The city of Bhubaneswar has historically been one of the most geographically and politically important cities on India’s east coast. It has served as the capital of several kingdoms and provinces, and many of the city’s rulers have adorned it with temples. By some estimates, Bhubaneswar has more temples per capita than any other city in India. While this claim is disputed, the number and variety of temples in the city is nevertheless very impressive, earning Bhubaneswar the nickname “City of Temples”.
Bhubaneswar is one of east India’s oldest and most historic cities. It can be traced back at least as far as the 3rd century BC, and may have played a role in the Kalinga War. The fabled ruler Ashoka placed one of his famous edict stone here, and remnants of early Buddhist shrines, some of which may have been built by Ashoka, can be found here.
The city was an important trade center for most of India’s history, and served as both a national capital of local kingdoms and regional capital of larger realms on and off in its history. Bhubaneswar appeared to reach its height during the Middle Ages, and enjoyed a centuries long period of growth and prosperity which witnessed the contruction of hundreds of temples, many of which are still standing today.
Sometime around the 6th century, Bhubaneswar became an important regional center for the worship of Shiva, and a major temple to Shiva was established here around this period. Throughout the early Middle Ages, local rulers made additions and embellishments to the shrine. But it wasn’t until the 11th century that the temple took its current form. During that period, the local king Yayati I essentially rebuilt the entire Lingaraj Temple, creating the magnificent structure that still exists today.
After this, the city went on a temple building spree that went on for centuries, adding such popular shrines as the Mukteswar Temple, also dedicated to Lord Shiva; and the Rajarani Temple. By the 13th century, Bhubaneswar was eclipsed by other cities in the region, and became something of a sleepy backwater, which helped many of its temples to survive the subsequent, turbulent years. With independence in 1948, Bhubaneswar was restored as the state capital of Odisha, and the popularity of the city as a pilgrimage destination soared.
The Lingaraj Temple is by far the city’s most prominent and popular. Its main tower soars above the city skyline. The temple is in fact a huge complex packed with many small shrines. There are so many independent and varied buildings that it looks like a great labyrinthine, stone forest. The main sanctuary beneath the great tower is dedicated to the deity Shiva, and the shrine contains a rock formation believed to be one of his lingas (though this is not one of the Twelve Jyotirlingas). The Lingaraj Temple is located on the south side of Bhubaneswar. It is closed to non-Hindus, but there is a platform nearby that allows viewing inside (courtesy of the British occupation). Web: www.lordlingaraj.org.in (official website).
The Mukteswar Temple is perhaps less impressive and popular than the Lingaraj Temple, but it is arguably the better preserved from its initial construction. It is considered by some to be the city’s finest example of temple architecture. It boasts a main shrine crowned with a great tower surrounded by other lesser structures. The shrine is famous for its feminine carvings as well as for its many snakes, and it is a popular pilgrimage destination for female supplicants seeking to give birth to sons. The Mukteswar Temple is located just a few hundred yards northeast of the Lingaraj Temple. Web: www.orissatourism.org (official tourism website of Odisha).
The Rajarani Temple is another one of the city’s best preserved temples. Although not specifically associated with any single deity, there are extensive carvings and artworks here representing some of Hinduism’s most important female deities, notably Parvati. The sculpture work here is considered to be particularly excellent, and includes numerous erotic works. Because of this the Rajarani is sometimes referred to as the Love Temple. It is located just northeast of the Mukteswar Temple. Web: www.orissatourism.org (official tourism website of Odisha).
There are said to be over a thousand temples in Bhubaneswar. While it would be impossible to visit them all in a short visit, here are some of the best: The Parsurameswar Temple, with its hundreds of tiny linga carvings; the Bhaskareswar Temple and Brahmeswar Temple, also both dedicated to Shiva; the spooky Vaital Temple; the Ananta Vasudeva Temple, and the Lokanath Temple.