“Wohh!! I am not getting into that”, my mother screamed, threw her arms in the air and sat down on the short concrete bench beside the steps of the boating jetty.
There were a few small boats tethered to the jetty, which were raising and falling precariously in rhythmic cycles, as if something was breathing underneath it. May be it was Mahanadi, the river, which had gotten rejuvenated thanks to the relentless rain for the past few days.
Though it was a clear day, but the previous few days had witnessed sustained rain owing to a low pressure on the Bay of Bengal. The river had swelled to epic levels because of this. The color of the water was brown, muddled by the silt it had carried, which didn’t get a chance to settle down because of its fast flow.
It was a rare family weekend trip to Dhabaleswar temple, which is situated on an island surrounded by Mahanadi.
How to Reach:
Dhabaleswar is around 70 KM from Bhubaneswar, a typical drive would take around one and half hour. Public transport is scarce, but available in form of buses from the nearest big cities Cuttack and Jajpur. One can even opt to take a ferry directly to the island from Bidanasi, Cuttack.
A drive of couple of hours took us from Bhubaneswar to the Dhabaleswar parking area, on the banks of the river. There we had to decide whether to take a boat or walk on a pedestrian suspension bridge. As evident from my description of my mother’s outburst, we decided to take the bridge.
The Swinging Bridge:
When I first looked at the bridge it gave me vibes of Laxman Jhula of Rishikesh, albeit on a much smaller scale. The hanging cable stay bridge, also known as ‘jhula pola’ locally, is 245 Ft long and 2 mtr wide, is meant only for pedestrians and cycles. The charges for using the bridge is a mere Rs.2 per person, which by all means is nominal.
Dhabaleswar witnesses more than 13 lakh visitors annually with important festivals like Shivaratri, Pausha Purnima, Dola Purnima and Kartika Purnima being celebrated with great aplomb and fanfare. Today however it were none of those days, coupled with that the unpredictable monsoon in odisha, meant we were the only ones on that bridge.
Walking on the bridge was an experience in itself, with the furious Mahanadi flowing underneath and a mild wind blowing on the top. The loneliness on the bridge was assuring as we could walk in a leisurely pace and soak in the atmosphere. It was fun, we were laughing and joking our way towards the temple. However as we neared the middle, the fun gave way to anxiety.
In the last half of the bridge, the sounds of nature got more clarity. The vehicular traffic was left far behind, and so were the chattering shopkepers on the bank. We could now hear the sound of the cable stretching, and feel the mild swing of the bridge under our feet. A peep over the sides of the bridge gave an uninterrupted view of mahanadi, the assuring banks either behind us or too far ahead. The river was flowing with great speed, generating whirlpools at places. They would appear and disappear and appear again. Some stray branches of trees could also be seen flowing on the water, a testament of the raising water levels in the upstream.
As we were getting closer to the temple we could hear the sounds of bells ringing rhythmically. It was the only assuring sound that we could hear at that point. Once off the bridge, we found our self amidst a few shops selling soft drinks, biscuits, flowers and prasad. The Prasad sold were the usual dry sweeten condiments khaja, gaja and bundi which are a staple in this part of the world. Also on offer were coconut and banana as the fruity options. We avoided those shops and made our way towards the stairs that led into the temple complex.
History of Dhabaleswar Temple:
The king of khurda, Bir Kishore discovered the original temple while on a hunting expedition. The temple was not in a good shape, which pained the king. So he provided land for the construction of a bigger temple in the island, in 1232 AD.
The present temple is however a renovated version. For years boats were the only means of reaching the temple. In the year 2006, the government constructed the suspension bridge, which now provided an alternate route to reach the island.
The present day temple:
The present temple is a reflection of the Kalinga architectural style, which can be seen in almost all temples that dot Bhubaneswar and Puri. A Pindha Deula(comodities hall) followed by the Garbha Griha (shrine) and Rekha Deula (above shrine), similar to what is seen at the Lingaraj Temple or Jagannath Temple. The temples is surrounded by a raised platform, that is covered in marble. There are some shops on the platform as well which dealt in stuff related to puja that one can opt to indulge in.
The temple itself is very modest with multiple embellishments of deities on its walls.Various images of Narasimha, Varah, Karikeya and various identified and unidentified Gods of Hindu religion are present in the temple. Most images are beautifully chiseled out from black chlorite stone. The statues seem oddly out of place on the otherwise plain white temple walls. I am not entirely sure, but they might have been part of the old temple which were salvaged and reinstated in this new one.
The crowd was thin that day considering it was a Saturday. The place gets higher footfalls on Mondays or on days of any special occasions like Shivaratri, Pausha purnima, Dola purnima (usually a day before holi), and Kartika purnima. The major function that happens here is a big fair on the shukla paksha chaturdashi of the month Kartika (as per hindu calendar) called Bada-osha. As per gregorian calendar that happens around November.
The main shrine, has steps leading downwards, at the end of which is a small raised platform with four pillars hoding up a small tapered roof. Its like a puja ghar inside the main shrine. The insides of the platform was loaded with flowers offered to the deity. The deity here is a “swyambhu sivalinga”, which means the lingam was not created, but was a natural occurrence. After hiring the services of a panda, we offered our prayers.
The mythology surrounding Dhabaleswar:
There is a story related to the origins of the temple, which goes like this. Once upon a time, a thief stole a calf from a village and took refuge in a shiva temple when the villagers chased him. The villagers gathered around the temple and started calling the thief out. They could hear the calf’s bleats and thus went on banging the door which the thief had closed.
Sensing imminent punishment the thief prayed to lord shiva and asked for forgiveness. He also promised to mend his ways if god would save him. A sanyasin appeared from no where and asked the thief to accompany her with the calf till the door and promised him to handle the situation and that nothing will happen to him. The thief obliged and followed the sanyasin to the door.
Once she opened the door the villagers, took a look at the calf, and had a bewildered look on their faces. The calf that was stolen was black in color and the one standing in front of them was white. They had no option but to let the thief go. The confused thief started to make his way through the dispersing crowd, unable to understand how the color of the calf changed.
He turned around to thank the sanyasin, only to realise that she was gone. Just as she had appeared in front of him from no where, she has vanished into thin air without any trace. It finally dawned upon the thief that the sanyasin was in fact lord shiva himself, who turned the black calf white, saving his life.
The thief then decided to come clean and begged an apology from the villagers. He returned the calf and dedicated the rest of his life to lord shiva. Since god did the miracle of changing a black calf to white, this temple got named “Dhabaleswar”, which means “white god”.
The return amidst the setting sun:
After spending a few more minutes relaxing in one of the shops, we bid adieu to the quaint temple. On the bridge, while re-living the same terror mixed with ecstasy, we were greeted by the setting sun. Evening was fast approaching and the sight of the setting sun was magical.
More than the temple, it’s the mighty river which manages to stir one’s divine spirit. The evening sun, cast on the island a soft, diffused glow while the horizon of the river turned a gleaming scarlet streak. The unique experience of the hanging bridge and the picturesque surroundings makes this place worth a one-time visit even for the eternal atheist.