Paralakhemundi – From Royal Grandeur to Splendours of Folk Art

Maharaja Krushnachandra Gajapati, the erstwhile ruler of Paralakhemundi State near Andhra – Odisha border was among of the greatest luminaries of Odisha throughout her history.   A visionary and passionate soul for art and heritage, Maharaja Krushnachandra Gajapati was one of the first Odias to initiate the movement for separate statehood for the Odia speaking people. The seeds for such a noble initiative were germinated in the Gajapati Palace of Paralakhemundi. Today, the palace though degraded with the ravage of time still stands as an architectural splendour of the colonial past.



When we talk about palaces, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu amuse our mind. However, Odisha was no less splendid when compared to its counterparts. Lack of information and not given due importance, Odisha’s palace heritage is hardly divulged.

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The Gajapati Palace in Paralakhemundi is one such architectural wonder, however, sadly its story has not gone beyond its precincts. Designed by British architect Robert Fellows Chisholm, the palace and the fort are influenced by Indo-Sarcanic style combined with Byzantine and European architectural features. A three-storied structure, the palace includes an underground floor connecting it with the main palace of the Maharaja.

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The palace was built in the early part of the 19th century and can be compared with the best of the royal palaces built across India in the colonial setting. Its patron was Maharaja Jagannath Gajapati Narayan Dev III. An amount of 24 lakh and 20 thousand had been spent for its construction. Granite pillars, Burma teak beams, Belgian stained glass windows, artistic grills are the key attractions in the palace.

Travel Tips

Paralakhemundi is located on Odisha – Andhra border at a distance of 280 km from Bhubaneswar. The town is both connected by train and bus from all major cities of Odisha and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. If you are travelling from Bhubaneswar the best option is to travel by Rajyarani Express which leaves Bhubaneswar Station at 6.20 AM in the morning and arrive at 12.15 PM in Paralakhemundi.  Likewise, it leaves Paralakhemundi at 4.30 PM and arrives at Bhubaneswar by 10.30 PM. Paralakhemudi has a few budget hotels for accommodation.






The palace was built in a silver background. All the stairs are provided with long and wide verandahs or corridors. Thick walls made of well-polished red bricks with white lime mortar reveal its marvellous construction skill. At the east-facing entrance of the main gate, two sleeping lions are placed on either side over two raised platform.



Paralakhemundi was the cultural nerve centre of South Odisha. Being close to Andhra Pradesh here one notices heavy Telugu influence in language, dress-code and food habit. Plentiful festivals are celebrated in the daily life of Paralakhemundi throughout the year.

Patronized by the royal family, the Chitrakara Street in Paralakhemundi is celebrated as South Odisha’s finest folk art corridor. Experts in oil painting and woodcraft the maharana chitrakaras of Chitrakara Street make wooden idols of folk gods and goddesses apart from mainstream deities to be used in various festivals. Made in distinctive styles the woodcraft of Paralakhemundi is known for its vibrant colours and folk elements.















The most significant among the paintings are the ganjapa dasavatara sara, the Odia version of round shaped ganjifa playing cards. On the backside of the cards, one finds the depiction of 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu.




Chitrakaras also make attractive Janukhanda Parasurama Handi. According to the Purana, in Tretaya Yuga, Ramachandra and Parasurama had once met during the exile years. To test the ability of Ramachandra, Parasurama had asked him to hold and break his bow. Ramachandra could qualify easily the test which Parasurama had not expected. Ramachandra asked him to tie an illustrated pot with paintings of dasavatara in his leg and wander to beg. Parasurama had come wandering to the abode of Mahendragiri Mountain, not far from Paralakhemundi. From then on it has become a part of Paralakhemundi tradition to create such beautiful illustrated pots and sold to those desiring spiritual begging.



The hornwork of Paralakhemundi is globally known which are made chiefly out of the horns of cattle and buffalo. The art was originally well-known to the tribal communities of the region. They used to make blowing instruments from the horns. In the later part of the 19th century, this craft was given a big boost by the Gajapati kings of Paralakhemundi. They had engaged skilled maharanas of village Pitala near Aska in Ganjam District. Gradually they started making combs, elephants, horses, prawn, idols of Lord Jagannath and son on.










Paralakhemundi is truly South Odisha’s heritage capital and for me, it has got special attraction as it is my birthplace.



Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at

Travel through Digapahandi – Ganjifa’s Last Bastion

In some corner of my heart, I have developed a special weakness for Khemundi, an erstwhile historic territory in South Odisha’s Ganjam and Gajapati Districts with Paralakhemundi as the capital. Here I was born close to 5 decades before in Chitrakara (Artisan) Street. Though I did not live here for longer stretch of times, I used to spend my childhood vacations twice a year spanning one and half months put together.  As I recall my childhood days, Kumara Purnima or Sarad Purnima used to be a festival immediately after Dusshera when elderly folks of the town would play day and night a kind of circular pictorial card game, called sāra locally. Later, I came to know it is called Ganjifa or Ganjapā, a game introduced from Persia through Mughals in the 16th century, but now lost everywhere except Paralakhmundi’s cousin town Badakhmundi or Digapahandi in South Odisha’s Ganjam District (25 km away) from Berhampur, the largest city of the region.



