I am just back from a wonderful trip to Bhubaneshwar, Puri and Konark. My wife had done a lot of research on the internet before going. So the trip was almost perfect. Here is a travelogue for people who also want to do the trip.
We took a flight from Bangalore which reaches Bhubaneshwar in the early afternoon. We had booked in Ginger hotel. It is a part of Tata group. It was simple, elegant, neat and functional with friendly and professional staff. It had a good complimentary breakfast, a good restaurant and Cafe Coffee Day within the hotel. I have decided to look for Ginger anywhere I go.
We checked in, had lunch and took an auto and headed straight to Nandan Kannan Zoo. The zoo was not as good as Mysore Zoo. The safari was not as good as Bannerghatta National Park. Anyway, the children enjoyed it. We had a good walk.
We had asked the taxi that we took from airport to hotel (Rs.250) for a full day Bhubaneshwar and around for the next day (for Rs.850/8 hours + Rs.100/extra hour). We took the same taxi to take us on to Chilka Lake, Puri, Konark and back to Bhubaneshwar with one night stay at Puri. That was for Rs.3500.
For people who are not familiar with the architecture of temples in Orissa, a typical Nagara style temple has three parts: Shikara, Jagamohana and Natamandira (or natamantapa). The shikara is above the garbhagraha, which houses the deity. The jagamohana serves as the assembly point to enter the garbhagraha. The inside of the jagamohana and natamandira are usually exquisitely carved and painted.
A most common motif that can be seen in several Hindu temples in Orissa is a lion standing on and controlling an elephant. Sometimes the elephant stands on or controls a demon and also sometimes a man stands or sits on and controls the lion. Thus the whole theme is man controlling a lion, which controls an elephant, which controls a demon. Elephant depicts wealth and pleasures in life. Lion depicts nobility and moral values in life. The demon depicts a man who does not have self-control. The man on lion depicts a man who has self-control. Thus the motif indicates the priorities in life. It does not totally proscribe wealth and pleasures. Most of the temples in Orissa have a lot of erotic sculptures on all the outer walls. Musicians, dancers and people of various trades and walks of life can be found on the walls. Thus life is depicted in all its facets. But, the priority is shown very very clearly.
All the functional temples are sacred places. So photography and usage of mobile phones are not allowed. This is a good system to honor the piety of the devotees. However, the drawback is that photography and culture enthusiasts will lose the chance to see pictures of the place. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has done a brilliant thing. There are a lot of temples which are non-functional (may be the only thing that we can thank the Muslim invaders for breaking up beautiful temples). Several temples, which have been given up because they were destroyed by the Muslim invaders and natural forces so much that they cannot be used for worship, have been nicely restored by the ASI as heritage sites. Photography is allowed in these sites. Many of these sites have guides certified by the ASI, who explain the details of the heritage sites excellently (in their broken English). Anyone who visits any heritage site which has certified guides, please avail the service of the guides. You will learn a lot and also enjoy the monument several folds more. Of course, you should have a basic knowledge of Ramayana, Mahabharata, stories of Shiva, stories of Parvati, Dasha-avatar, life of Krishna, life of Buddha and some basic knowledge of Buddhist and Jain pantheon to be able to enjoy the paintings and sculptures. Sister Nivedita has written a small book with a good collection of these common themes that appear in Hindu art and architecture called “Cradle tales of Hinduism”. You can download a soft copy from here. You can buy the book online from here.
We started at 8am. Here is the list of places we saw. Most of the temples belong to the 7th to 10th century AD.
- Lingaraj Temple – Beautiful Shiva temple. It has several small temples inside the complex dedicated to other deities. When I had gone last time a few years back, pilgrims were allowed into the main shrine and to touch the linga and do puja. Looks like now pilgrims are stopped before the garbhagraha itself. The Parvati temple’s natamandira is a beautiful place to see and sit peacefully for sometime. This is a fully functional temple. So no cameras allowed inside.
- Vaithal Temple – This is a very small temple of the Tantric cult. It is one of the oldest temples in Bhubaneswar built in the 8th century. The main deity has Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Durga combined into one altar. It has a vaulted ceiling like Dravidian style. It is a rare architectural feature in Orissa. (The best example of vaulted ceiling is Chidambaram temple in Tamilnadu. Tamilnadu has a number of temples with vaulted ceiling.) Not many people visit this temple. The priest was very happy to see us. He nicely explained about the place. This temple is very close to Bindu Sagar.
