest ones, the temples of Laxmanesvara, Satrugnesvara and Parsuramesvara, according to the chronology so far established belongs to the 6th century and the latest one, that of Ananta-vasudeva, dates back to 1178. There is thus a gap of about 700 years between the Jain caves of the Khandagiri and Udayagiri and the earliest temple of the place. But recent archeological evidence shows that the limits of the temple building period can be extended on both sides and the gap narrowed; the earliest temple can be back to the 6th century and the latest brought down to the 15th or the 16th century. If, therefore, the narrowed gap can still be reduced or completely bridged with new discoveries, we shall have a continuous history of the development of art and architecture of the place from the 4th or 3rdcentury B.C. to the 15th or 16th century, a period of about 2000 years, which covers almost the whole dated history of Odisha from its very dawn to the last Hindu dynasty.”

Architecture of Bhubaneswar Temples

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Kalingan temple architecture of Bhubaneswar represents the Nagara style temple architecture with regional ramification to be suitably called with the nomenclature Kalingan temple architecture depicting the grace, the joy and the rhythm of life in all its wonders varieties. The temples of Ekamarakshetra have been built by the creative impulse of the builders within evolved canonical texts or Silpa Sastras like Bhubanapradipa, Silpa Prakash and Silpa Ratnakosha etc. Many a terms used in these, if not all, are even now used by the traditional Odia architects. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The temples are mostly built up sand stone, the Khandagiri and Udayagiri hills providing the nearest quarry. The masonry is ashlar with the surface stones finely dressed and fitted together. Architecturally, the Odishan temples resolve themselves into three broad orders, known in local terminology as Rekha, Pidha and Khakhara. In a typical Odishan temple the first two go almost side by side and from two component parts of one architectural scheme, the sanctum with the surmounting curvilinear spire, combinedly known as the Deul (also called Badadeul, the big temple or the Rekhadeul, a temple of which the spire gives the optical impression of one continuous line) and the frontal porch, called Jagamohana or Mukha-sala(also known as Bhadradeul, auspicious temple, or Pidhadeul, a temple of which the roof is made up of Pidhas or horizontal platforms), characterized by a pyramidal roof of receding steps. Thus a typical Odishan temple is a combination of two types.

“The cell is generally smaller and less spacious than the porch. This is in conformity with the Hindu practices, for the cell is meant for a glimpse of the deity and ritual worship, and the porch for congregation where the visitor may wait, meditate or read. To these were added in the fully developed temples two more structures on the same axis, known as Natyamandira and Bhogamandapa (hall of offering).

“This proud sculptural and architectural wealth, coupled with its sanctity as Ekamra Kshetra, one of the five great religious centers in Odisha since early medieval days, attracts thousands of visitors to Bhubaneswar from all corners of the world throughout the year. Even the most casual spectator is thrilled at the sight of the majestic and sublime grandeur of its soaring temples, the perfect symphony between their sculpture and architecture, the superb workmanship of their carvings and the grand repertoire of their sculptural and architectural motifs. To the connoisseur of fine arts, Bhubaneswar is one the most delightful resorts in India.”

Ekamra Kshetra: the Old Town and Temple City of Bhubaneswar

Ekamra Kshetra — Old Town Temple City of Bhubaneswar — was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Bhubaneswar has a unique position among the cities of India. A temple town with series of ancient sandstone temples, heritage ponds and water tanks, its wealth of monuments is testament to an ancient continuous architectural and historical heritage covering over 2,000 years from the 3rd century B.C. to the 15th century representing most of the important dynastic changes over the period. Bhubaneswar is dubbed the “Temple City” – a nom-de-plume earned because of the 700 temples which once stood here. It still boasts of a cluster of magnificent temples, constituting virtually a complete record of Kalinga architecture almost from its nascence to its culmination. Ekamra Kshetra comprises the area of the old city of Bhubaneswar that forms the center of this temple architecture and is considered a Hindu holy city...Ekamra Kshetra can be loosely translated to mean an ‘area (kshetra) adorned with mango trees (ekamra). As noted in Ekamra Purana, a 13th-century Sanskrit treatise, the presiding state deity of Lingaraj was originally under a mango tree, hence the name Ekamra Kshetra. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“As per the Anantavasudeva Inscription of Paramarddi, Ekamra was a sacred area “...adorned with hundreds of mango-groves, wherein exists a single Devakula [temple] surrounded by numerous temples.” according to Ekamra Purana, a 13th-century Sanskrit treatise, it is believed that this sacred kshetra was a Panchakrosa (10 miles) in circumference bordered by Khandagiri hills in the west, Kundalesvara temple in the east, Balhadevi Temple on the north and Bahirangesvara temple near Dhauli on the south, with Lingaraj Temple as its center. It is also described that there was an inner circle to this Kshetra bound by Meghesvara temple in the east and Sundaresvara temple in the south. Ekamra Kshetra comprised of 45 villages and was divided into asta-ayatana or eight sacred precincts, each with its water body, temples, small shrines, tirthas and prescribed pilgrim/ritual procession routes that are ritualistically and symbolically connected to the Lingaraj Temple. Asta-ayatana is a ancient Hindu system of reference such that shrines are located at the four cardinal points and at the four intermediate points of cosmos. The eight sectoral regions that emerge are guarded by their respective gods.

