Odisha File

S Balakrishnan
For long I had wanted to take my family members to Odisha where I worked in Cuttack, the State’s old capital, during 1980-83 (for 3 years after being transferred from Port Blair, my 1st place of posting). From Cuttack I was shifted to Gangtok, Sikkim. I loved Odisha’s art & culture so much that I wanted my family members also to experience it. So I took my wife and daughter to Odisha for a week-long trip in 2018, spending our own money; alas, no more LTC facility as this was two years after my retirement! Odisha has a hoary heritage, dating back to B.C. period. And, besides Hinduism, other religions like Buddhism and Jainism have added to its rich amalgamation of religious culture & tradition. I was excited of my revisit after 35 years; I was also apprehensive that changes/modern developments might give a shock treatment to me. For instance, even the name has changed from Orissa to Odisha. Well,  ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’ ! This is Day One from my Odisha File -
We boarded the Indigo Airlines 6E-141 (Not Business Class but only Economy Class because we were not on a business trip!). We took off from Chennai on 24 Wed.  Jan. 2018 at 1230 hrs., landing in Bhubaneswar (BBS) at 1420 hrs. (after 1hr.50m). Instead of welcoming the honourable guests, the Temple Town was shut down; it was facing a bandh against a molestation case (a tribal girl of Kunduli in Koraput alleged that uniformed men had molested her some three months back; fed up of inaction and threats by police to keep quiet, she committed suicide yesterday. The bandh by Congress & BJP is against the ruling party, Naveen Patnaik’s  Biju Janata Dal-BJD). Oh, what a sad beginning! This reminds me of the 1980 Hindi movie Aakrosh based on a tribal’s predicament in such a situation. What a stellar performance by Om Puri! Incidentally, while Orissa was then ruled by Biju Patnaik (of Congress), now it was being ruled by his son Naveen Patnaik who has formed his own political party and named it after his father. It seems Special Investigation Team (SIT) is still probing the case. RIP?
We hired a taxi for Rs.300 (usual charge could be 200) and reached the pre-booked Home Stay (Odisha Home Stay, A/7, Ashok Nagar, Bhubaneswar, Odisha - 751009). After settling down there and refreshing, we visited Lingaraja Temple, the landmark of BBS, around which the life of the city revolves. The city is called the Cathedral City of the East because of the hundreds of temples that dot the city. Whereas once there were 7000 temples – big & small - now only 500 of them have survived. BBS is also revered as the Ekamara Kshetra, as the ‘swayambu’ Shivlinga of Lingaraja Temple was originally under a mango (aam) tree.
Lingaraja Temple, they say, set the trend for the Odisha temple architecture; such a beauty! It was built some 1100 years back; its origin is mysterious. It precedes the Konark Sun Temple (13th century) and even the Puri Jagannath Temple (12th century). A guide took us inside but just left us inside the sanctum sanctorum and disappeared, though we thought he would take us on a tour around the temple complex and explain. Probably he took us for routine devotees interested only in darshan. We foolishly paid Rs.50 to him for this! Though photography is prohibited inside, people were clicking even selfies. How could you control Selfie maniacs! Encouraged thus, I too secretly clicked a few with my mobile phone despite the fear of it being seized. As we came out we felt lucky when we noticed security guards frisking devotees entering the temple. Therefore, my B&W snaps of 1982-83 are treasures indeed.
Lingaraja Temple is in Nagara architectural style (Indo-Aryan). The tower above the sanctum rises to 150 ft. height. There are many tiny shrines each with a Shivling and a metal snake spreading its hood atop. There could be as many as 50 shrines inside, of various size, period and having various deities, probably salvaged from temples that were damaged in course of time. I shelled out another 150 rupees for the puja inside and the sweet prasad. Parvati mandir was a later addition, but a beautiful wholesome edifice. The eastern entrance has the customary pair of Lions guarding it; hence this entrance is called Simha/Singha Dwara. But here there are two parallel pairs. The entrance is beautifully done with the Navgraha (Nine Planets) panel at lintel level. The temple has a flag post with images of Nandhi as well as Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu! It was disgusting that right inside the sanctum sanctorum and right in front of the deity the pandas (priests) were canvassing with the gullible devotees!
Coming out, we went to the raised platform abutting the compound wall of the temple. This has been constructed to enable non-Hindus, who are prohibited from entering the temple, to have a view of the temple complex from outside. From the raised platform we snapped as the sun set behind the temple creating a silhouette image. A marble tablet there gives details about the restoration work of Lingaraja & Parbati Temples undertaken in 1925 by the then British Governor of Bihar & Orissa, Sir Henry Wheeler. The work was over in 1929 when Sir Hugh Stephenson was the Governor. The total expenditure was Rs.1,36,097, out of which Government contribution was Rs.73,423 and from private sources Rs.62,674.
The atmosphere outside the Lingaraja temple complex was so interesting with evening bazaar having sprung up, selling paneer/khova for mithai making (rosagulla; incidentally, there is a dispute between Bengal and Odisha about the nativity of rosagulla), flowers, puja items, vegetables & fruits, religious flags, etc. I was surprised that idli, the South Indian dish, was being cooked and sold in roadside eateries. I was tempted to taste it but my wife chided me not to risk my sensitive stomach during travel. A massive black bull (the mount of Lord Lingaraja) majestically strutted around in the streets.  As we leisurely walked back to the home stay room for supper, we passed by Bindusagar Tank. The sweet smell of cooked rice prasad wafted in the air as a tempo carried it to the temple. In a nearby building, earthen pots for cooking the prasad were stacked up to the ceiling height. I was happy that the first day of our tour was fruitful with the blessings of Lingaraja!
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