The Lingaraj Temple, Bhubnashwar, Odisha, India

The Lingaraj Temple, Bhubnashwar, Odisha

Bhubaneshwar the capital of Odisha is a city of temples, several of which are important from an architectural standpoint. The Lingaraj temple - the largest of these is an outstanding specimen of the Orissa style of temple building. It is about a thousand years old. Bhubaneshwar, Konarak and Puri constitute the Golden triangle of Orissa, visited in large numbers by pilgrims and tourists.Bhubaneshwar is also a revered pilgrimage center, referred to in the Bhrama Purana. The Bhrama Purana refers to Bhubaneshwar as the Ekamra Kshetra enshrining a crore Shiva Lingas. Lingaraja Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Harihara, a form of Shiva and Vishnu and is one of the oldest temples in Bhubaneswar. The temple is the most prominent landmark of the Bhubaneswar city and one of the major tourist attractions of the state. Lingaraj, literally means the king of Lingam, the iconic form or Shiva. Shiva was originally worshipped as Kirtivasa and later as Harihara and is commonly referred as Tribhuvaneshwara (also called Bhubaneswar), the master of three worlds, namely, heaven, earth and netherworld. His consort is called Bhuvaneshvari. Lingaraj Temple is believed to be the oldest and largest temple of Bhubaneshwar. The temple of Lingaraja is highly revered by the followers of Hinduism.  The term 'Lingaraj' suggests 'the king of Lingas', where 'linga' is the phallic form of Lord Shiva. In the 11th century, Lingaraj Temple was built by the King Jajati Keshari, who belonged to Soma Vansh. It is thought that when the King shifted his capital from Jaipur to Bhubaneshwar, he started the construction of Lingaraj Temple. It's located in the old city part of Bhubaneswar city. There is a Shiva Linga in the Garbha Griha of the temple. The temple premise is vast and several miniatures temples are present across the complex. Divinity is in the air here.
Bhubaneswar is called the Ekamra Kshetra as the deity of Lingaraj was originally under a mango tree (Ekamra) as noted in Ekamra Purana, a 13th-century Sanskrit treatise. Ekamra Purana, a Sanskrit treatise of the 13th century mentions that the presiding deity was not seen as lingam (an aniconic form of Shiva) during the Satya and Treta yugas and only during the Dwapara and Kali Yuga yugas, it emerged as a lingam. The lingam in the temple is a natural unshaped stone that rests on a Sakti. Such a lingam is called Krutibasa or Swayambhu and is found in 64 places in different parts of India. The Ekamra was associated with Vaishanavite gods Krishna and Balaram during the period.The Lingaraja temple is active in worship practises, unlike the other ancient temples of Bhubaneshwar which are not active worship centres. Non Hindus are not allowed inside the temple, but it can be viewed from the viewing platform located outside the temple.  Sanctity of the temple is maitained by disallowing dogs, unbathed visitors, mensturating women and families that encountered birth or death in the preceding 12 days. In case of a foreign trespass, the temple follows a purification ritual and dumping of prasad (food offering) in a well.
As per Hindu legend, an underground river originating from the Lingaraj temple fills the Bindusagar Tank (meaning ocean drop) and the water is believed to heal physical and spiritual illness. The water from the tank is thus treated sacred and pilgrims take a holy dip during festive occasions. Legend has it that Shiva revealed to Parvati that Bhubaneshwar - or Ekamra thirtha was a resort favoured by him over Benares. Parvati in the guise of a cowherd woman, decided to look at the city herself. Two demons Kritti and Vasa desired to marry her. She requested them to carry her upon their shoulders, and crushed them under her weight. Shiva, then created the Bindu Saras lake to quench her thirt, and took abode here as Krittivasas or Lingaraja.

The remarkable structure of the temple gives the tint of Kalinga style of architecture. The aesthetic sculptures look at their apex in this architectural exhibition. Erected in red sandstone, Lingraj Temple has the stone of the darkest shade. The huge temple complex covers the vast lands of Bhubaneshwar in a stretch. The tall spire of the temple extends to the height of 55 meters and literally, dominates the skyline of Bhubaneshwar. The spacious courtyard comprises 50 small shrines that are dedicated to several Gods of the Hindu pantheon. All the shrines are safe under the kind fortification made by the massive walls that are carved beautifully with sculptures. One can enter the temple complex through 'Simha Dwara' (the Lion's Gate), where lions flank both the sides, crushing elephants under their feet. An optical effect is produced with the deep cut warped lines that run perpendicularly on the spire. Due to this, the temple looks much larger than what actually it is. Moreover, the spire of the temple has diminutive replicas of itself in the steeples that are incorporated perfectly in the entire structure of the temple. Actually, the temple is divided into four parts, the Garbh Griha, the Yajna Shala, the Bhoga Mandap and the Natya Shala respectively. In the Garbh Griha (Sanctum Sanctorum), the lingam of Lord Shiva is regarded as 'Swayambhu' (Self-originated) and it is worshipped as both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. On the main entrance, one can see a trident (Lord Shiva) and Chakra (Lord Vishnu) on the either side of the door. The concord of the two sects can be seen here, where the deity is worshipped as Hari-Hara. The term 'Hari' refers to Lord Vishnu and 'Hara' refers to Lord Shiva.This massive image of 'Linga' appears to be of granite stone. The 'Lingam' is bathed with water, milk and bhang every day. Apart from Garbh Griha, the 'Nata Mandir' provides a hint for its close alliance with the devadasi tradition. Besides the Lingam, the parsva devta adores the site, where Lord Ganesha, Lord Kartikay and Goddess Parvati are placed in different directions. All the images are huge and present an excellent workmanship of the artists. The images are festooned with rich draperies and ornaments.