“Although Lingaraj Temple was the center of Ekamra Kshetra, the old town of Bhubaneswar itself was focused towards the Bindusagar Tank in the near vicinity of Lingaraj Temple. A geomantic approach was adopted in town planning with specific directions vis-à-vis topography, location and orientation of water bodies, landuse zoning et al. The town structure was a not-so-geometric but organic derivative of the Mandala concept. The tanks such as Bindusagar, Devipadahara Tank, Kapilesvara Tank were attached with religious symbolisms and considered holy. Mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism that represents the Universe. Graphically, it denotes any plan or chart which symbolically represents the cosmos. The basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Mandalas often exhibit radial balance.

Total Historic Structures in Ekamra Kshetra: 199; Centrally protected monuments: 23; State protected monuments: 11

Why the Ekamra Kshetra of Bhubaneswar is Special

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The site is important because: 1) The presence of such a large number of temples at one location with the culminating architectural marvel of Lingaraj Temple is a sheer case of human creative genius. 2) Ekamra Kshetra exhibits an important interchange of human values throughout ancient and medieval periods at Bhubaneswar that is manifest in the development of Kalinga architecture so much so that the entire range of this style is evident within Ekamra Kshetra. 3) Ekamra Kshetra bears an exceptional testimony to the multi-religious, multi-sectoral holy city and associated traditions that are still living. The design and development of Ekamra Kshetra as a Hindu sacred city based upon the principles of Mandala are still evident.

“It is rare to find such a large number of ancient monuments at one place...It still boasts of a cluster of magnificent temples, constituting virtually a complete record of Kalinga architecture almost from its nascence to its culmination with the Lingaraj Temple as its culmination that has been described as "one of the finest examples of purely Hindu temple in India" by noted architectural historian of 19th Century, James Ferugsson. Coupled with other urban components like water bodies, clear hierarchy of roads, city zoning et al, Ekamra Kshetra is an outstanding example of Hindu city planning based on the application of the Mandala concept, which in itself is a unique system of planning unparalleled in the world. With a radiant aura, all the monuments including Temples, Mathas, Fort, Caves, Tanks and other antiquarian remains have uncommon aesthetic importance in respect of their style of construction, state of preservation continuing for the posterity. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Ekamra Kshetra is the synthesis of multi–religious systems namely Brahminical, Buddhist and Jain. Even Brahminical faith was proliferated into Saiva, Sakta and Vaisnava affiliations, and exhibits important developments in architecture, building technology, town planning etc. These temples are still functional and home to numerous intangible living traditions, rituals, festivals and other observances believed to be centuries old. The presence of the old system of Sevayats (Servitors) who are associated with the day to day temple rituals and their existing settlements around the temples is equally significant.”

Sights in Bhubaneswar

Ram Mandir (central Bhubaneswar) is one of the major pilgrimage places in Bhubaneswar. Dedicated to Lord Rama, it houses idols of Lord Rama, Lord Lakshmana and Goddess Sita. One can also find shrines devoted to Lord Shiva, Lord Hanuman etc. The temple is characterised by its large spires that can be seen from far away. While visiting here, one should take out time to attend the morning and evening arti (a holy fire ritual) that is quite popular.

Bindu Sarovara (in the heart of Bhubaneswar near Lingaraj and Ananta-Vasudeva temples) is a tank believed to contain holy water. Also known as the Ocean Drop tank, it is believed to contain water from every holy river, pool and tank in the country. During the Ashokashtami festival held at the nearby Lingaraj Temple, the main deity is bathed in Bindu Sarovara. It is one of the largest water bodies in Bhubaneswar and is said to have been made in the 7th or 8th century. There are steps made of large laterite blocks on all sides of the bathing ghats.

