Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.

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The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise

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Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently.  Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.

The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.

The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.

Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.

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Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.

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At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.

After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.

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The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.

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At Raghurajpur

We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.

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On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.

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At Golden Beach in Puri

After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.

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At Konark

After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.

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On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.

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In Bhubaneswar Temples

After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.

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After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage.  Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.

After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.

Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.

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Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.

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At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.

Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.

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At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers.  The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.

Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal.  It was magical –  dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.

Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.

 

Dhenkanal – Wars, Wilderness and Royal Hospitality

Year 1781! While most of Western Europe was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, a part of Odisha was passing through a political turmoil.  Odisha would witness intense rivalry between princely states and with the Maratha Force.

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Dhenkanal, one of the flourishing princely states in Odisha located amidst the dense jungle of Gadajat Mountains was a key witness to the political unrest happening in the 18th century. An 18-day Maratha seize had been the highlight which is narrated distinctly in ‘Samar Tarang’, a war poem written by the contemporary writer Brajanath Badajena.

Travel Tips

Dhenkanal is a medium-sized city located at a distance of 80 km from Bhubaneswar. Both Dhenkanal (http://www.dhenkanalpalace.com/) and Gajalaxmi Palaces (http://gajlaxmipalace.com/) facilitate as heritage homestays and have become favourite destinations among overseas travellers. While there are 13 rooms available at Dhenkanal Palace, the Gajalaxmi Palace has six rooms for guests. While at Dhenkanal do visit the Dokra village at Sadeiberani and the seat of Mahima Cult at Joranda. Both the properties can arrange your exploration into the enchanting countryside.

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Today, the vast sprawl of Dhenkanal Fort is no more, but what attracts you is the splendid Dhenkanal Palace which came up a century after the Maratha seize.

Also, Read Here:

ATHMALLIK – IN THE HEARTLAND OF MAHANADI WILDERNESS

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The Maratha army under the leadership of young Chimanji had started an expedition towards Bengal to collect the payment of chauth from the British. The route they followed was through Odisha. Historical records reveal that a large number of princely states in Odisha had supplied the Marathas with men and material with hope to receive help to bring down the power of their political rivalries.

The Raja of Keonjhar was one such opportunistic who could not withstand the progress of Dhenkanal. He had supplied the largest contingent of 20,000 men to the Maratha Force.

Also, Read Here:

DASPALLA – A JOURNEY THROUGH ODISHA’S UNTAMED FRONTIERS

The Marathas had an unsuccessful attempt to seize Dhenkanal before a couple of years. This time well prepared, they started from Cuttack to Dhenkanal. However, it was the peak of summer. The intense heat and the lack of basic provision forced them to return to Cuttack. Soon after the monsoon, Chimanji assisted by Bhavani Pundit marched towards Dhenkanal with a huge army and provisions.

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The Raja of Dhenkanal at that time was Sri Trilochan Dev, a respectful self-esteemed man who had denied giving the peskash to the Marathas. The angry Marathas wanted to give a lesson to the raja of Dhenkanal with the monetary help received from Manju Chaudhary, a banker from Cuttack.

Also, Read Here:

MYSTIC NILAGIRI – THE ABORIGINAL HEARTLAND OF BALASORE WITH A ROYAL PAST

The Maratha army came as far as Motari, a place 8 miles before Dhenkanal. This was the gateway to the territory and was well guarded by several soldiers. Sri Trilochan Dev lost no time in preparing to deal with the situation. He had created a strong fort on one side by a hill range and deep moat full of water, the fort could successfully hold at by an invading army.

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The Marathas marched towards the fort from Motari even though they had received a warning to return from Sri Trilochan Dev. But the Maratha Governor refused to listen unless the pride of the king was crushed.

Thereafter Sri Trilochan Dev ordered his soldiers to chase the Marathas and the Odia Paikas furiously attacked the enemy. The Marathas were put to utter confusion and were forced to retreat to Cuttack with a good number of soldiers either killed or wounded.

