Orissa's history dates back to the days of the Mahabharata. It was under the rule of the Nanda Kings in the pre Christian era and then under the Mauryan rule. Rock edicts of Emperor Ashoka are found in the State. The impact of the invasion of the Guptas is seen in the early temples of Bhubaneswar. The Matharas ruled Orissa from the later half of the 4th century AD. The Sailodbhavas who followed constucted several shrines the ruins of which can be seen today. (600-750 AD).
The period of the Bhaumakaras and Somavamsis (8th to 11th centuries AD) played a major role in the cultural life of the State. Saivism dominated the religious scene although Budhist, Jain and Vaishnavite monuments also came into being.
The Gangas took over after the decline of the Somavamsis. The early Eastern Gangas ruled from Kalinganagara (Mukhalingam near Srikakulam Andhrapradesh). They shifted their capital to Cuttack in the 12th century. Saivism began to decline while Saktism flourished.
Further, the religious leader Ramanujacharya had a great influence on the monarch Chodagangadeva who built the great temple at Puri. The Gangas were champions of Vaishnavism. It was during the Ganga rule that Orissan architecture reached its peak. Narasimhadeva of this dynasty built the Sun Temple at Konark.
The Gangas were succeeded by the Suryavamsi Gajapati rulers, under whom Vaishnavism in the form of Jagannatha worship reached new heights. This period was marked by the influence of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and by the construction of Jagannatha temples across the length and breadth of the empire.
After the decline of the Gajapatis, the kingdom began to disintegrate and was taken over by followed by Muslim rule, the rule of the Mughals, the Mahrattas and then the British. The Bhoi Gajapatis who ruled Orissa over a small territory caused several Jagannatha temples to come up.
Major temples of Orissa : An overview
Jagannath Temple : (Puri)
This temple was constructed at about last part of 11th century or first part of 12th century as per the version of historians. It is the earlist Ganga monument of Orissa, but it must be noted that the ganga temples of much earlier dates are still to traced in the Andra regions, the original seat of power of Gangas. There is a definite mention in all the later copper plate records of the successor of Chodaganga that he was the builder of this great temple at Puri. According to some evidence sources that Chodaganga had began this huge structure and one his successor Ananagabhimadev III completed it or added the Jagamohan to it. The height of the Jagannath temple of Puri as calculated as 215 feet 8 inches. It is therefore the loftiest religious edifice of Orissa. At present the thick coat of plaster which had covered the structure for centuries has been removed and the stone works on it are now, proof of the sculptural richness of that era.
As is usual in all great temples of the period, the monument stands on a high platform which is connected with the ground level by a height of 22 very very big steps. The edifies is massive and strong and is a product of accumulated experience of the past in temple architecture and this factor has enabled it to with stand the ravages of time.
The Sun temple at Konark is the grandest achievement of the eastern school of architecture, is situated some 20 miles in a north-easterly direction from Puri. Grand in conception and great even in its ruin, the stupendous undertaking stands with its disfigured beauty in a desolate track of ever- drifting sands of Chandravaga. It is said that, the very first ray of the Sun very morning falls upon this temple, from which it got its name. It is believed that the Lord Sun (Surya) was worshiped here.
The Orissan devotional architecture which made an humble beginning in the 2nd century B.C. had a history of 1500 years when the temple at Konark came into being. In shape the temple however did not make any bold departure from other Sikhar temples of Orissa. The main temple which enshrined the presiding deity has fallen off, but what remains at present enables us to reconstruct the whole. The doorway of the structure which was to the east has been blocked up giving the cella the appearance of a well. As a visitor stand facing the east, his attention is drawn to a step-like masonry which was a so called corbelled arch usually found above the doorway of a temple and was meant to reduce weight on the linted. The total height of the temple was 227 feet. The joint structure of the Vimana and Jagamohana were conceived in the form of a Chariot (Ratha) and have therefore been based on an immense terrace with 24 giant wheels, being as it were, dragged on by seven richly caparisoned Steed. Each part of the temple proclaims its correct architectural application and the whole is assembled in such a masterly manner that the result is an ordained and convincing uniformity.