Sisupalgarh (two kilometers away from Lingaraj Temple) is believed to be one of the largest and the best-preserved early historic fortifications in the country. The ancient fortifications are more than 2,000 years old and date back to 3rd or 4th century B.C. Today, they stand as proof of the brilliance of the architects of that time, who made it a sturdy structure that is a thriving settlement to this day. Sisupalgarh was once the capital of Kalinga, which is the ancient name of Odisha. There are two major parts of the Sisupalgarh ruins: the remains of the original fort and the 16 pillars or Shola Khambas. The pillars are located about 500 meters away from the ruins of the fort.

Odisha State Museum has a rich collection of sculpture, coins, and stone inscriptions. The rare palm leaf manuscripts are written in loop de loop Oriya script that looks like a series of "O's" and "Q's." Brubaneswar also contains a Handicrafts Museum, Science Museum and Tribal Museum.

Museum Of Tribal Arts And Artefacts has exhibits of tribal costumes, jewelry, art, household objects and musical instruments. One of the best tribal museums in India, it was established in 1953 with an aim to protect and promote the tribal culture of Odisha. The museum was recognised as the best among the 21 tribal museums in the country by UNESCO in 2010. The museum is divided into five separate halls that depict the lifestyle of local tribes. Currently, the museum houses 2,247 artefacts within its premises. In the traditional costumes section you can find like the phute sari of the Santhal tribe, ringa of the Bonda tribe and gatungkap of Lanjia Saora. The courtyard contains idols of tribal deities with replicas of 14 tribal shrine crafts. There are also huts of the Gadaba, Saora, Santal, Juang and Kondh tribes.

Bhubaneswar Temples

Ananta-Vasudeva Temple was built by Queen Chandrika some time during the 13th century. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the temple showcases Vaishnav symbols and figures, and resembles the Lingaraj Temple of Bhubaneswar. Inside, there are idols of Lord Krishna, Lord Balarama and Goddess Subhadra. While the idol of Balarama stands under a seven-hooded serpent, that of Subhadra holds a pot of jewels, and Lord Krishna holds a mace, chakra, lotus and conch. Moreover, the temple has miniature shrines and most of the female sculptures are highly ornamented. Ananta Vasudeva is another name for Lord Vishnu, and According to legend even before the temple was constructed, an idol of Lord Vishnu was worshipped here. And locals say that this legend proves an older temple existed at the same site. It is said that the Marathas, who had extended their empire up to River Mahanadi in this region, renovated the Ananta Vasudeva Temple in the late 17th century. Today, daily arti (a holy fire ritual) is organised at the temple. During the festival of Janmashtami, the temple hosts a huge celebration comprising prayers and devotional songs. The layout of the temple is considerably different from others in Odisha. There is a peculiarity which is said to be the first of its kind in a dated temple - the main temple stands on a cruciform platform.

Multeswara is a richly sculptured temples with a famous stone arch. The best preserved facade is on the western side, where every inch of the surface is covered with beautiful carvings. Foreigners are allowed inside the living temple in which the interior is also replete with beautiful carvings. Built sometime around 950, the Mukteswara Temple is often referred to as a miniature gem of Odishan architecture. Its design marks a transition point between the early and later phases of the Kalinga School of Architecture. Due to this, many historians call this temple a harbinger of new culture. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, Lord Ganesha and Lord Shiva, whose shrines have been installed here. The latticed windows of the jagmohana (porch) resemble those of the Parsurameswara Temple in the city. A highlight of the temple are the sculptures, such as those around the windows of the jagmohana that depict monkeys engaged in humorous scenes from the ancient Indian stories of Panchatantra. Since the temple is relatively small in size, 35 feet high at the pinnacle of the tower, it becomes evident that it is an old structure as by that time Odishan builders had'nt attempted to build larger temples.

