Odes of Odisha: Heritage, Colors, Culture and Cuisines

Unlock the historical depth and beauty of Odisha tourist places and get familiar with the true colors, culture, and cuisines. Read about Odisha’s architectural marvels and know the details of Bhubaneshwar, Puri, and Konark.

Classical Odissi Dance

It’s high time that “Odisha ’aah’ – India’s best kept secret” is well disclosed! The region that was once the regal Kingdom of Kalinga, sets great store by touristic prospects. Clearly, we hear ‘names’ like Odissi – a traditional dance form that originated in Orissa, Odia – the language spoken in this eastern coastal state, and ikat – a form of silk weaves, all the time; but sidetracked the fact that there are just too many hidden glories of the quondam Kalingas’ scattered in the present-day territory, which all the way have a right to be resurfaced and repolished through the eyes of tourism…so as to bring the “color, culture & cuisine” of Odisha that powerfully expound the past and are the resolute backbone of today’s Oriya lifestyle, under more prominence!

Odisha tourist places

The ‘Golden Triangle’ i.e. Bhubaneshwar – Puri – Konark, is a grand way to start an Orissan odyssey to explore the State which is bursting at its seams with an understated natural allure, and is occupied by a simplistic & humble populace who never trade-off their rich history, tradition, heritage and religious belief for anything else in the world! This triangular track, houses Temples (which are of supreme significance not just to the culture of Odisha but to India as a whole) in all its three vertices, yet have no doubts that this journey is not only about a ‘Temple Run’, but also one that tugs the conscience of all its travelers by willingly pushing them onto an irresistible spiritual ride coupled with a compelling cultural participation.

Bhubaneshwar: [66 km from Konark]

Bhubaneshwar Lingaraj Temple

 A clean-n-green city, Bhubaneshwar floors one and all for being modern along with fervently protecting medieval temple sites. With a very long record of history dating back to more than 1000 years, the city has been a conflux of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism for centuries, mainly due to cross-influential impacts of various dynasties that came to rule over the land, resulting in the most impressive style of the Kalingan architecture (much different than what is found in temples in other parts of our country)!

The Lingaraj Temple built out of sandstone, exults as the most iconic, excellent, largest, tallest, and purest masterpiece of such architecture {mix of Chalukyan & Gupta} which is proven to have been built between the 7th to 11th century CE by the Kings of Somavamsi & Ganga dynasty. The massive complex where religious duties are actively and piously performed till date, has a courtyard packed with a number of small shrines and the main Shiva temple which is known for its rekha deula style construction with a 180ft tall temple-tower [(shikhara) – has a central projecting column on each face of the tower composed of multiple horizontal layers, decorative carvings, protruding lion sculptures, and a huge ribbed circular stone called amalaka bearing a kalash at the top] and four interconnected chambers: mandapa/jagmohan – entrance hall, vimana – sacred shrine, nata mandira – dance hall & bhoga mandira – offerings hall.

Other temples that equally stand out with similar structural ornateness in Bhubaneshwar are Muktinath temple, Raja Rani temple and Anantha Vasudev temple. Ram mandir, which is newly built with much of a muchness soaring spires, is a beautiful red edifice which is also counted as a must-visit shrine in the capital of Orissa.

Since Odisha was the least affected by ‘foreign’ invasions comparatively than other states, it has been able to maintain its tribal culture to a very large extent and is thus the domicile of the maximum number of native tribal communities in India. Those who wish to have a clear picture of Orissa’s tribal life must definitely see the ‘Museum of Tribal Arts & Artifacts’ and the ‘Odisha State Museum’, both of which have fine exhibits of tribal paraphernalia and models elaborating on tribal livelihood. The State Museum also has other sections on anthropology, geology, manuscripts, numismatics, paintings, archaeology, and ammunitions.

For some echt shopping experience in Bhubaneshwar, Ekamra Haat earnestly promotes the state’s original handicrafts {stone carvings, wood carvings, bamboo & cane works, terracotta works and so on} whereas the Unit 1 market is unequivocally recommended to buy honest-to-goodness handloom sarees and textiles.