But things did not move always in favour of Dhenkanal.

Around that time, again Chimanji had planned an invasion of Bengal for collection of chauths and hence was on his way from Nagpur. When he entered Cuttack, Manju Chaudhary went to remind him about the defeat of Martha army in the hands of the Raja of Dhenkanal. He also provoked that if this trend continues Marathas would not get their peskash even from other feudal states and that would paralyse their Odisha administration. Chimanji was convinced and immediately decided for the second attack against the Raja of Dhenkanal.

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It was the rainy season and the terrain to Dhenkanal had become inaccessible. As the winter arrived considering that Dhenkanal was situated in the middle of thick jungle and access to it was very difficult, the Marathas procured the services of two local persons, Kistenraja and Chaitan Das.

‘Samar Tarang’ vividly describes – the Raja of Dhenkanal, Sri Trilochan Dev was confident of defending himself and his people inside to the fort against any attack from the enemy. Understanding the march of the Maratha army towards the fort, he at once ordered the garrison to take adequate defence measures to protect the fort from the outside. The fort wall had a good number of hidden holes which were now filled with cannons, guns and even arrows. Some raised platforms close to the fort were erected to serve the purpose of watchtowers to observe the movement of the enemy from the distance.

But the army of Maratha was huge. Upon approaching them, the Odia Paikas were frightened. The Marathas could easily enter the fort and seized it.

But it was not a smooth affair for the Marathas. During the seize of Dhenkanal Fort, there were frequent raids by the hilly tribe called Charas. They plundered or seized the belongings of the Maratha soldiers and put them into trouble.

To overcome this, the Marathas sought help from neighbouring kingdoms. The king of Keonjhar came forward immediately with 20,000 soldiers.

After most heroically defending the fort for 18 days, Sri Trillochan Dev abandoned it to the possession of the Marathas. But Marathas lost interest in Dhenkanal as it was not a priority for them. After the departure of Chimanji, Sri Trilochan Dev raged a war against the king of Keonjhar. In this battle, the chief commander of soldiers was beheaded by the soldiers of Dhenkanal.

A large complex of apartments, courts and gardens nestled against the gradual slope of Gadajat Hills of the Eastern Ghats is today’s Dhenkanal Palace, built in the 19th century and converted into a heritage hotel. A fusion of Odia, Rajput and European architecture, Dhenkanal Palace shines like a pearl in the heart of Dhenkanal City. A legend goes: in the 16th century, there was a Savara Chief called Dhenka who ruled the present Dhenkanal region. However, he was defeated in a war by Sridhar Bhanja, a chieftain from the neighbouring kingdom Gada Besalia. The dying wish of Dhenka was to preserve the name of the clan. The victor king agreed to the wish, and thus he renamed the newly acquired kingdom as Dhenkanal, Nala here means hilly terrain slope.

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Dhenkanal is a major elephant corridor and even today there are reports of human-elephant conflicts from time to time. As you enter the lounge, you are invited by the display of a large stuffed elephant head. It is told that in 1835 the elephant had gone made destroying human settlements and even killing people. The king for the safety of his subjects had killed the elephant whose head now is displayed as a matter of pride.

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Dhenkanal is truly the capital of royal heritage in central-costal Odisha. Gajalaxmi Palace at Borpoda amidst the dense forest and the foothills of Megha is Odisha’s only homestay overlooking a jungle kingdom.

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Built-in the first half of the 20th century, the view from the palace is incredible. The forest surrounding it is infested with wild beasts of all kinds, such as elephants, leopards, wild boars, and civets.

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However, the key attraction here is the display of Naryanpatna (in Koraput District), man-eating tiger. Its piercing eyes and sharp rows of teeth was the stare of death to 83 people it had killed and eaten before being put down by Late Kumar Saheb in 1986.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com