Hirapur (southern outskirts of Bhubaneswar) is a small town known for a hypaethral (open to the sky) temple of 64 Yoginis, called the Yogini Temple. It is said that the temple was hypaethral because the yogini cult used to worship the five natural elements: air, water, fire, earth and ether/sky. Dating back to the 9th century, this small temple is only the second of its kind in Odisha, and one of only four such temples in India. Another is located in Ranipur-Jharial in Bolangar District of Odisha. The other two such temples are in Madhya Pradesh. Its construction is attributed to Queen Hiradevi, the mother of King Subhakar Dev II, of the Bhaumakar dynasty. The yogini cult, in which yoga was practiced along with tantrism, is said to have flourished in India between 8th century and 13th century. In this, a chakra or wheel with 64 spokes used to be worshipped and Goddess Kali was the presiding deity. Believed to be offshoots of the Saptamatrika, the yoginis were vivacious and embraced life. They were said to be the reincarnations of Goddess Shakti and represented ultimate feminine power. The temple in Hirapur is a circular structure surrounded by a pond and leafy trees, and is unique for many reasons. It is the only temple to have statues on its outer walls. The nine sandstone statues stand for female figures. Each figure can be seen standing on a human head while holding a weapon in one hand. Their shape and form have led historians to believe that they might represent guardian deities. The main door to the shrine is very small. Inside, built into the circular wall, are 60 niches. All but one niche are home to tiny images of yogini goddesses

Kedar Gauri Temple is one of the eight astasambu temples in Bhubaneswar. It is a complex comprising two temples: one dedicated to Lord Shiva and another to Goddess Parvati. According to legend king Lalatendu Kesari built these two temples to honour two lovers, Kedar and Gauri. Another story says that Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati came here from Varanasi to get some quiet and peace.

Bhubaneswar’s Great Shiva Temples

Lingara Temple by some measures is the largest temple complex in India, with nearly 180 Odisha-style temples. The main temple is 900 year old. Its 180-foot-high Shiva spire is a masterpiece of Hindu architecture. The scalloped dome looks like a potato-shaped electric transformer with a flying saucer on top of it. The temples that surround it — such as the dancing temple and offering temple — have a similar shape. Admission to the temple is limited to Hindus but a platform has been erected on the northern side to give visitors a good view.

Lingaraj Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is considered to be the most ancient temple in Bhubaneswar. Widely considered to have been built in the 6th century, it finds mention in the Brahma Purana. The structure represents Odishan architecture at its most mature stage, with its deul (tower) rising to a height of more than 180 feet. It is particularly fascinating in the way that the turrets inserted on the ribs of the spire incorporate miniature replicas of the tower itself. Moreover, there is an optical illusion at play, which is why this 55-meter-high temple looks bigger than it actually is! The temple's walls are adorned with intricate carvings and scriptures, and add to its architectural elegance. It is best visited between January and March, when the Mahashivratri festival is celebrated with much pomp and show. In addition to Lord Shiva, the temple also holds the idol of Lord Vishnu.

Parusurameswara Temple is one of Bhubaneswar’s oldest surviving. Built in A.D. 650 and dedicated to Lord Shiva, it contains extraordinary examples of Kalinga craftsmanship on the friezes, lattices windows and statues of the temple. It is a small lavishly decorated temple with eight grahas above the sanctum entrance. The Jagamohana is a rectangular pyramid-style structure with a terraces roof, sloping in two stages. Parasurameswara Temple is considered to be a classic example of Odia temple architecture, having the characteristic deul (tower) and jagmohana (porch-like-hall). Though small in size, it is beautifully decorated with exquisite carvings and sculptures and enclosed within a compound wall. One can also find bas reliefs of elephant processions and a Buddhist stupa carved here.

Brahmeswara Temple is believed to have been constructed sometime between the 9th and 11th centuries. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it stands in a courtyard flanked by four smaller temples. According to an inscription carried to Kolkata from Bhubaneswar, the temple was built in 1058 by Kolavati Devi, the mother of king Udyotakesari, a Somavansi ruler. The architecture of the temple reflects the traditional Kalinga style and it has been classified as a panchatanaya temple (in which four subsidiary shrines surround the four corners of the main shrine).

Vaital Deul Temple

Vaital Deul Temple is a striking example of Khakhara style of architecture, a subdivision of the Kalinga school that is believed to have specifically been used to design shrines set up by tantric groups. The semi-cylindrical shape of the temple's roof is typical of the Khakhara order of temples that are said to have an affinity to the Dravidian gopuram (gate) of the South Indian temples. There are gabled towers with a row of shikharas (spires), another sign of South Indian influence. The deul, or tower, of the temple is its most distinct feature. Rectangular in shape, it is positioned at a right angle to the jagmohana or porch. Tantric worship, said to have combined elements of Hinduism and Buddhism, was centerd on the worship of Goddess Shakti, the female life force.

