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Notes on the Geography of Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar

During the British period, the capital of Orissa was Cuttack; with Independence, the capital was moved to the old temple town of Bhubaneshwar, some 15 miles to the south. A German planner, Otto Konigsberger, laid out a new Bhubaneshwar adjoining the old one, and the result, though on a smaller scale, is as sharp a contrast as the one between Mughal Delhi and British New Delhi. We focus here on the older town, with a few pictures of the newer one and its shopping delights.

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Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 1

The temples of Bhubaneshwar belong to the northern or nagara style of Indian temples, which, radically unlike those of South India, have neither columns nor monumental gateways. Instead, the two key elements of the temples are a covered porch (in India broadly, this is the mandapa but it is locally called the jagmohana) and a sanctuary (broadly, the shikhara but locally the rekha). Both are on view here in Bhubaneshwar's Parashurameshvara Temple. Though the porch roof was dismantled and reassembled about 1900, the temple was built about 700 A.D. and shows an early stage in the local evolution of temples. The porch, for example, rests on the ground, not on an elevated platform, and it is rectangular, not square. The most dramatic difference between this temple and later ones is the porch's simple roof, which in later temples evolves into a much more complex form.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 2

As is so often the case, the interior of both the porch and sanctuary is extremely plain. Here, the sanctuary.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 3

And here the interior of the porch.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 4

The exterior is a different story. Each of the sanctuary walls is devoted to a different deity. On the south, here on the right, the subject is Ganesha, occupying the central spot at the base of the tower.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 5

The image is sadly eroded or defaced.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 6

The tower is convex and composed of projecting and recessed blocks whose pattern in later temples becomes still more complex.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 7

On the west side, the place of honor goes to Lakulisa, an avatar of Shiva who looks a great deal like the Buddha. He appears under a decorative arch or chandrashala, called gavaksa when applied to a temple.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 8

A closer look at Lakulisa. You can see why he is called "the Lord with a Club." Before deification, Lakulisa was a reformer of the Pasupata Sect, no longer extant.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 9

Similarly sheltered by an arch, Shiva dances on another side of the sanctuary over the demon Ravana.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 10

A window in the porch has a grill carved into dancers and musicians.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 11

The exterior of the porch is also lined with images.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 12

Lakulisa, again looking like the Buddha.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 13

Less friendly: Chamunda, a terrifying aspect of Durga.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 14

Standing next to the porch is this sahasra, a lingam carrying a thousand miniature lingams.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 15

It's only a short walk to this "gem of Orissan architecture," as Fergusson called it (vol. 2, p. 97). It's the Mukteshvara Temple from the late 10th century, or about three centuries later than the Parashurameshvara Temple in the previous pictures. The tower is little different, but the porch is greatly changed, especially with the appearance of 11 stacked and corbelled roof layers or pidhas. The freestanding entrance arch or torana emphasizes the act of entering sacred space.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 16

The axial view.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 17

A close-up.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 18

Still closer: a figure in a window. The meaning is that the gods within keep watch.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 19

Behind the temple is this pool. Atop the tower is an urn, or kalasha, carrying the nectar of immortality, or amrita. The grooved disc below the urn is called the amalaka, which is also the name of the Indian gooseberry, a plant much used in traditional Indian medicine and worshipped as a sacred tree. Carved from a single stone, it also helps protect the temple from water damage. The masonry has no mortar.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 20

Guards protect the deity peering from the tiny window.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 21

A third temple, the Rajarani Temple. It's from the 11th century, and from the placement of its projections the tower appears cylindrical, not square.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 22

The entrance is guarded by female nagas, with a human head and snake body. They are themselves guarded by seven cobras, whose hoods flare from behind.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 23

At the base of the columns, lions subdue elephants.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 24

The projections, or rathas, on the tower are miniature versions of that tower.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 25

At their base are apsaras--nymphs in one common translation--holding boughs overhead. Once again: no mortar, just well-fitted blocks.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 26

The porch is comparatively barren, though a stone-grilled window has been placed in the wall.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 27

All the temples in the previous pictures are now under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India. Bhubaneshwar's most important functioning temple, Lingaraja, is not. It's also closed to non-Hindus. Here's a peep at the entrance.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 28

A line of women waiting.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 29

And receiving.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 30

The sanctuary and porch.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 31

A view from Paapnashini Kund, or "Sin-destroying Pond".

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 32

The pond has its own temple.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 33

Restoration of Lingaraja had help from the British government. Not this this will help non-Hindus who want to take a closer look.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 34

Outside the temple, wheels are built for a temple cart, or ratha.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 35

More than carpenters are needed to put it together correctly.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 36

On the same street.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 37

Not the best hotel in town, but close to the temple.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 38

The newer part of Bhubaneshwar has shared in the rush to build shopping malls across India. Go in?

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 39

The Big Bazaar supermarket.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 40

A wide selection of rices.

Peninsular India: Bhubaneshwar picture 41

Buy 1, get 1 free. All the major signs are in English.


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