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Bhubaneshwar: capital of an ancient land

 Shyamola Khanna |  2016-04-10 19:43:09.0  |  New Delhi

Bhubaneshwar: capital of an ancient land

When you come to the new Capital of an ancient land and you have the pleasure of discovering old places with a newly married couple, then you get an interesting perspective – while you are looking out for the ancient Lingaraj temple, they are hoping to spot some practical, good looking furniture. While you hope to be able to identify some murals and cave paintings of the Buddhist period, they want to know if Orissa textiles are copying those old floral designs!

Thus it is in Bhubaneshwar, the Capital city of Orissa, where the old and the new co-exist side by side. One is not really amazed to see the wide boulevards – in today’s India almost all the state capitals have beautiful roads, at least in most parts of the city. What amazes me are the exquisitely drawn figures on the walls on either sides of the road that connects the city to the airport. For miles, little tribal motifs of people, temples, animals, etc. cover the low walls. Even the bridges across the many canals and rivers have little artworks painted on them. And surprise! surprise! No one has spit any paan or defaced these pictures in any way. Such a stark difference from the graffiti and ad covered walls of so many cities.

Adivasi mela
Our driver, Babu, who is also my guide in the city, calls them pattachitra. The state government gets artists to do these murals. A good place to see the tribal artists at work is the regular Adivasi mela, where young artists can be seen diligently working on paper and other media. At the mela, one can see Orissa’s crafts and arts promoted in a big way – on circular terracotta cottages, on the walls of offices and in person. The tribal women are encouraged to come here, dressed in their tribal finery and sell their wares – like haldi (whole and powdered), sambhrani (also called dhuni, a fragrant mix of tree resins used in prayer as well as for the very plebian purpose of chasing away the mosquitoes), tamarind pastes, deseeded tamarind and different kinds of vadis/wadiyan/bori (a sun dried fritter made of a savoury batter containing different spices, used to add flavour to a curry).

Local people do buy a lot of this stuff because they believe it is purer than the commercially available kind. For an outsider, unless you know what to look for, it can be a maze and all you can do is gaze on while housewives barter and get their week’s supply. Aparna, a professor of English at a local college, said that she buys her year’s supply of haldi and bori from the local adivasi people.

History & Archaeology
Bhubaneshwar, like I said earlier, is the capital of an ancient land, known as Kalinga – the nemesis of Emperor Ashoka’s imperial ambitions, who fought a long drawn out battle with the rulers of Kalinga and at the end of it, the sight of so much blood and gore upset the Emperor so much that he promised never to touch the sword again. This is where he became a Buddhist and set about spreading the doctrines of the Buddha far and wide. The traces of the glorious past can be seen in the well maintained sites of the Udaygiri and the Khandagiri caves which are 7-8 km away from Bhubaneshwar city. It is said that the defeated rulers of Kalinga fled the battlefield and hid in these caves. Over the years it grew into a great centre of Buddhism and Jainism in Orissa. The first establishment is said to date back to the second century BC. The amazing carvings on the walls of the caves in Udaygiri carry their own stories and the guides embellish them with their own interpretations. One of the carved panels on the entrance had a woman holding up an elephant and the guide’s take on it was very interesting – I am not sure if it was historically correct. He asked us a rhetorical question, “Why did Ashoka become a Buddhist?” We gave the usual stock answer, “because he saw the endless blood and gore and he was upset at the horror he had created.”

His answer was not too far from ours but it had a slightly different take. He said, “When all the able bodied men of Kalinga were dead, the women and children came out on the battlefield and swore to fight till the end. That was when Ashoka called a halt to the hostilities – he realised that if all the women and children also died who would he rule over? Where would his praja come from? What is a king without his people?” To celebrate the strength of the Kalinga women, the panels of stone carving have these women holding up elephants! Who knows? Maybe he is right. One of the most interesting caves in Khandagiri is the 24-Tirthankaras Cave. It contains the carvings of the 24 Apostles of Jainism, on the monolithic stones. 

The Temples
If religious tourism is your thing, then you need to visit Bhubaneshwar where some of the oldest temples are as active today as they were centuries ago. One of the oldest and the most popular temples in the city is the Lingaraj temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The temple is approximately 54.8 metres high, made of solid red sandstone and has 150 smaller shrines inside its huge courtyard. There are no historical records to assign the dates of the temple – some believe that it dates back to the eleventh century while others feel that it has been there since the sixth century. We can see Vishnu’s Chakra and Shiva’s trident on the gates of the main temple. Whatever the vintage of the temple, one thing is true – the strength of the belief and faith of the people is what keeps a temple visibly dynamic. The amazing oral traditions of carrying forward the faith are alive and kicking in our rural hinterlands. Simple rural as well as urban youngsters throng the temple in their millions through all the days of the year, carrying back a renewed faith in the Lord, spreading the word to others, who, in turn, will make the trip to see their Lord. The Raja Rani temple, which is dedicated to Lord Brahma and the Mukteshwar temple, dedicated to lord Shiva, are the other ancient temples worth a look, especially if you are of a religious bent of mind.

Nandan Kanan National Park
If one is keen to see the white tiger, which is the celebrity resident of this famous sanctuary and zoo, then one must plan a day’s outing, because the sanctuary is located 20 kms outside the city and covers an expanse of almost the same area.  There is a designated Wildlife Sanctuary within the premises. Here one can see the Asiatic Lion, Lion-tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Langur, Indian Pangolin and Mouse Deer etc. 

Shyamola Khanna

Shyamola Khanna

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