- Ekamravan Medicinal Plants Park – This is a beautiful park at the border of Bindu Sagar. From here, we could get a distant view of Lingaraj Temple. You can see pictures here.
- Kedar Gauri Temple – This is a beautiful temple of Kedarnath and Gauri. This is a fully functional temple.
- Mukteshwar Temple – This is next to Kedar Gauri Temple. This is not a fully functional temple. So you can let your camera fly. It is a typical Nagara style temple with one big imposing difference. It has a Buddhist style arch in the front. I was really surprised to see the arch in a Hindu temple, that too belonging to the 10th century AD. (The only two other places where I have seen Buddhist style arches in a Hindu temple are Chinmaya Mission at Powai, Mumbai and Sharika Devi temple in Srinagar. But both of them are very very recent.) You can see some pictures here.
- Raja Rani Temple – This is a non-functional temple maintained by ASI as a sample. It has a huge manicured lawn in the front, like in several such ASI sites. You can find a lot of features in this temple, which can be found in other functional temples where photography is not allowed. You can see some pictures here.
- Dauli Temple – This is the site from where King Ashoka saw the result of his gory war against the Kalinga army in 261 BC. The sight made him decide never to wage a war again. He was already under tremendous pressure from his Buddhist wife (towards whom he had a weakness) and his Buddhist children (under the influence of their mother) to convert to Buddhism. The Kalinga war was a trigger point for Ashoka to convert to Buddhism. This event had a great impact on the history of the world. By the efforts of King Ashoka, Buddhism spread upto Greece and Alexandria in the west. By this, Buddhism influenced the Greco-Roman culture, which found its expression as Christianity. Christianity is a rebel child of Judaism, just like Buddhism is a rebel child of Hinduism. Christianity borrowed a lot of ideas from Buddhism like locating the next religious leader by a star (like location of Dalai Lamas even today), ideas of non-violence, importance to moral values in life, asceticism, monastic communities, missionaries, royal patronage, religious councils to formulate doctrines, concept of apostles, etc. The list is endless. Anyone who reads the way the Christian councils were conducted can see the similarity with the Buddhistic councils. The first Buddhist Council at Rajagriha predates the first Christian Council at Nicaea by seven centuries. Anyone who reads the Benedictine rules for monks can see the similarity with the Buddhist monastic rules formulated almost ten centuries back. If not for spreading of Buddhism by King Ashoka to Greece and Alexandria, Christianity would be very very different from what it is now. The Holy Roman Empire would not have been formed. Jesus of Nazareth would have been a not-so-significant person in history. Crusades would not have happened. Spread of Islam would have been unchecked in Europe. The world would have been very very different !!! India also would have been very different. Vedic Hinduism would have continued to be popular instead of the Pauranic Hinduism that is popular now. Tantric cult would not have been there. Huge ornate temples would not have been there. Hindu monasteries would not have been there as today. The kings would have retained more fighting spirit instead of talking about non-violence and vegetarianism. Islamic invasions would have been checked completely at the borders of India. One event that happened in 261 BC changed the course of Indian and World history completely. Dauli is the place where it happened. There are Asokan rock edicts on the way to Dauli dating back to that time. You can see some pictures here.
- 64 Yoginis Temple – This is a very old Tantric temple. It has no roof. It is a open temple. There are 64 yoginis, a number of rudras and katyayanis. It looks very probable that this is an ancient site of human and animal sacrifice. Each katyayani stands on a severed human head, holding a cup of fresh blood, with a dog and jackal waiting with open mouth and an attendant holding an umbrella. You can find some pictures here. Near the temple, we visited the house of a couple who were artists. They make patachitra work. They had made marvelous paintings and lattice work on palm leaves. We bought a few of them. Later we found that these were much cheaper than the price at Pipili.
- Khandagiri and Udaigiri Caves- These are caves that were a part of a Jain monastery built around 1st century BC by King Kharavela. There are inscriptions dating to that period. There is also a more recent functional Jain temple on the top of Khandagiri. There is the base of a destroyed temple on the top of Udaigiri. You can find some pictures here.
We missed two important temples: Brahmeshwar Temple and Prasurameshwar Temple. If you are going, don’t miss them.