Asta Rangi Ganjapā Cards being played at Digapahandi 

In the last 500 years of Digapahandi’s history, the region was blessed with diverse cultural influences. The influence of the Jagannath Cult of Puri had been its founding stone in the 16th century when a branch of Gajapati clan started ruling the Khemundi territory from Paralakhemundi.

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Monks, Monasteries and Murals – A Photo Story on Puri’s Two Legendary Mathas

Travel tips:

Digapahandi is a small town/large village located at a distance of 25 km from Berhampur, also the nearest Rail Station. The town is well connected from Berhampur by a motor road (the national highway that connects Gopalpur Port with Raipur, the capital of Chhatisgarh). A drive through the highway and the surrounding countryside is very scenic with hills, paddy fields, water bodies and colourful villages. Beyond Digapahandi starts the Ghat Road of Eastern Ghats. Another 25 km drive from Digapahandi is Taptapani, a natural hot spring surrounded by dense forests, hills and Saora tribal villages. 

While at Digapahandi your resource person for Ganjifa cards is Shri Lakshmidhar Mahapatra (+91 9439135827).

Digapahandi does not have staying options. But if you are interested in forest and tribes, try for Panthanivas (Odisha Tourism) at Taptapani. Otherwise, you can find plenty of options at Berhampur or Gopalpur-on-Sea. 


Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra in the Sanctum Sanctorium of the Jagannath Temple within the premise of the ruined palace



Lord Gopala and Goddess Radha

The last independent king of Odisha was Telenga Mukunda Deva (1559 – 68 CE). During his reign, Paralakhemundi was separated from the Old Khemundi state. Due to the fact that the Old Khemundi state was divided into three parts between the two sons of Swarnalinga Bhanu, the elder brother Ramachandra became the king of Badakhemundi and Sanakhemundi, while the younger son Subhalinga Bhanu became the king of Paralakhemundi State. So Badakhemundi and Sanakhemundi have always had a relationship with the Parala State, the place of my birth.   After the death of Mukunda Deva, the region was briefly occupied by the Qutbshahis of Golkonda who were defeated by Mughals subsequently. The region was also under the Maratha domain for sometime before it was subjugated to the rule of East India Company in the early 19th century.





The Ruined Palace and the Tank

Ganjifā cards game was perhaps introduced here through the Mughals as there is no tradition of playing Dasavatara here, which is popular in Puri. Here 8 colours (Atha Rangi) or 8 suits cards is traditionally played.







8 suits cards had been initiated by Emperor Akbar. These were Ghulam (servant), Taj (crown), Shamsher (sword), Asharfi (Gold Coin), Chang (harp), Barat (Document), Tanka (Silver Coin) and Gimah (merchandise). In Digapahandi packs, one finds close resemble with the Mughal names, such as Gulama (Mughal: Ghulam). Chenga (Mughal: Chang), Someswara (Mughal: Shamsher) and Barata (Mughal: Barat). The other four colours are Surjya (Sun), Chandra (moon), Phula (flower) and Kumancha. Besides Ganjapā, there are three other games played traditionally at Digapahandi, which are explained by the players in the film here.

Digapahandi was also a thriving centre of art and culture during its heydays. However, most of its tangible heritage is lost with the ravage of time.



In Ganjam, a type of murals incorporating ideas from South and Puri had developed known by Dakshini style of murals. In one of the recent stories, we had highlighted the murals of Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda. The erstwhile kings of Digapahandi also had commissioned similar work in the 19th century at its mutts and temples. One can still find their traces adorning the walls of its crumbling temples.

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Illustrating Ramayana Katha – Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda







The ruined Jagannath Temple and traces of murals that once covered its walls profusely

Another interesting aspect of Digapahandi’s cultural heritage is Osakothi murals that one finds on walls of temples and sacred spaces, freshly painted during Navaratra every year.  Osa meaning penance and kothi meaning sacred space, Osakothi represents the shrine where Osakothi rituals take place. The Osa fasting is carried out by women for the welfare and longevity of their husbands and families. The paintings are solely done by men. A folktale goes, a beautiful woman Shriya whose seven sons were killed by a jealous queen. However, she was blessed by goddess Mangala upon observing Osa for 12 years with seven more sons and everything that she desired. Since then it became a custom to observe Osa for prosperity and well being of a woman’s family.


In an Osakothi shrine what draws your attention is more than life-size images of Goddess Durga, Kali, Shiva, Chhinnamasta, Parvati, Saraswati, Ganga, Yamuna and a number of folk deities. One also finds scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as warriors, birds, animals and other floral designs. Be there between Dussehara and Kartik Purnima to witness Osakothi rituals, where you can find elements of tribal, folk and Hindu beliefs and practices.

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Osakothi Rituals in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey










Digapahandi and its rural heartland are frozen in time. Little wonders it is also the gateway to South Odisha’s tribal territory, especially of Saoras and Kondhs. You discover miles and miles of paddy fields that appear in monsoon and during Durga Puja as fields of emerald. At distance, there are hills of Eastern Ghats.

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Though its immediate surroundings do not have a significant tribal population, there are a few hamlets here and there of Sabara tribe, once hunter gathers into subsistence farmers. They also entertain you through their soulful devotional music using an ethnic musical instrument called kenadarā.




Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at