The Lingaraja temple is the largest temple in Bhubaneswar. The Lingaraja temple is said to have been built first by the ruler Yayati Kesari in the 7th century who shifted his capital from Jaipur to Bhubaneshwar. Bhubaneshwar remained as the Kesari capital, till Nripati Kesari founded Cuttck in the 10th century. Inscriptions from the period of the Kalinga King Anangabhima III from the 13th century are seen here.Structurally, the Parasurameswara temple at Bhubaneshwar is the oldest, dating back to the middle of the 8th century, and the Lingaraja is temple is assigned to the 10th century. The  nata mandir and the bhog mandir of the Lingaraja temple are of later origin.The temple in its present form dates back to the last decade of the eleventh century. There is evidence that part of the temple was built during the sixth century CE as mentioned in some of the seventh century Sanskrit texts. Fergusson believes that the temple might have been initiated by Lalat Indu Keshari who reigned from 615 to 657 CE. The Assembly hall (jagamohana), sanctum and temple tower were built during the eleventh century, while the Hall of offering (bhoga-mandapa) was built during the twelfth century. The natamandira was built by the wife of Salini between 1099 and 1104 CE. By the time the Lingaraj temple was completely constructed, the Jagannath (form of Vishnu) sect had been growing in the region, which historians believe, is evidenced by the co-existence of Vishnu and Shiva worship at the temple. The kings of Ganga dynasty were ardent followers of Vaishnavism and built the Jagannath Temple at Puri in the 12th century.As per some accounts, the temple is believed to have been built by the Somavanshi king Yayati I (1025-1040), during the 11th century CE. Jajati Keshari shifted his capital from Jajpur to Bhubaneswar which was referred to as Ekamra Kshetra in the Brahma Purana, an ancient scripture. One of the Somavamsi queens donated a village to the temple and the Brahmins attached to the temple received generous grants. An inscription from the Saka year 1094 (1172 CE) indicates gifts of gold coins to the temple by Rajaraja II. Another inscription of Narasimha I from the 11th century indicates offer of beetel leaves as tambula to the presiding deity. Other stone inscriptions in the temple indicate royal grants from Chodaganga to the nearby village people.The temple is believed to be built by the kings from the Somavamsi dynasty, with later additions from the Ganga rulers. The temple is built in the Deula style that has four components namely, vimana (structure containing the sanctum), jagamohana (assembly hall), natamandira (festival hall) and bhoga-mandapa (hall of offerings), each increasing in the height to its predecessor. James Ferugsson (1808–86), a noted critic and historian rated the temple as "one of the finest examples of purely Hindu temple in India". It is enshrined within a spacious compound wall of laterite measuring 520 ft (160 m) by 465 ft (142 m). The wall is 7.5 ft (2.3 m) thick and surmounted by a plain slant coping. Alongside the inner face of the boundary wall, there is a terrace to protect the compound wall against outside aggression. The tower is 45.11 m (148.0 ft) high and the complex has 150 smaller shrines in its spacious courtyard. Each inch of the 55 m (180 ft) tall tower is sculpted. The door in the gate of the entrance porch is made of sandalwood. The Lingaraja temple faces east and is built of sandstone and laterite. The main entrance is located in the east, while there are small entrances in the north and south. The dance hall was associated with the raising prominence of the devadasi system that existed during the time. The bhogamandapa (Hall of offering) measures 42 ft (13 m)*42 ft (13 m) from the inside, 56.25 ft (17.15 m)*56.25 ft (17.15 m) from the outside and has four doors in each of the sides. The exterior walls of the hall has decorative sculptures of men and beast. The hall has a pyramidal roof made of up several horizontal layers arranged in sets of two with intervening platform. It bears an inverted bell and a kalasa in the top. The natamandira (festival hall) measures 38 ft (12 m)*38 ft (12 m) from the inside, 50 ft (15 m)*50 ft (15 m) from the outside, has one main entrance and two side entrances. The side walls of the hall has decortive sculptures displaying women and couples. It has a flat roof sloping in stages. There are thick pylons inside the hall. The jagamohana (assembly hall) measures 35 ft (11 m)*30 ft (9.1 m) from the inside, 55 ft (17 m)*50 ft (15 m) from the outside, entrances from south and north and has a 30 metres (98 ft) tall roof. The hall has a pyramidal roof made of up several horizontal layers arranged in sets of two with intervening platform as in the Hall of offering. The facade to the entrances is decorated with perforated windows with lion sitting on hind legs. The inverted bell above second unit is adorned by kalasa and lions. The rekha deula has a 60 m (200 ft) tall pyramidal tower over the sanctum and measures 22 ft (6.7 m)*22 ft (6.7 m) from the inside, 52 ft (16 m)*52 ft (16 m) from the outside over the sanctum. It is covered with decorative design and seated lion projecting from the walls. The sanctum is square in shape from the inside. The tower walls are sculpted with female figures in different poses.The temple has a vast courtyard mired with hundreds of small shrines.
It is attributed the raising prominence of Jagannath sect that became predominant during the construction of the temple. The Gangas remodelled the temple and introduced certain Vaishnavite elements like images of Vaishnava Dwarapalas namely Jaya and Prachanda, Jagannatha, Lakshmi Narayan and Garuda were installed. Tulsi leaves, which are favoured by Vishnu, was used along with Bela leaves for the worship of Lingaraj. Lingaraja  thus came to be known as Harihara, a combination of Shiva and Vishnu. The flag of the temple was fixed to a Pinaka bow instead of trident usually found in Shiva temples. The temple priests also changed the mark in their forehead from horizontal to a "U" sign with a dotted middle line. The Gangas also introduced certain fairs like Swing festival, Sun worship and mock quarrel between priests after chariot festival, similar to the practises in Jagannath Temple in Puri. The influence of the Ganga dynasty has led to a cosmopolitan culture that has reduced the status of Lingaraja temple as a distinct Saivite shrine.

