I think the Ekamra heritage walk starting from Mukteshwar Temple to the medicinal herbs garden Ekamravan in Old town Bhubaneswar have to one of the best parts of my recent trip to Bhubaneswar.
The walk started at 6.30 am and went on till 11 am and I hardly realised that I was walking for over four hours with just a cup of morning coffee till my stomach began to growl at 10.45 am.
We were given an itinerary of temples and ruins to be covered. The first in the list was Mukteshwar temple. Built in 11th Century, it stands as an outstanding example of Odia temple architecture.
Odisha temple architecture can be categorised into three – Hindu temple architecture, dravidian and kalinga architecture. Most of the temples in Bhubaneswar followed the Kalinga style of architecture that consists of a structural due, the main temple or shrine and the frontal porch.
Our ancestors originally worshipped nature, much like the Shinto culture, like the mountains, river and rain. So there was no need to build a temple around them. Idol worship as it has evolved today is fairly recent, many a few hundred years old. Once such form of worship became prominent temples culture began.
Earlier temples were usually two part structures, sanctum sanctorum and prayer hall like the Parasurameswara temple in Bhubaneswar built in 7th Century. Temples constructed at a later date are bigger and had more structures like Lingaraj temple that has dancing halls and more shrines. While we can pass this off as a mere evolution, according to our heritage walk guide there is a reason behind it.
Temples built in earlier times at the start of may be prior 6 Century AD had only sanctum sanctorum and were limited to royals and elite. That began to change as these temples became more mainstream and became the centre of commercial activities. There rose a need for bigger halls to accommodate the growing crowd. So the second structure was built.
Then another to showcasing music and dance and kitchens (bhog mandap) for making food. Older the temple, fewer halls they have, the guide said.
The first temple on the walk, Mukteshwar, had only two. Lingaraj Temple, the biggest by far in Bhubaneshwar, has four structures and was built in sometime in the 13th Century. The temple is said to house 108 gods and goddesses. Apparently the temple has a prototype and it is the Ekambareshwar temple, the only temple to have a north facing entrance, in the vicinity.
When I say prototype it is a structure built to experiment before the actual temple was constructed. These prototypes only have one structure. Parameshwar temple has a prototype as well and is the oldest known temple in the area, built in the early 7th Century.
Another interesting fact about these temples is that it says a lot about history. It is common to see deformed sculptures in the temple. According to the guide these deformations were caused in most part due to invasions. While the whole temple might not be destroyed the invaders deformed the faces and parts of figurines to instill a sense of fear. This caused people of those times to be wary of going to temples, where things are incomplete.
Common sculptures you will find on the temples include animals, women and leaves inspired by the artist sees around him. It is also common to see a sculpture of women standing by the door. It could be artisans’ partners who are waiting the artists to come back home as these work goes on for months and sometimes years. Sometimes there are folklore sculptures. Mukteshwar temple had monkey and the crocodile story.
Lions and elephants are a common sight in temple architecture and could mean different things. In one discourse, lion represent Hinduism whereas elephants represent Buddhism. In some temples lions are seen crouching over elephants in others they are seen side by side. The former means that the temple was built when hinduism was dominating buddhism. In Mukteshwar and Konark, that were built in 12th and 13th century lions could be seen crouching over elephants. In Parameshwara temple built in 7th Century you could see elephants and lion represented side by side though in opposing directions. So the religions probably coexisted in early years.
It is not uncommon for temples to be built by lakes. It serves a lot of purpose if you think about it – you can use the water for temple purposes, bathing etc. In the heritage walk I came to know that these lakes were created because the temples were built. Not sure how much I agree with this.
So this is how the explanation goes. There are at least three temples situated on the banks of Bindusagar lake in Old Town Bhubaneswar. To build big structures it is obvious that you need lot of sand. If you are building tall structures you need something to mount the stones. Since pulley was not invented then it could be that huge amount of sand was used to build ramps over which the top structures were built. These sand depressions later became lakes and the size of the lake is proportional to how big the temple is. There is another mythological story too about how Shiva created the lake to quench his consort Parvathy’s thirst by borrowing drops of water from multiple waterbodies.
It is impossible not to broken pillars, ruined temples and abandoned madams that once housed sadhus.
Despite the passage of time, which could go back to centuries, these structures that are standing or whatever is left of it are testament to that point in time when the land was flourishing. It stands to say that people laughed and cried; birthed sons and daughters to make sure their line continued; they lived and died.