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.

 

Erotica Konark – Frozen in Stone

At Konark

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Majestic Sun Temple at Konark

You are a curious onlooker to countless sensuous carvings in close embrace and interlocked in lovemaking. You are puzzled, keen to unravel their stories shrouded in mysteries. Then you seek the help of a trained guide, who narrates you – “the erotic sculptures were made after the brutal Kalinga War in remote 3rd century BCE. The battle had been fought between Emperor Ashoka of Magadha and the army of Kalinga. 1,50,000 soldiers had died leading to a severe scarcity of warriors in Kalinga. The population declined sharply. The erotic sculptures you see here were made as a medium to attract sexual indulgence. Since women visited in large numbers on a daily basis, the erotic figures motivated them to indulge in more sex with their spouses. This led to more childbirth and in the processes created more warriors for Kalinga”.

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Female Musicians and Dancers

Not satisfied, you seek an explanation from yet another guide. He narrates:

“None of these things — none of those acts, ever happened anywhere. They were made up by the sculptors because they were away from home for a long time and were missing their wives.”

What Rubbish! The timelines between two events were 1600 years apart in history. The logic for the second narration is neither acceptable by any serious traveller to the world heritage site of Konark, an architectural wonder, now frozen in stone.

Travel Tips

Konark is seaside town to the north of Puri and northeast of Bhubaneswar. Together with Bhubaneswar and Puri, Konark forms the golden triangle of Odisha. While the Sun Temple is the main attraction here, a traveller can also visit the nearby archaeological sites such as Kuruma and Gangeswari Temple in Gop. The other major attractions are Chandrabhaga and Ramchandi Beach and the marine drive that connects Puri with Konark, which is also part of Balukhand Sanctuary. Within Konark, the other major attractions are light-and-sound shown in the evening, interpretation centre and the ASI museum. While most travellers prefer Puri to stay, we recommend Konark as a better alternative as it is less crowded and more serene. Konark is a heaven for seafood lovers.

Konark, among all Hindu temples of India, has the highest concentration of erotic sculptures, ranging from oral to group sex, perhaps depicting all 64 types of ratikrida that find mentioned in Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra. The concentration is so high that Lowell Thomas, an American traveller and broadcaster described Konark as the most beautiful and at the same time the most obscene building in the world.

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Erotica on the walls of Konark Sun Temple generates curiosity and even puzzles the mind of every visitor. The brazenness and ethereal beauty of these sculptures are not only sensuous but also artistically rich and vibrant. They are mostly concentrated on the outer walls of the temple.

Also, Read Here:

Bhubaneswar – Romance in Stones

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In Indian culture for all ages our ancestors had emphasized on wholesome living, kama or sex is an essential part of living. According to Stella Kramrish, an international authority in Hindu Temple art:

‘This state which is “like a man and women in close embrace” is a symbol of moksha, final release of the reunion of two principles, the essence (purusha) and nature (prakriti)’.

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Love making in Odisha had been more explicit compared to rest of India. This may be due to remaining of Odisha in isolation for a very long time from the influence of Islamic civilization as one sees in Deccan, Gujarat, Central and North India.

In the 12th century CE, Jayadeva, Odisha’s classical poet wrote Gitagovinda, lyrical poems celebrating the romance of the divine cowherd Krishna and his beloved Radha.

Also, Read Here:

Pashupata Cult and the Ancient Temples of Bhubaneshwar

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Erotica depicted in Palm leaves or Pothi Chitra

Exhibit in Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar (18th Century)

Some Examples from Gitagovinda

Abhinava jaladhara sundara” — beautifully dark-hued like a fresh rain-bearing cloud (shritha Kamala kucha)

Shrimukha chandra chakora:” — longing for Goddess Lakshmi’s face as a chakora bird longs for the moon (shritha Kamala kucha)

Shri Radhapathi paada padma bhajanaanandaabdhi magno anisham tham vande Jayadeva sathguruvaram Padmavati vallabham” — I bow down to that foremost preceptor Jayadeva, who is always immersed in the ocean of bliss in worshipping the lotus feet of the consort of Radha and who is the spouse of Padmavati (Dhyana slokam – Shri Gopalavilasini )

Source: The Hindu https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/poetic-richness-of-gita-govinda/article25389131.ece

Jayadeva was born in Kenduli village on the bank of Prachi River, not far from Konark Temple in Coastal Odisha. It was the time when the cult of Jagannath and Vaishnavism had established strong footings around Prachi River. Several temples built on Prachi Valley during this period show an array of erotic and amorous sculptures on their walls against the spread of bhakti-rasa in the background. Bhakti is about shared joy, about sharing Krishna, it is about yearning for Krishna and wanting that union on an individual level — ‘I want him. He wants me.’