Rukuna Rath yatra is an annual Rath yatra of Lingaraj. Every year the chariot festival (Ratha-Yatra) of Lingaraja is celebrated on Ashokashtami. The deity is taken in a chariot to Rameshwar Deula temple. Thousands of devotees follow and pull brightly decorated chariots containing the idols of Lingaraj and his sister Rukmani.
Shivaratri is the main festival celebrated annually in Phalgun month when thousands of devotees visit the temple. Apart from a full day of fasting, bel leaves are offered to Lingaraj on this auspicious day. The main celebrations take place at night when devotees pray all night long. The devout usually break their fast after the Mahadipa (a huge lamp) is lit on the spire of the temple. This festival commemorates Lingaraj having slayed a demon. Thousands of bol bom pilgrims carry water from river Mahanadi and walk all the way to the temple during the month of Shravana every year. Sunian day is observed from royal times in the month of Bhandra, a day when temple servants, peasants and other holders of temple lands offer loyalty and tribute to Lingaraja. Candan Yatra (Sandalwood ceremony) is a 22-day festival celebrated in the temple when servants of the temple disport themselves in a specially made barge in Bindusagar tank. The deities and servants of the temples are anointed with sandalwood paste to protect from heat. Dances, communal feasts and merrymaking are arranged by the people associated with the temple.
The image of Lingaraja is abluted with water (called mahasnana) several times a day and decorated with flowers, sandal paste and cloth. Hemlock or hemlock flowers which are generally offered in other Shiva temples is not allowed in the Lingaraja temple. Bilva leaves (Aegle marmelos) and tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) are used in daily worship. Offerings of cooked rice, curries and sweets are displayed in the bhogamandapa (hall of offering) and the divinity is invoked to accept them amidst scores of chanting of Sanskrit texts. Coconut, ripe plantains and kora-khai are generally offered to Lingaraja by the pilgrims. Bhang beverage is offered to Lingaraja by some devotees especially on the day of Pana Sankranti (Odia new year).


