Bhubaneswar the capital of Odisha is a city of temples. Not only from religious point of view, several of these temples are important from an architectural standpoint. The Lingaraja or Lingaraj temple - the largest of these is a highly revered Shiva temple and it is an outstanding specimen of the Orissa/Odisha style of temple building. It is over a thousand years old. Bhubaneswar, Konark and Puri; the three temple towns constitute the Golden triangle of Orissa. We are extremely happy to have visited these three significant, ancient and historic places of pilgrimage, very recently.
Bhubaneswar is a highly revered pilgrimage center since ancient times. The Bramha Purana refers to Bhubaneswar as the Ekamra Kshetra enshrining countless Shivalingas. More than 400 temples, dated between 7th and 13th centuries, remain here today out of the 7,000 that are once said to have dotted the city. The total number of temples included in this area at one time, as recorded in the hyperbolic language of Ekamra Purana, was a hundred thousand while the Shivalingas numbered ten million (one crore)!
The extant temples were built largely by rulers of the Shailobhava, Bhaumakara, Somavamshi and Ganga dynasties. The overwhelming sanctity of the region led the rulers, driven by the hope of eternal blessings, to vie with one another in building temples of all dimensions.
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 Bhubaneswar. Bhubaneswar remained as the Kesari capital, till Nripati Kesari founded Cuttack in the 10th century. According to an inscription on the wall of jagamohana, Lingaraja temple is dated to the 11th century, to the reign of the Ganga king, Anantavarman Chodaganga.
Lingaraja temple was originally known as Krittivasas and from the very beginning it has been the most revered temple in Bhubaneswar. The crowning glory of the temple is its 55 metre (180 feet) tall great tower or shikara of the deul that dominates not just the temple but also the town of Bhubaneswar. ‘In the elegance of its proportions and sculptural richness, it is one of the most finished and refined manifestations of temple-architecture in India’. The main temple consists of four structures, all in the same axial alignment, viz., deul or Sri Mandir or Vimana, jagamohana or the Hall (Mandapa), nata mandira or the Dancing Hall, and bhoga mandapa or bhoga mandira or the Hall of offerings. And surrounding the main temple are many minor temples in its vast courtyard covering over 2,50,000 square feet. The Shivalingam in the sanctum of the Lingaraja temple rises to a height of 8 inches above the floor level, and is 8 feet in diameter!
Legend has it that Shiva revealed to Parvati that Bhubaneswar - or Ekamra Thirtha was a resort favored by him over Banaras. 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 thirst, and took abode here as Krittivasas or Lingaraja. The vast Bindu Sagar Lake is the center around which are located the multitude of temples of Bhubaneswar. It is believed that a Hindu pilgrimage to Bhubaneswar must begin with a dip in its sacred waters followed by the worship of Lingaraja, to attain moksha or liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.
A total of 22 worship services are offered here each day and there are several annual rituals. Once a year, an image of Lingaraja is taken to the Jalamandir in the center of the Bindu Sagar Lake. Every day over 6,000 pilgrims visit the temple and on special occasions it is in several thousands and on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri it touches 2 lakhs!