Bhubaneshwar Chausathi Yogini Temple

A pleasant jaunt from Bhubaneshwar to Konark is lined up with three very important historical sites which are usually included in every sightseeing package:

  • Udayagiri & Khandagiri caves: A series of caves carved and dug out on two adjacent hills {7 km from Bhubaneshwar} that used to serve as residential quarters for Jain monks during the 2nd century BCE.
  • Dhauli: A hillock that rises from the banks of Daya river {15 km from Bhubaneshwar} where supposedly the Kalinga war was fought around 270 BCE. Now this place is famous for a white-colored ‘peace’ monument, Shanti Stupa, built by the Japanese Buddha Sangha in the 1970s.
  • Chausathi Yogini: A small, circular, roofless, sandstone ‘tantric’ temple in Hirapur {20 km from Bhubaneshwar}, where 64 demi-goddess idols in various poses and their respective vahanas, arranged along the circumference (25ft diameter) are worshipped with the pivotal Goddess Kali right at the centre.

Puri [64 km from Bhubaneshwar]

Jagannath Temple Puri

Jai Jagannath! One of the pilgrimage loci of the Chardham, Puri is a coastal town that easily attracts enormous crowds for its ‘seraphous-cum-joyous’ synergy between the holy Jagannath temple and the squeaky-clean Golden beach.

The 12th century Temple is immensely looked upon for its sacramental principles to venerate the trio-deities inside who are personified to be Lord Krishna, his elder brother Balaram, and his younger sister Subhadra. A long mythology explains the reason behind these three images made out of neem wood having obtained their distinctive peculiarity in shape – very large heads painted with large rounded eyes and very short arms. The worshipping of God here is known to have existed among the tribals even before the construction of the Temple per se.

The Temple which follows a similar Kalinga style (deula) of architecture as in all the other temples of Odisha is very famous for the annual Rath (chariot) Yatra festival. It has certain admirable and inexplicable features too:

  1. The Temple has no shadow at any time of the day!
  2. Every single day the temple priest climbs the upright temple tower (65m high on an elevated platform) to change the flag on top without any protective/supporting gears. This is a ritual that is never missed by any means.
  • Chappan Bhog/Mahaprasad: 56 types of food items are prepared in earthen pots 6 times a day to be offered to the Lord, and then taken to Anand Bazar of the temple from where it can be purchased by the devotees. It is said that this Temple Kitchen is the biggest in the world, where the food prepared is always available and sufficient for pilgrims whose count varies anywhere between thousands to lakhs on a daily basis; and not even a single morsel of it ever gets wasted – surprising and awesome indeed!The Mahaprasad items often consist of Ukhuda, Dalma, Khiri, Khasta Puri, Dahi Pakhal, Suji Khir, Saga, Amalu, Matha puli, Adapachedi, etc.Besides, the streets of Puri are forever tempting with the aromas of two popular signature sweet dishes known as Khaja {wheat flour & sugar} and ChenaPoda {homemade cheese & sugar}. Those who visit Puri do not leave without buying them!
  • Golden Beach – Awarded the elite ‘Blue Flag’ tag in 2020 by the Foundation for Environment Education (FEE) in Denmark, Puri beach is known to be the cleanest and safest beach in India. The soft and soothing waves from the Bay of Bengal draw in heavy crowds on its smooth sands – during the day for peaceful mesmerizing views of nature especially at sunrise/sunset; and during the night for an exuberant ‘night beach market’ wherein the entire stretch of the ‘Swargadwara’ beach road is queued with well-lit stalls selling seafood, souvenir articles made with shells and toys.This beach is also the one-stop destination to find some astonishing ‘sand art’, i.e sand sculptures made with hand in India. Sudharshan Patnaik, a sand artist from Puri has garnered world-wide acclaim with his amazing talent that has squashed all boundaries for creating unimaginable ‘magic’ with s-a-n-d! He’s got an Institute after his own name and is even the brand ambassador for the International Sand Art Fest that takes place annually every November/December.

Other places of interest in and around Puri are:

  • Gundicha temple
  • Sakshi Gopal temple
  • Chilika Lake – largest brackish water lagoon in the world
  • Pipli & Raghurajpur – two heritage handicraft villages that promote traditional murals and drawings using appliqué, patchwork, ‘Pattachitra’ paintings, and palm-leaf engravings.

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Konark: [36 km from Puri]  

konark sun temple

“Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man” – so said Rabindranath Tagore to describe Konark/Konaditya.

Enjoined by Raja Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga dynasty, a stupendous construction [made with chlorite, laterite, and khondalite rocks] was carried out for 12 long years (1243 – 1255) with nearly 1200 workers, which today, although in ruins, stands as an imperious dedication to the Sun God Surya.