The Lingaraja temple is open from 6 a.m. to about 9 p.m. and is intermittently closed during bhoga (food offering) to the deity. During early morning, lamps in the cella are lit to awaken Lingaraja from his sleep, ablution is performed, followed by adoration and arati (waving of light). The temple is closed at about 12 noon until about 3.30 p.m. A ceremony known as Mahasnana (ablution) is performed once the doors are closed, followed by pouring of Panchamrita (a mixture of milk, curdled milk, clarified butter, honey and ghee) upon the deity for purification. At about 1:00 p.m., a ripe plantain is divided into two, one half is offered to Sun god and the other half to Dwarapala (the guarding deities in the doorway). Between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. the food offering called Ballabha Bhoga (breakfast containing curdled milk, curd and vegetables) is offered to the deity. The consecrated food is carried to the temple of Parvati and placed before her as an offering, a practice commonly observed by the orthodox Hindu housewives. At about 2 p.m., the Sakala Dhupa (morning's offering of food) takes place. After the food is offered to Lingaraja, the offerings are carried to the temple of Parvati to serve her. An offering called Bhanda Dhupa is carried out at 3:30 p.m. at the hall of offering. This food is later offered by the inmates to the pilgrims as Mahaprasada.
A light refreshment known as Ballabha Dhupa is offered to the deity at around 4:30 p.m. At around 5:00 p.m., Dwipahar Dhupa (mid day meal) is offered. At around 7 p.m., another offering called Palia Badu is placed before the deity. Sandhya arati (waving of lights in the evening) is performed during that time. Another light meal called Sahana Dhupa is offered at around 8:30 p.m. After the meals, the ceremony of waving light (arati) is performed before the deity. At 9.30 p.m., the last service of the day, Bada Singara (the great decoration) is performed when the deity is decorated with flowers and ornaments after which a light food offering is made. A wooden palanquin is laid in the room, incense is lighted, drinking water is served and prepared betel is placed. Panchabaktra Mahadeva comes to the palanquin and returns to his own abode after the arati is performed. This is a bronze image of Mahadeva having five faces and Parvati in his lap. Each of these ceremonies is accompanied by ritual observances and recitations of mantras (Sanskrit texts) specified for each occasion.

King Jajati Keshari, believed to be the founder of the Lingaraja temple, deputed Brahmins who had migrated to south India as temple priests over the local Brahmins on account of their increased knowledge of Shaivism, due to increasing invasions from muslim invaders. The focus was to enhance the temple practises from tribal rites to Sanskritic. While the exact number of castes involved in the nijogas (practises) is not known, Brahmins, tribal worshippers and inmates from Untouchable castes are believed to be part of the setup. Bose (1958) identified 41 services with the involvement of 22 separate castes and Mahaptra (1978) identified 30 services. It is understood from the records that kings and temple managers of different times introduced or discontinued certain services, fairs, offerings and caste-centred core services during their regime. As of 2012, the temple practised 36 different services (nijogas).


In modern times, the Lingaraja temple priests are from two communities, namely Brahman Nijog and Badu Nijog. The Badu are non-Brahmin servant groups, whose origin is not ascertained due to unavailability of authentic records, while they are described as Vadu in chapter 62 of the Ekamrapurana. The caste group of Badu is called Niyoga, which elects the officers every year during the Sandalwood festival. Every Badu undergoes three distinct rites, namely, ear-piercing, marriage and god-touching. Historically, the Badus performed five different temple duties - Paliabadu and Pharaka, which were considered important and Pochha, Pahada and Khataseja, which were considered inferior. From 1962, only Paliabadu and Pharaka practises are followed and the others are discontinued. The Badus also carry out ablution and dressing of the images of Siddhaganesh and Gopalini. The temple is maintained by the Temple Trust Board and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The temple is guarded by security personnel deputed by the Police Commissioner of Bhubaneswar and security guards appointed by the temple administration. The temple has an average of 6,000 visitors every day and receives lakhs of visitors during festivals. The Shivaratri festival during 2012 witnessed 200,000 visitors. As of 2011, the annual income of Lingaraja temple from hundis (donation boxes) is around ₹1.2 million per annum. Another ₹4 million is collected annually from other sources like rents from shops, cycle stands and agriculture lands. Starting 2011, the temple charges an amount for six types of religious worship (special pujas) carried out by the devotees.
Lingaraj Temple depicts the rich legacy of Indian culture and traditions. The Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar is a fine exhibition of divinity and unique structural skills that the city continues to boast of. The colossal temple attracts thousands of devotees and pilgrims to its doorstep every year. The spiritual ecstasy offered by the temple is worth feeling for once. Lingaraja temple is maintained by the Temple Trust Board and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The temple has an average of 6,000 visitors per day and receives lakhs of visitors during festivals. Shivaratri festival is the major festival celebrated in the temple and event during 2012 witnessed 200,000 visitors.


One can easily reach Lingaraj Temple by taking local buses or by hiring Taxis from the city of Bhubaneshwar. The city is one of the popular tourist spots for both holiday makers and pilgrims around the country. The Bjiu Patnaik Airport is located in the heart of the city centre and mainly operates domestic airlines. There are several flights that commute back and forth to metros in the country, on a daily basis. Some of the cities connecting to Bhubaneswar by air are New Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore. Bhubaneswar is the headquarters of the East coast of the Railway Division, this city is well connected to other major railway junctions in India.  The city has good private and public bus service that runs on the state and national highway. 

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