Sarala of Jhankad
The place is famous for goddess Sarala, the supreme divinity of learning. A large body of pilgrims visit JHANKAD on festive days. Sarala has legendary link with Parsurama, the son of Yamadagni for which Jhankad has gained the historical importance as a centre of Parasurama cult. Tradition says that Parasurama, the sixth incarnation of lord Vishnu engraved the deity by his arrow and worshipped her for knowledge & power. Jhankad is associated with the life of first most celebrated epic Oriya poet Sarala Das, of 15th century A.D.
Panchalingeshwar is situated on a hillock near Nillagiri surrounded by green forest. A perennial stream flows on the five Lingams. Epigraphy & also the tradition says that this was the capital of King Banasura & the five Lingums known as PANCHLINGESWAR were installed by the same king. This is a place of beautiful surrounding. It serves as a picnic spot for the visitors.
A beauty spot on the bank of river Vaitarani, the sacred Ganges of Orissa. Aradi is famous for the shrine of Akhandalamani. Its is around 45 Kms from Bhadrak. Everyday hundreds of pilgrims visit Aradi to worship Lord Siva.
The holy shrine of Charchika is located on a hill top on the bank of river Mahanadi which is around 40 Kms from Bhubaneswar. The main attraction of this plastered temple is the wooden carvings of the Hall of Audience are of excellent craftsmanship. The presiding deity, the eigth armed image of goddess CHAMUNDA sitting over a prostrated body is worshipped according to Tantric rites (Witch Craft) .
A small but enchanting island in Mahanadi, Dhabaleswar attracts the pilgrims all with the spell of the river. The temple lord Dhavaleswaris situated on a hilllock and approached by two flights of steps - one from the north and another from the south. It is around 35 Kms from Bhubaneswar. Dhavaleswar is approachable from Chahata Ghat. Though the temple is a new one, yet sculptures of 11th century A.D. are found in the temple premises. One among them is the marriage procession of Siva with his vehicle Nandi.
It is known to the pilgrims as "Tulasi Kshetra",Kendrapada houses the temple of lord Baladev. The rites and rituals of lord Jagannath at Puri are generally followed here which made Kendrapara equally attractive. It is situated nearly 90 Kms from Bhubaneswar.
Huma, 35 Kms from Sambalpur is adorned with a leaning temple dedicated to lord Bimaleswar. On the river Mahanadi, it is a scenic beauty spot of great excellence. The Kudo-Fishes here are believed to belong to lord Siva and they are very friendly to visitors.
The place is about 8 miles from Sonepur in the Bolangir district. The temple of Kusaleswar standing in ruined condition is a most remarkable monument.There is also another temple known as KALESWAR standing on the river Tel.
The Kapilas hill range which roughly from the boundary of Cuttack & Dhenkanal districts consists of numerous peaks. The loftiest among them, is called "KAPILAS" 682 metres. Below this peak is located the famed temple of Lord Siva for which it is identified with "KAPILAS" the magnificent abode of Siva. The temple is situated at a height of 454.5 metres and a zigzag good motor-able path leads to the temple. Tourists cherish a great regard for the esteemed sanctity of the shrine. The temple of Lord Siva, Chandrashekhar, dominates the landscape for kilometres around. In front of the main temple of 18.18 metres high, stands the pillared constructions of the Hall of Audience and Hall of Offering with fine wood carvings inside. A flight of 1300 steps and also a great road lead to the temple. To the east of the main temple, hoists the temple of Narayana and Vishwanath. It is believed that the main temple may be ascribed to Narasimhadev II of Ganga dynasty who completed it during early part of the 14th century.
It is situated on the right-bank of the river Mahanadi, in Khandapara of Puri district, stands the famous temple, which is believed to have been worshipped by the Tribals. It is believed that it has been constructed and worshipped earlier than the construction of lord Jagannath temple at Puri. Therefore, this holy land claims priority over Srikshetra (Puri) and, another attraction of this place is Singhanath Temple.
Images under license with Gettyimages.com