How to reach:
As Bhubaneswar is the capital of Odisha, it is well connected to the rest of India via road, rail and air. Once in Bhubaneswar, one can hire a cab or auto to Ravi Talkies Square. The temple stands 1 KM from this place towards the east. One can also cover the beautiful Raja Rani temple and Brahmeswar temple complex, as these all are on the same road.
Its quite natural to assume that a 13th Century temple housing the largest Shiva Linga in Bhubaneswar, the temple city of India, must be quite famous among the pilgrimage and tourism circuits. However as ironic it might sound, Bhaskareswar temple is quite unknown to even the local population.
The ignored history of the temple may be attributed to the fact that its quite simplistic in appearance in comparison to the other more elaborate temples in its vicinity, or to some controversies related to its origins.
Bhubaneswar is known as the Temple City of India, owing to the vast number of ancient temples the city has on offer. While most of the old temples follow a similar template, this particular temple is hugely different from them all. Bhaskareswar temple, situated in the eastern part of the city, is unique, not only because of the Shiva Linga, but also because of its architecture.
Temples belonging to the Kalinga architecture follow a very similar pattern, comprising of a rectangular shaped Jagamohana (prayer hall), followed by the Deula (main sanctum) where the deity resides. Pilgrims typically stand in the Jagamohana, to offer their prayers, while the priest performs the rituals inside the Deula.
In case of this temple there is a complete absence of a Jagamohana and there is no evidence that there ever was one. The temple consists of a 4 mtr high base, on which the main tower stands. This base and tower configuration is a very unusual structure for the region as such a configuration is not seen anywhere else in Odisha.
Above the platform is the main tower, which extends to around 5 storeys. At times it seems like the structure is modeled like a chariot, similar to the Konark temple, however the body of Bhaskareswar Temple is devoid of any intricate stone work. Its as simple as it gets, with the only ornamentation on the exterior temple walls are the parshvadevatas; Kartikeya, Parvati and Ganesha.
Origin and Controversies:
My home is at a very close proximity to the temple, and since my childhood, I have heard stories surrounding the intriguing Shiva Linga. It was widely believed in our local community that the Linga was continually growing, inch by inch every year. It was professized that if the idol keeps growing, one day it will spell doom, either by cracking the earth or by blocking the Sun. One fine day a devout worshiper of Shiva came, placed his palm on the idol and prayed for it to stay as is. Since that day, the idol stopped growing and was later enshrined by the Ganga Dynasty kings, so that it could be worshipped in peace.
Historians however don’t agree with this version and have postulated a Mauryan origin to the Linga. Ashoka, had fought the Kalinga war on the fringes of Daya river, which is not far from here. It is widely believed that post the war, Ashoka established a Lion Capital around this area. The remains of the same in form of a Buddhist Stupa railing pillar and Budhist idols had also been discovered in the nearby Badagada village, which is currently on display in the State Museum.
Historians believe that this Linga is in fact the remains of an Ashokan Pillar, which over time broke down and was shaped as a Shiva Linga some around the 11th Century. Post which a temple was constructed around it in the 12th Century.
This line of thought has however rained controversy as the local community refuse to believe this version, and are resolute on the mythical origin of the Linga. There is no definitive way of confirming either school of thought, hence the origin till this day remains shrouded in mystery and myth.
The temple stands in the middle of an intricately manicured park, with many flowering plants and some huge trees. The park is a rough square and the temple stands nearer to the North Western half of the square.
There are two entrances to the park one on the Northern and one on the Southern Side. A paved walking trail is also constructed, connecting both these entrances. This walking trail also goes around the park, skirting the boundary, serving as a boon for the joggers and walkers of the area.
There is a 2 feet high stone base on top of which the temple structure stands. The ground floor of the temple is square in shape, with entrances on all sides, however only the western entrance is used for darshans. Rest of the doors are blocked off. The vahan of Lord Shiva Nandi, stands guard in front of this western entrance, looking straight into the lord’s abode.
A metal door, made of wire mesh, opens into a narrow pathway that leads into the inner sanctum. At the ground level, only the base of the Shiva Linga can be seen, the top being hidden by the roof. There are a few arches that can be seen from here, which are a recent addition to the structure, for added strength.
In order to view the top of the Linga one needs to climb a flight of stairs to reach the first floor of the structure. On the first floor there is only one entrance on the western side, the rest of the three sides, have small engraved windows, which houses the idols of the parshvadevatas Ganesh, Parvati and Kartikeya.
While on the first floor once must be very cautious about their steps, as there is no boundary or railing here. Once miss step and you plummet down to the stone base on the ground level.
The first floor offers a glimpse of the top of the Shiva Linga, which has a brass snake wound around it. Smaller Shiva Lingas donated by pilgrims, adorn the inner walls of the sanctum. A colourful handcrafted Applique cover, acts as a large umbrella over the lord. The stone floor ends near the Shiva Linga, where all rituals are carried out.
During my childhood, there was no metal door on the entry and we could walk up to the Shiva Linga. However now a days only the priest is allowed to go near for rituals, while devotees must stand at the door. This is very good considering, the 9 ft drop at the ledge.
Major Festivities in the Temple:
As per Hindu calendar, on the day of Magha Saptami (January-February), the temple hosts its biggest festivity, when the movable image of Lord Lingaraj (Chandrasekhar), is brought to Bhaskareswar temple. The lord is bathed, clothed, worshiped and feasted amidst the rejoicing of the assembled crowd and loud music before bring brought back to his original abode in the afternoon.
This ceremonial visit attests the fact that Bhaskareswar temple held an important position during the old days, thus the overlord of the town, Lord Lingaraj, pays an annual commemorative visit to his previous counterpart.
Being slightly removed from the clusters of ancient monuments in the center of Bhubaneswar old city, Bhaskareswar Temple seems to receive very few visitors. The fact that this temple stands right on a crossing on the road, called Brahmeswar Square, which in fact is the name of another temple in the vicinity, is another testament to the ignored history of the temple.
This is a great shame as the temple which boasts of the largest Shiva Linga of the city, and an architecture that’s so much different than every other temple around it, has remained unknown for such a long time.