Odisha is famous for its incredible monuments including monasteries dating from the 6th century and stunning temples, which are some of India’s most amazing. The sandstone temples around Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark, site of the Konark Sun Temple, form a so-called ‘golden triangle’ to visit.
This sublimely beautiful temple is just 65km away from Bhubaneswar, making the trip an easy day’s outing. It can also be an essential stopover on the way to Puri. The Sun Temple dates from the 13th century and is dedicated to the sun god Surya – the entire temple is meant to represent his horse-drawn chariot bringing the sun to light the day. Twenty-four stone wheels representing the hours of the day support the stone chariot.
This temple was once by the sea, but changes in the coastline have meant that it is now well inland. Unfortunately the 40m-high sikhara (spire) has partially collapsed. Why is unclear. Suggestions range from natural damage to deliberate destruction of the temple by Muslim armies between the 15th and 17th centuries. When it was nearer the sea it was a landmark for passing ships and was known as the Black Pagoda because its great tower appeared black in colour. The temple that exists today was partially restored by the conservation efforts of British India-era archaeological teams.
The Sun Temple’s base and walls present a historical storyboard of life and love in a continuous procession of carvings. Some are erotic and include entwined couples as well as solitary exhibitionists. Others include a dancer with high-heeled shoes, a giraffe (indicating that this area once traded with Africa), women cooking and men hunting. Guides are available to provide their colourful insights but make sure your guide is registered.
Five galleries display statues and artefacts preserved from the Sun Temple site. Of particular interest are the pre-restoration photographs showing just the sikhara sticking out of sand dunes.
These three Buddhist ruins are on hilltops about 100km northeast of Bhubaneswar.
Two large monasteries flourished at Ratnagiri from the 6th to 12th centuries. Noteworthy is an exquisitely carved gateway and remains of a 10m-high stupa. A museum on site contains sculptures from all three Buddhist sites.
Not to be confused with the caves near Bhubaneswar bearing the same name. This is another monastery complex with a main feature of a large pyramidal brick stupa with a seated Buddha and some beautiful doorjamb carvings. These monasteries, are believed to have been active between the 7th and the 12th centuries.
The remains of several monasteries dating back to the first century AD are believed to be the oldest Buddhist ruins. They are scattered up a hillside leading to a small stupa. During excavations of the stupa in the 1970s, two stone caskets were discovered. One contained gold and silver relics and the other bones that are suggested to be those of the Buddha. Within the complex are a large number of statues.
Puri attracts visitors for its seaside and pilgrims to the amazing Jagannath Temple, an important Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath, a form of lord Vishnu, plus his brother and sister.
The 10th-century temple complex is only open to Hindus while everyone else can spy from the Raghunandan Library roof opposite for a donation.
Every June or July, the date changes annually a bit like the Christian Easter, the Puri temple is famous for its annual Ratha yatra, or chariot festival, in which the three principal deities are pulled on huge and elaborately decorated chariots built to represent temples. They are pulled along by ropes and thousands of hands to another nearby temple where they have a nine-day holiday. At the end of this they are pulled back again to their main home. The chariots have given their name to the English term Juggernaut.
This is just a taster of the many incredible monuments of Odisha (formerly Orissa); follow this link for more temples.