After these, we went for some shopping and went back to hotel.
Next day was started again at 8am and drove towards Chilka Lake.
On the way, we visited Sakhi Gopal temple. There is a very interesting legend behind this temple about how Krishna followed a devotee from Vrindavan to South India to appear as witness in a lawsuit. This is a fully functional temple and so no pictures.
Chilka Lake is a huge lake with a lot of things to see. We saw these: dolphins, crabs, pearl being taken out from oysters, birds hunting fish and the mouth of the river into the sea. We had lunch near the boating society office. It took us three and half hours to cover all these. Watching birds hunting fish by themselves and stealing fish from the fishing nets was nice. Dolphin sighting was fun. They come up for air for a few seconds and vanish back into the sea. The boatman spotted one for us and asked us to keep watching in an area of the expanse of water. Then we were following the dolphin and saw it several times as it came up for air every few minutes. I caught on camera a small glimpse of one before it vanished into the water. The throwing of the net by fishermen was nice to see. (I have seen the same style in Kumarakom lake in Kerala.) You can find some pictures here.
After that we went to Puri and checked into Hotel Lee Garden. As it was close to New Year Eve, it was very difficult to get a booking even when I tried two months back. Based on ratings and reviews from sites like TripAdvisor, finally I could find this as the only decent hotel still available. All other hotels and resorts were already fully booked. Hotel Lee Garden was not bad. It was an old hotel with some repainting done recently. The toilet was Indian style. Some people would have found it difficult to use. But the room was spacious.
Then came the grand moment that the pilgrimage was for – to catch a glimpse of Puri Jagannath. We went to the temple. It was bhog time. So we were not allowed inside. Earlier I had gone to the garbhagraha. With the experience in Lingaraj temple, I thought here also they have stopped allowing people inside. After going in the queue twice and having darshan from the jagamohana only, we thought we have to be satisfied with this. We spent some time looking at the beautiful paintings and images in the jagamohana. We went out and paid for food offerings in one of the offices. We got some prasad after being offered to the Lord. We started visiting the smaller temples in the complex. We saw a queue standing before a ticket counter. We asked the people what the ticket was for. They said it was to visit the garbhagraha. We immediately joined the queue. After waiting for 30 mins, the bhog time was over and we got the ticket and went into the temple again.
Entering the garbhagraha of Jagannath is always an unique experience. I have never seen a murthi as beautiful and captivating as Jagannath. I have tried to reason several times trying to understand what is so attractive in that formless form. I have never been able to decipher the secret of that soul-stirring form of Jagannath. Even as I imagine the form as I write this, I am breathing heavy with emotion. That is the secret of Jagannath. Once the eyes are set on the form of Jagannath, it needs a lot of effort to turn the eyes away from Him. Again and again the head automatically turns and the eyes gets fixed on His form. I thought it happened only to me. But I found that even my six year old son, who is usually very very restless and cannot stand in one place for more than a minute, was so absorbed in Jagannath that he did not speak one word for the full ten minutes that we were in the garbhagraha. Even my pre-teen daughter, who would say “let us go” the next second after entering any temple, did not speak a word. Even my wife was speechless. This is a place where time stops; all thought of outside world does not enter. Every moment in that sacred place is filled with a joy unspeakable. If anyone wants to know what the Bible means by the words, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding”, he should just enter the garbhagraha of Jagannath. The sight of Jagannath is always an experience of a lifetime. The experience hits so hard that after stepping out of the garbhagraha it takes sometime to recover enough to think of the next plan in the itinerary. For sometime one moves like a robot, totally lost in the fresh memory of the form of Jagannath. Slowly, the thoughts of the outside world take over and one reluctantly returns to normalcy. In reality, the experience of Jagannath is the pristine pure original “normal” state and the extroverted state is the abnormal state. Anytime when the mind is troubled by the trivialities of the world, just recall the moments spent in front of Jagannath and world just vanishes like a dream.
Next day we started towards Konark. On the way, we visited Ramchandi, which is a Tantric temple. Our next stop was Chandrabhaga Beach. There was a small sand art festival going on. Some of the sand sculptures were there on display. Of course, these were no where close to the master pieces of the maestro Sudarsan Pattnaik. Still, they were pretty good. You can find some pictures here.
