Bhubaneswar is the capital city of Odisha, an eastern coastal state in India. As the largest city in the state, the lovely city sees a harmonious blend of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain heritage and is the proud owner of some of the finest temples ever built. The city is also known as the “Temple City of India”—it is home to more than five hundred temples, some dating back to the sixth century. Along with Puri and Konark, the three cities form the ‘Golden Triangle’, a popular tour route in Eastern India.
Let’s take a tour of this vibrant city and explore the beauty of its magnificent temples, temple food, and Buddhist and Jain edicts embedded in the hills and caves.
One of the most famous Shiva temples in India, this splendid temple, carved in red stone, is undoubtedly one of the finest structures in the country. It was built in the eleventh century by King Yayati of Somvanshi dynasty in a very typical Kalinga architecture style. The temple has four components—the sanctum, the assembly hall, the hall of offerings, and the dance hall. Each of these structures is aligned axially in descending height, making it a wonderful sight to behold.
Each hall is covered with intricate carvings of dancing women and loving couples. The main entrance porch to the temple is made of sandalwood, leading to more than 150 smaller shrines in its spacious complex. The sacred sanctum has a big misshaped granite Shiva Lingam (शिव लिंगम; a symbol of the lord) which is said to have emerged on its own. The Lingam here is worshipped both as Shiva and Vishnu, which is rare.
Head to the kitchen complex to tickle your taste buds with the temple prasad (offerings) colloquially known as Abhada (अभद़). The food mainly consists of plain rice, flavoured rice, daal (yellow lentils), greens cooked in mustard paste, vegetable curry made with seasonal vegetables, pickled tomatoes with dates, and sweet porridge made of rice and milk. All items are cooked with clarified butter sans onion and garlic, in earthen pots on a wooden hearth. Almost all old temples in Odisha prepare their prasad this way, a trait very particular to Odisha.
The main festivals celebrated in this temple are Shivaratri (महाशिवरात्रि), during late February and March, marks the advent of spring, and Ashokastami (अशोक अष्टमी), dedicated to Lord Shiva and his sister Goddess Shakti, which marks the victory of good over evil.
After a good tour of the temple, head on to Lake Bindusagar, which sits in the vicinity of the temple. Legend goes that lord himself made this lake with drops from all water bodies. This lake has immense religious significance and people congregate here to perform all sorts of rituals. Rest on the steps of the holy water body and breathe in the serene air.
Opposite to the Lingaraj is Ananta Basudev Temple, built in the thirteenth century by Queen Chandrika of Ganga dynasty. This temple as well is known for its Abhada (अभद़) and meticulously carved sculptures. The presiding deities here are Lord Ananta Vasudeva and Goddess Subhadra, which is very similar to the setting of the famous temple Puri Jagannath (श्री जगन्नाथ टेम्पल, पुरी). When all the temples in the city are Shiva temples, this one stands as the only Vishnu temple.
This temple is one of the oldest of all the temples in Bhubaneswar. Located in the close proximity to Lingaraj, this is one more temple of Lord Shiva built in the seventh century by the Shailodhbhavas. The sanctum has a circular Lingam in the centre, rooted about one metre below the ground.
The main highlight of the temple is its delicate floral carvings and is one of the main tourist attractions of Odisha. The shrine nowadays is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India as a ‘ticketed monument’, this means one has to pay in order to enter the temple premises.
The Uttareshwara shiva Temple is located to the north of the iconic Lingaraj, and is also known as the Astasambhu temple. Etymologically, Asta means eight and Sambhu is another name for Shiva. This temple is a collection of eight small shiva temples in one premise, dating back to the tenth century. When visiting the temple, take a walk around the small holy tank Godavari (गोदावरी), in the precinct of the temple. Legend has it that Lord Shiva himself formed this tank by striking his trident on the ground for his consort Parvati when she was thirsty after her tussle with demons.
This temple is known as the gem of Kalinga Architecture and was built in the tenth century. The Mukteswara is comparatively smaller but is one of the best examples of fine and elaborate architecture packed within a compact octagonal compound.
The main highlight of this shrine is its remarkable ‘Torana’ (तोरण) or the arched gateway, which sets it apart from all the temples of the city. This ornate porch marks the beginning of a new architectural style in the Kalingan art. There is also a small tank in the temple, named MarichiKunda (मरीचि कुंडा). A dip in it on specific auspicious days is said to cure infertility of women.
Built in the 11th century by the Somavanshi kings, this temple may look like any other, but it does not have any idols in the sanctum nor is it a place of worship. The temple was once a place of retreat for the king and queen of Odisha, which is why it is called Rajarani, meaning King and Queen. Locally, it’s known as the ‘Love Temple’ because of the erotic sculptures and carvings strewn all over pillars and walls of the premises.
These caves are no places of worship but they deserve a mention as these are probably the oldest of all Jain remains dating way back to the second century, excavated by the then King Kharavela of Mahameghavahana dynasty. Lurking in these two hills are the 33 ancient Jain caves, evidence that Jainism was a prominent religion during the reign of the king Kharavela, from the second to fifth century.
It is said that the caves were built for the Jain ascetics to practise their penance. The theory resonates well with the Jain beliefs of austerity, which is inscribed on all the walls of the caves.
Udayagiri is adjacent to the Khandagiri and has 18 caves. The largest and the most beautiful cave here is the Ranigumpha (रानीगुम्फा; Queen’s cave). This cave is a double-storeyed structure with many small rooms. Another noteworthy one is the Hathigumpha (हाथीगुम्फा), as it has an inscription depicting the military campaigns of the king, as well as a popular Jain prayer saluting the big Jain gurus.The Khandagiri has 15 caves in total, all carved with Jain Tirthankaras (तीर्थंकर; gurus).
You would need around two hours to cover all the important caves and enjoy the surrounding scenery. While walking around the hills, beware of the monkeys which hang around in large numbers. It is not advisable to carry any food items in your hand, as you might be scratched when the monkeys try to grab them from you.
Located on the Dayanadi (दयानिधि; River Daya), Dhauligiri is a beautiful sight not to be missed. This white stone-carved pagoda on top of the green hill looks breathtaking with a beautiful backdrop of the city. If you happen to visit during the evening time, wait for the sunset to frame the picture. The scenic promenade-like pathway leading up to the hill is scattered with Buddhist statues in various meditative poses, and small pagodas and pillars with messages of peace inscribed on them. The rocks and walls in the area are inscribed with Buddhist spiritual teachings and hymns. One of the significant edicts of the Mauryan empire from 272 to 273 BC still remains carved in this hill.
River Daya marks the bloodiest battle ever fought in Indian history by the Mauryan king Asoka, “The Kalinga War”. Legend has it that the meandering Daya river turned red with the blood from battle. This war is of great importance as it turned the fierce and ruthless king Asoka into a spiritual and pious person, who renounced his kingdom to become a propagator of peace. The hill is located eight kilometres south of Bhubaneswar, 35 minutes away from the city. It is also on the way to Puri, so you can make it a stop on your way to Puri and Konark.
Almost all of the places in the city are well connected and are easily accessible by regular taxis and auto-rickshaws from any corner. Just a day or two is enough for exploring all the main temples at ease.
The best time to visit Bhubaneswar is from October to March. The weather during this time is mostly pleasant and not too hot. Explore this serene city and bask in its spirituality—you won’t be disappointed!