The idol of Chamunda, the presiding deity of this temple, is dimly visible behind the grill and she has a garland of skulls around her neck. She can be seen holding a bow, snake, shield, sword, trident, thunderbolt and an arrow. She is seated on a corpse, flanked by an owl and a jackal. There are 15 niches around the idol with singular images. The figures in Vaital Deul are executed in relief and have delicate features and perfect equipoise.

The temple design is unlike the dominant Odishan type and many say it resembles a Buddhist Chaitya hall. The Rathas of Mahabalipuram are said to have been the inspiration behind the shape of the Vaital in this temple. This Hindu temple is said to have been constructed sometime in the 8th century. There are three spires at the top of the temple that are the reason it is also known as 'Tini-mundia deula'. It is believed that the three spires represent the three powers of Goddess Chamunda - Mahasaraswati, Mahalakshmi and Mahakali.

Rajarani Temple

Rajarani Temple is beautifully set amidst a garden. Built in the early 11th century and famous for its sculptures, this temples was constructed from a beautiful kind of sandstone known as Raja and Rania. The main entrance is decorated by the nine planets in form of figures of king and queen cobras. The large-breasted queen cobra immediately draws the viewers attention.

Rajarani Temple famed sculpted figures and tiers of projections rise to form its 18-meter-high tower.Flowers and animals along with human figurines are intricately carved on this temple's walls. Many have claimed that the Rajarani Temple bears a strong resemblance to the temples of Khajuraho. Around the shrine are sculpted dikpalas or guardians of the eight directions, again, impressively and finely carved. There are sculptures of the devas - Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirriti, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera and Isana as well.

The Rajarani Temple is noted for the amazing nayikas (temple figures) that are carved in high relief on the walls. These include figures of a mother taking care of her child, a woman checking her reflection in a mirror, taking off her anklet, playing with a bird, playing an instrument, and holding the branches of trees. Lord Shiva and his female consort are, in fact, depicted dancing in the company of attendants holding musical instruments on three panels inside the main temple itself. Surprisingly, no deity is worshipped in the Rajarani Temple. With a lush green cover around it, the temple has picturesque surroundings. There have been claims that Rajarani used to be a Vaishnava temple earlier, but the presence of several sculptures has successfully repudiated that particular belief. In fact, in contravention of the belief, there are Shaiva sculptures carved on the body of the main temple.

Near Bhubaneswar

Since it is located on the Mahanadi delta, Bhubaneswar is surrounded by a diverse terrain comprising river basins, forests and wetlands as well as historic towns and small cities. Cuttack (30 kilometers from Bhubaneswar), the former capital of Orissa, is encircled by the Matanadi and Kathajuri rivers. Sights here include: 1) the ancient stone embankments, built in the 11th century to control floods; 2) Quadaam-I-Rasool, a shrine sacred to both Hindus and Muslim with three mosque believed to contain relics belonging to the prophet; 3) Barabati Fort, the ruins of a medieval fort with a moat, gate and nine story palace; 4) Dhavaleswar, a small island with a temple with 10th century sculptures; and 5) other temples, shrines and pilgrimage sites.

Kantilo (100 kilometers from Bhubaneswar) is a town on the banks of River Mahanadi noted for being the home of a temple dedicated to Lord Nilamadhaba. The structure lies atop the twin hills of Brahmadri (this hill is well-known for offering a beautiful view of the sunset from the top) and Niladri and is surrounded by a forest. It is revered by those who worship Lord Jagannath and the presiding deity of the temple is believed to be an earlier form of Lord Jagannath of Puri.

In the cult of Lord Jagannath, Lord Nilamadhaba is said to occupy a key position. In fact, in the Jagannath Puri Temple, Lord Nilamadhaba's shrine is present on the right side of the Lakshmi Temple. Since it's a miniature version of Puri's Sri Jagannath Temple, it follows the same rites and rituals. It is believed that a perennial flow of holy water emanates from the feet of Lord Nilamadhaba. The temple attracts large crowds during the celebrations of Maghasaptami Bhaimaekadashi, in the month of Magha here. Kantilo is also famed for brass and bell metal crafts, including utensils.

Ancient Historical Sites Near Bhubaneswar

Dhauligiri (or Dhauli, eight kilometers miles from Bhubaneswar) is where Ashoka’s famous battle of Kalinga was fought. Situated by Daya Stream, the main attraction are the rock edicts and Peace Pagoda, or Dhauli Shanti Stupa, a large white stupa made in collaboration with the Japanese. From the top of the hill on which the stupa stands one can scan the famous battle field. On the rock there is an inscription of an elephant, the symbol of Buddha, reputedly placed there by Ashoka himself.

