India has always been a land of spirituality, mysticism and faith. Numerous foreign invasions and years of foreign rule have failed to snatch the wealth of intellectual wisdom from us. The temples of our country bear testimony to this fact. The intricate carvings and sculptures are symbolic enough to put any modern day artist to shame. They have captured our rich history in themselves, speaking volumes of our country’s glorious past. I have firmly believed that India’s heritage is unmatched, and that it has been tastefully engraved in the caves and temples of our country. The belief was firmly entrenched in my mind, after my visit to Bhubaneswar, The Temple City of India, last December.
Bhubaneswar derives its name from Lord Tribhuvaneswar, or the God of “Three Worlds”. The Land of Temples, as it is called, had over 7000 temples in the past, but with time, the number has reduced to a still impressive 500.It is home to some of the oldest temple complexes like Lingaraj Temple, Mukteswar Temple, Rajarani Temple, Parashurameswar Temple and Brahmeswar Temple.
The Lingaraj Temple houses the idol of Lord Shiva, who according to Hindu Mythology is the Destroyer of Universe. It is one of the most revered places in the city, and on the day of Shivaratri, fervent devotees of Lord Shiva throng the temple to witness the pahundi, a ritual where the sacred lamp is taken up to the spire of the temple. Mukteswar Temple is also dedicated to Lord Shiva and the shrine has an intricately carved lingam. It also has the famed Marichi Kund, a bath in its complex. A dip in the bath, is believed, cures infertility. Bindusagar Lake, literally, Ocean Drop Tank, has a huge cultural importance in the city. Located north to the Lingaraj Temple, the holy lake is believed to wash away all sins, if one has a bath in it. Every year, during Ashokastami, the deities of Lingaraj Temple are brought here for a holy bathing ritual.
My travels took me to the Khandagiri and the Udayagiri hills, located in the outskirts of the city. The caves on these hills were built in 1st -2nd century B.C for the ascetic Jain monks, and have engravings in Pali, enumerating the exploits of King Kharavela. The Cave 10, in Khandagiri, called the Ganesh Gumfa, has a sculpture of Lord Ganesha. Rani Gumfa, Cave 4, is worth visiting, for its well-planned sanitation system and echo based acoustics. The sculptures in the caves of Khandagiri, depict Kamasutra. The rock sculptures are a clear reminisce of the Khajuraho.
One must pay a visit to Puri, considered as one of the four dhams.Located 60 kms from Bhubaneswar; it is home to the famed Jagannath Temple. Lord Jagannath, the deity of the temple, represents the faith of lakhs of people of Orissa. The temple is located by the sea, and is a great tourist spot. Thousands of devotees visit the temple every day, climbing the fabled 22 steps to the main shrine. The 22 steps, according to mythology represent the steps to heaven. The city is host to the world famous Rath Yatra, the car festival, which is witnessed by foreigners and locals alike. The Sun Temple at Konark, a one hour drive from Puri, is made in the shape of a chariot, the chariot of Sun God. Puri, Bhubaneswar and Konark form the Golden Triangle. Pipli, located 50 kms from Bhubaneswar, famous for its handicrafts, is also worth a visit.
The Oriya cuisine is delicious, to say the least. Sea food is extremely good in Puri. Chingdi(prawn), crabs offer a gourmet’s feast.Bhaja macha(fried fish).sorso mach(fish with mustard paste) offer a treat for our taste buds. I found the recipe of malpua, a sweet dish ,quite interesting. They make it out of mashed banana, butter and flour. It was the best sweet dish I had ever tasted. Also sweets like chenapoda and chenagaja made from cheese are quite tasty. The epicureans in me wasn’t disappointed, at all.
The tourist guide that I had carried with me, had pictures of temples splashed all over it. So I had the impression that I will have to eat out in small restaurants and stay put in a budget hotel, with no place to satisfy the extrovert in me. But I was pleasantly surprised when my travel agent said that the city had a good number of hangout zones. Forum Mart, a mall placed strategically in the centre of the city, had a great crowd, both young and old, soaking in the Christmas spirit. The restaurant on the top floor of the mall is famous for its delicious pizzas. Bhubaneswar has some famous coffee joints, like Café Coffee Day, Barista for the young crowd. For the non-veggies, the kebabs served at the newly opened Great Kebab Factory, are an excellent treat. All big cloth stores like Mega Shop, SSS, Bazaar Kolkata, and Kalamandir have their branches here. Kalamandir, notably, is famous for Orissa Handloom saris. Five star hotel chains like Ginger, Swosti Plaza, Mayfair Lagoon, and Sishmo also offer their services in the city. Multiplexes, like S-Complex, Keshari, and Maharaja add to the entertainment value of Bhubaneswar.
Bhubaneswar is a planned city. It was planned by German town planner, Otto H. Koenigsberger. Bhubaneswar has well planned roads, gardens and parks. Even though the city is expanding rapidly, the sanctity of the plan has been maintained.
The city represents the fusion of reality and dreams. It has merged its intriguing past with its present, as it heads for a steady future. The trip reminded me of the words of Walt Disney “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” The city is dynamic, yet grounded; forward looking yet clinging to its past. The blend of history with progress is one of the most heartening aspects of the city. The city is a reflection of dynamism, truly. I returned with memories, well preserved in my camera, with the hope that I return, to be enthralled once again by the rich culture of the city.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/skip/368976326/]