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Erotica Depicted in Soveswara Temple near Niali on Prachi Valley

It is most probably the spread of these ideas from Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda that had deeply influenced the master builders of Konark and their patron to conceptualize and execute erotica in a grand way.

Erotica in Konark was however not new. Odisha had a long tradition of depicting and celebrating love and passion from time immemorial. Like Vrindavan, in Ekamra (Bhubaneswar) during the period of their sojourn, Parvati once expressed a desire to indulge in ratikrida (sporting dalliance) with Shiva. Shiva agreed to the proposal and emanated himself in eight different forms. To play the game of dalliance, Parvati also emanated herself into 8 different forms. The Chaitra Purnima (April-May) was selected as the most auspicious time for the purpose.  The sport continued for the whole night and when the curtain was drawn Shiva installed eight Sambhus and eight Gauris around the banks of Bindusagar Tank.

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The dalliance between Shiva and Parvati in Parasuramaeswara Temple in Bhubaneswar

In describing Ekamra (Bhubaneswar), the holy city of Shiva which yields worldly pleasure and salvation on this very earth itself, Brahma once had said: ‘In Ekamra dwell the most beautiful women on earth. With their slender waists, plump breasts, ample and beautiful buttocks, lotus eyes, sweet languor due to intoxication they represent the celestial ladies of heaven. They remain gay and jolly days and nights. They speak pleasing words. They are clever and skilled in arts and crafts. They are expert in dancing and singing. They are proud of their feminine virtues. These beautiful women pleasing to behold are expert in flirting with men. Young men are fascinated the moment their slight glances fall on them’.

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In temples, right from the beginning, we find depictions of amorous couples. For example, at the 6th century ruined Shiva Temple of Bankadagada near Banapur (140 km from Konark in the southwest), we find a large number of amorous couples associated with Tantric rituals depicted on its walls.

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Amorous Couples in Bankadagada (6th Century CE)

The early temples of Bhubaneswar including Parasurameswar and Vaital also exhibit numerous erotic and amorous couples on their walls. But unlike Konark here they were part of Tantric rituals associated with Kapalika sect of Shaivism.

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Amorous Couples in the earliest Bhubaneswar Temple, Parasurameswara

Though difficult to accept but true – the Buddhist monasteries of Ratnagiri too had adopted sex a part of Mahayana Tantric rituals.

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Erotica in Ratnagiri Buddhist Monastery

In the later phase (10th -12th centuries CE), the decorative programme in temples was dominated by the images of women who may appear alone or as partners in mithuna images, carved in high reliefs on temple walls.

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According to Puranas, ‘in the marriage procession of Shiva, the physical beauty of God is such that the women of the city leave all household duties to catch a glimpse of him. One in her haste runs out half-dressed holding her cloth and girdle in her hands. Another, in the midst of her bath and toilet, come out with the shampoo powder still held in her hand’s whiles still, another come out with her garments worn inside out’.

According to scholars, the amorous activities of gods and celestial as found mentioned in the Puranas actually showcased as models of behaviour and conduct for the luxury living aristocratic society by the 12th century. The constant interplay between human conduct and celestial behaviour, the changing moral ethics, behaviours and aesthetic tastes of the aristocracy and the priesthood were being constantly incorporated into the religious texts and temple iconography.

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Amorous Couples in Brahmeswra Temple in Bhubaneswar (11th Century)

This was the time when Konark was conceptualized as an epitome of Odia architecture and art. After so much experimentation with amorous art in Odisha here, the builders had mastered perfection to showcase erotica as a symbol to the union of the individual soul with the universal spirit. The outside of the temple represents various activities that belong to the ‘samsara’; beyond that and within the temple is the image of God. The worshipper must overcome the world of pleasure to find this god.