Gracefully designed like a divine chariot bearing twenty-four wheels, pulled by seven vigorous horses and dressed up with elegant sculptural animal motifs & sensual figures, what we get to see remaining within the campus after many steps taken for maximum possible restoration and preservation, is the 30m high jagmohan with a 3-tiered pyramidical roof having statues of dancers & musicians, a roofless nata mantapa with 16 elaborately carved square pillars, the bhoga mandapa {kitchen}, a dilapidated vimana without the temple tower, Mayadevi temple, Vaishnava temple and Navagraha temple.

Behind jagmohan was supposedly the main sanctum on a raised surface with a 60m high deula style shikhara that completely fell down to pieces unfortunately – the reasons and causes for which are quite inconclusive; it could have been natural or malicious destruction. What is left to be seen right now is a towerless form with images of Lord Surya on three faces of the building to represent morning, noon, and evening.

But, every tour guide at Konark will unfailingly recount an interesting story of how the slabs of the shikara were firmly fitted with iron clamps, all of which in turn were held spot on by a heavy magnet placed on top of the tower; so strong was the magnetic pull that even the Lord’s idol inside the sanctuary rose above the floor and used to float mid-air! Since the coastline was closer to the Temple those days (the sea waters have receded now pushing the coast further away), the magnet was decided to be removed to facilitate the proper functioning of compasses – quite important for ships to navigate and reach the coast without deflecting resulting in the ill-fated collapse.

konark sun temple divine chariot

After all that said, if chronicles are to be believed, the real miracle of the ‘Sun Temple’ was on full display when the first rays of the rising sun during an equinox directly touched a diamond placed on the Lord’s head, which by refraction spread its bright light all over the Temple! It is difficult to imagine the extent of human thought processes that must have put such a brilliant phenomenon in place, in medieval India!!

Well, not to forget to mention – the 24 (12 pairs) stone wheels of the ‘chariot’-style temple, each measuring about 10ft in diameter, also with very unique and detailed engravings, were made to represent the 24 hours in a day and behaved like sundials! Truly an innovation for those days – people then knew how to accurately read time based on the shadow cast on the spokes of the wheel at different hours of the day according to the sun’s movement from east to west in the sky.

  • The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) incepted the Konark Museum near the Sun Temple in the year 1968 to act as a storehouse for all the fallen sculptures collected from the ruins along with hundreds of other antiquities and artefacts that were found.

    The Indian Oil Foundation in collaboration with ASI inaugurated a brand new world-class infrastructure called ‘Arka Kshetra’ in 2018 right next to the Sun Temple with the aim of developing tourist infrastructure and attracting more tourists.

    – It is basically an ‘interpretation centre’ housing air-conditioned galleries displaying medieval engineering & architectural concepts along with related archive literature, scale model of the original Sun Temple of Konark, recreated sculpture models, and handicrafts of Odisha.
    – An exclusive auditorium has been made which plays a short 15-minute animation movie narrating the epic tale about how the Konark Temple was erected; like the two faces of the same coin it is both a story of valor and might of the artisans who chiseled every part of the heavy structure and also a heart-rending legend of a 12-year old boy Dharmapada, who gave the ingenious solution of placing a complicated dial at the topmost point of the Temple but still had to sacrifice his life by jumping into the sea from the 60m high deula, so that the chief sculptor’s {his own father} honor would not be diminished.

  • The Konark Dance Festival is one of the biggest ‘dance & music’ carnival in the country held every year in December in the backdrop of the Konark Temple to gather performing artists from different parts of the country on the same stage to showcase the varieties in Indian classical dances like Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali and Sattriya. Other highlights include in this magnificent fest are a ‘Crafts Mela’ held at Urban Haat and an ‘International Sand Art Festival’ organized on Chandrabaga beach (3KM from Konark).

Konark despite existing as a ruined UNESCO world heritage site amongst us at present, is majorly a gratifying reminder of the tremendous tanks of knowledge possessed by those who belonged to as early as the 13th CE, in multiple fields like engineering, architecture, science, cosmology, astronomy, anatomy & arts!

Therefore, travelling to Konark is unmistakably a time-travel; where every single person visiting this larger-than-life monument is totally pushed into a deep sense of pondering and wondering – as to whether the people who lived eight centuries ago, actually lived back in time or much ahead of time, in point of fact – even much ahead of our time!!

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