Bhubaneswar often called the ‘cathedral city’, Bhubaneswar (‘Lord of the Universe’) is the capital of the State, and is dotted with some 600 temples built over hundreds of years. It is perhaps the only city in India where one can study the evolution of Hindu temples architecture in all its stages. The city is dominated by the beautiful 11th century Lingaraj Temple, it’s spire soaring 54 metres, it’s ribbed architecture defying description. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is one of the most prized examples of temple architecture in the country.
The Parsurameswara Temple (650 AD, dedicated to Lord Shiva), Vaital Temple (800 AD, dedicated to Chamunda, a tantric form of the Goddess Durga, or ‘Shakti’), the ‘gem of Orissan Architecture’, the Mukteswara Temple (10th century), the Brahmeswara Temple and the exquisite 12th century Rajarani Temple, which has no presiding deity, are some of the other temples worth visiting.
About 7 km from Bhubaneswar are the twin hills Khandagiri and Udaygiri which have rock caves built for Jain monks by Kharavela (1st century BC). On the Khandagiri hills is a colossal figure of Mahavir Jain.
Lying amidst paddy fields at Dhauli, on the road to Puri, is one of Ashoka’s Rock Edicts (3rd century BC) which he used for propagating Lord Buddha’s teachings. It has a magnificent elephant carved on top, considered to be the earliest rock cut sculpture of India. And on the neighbouring hill is the serene white Shanti Stupa (‘Peace Pagoda’) built in 1970 to commemorate emperor Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism. The village of Pipli, synonymous with delicate and extremely colourful applique work, is nearby.
The Konark-Puri marine drive is 32 kms along the coast. It takes you to one of the four Hindu ‘dhams’ (sacred pilgrim centres), Puri, where the glorious, 12th century Jagannath Temple stands in the heart of the town. The Rath Yatra in each June-July (Chariot Festival of the Gods) witnesses thousands of devotees vying with each other to pull three wooden chariots carrying the idols of Lord Jagannath, his younger sister Subhadhra and elder brother Baibhadra. Difficult to get moving, the immense chariots (14m high, llm square, 16 wheels each over 2m in diameter) are virtually impossible to stop once they get rolling, and gave rise to the English term “Juggernaut”. The temple tower is 65 m high, topped by the mystic wheel, the ‘chakra’ of Krishna. The temple is the abode of Lord Jagannath – literally, ‘the Lord of the Universe’.
Once the frenzied throngs depart, the quiet little town of Puri gets a seaside resort atmosphere, and the place to be at is the beautiful beach, great for swimming. The Puri Beach Festival is held every year in early November when Orissa craft, cuisine and culture are on show besides various cultural and entertainment programmes. Chandipur, Gopalpur-on-sea, Konark and Talasari are some of the other lovely beaches in the Orissa.