Konark is one of the most famous heritage sites of India. Anytime I see a Hindu heritage site like this, anywhere North of the two southern-most states, there arises a great pain at the damage and destruction that have been caused by the Muslim invaders and rulers of India. There is some credit to the Muslim rulers for building structures like the Moghul monuments in Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur-sikri, the Gol Gumbaz, the Golconda, etc. (brushing aside the dispute regarding the construction of the Moghul monuments.) But what they have destroyed is unimaginable compared to what they have built. The Qutub Minar site, Vijayanagar ruins, Konark, etc are standing testimonies of the destructive effect of religious intolerance.
No sane person can avoid feeling great pain at the destruction of art, architecture and culture that has happened to Konark in the hands of the Muslim rulers. What remains in Konark is just some of the outer parts of the jagamohana, some pillars of the natamandir and almost none of the shikara. What we see today is less than 10 percent of the magnificent Sun temple built in the 13th century. The height of the jagamohana that we see today is only 54% of the height of the shikara which was pulled down by the Muslims.
Indians are heavily indebted to the great Lord Curzon for saving and restoring the monuments of India like the Taj Mahal and Konark. The earlier British officers were using monuments like the Red Fort as barracks and other precious monuments for menial use. Lord William Bentinck even had a plan to pull down the Taj Mahal for its marble. He gave up the project only because the cost of pulling it down would be more than the cost of the marble that it would yield. (Taj Mahal is built of red bricks with a marble facade.) It was on the insistence of Lord Curzon that monuments like Taj Mahal and Konark were restored. In 1904 Lord Curzon got the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act passed. But for Lord Curzon, we would not be having most of the great monuments in India today.
I came to know that Konark means Kona Arka – “Sun at an angle”. The entire structure faces east. There are three series of gaps in between the ornate pillars of the natamandir. The temple is built such that only on the two equinox days (March 20/21, September 22/23) the rising sun’s rays pass through the center gap and fall on the deity in the temple. During March to September, the rising sun’s rays come through one series of gaps and fall on the deity. During September to March, the rising sun’s rays come through other series of gaps and fall on the deity. The entire temple is designed as a chariot with 24 wheels, pulled by 7 horses. Each of the 24 wheels of the temple act as sundials with markings to be accurate to less than a minute. The entire temple is also an astronomical device to measure time.
The Konark temple is the epitome of the art and architecture of Orissa. It has various forms of dance movements, musical instruments, life of different kinds of people, different religions in vogue at that time, etc. There are a lot of erotic sculptures. There are sculptures of celestial beings and deities. There are panels showing marching armies – elephants, soldiers, horses, etc. There is a panel showing people resting during midday during a long travel with bullock carts, cooking food using a makeshift stove made of stones and mud. There is a panel showing robbers waylaying a group of traders. There are panels showing travelers from China and Persia. There is a panel showing some people from Africa gifting a giraffe to the king. Various scenes in the life of ordinary people are depicted, like a woman playfully breaking a branch of a tree, a woman sending a parrot as a messenger, a woman waiting anxiously for her husband, etc. There are some pictures here.
Let people from all over the world, belonging to all cultures and religions come and see what is left of Konark and realize the horror of intolerance.
After visiting Konark, we had breakfast at a Kamat hotel directly in front of the monument. We started towards Bhubaneshwar. We stopped at Pipili to buy some beautifully colored cotton applique items. We reached Bhubaneshwar airport around 1pm.
It was a memorable trip highlighting the rich culture of Orissa. We saw the ancient history and culture. We saw great ancient stone monuments. We also saw that there were stone sculpting workshops on the roadsides in several places, capable of creating the same grandeur. We saw great paintings in the walls and ceilings of ancient temples. We saw the same kind of paintings being drawn on cloth by local artists. India has a great heritage. There is a marvelous continuity of culture. It is a great thing that today I am able to relate to monuments that were built more than 2000 years back. I am able to relate to the literature that was written more than 5000 years back. I am able to speak the same language. I am able to appreciate the same stories. I am able to relate to the same ideas. It is the same culture. It the same blood that runs in my veins. It is the same rhythm that beats in my heart. It is the same ideas of purity, peace, justice and priority that India has to offer to the world. The world needs this eternal message of India. It is the duty of every Indian to the world to soak in this culture and deliver the message to the world. Can we live up to it?