The erotica depicted in Konark offers not only windows to explore Odisha’s past, but also to present, how life needs to be celebrated to attain mokshya through kama, two essential pillars of Indian wisdom. Unfortunately, today discussing sex in open forums is seen as a taboo. Work pressure, alternative lifestyles and stress especially in urban India has kept people distance from kama. Perhaps a visit to Konark and appreciating how our ancestors celebrated life may inspire us for a deeper retrospection to tune our lifestyle in sync with ancient wisdom and practices.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Charu Maa – The Face of Durga Maa

Our story starts in the 7th century CE Bhubaneswar! It was the time in Indian history when the personification of ideas came to be institutionalized.  One such idea was Nataraj, the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, which you find profusely in temple walls of Bhubaneswar. Why Nataraj – for me the answer could be the metaphoric representation of destruction that depicts the other side of the sea which is otherwise gentle and calm through most of the year.  The other idea was Maa Durga – the metaphoric representation of women power, for which Eastern India is widely celebrated.


Goddess Durga in Parasurameswara Temple – 7th Century CE

Lord Nataraj in Parasumeswara Temple 7th Century CE

Maa Durga in Cuttack 

1999 super cyclone that had devastated millions of lives, both humans and domestic animals in coastal Odisha. Lord Shiva had shown his extreme form, tandav leela. It was one of the darkest moments in Odisha’s modern history. It took years to recover what Odisha had lost. But the lesson learnt not only made Odias cautious but Odisha became a successful model for disaster management worldwide.  Much has been written and filmed about Odisha’s adorable initiatives in cyclone management, but very little about Charu Maa, a woman in her 50s from Gudalaba Village near Astarang on the coast of Bay of Bengal. You see the face of Durga Maa in her, who has been leading a group of 90 women from her village consisting of both Hindus and Muslims for the protection of forest and wildlife from the time their village was devastated in the wrath of 1999 cyclone.

Travel Tips

Gundalba Village is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Gundalaba Village, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Gundalba is located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood. 


Charu Maa in the left at Gundalba Village

 

 

 

 

Gudalaba is a small village of farmers and fisherfolk near the Sufi shrine of Pir Jahania at a stone throw distance from the sea. A thick forest of Casuarinas separates the sea from the village. To the north of the village is a network of creeks of Devi River which meets the Bay of Bengal at Sahana. Nature’s paradise, the beach is also part of the rookery of Olive Ridley Turtles.  The casuarinas trees, a native of Australia had been introduced more than a century ago by the British to prevent sea erosion. However, ecologists have a different viewpoint. According to whom, the alien trees have been least protectors from sea erosion. These have only become a good source of fuel. On the other hand once dominated by hundreds of species of native mangroves, now most of it lost, thanks to intensive shrimp farming and agriculture. The loss of mangroves is taking toll of destruction year after year.  

Also, Read Here:

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret


Pir Jahanaia Sufi Shrine


Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned boat at Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned house at Pir Jahania Beach – Behind it the thick Casuarina Forest


Casuarina Forest


Depleting Mangrove Forests and Estuaries 

 


Near Devi Mouth


Commercial Fishing in Devi Mouth


Subsistence Fishing in Devi Mouth 


Intensive Rice Farming – The Harvesting Season


Harvest of Gold

Gudalaba has also been a nurturing ground for ideas related to wildlife conservation and sustainable living. Here you meet Bichhi, the turtle man, who has dedicated his life for the conservation of Ridley Olive Turtles. You also meet a group of youngsters led by Soumya Ranjan Biswal, who are continuously engaged in generating awareness on beach cleaning and environmental protection.


Conservation of Olive Ridley Turtle – a severe environmental issue – This one is one of the first deaths sighted this season due to trawlers movement

 

It was on 4th November night I was first introduced to Charu Maa at her residence and while talking to her I felt the best geography teacher I have ever met in my life. There is so much of understanding about sustainable living that we have taken for granted as dwellers of large cities. I heard the first-hand experience coping the most severe disaster in the living memory of Odisha. I saw the face of Durga Maa in Charu Maa. It was decided to film her interview on the daylight the next day along with her other women companions.


An early morning scene at Devi Mouth 

Here is what she narrates:

Charu Maa has turned crises into opportunities and it is an eye-opener for each of us. Truly she celebrates the idea of Durga Maa.      

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com