Dome-shaped Shanti Stupa has stone panels displaying Lord Buddha's footprints and the Bodhi tree. The dome has five umbrellas, symbolising the five essential parts of Buddhism. After dark, there is a grand sound-and-light show organised here with state-of-the-art projectors beaming laser rays on the stupa, narrating its grand history in 3D. From the time of the Kalinga empire to the feuds of the Mauryan empire, and the crowning of king Ashoka, the show covers it all in around 35 minutes. It ends with Ashoka adopting Buddhism, post the Kalinga War. Close by the stupa are rock-cut caves and temples, including the temple of Dhavaleswara.

Udaygiri and Khandagiri (eight kilometers west of Bhubaneswar) are two granite hills that reportedly housed the royal family of Kalinga after their defeat at Kalinga. Also known as Kumarigiri and Kumargiri, the hills are renowned for their rock-cut caves, that were built for Jain monks sometime during 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. They also feature the lithic record of 13 years of Kalinga king, Kharavela's reign. His queen was a patron of Arts And Crafts, which is why the sculptures and designs of these caves are extraordinary. These lithic records are inscribed on the walls of the Hathi Gumpha or elephant cave in Udaygiri, and are a grand example of Pali records found in India. The Rani Gumpha, also in the Udaygiri caves, is worth a visit for its spacious courtyard and sculptural friezes. While Khandagiri has 15 caves and is located on the left, Udaygiri has 18 caves and is located on the right.

The two-storied Queen's cave are important for their art and architecture. It was built in the 2nd century B.C. under Emperor Kharavela, a Jain conqueror. They are the largest caves in eastern India and they contain the most ornate and painstakingly and delicately done carvings in eastern India. The elephant cave, with its chronology of the life of King Kharavela, is more austere. Three are 33 caves altogether and many of them were used by sages and hermits. Khandagiri as a series of Jain and Hindu cave temples; and Ekambarkanana has a lovely 500-acre flower garden with over 500 varieties of roses.


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.

Wildlife Places Near Bhubaneswar

Nandankanan (25 kilometers from Bhubaneswar) is animal sanctuary with endangered species of Indian wildlife such as crocodile-like gharials. It is home of the world’s largest collection of white tigers and the largest collection of Bengal tigers in India. cats. The park drew worldwide attention when 13 tigers died in 2000 of a mysterious disease. It was later discovered they died after being injected with the wrong drug for treating sleeping sickness.

Deras Dam (25 kilometers from Bhubaneswar) is located inside the Chadaka Elephant Sanctuary. Tourists have the option to take the 40-kilometer-long guided safari or enjoy a breathtaking view of the scenery from hilltop cottages. Various films in the Odiya film industry have been shot at this beautiful place.. Deras Dam is used for irrigation purposes.

Mangalajodi (71 kilometers from Bhubaneswar) is a wetlands area good for boating and birdwatching. Thousands of migratory birds from faraway places come here.. There are over 150,000 birds here in peak season between November and March. Declared an important global wetland habitat and an International Bird Conservation Area, it is located in the Khorda district of Odisha and lies on the northern banks of the Chilika Lake.

Gahirmatha Beach (130 kilometers from Bhubaneswar) is an important nesting site for Olive Ridley turtles. This beach is a part of the larger Gahirmatha Marine Wildlife Sanctuary. A restricted number of visitors and wildlife conservationists visit this place to watch the mass hatching of turtles. Believed to be the world’s largest nesting ground for Olive Ridley turtles, this beach sees thousands of turtles coming to mate and nest in November each year. After about seven to ten weeks, the hatchlings head back into the sea only to return years later to mate and nest their own eggs.

Simlipal National Park (200 kilometers north of Bhubaneswar, 20 kilometers from Baripada, 240 kilometers west-southwest of Kolkata) covers 1060 square kilometers (410 square miles) and was one of the first sanctuaries set up under Project Tiger. A former preserve of the maharajis, this park is made up primarily of sal forest watered by 12 rivers. Among the rich and varied wildlife found here are tiger, leopard, elephant, wild dog, sambar, barking deer, gaur, wild pig, chital, hausingha, mouse deer, giant squirrel, pangolin, langur, rhesus macaque, crocodile, large pied hornbill, peafowl, hill myna, red jungle fowl. It had 326 tigers in the 1970s and 101 in 2006 but only has around 25 today. The park is located in Mayurbhanj district, Odisha. The best time to visit is October to June

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website (, 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

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