Blessings!!!

It was a beautiful day when we decided to head towards the Satapada side of the beautiful Chilika lake. Little did I realise that I was in tryst with history and spirituality. Well yes, I was aware that I would be going down the Srikethra road, Puri but the knowledge of the heritage and that too of this small places was absolutely unknown to me. That is when the elders and people in the locality share their expertise. As we took the outer road bypassing puri, we got onto the road to Chilika, Satapada. 20161006_091244I was surprised with the quality of the road that we drove on. The Odisha government seems to have really maimage031de the roads comfortable & driver friendly. The drive on these beautiful road is flanked by coconut trees and lush paddy fields. It was that time of the season when the paddy fields were filled with lily. They gave the place a beautiful combination of white and green.

A drive of 20 kms from the Shree Jagannath temple, we came up to a small
bustling Odisha village of Bentapur at Brahmagiri. The main road divides the village of Bentapur and the hoarding will guide you to the temple. The temple which is hardly a 300 meter drive  of the main road, through a small lane enough for two small cars to pass through.

The narrow lane opens up as we come close to the entrance of the temple which seems to have been bathed in white. The architectural design is similar to that of the Shree Jagannath temple at Puri. One could say this to be a miniature version of the main temple.

I parked my car and paid Rs 30/- for parking in front of the temple. There is not much space though to park anywhere there.

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There is a folklore which takes us back to “Satya yuga” where Lord Brahma prayed for Lord Vishu on top of a hill. Being mighty pleased with the way Lord Brahma worshiped and prayed, Lord Vishu asked him to build a four armed idol made of single black stone carrying his four symbols.. Sankha, Chakra, Gada & Padma (Conch, Disc, Mace & Lotus) and since Lord Brahma prayed on this hill top, it came to be named as Brahmagiri (Hill of Brahma).

There are many mixed stories that have emerged with regard to the name and establishment of this temple. One speaks of its connection with North of this country, which brings Rajasthan down here all the way to Puri as the rulers of Alwar, Rajasthan who are supposed to have built this temple and hence the name, Alwarnath or Alarnath.

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While there is another that talks about the high priests from the south, prior to Shri Ramnujacharya, known as Alvars had come down to perform the puja and hence the name Alvar-natha or Lord of Alvars.

This temple as per records was built by King Madan Mahadev in 1128 AD.

It is said that, when Lord Jagannath goes into Anavasara (Two weeks of rest when the lord gets high fever) and is not accessible to anyone. This happens just after the annual bathing ritual (Snana yatra) during the months of June / July every year. During this period, the devotees go to “Alarnath Temple” and get his blessings. The crowd really swells up during those fourteen days.

31280812052_ff353db71f_oOnce you get into the sanctum, one would be mesmerised by the beautiful four handed pitch black Idol. When the crowd is less, the priest also does talk about the folklore of the lord having burnt his thumb and some places on his chest as hot rice milk pudding (Kheer) had fallen on him while HE was trying to have it. It had slipped and fallen over HIM. The priest did remove the flowers to show us the spots. Today the Kheer is the prasad that one could get in the morning and evening hours.

It is said that this idol has resemblance to that of Lord Krishna except that this idol also signifies aggression and protection at the same time.

30618118693_fbf4c089a3_oThe expanse around is beautiful and quite. There are some old stone carvings that seemed to have fallen off. The sculptures do talk about the beauty and grandeur of architecture and craftsmanship of that era.

There is a Goddess Lakshmi temple inside the same compound. It is said that the idol was dug out by a local priest from a nearby place and placed within the same compound as 31425511925_79714a23be_oShe being his consort. The idol has a very peaceful look and one could be mesmerised by being in its mere presence.

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu being a great devotee of Krishna and that of Lord Jagannath, has a temple next to Lord Alarnath’s sanctum. It is said that when Sri Chaitanya lay down to pay his prayers, the stone below him melted by his sheer power.

As we stepped out of the temple, on the left is Brahma Gaudiya Math. It houses Lord Chaitanya, Sri Sri Radha Krishna & a small idol of Alarnath. There is a cow shed which is managed by the ashram too.

As we left the place after a couple of hours being there, the idol and the mesmerising aura stays with you for a long time…

I was counting my blessings to have had another opportunity of pure Bliss!!

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Chausathi Jogini – Mahamaya

Sixty and four are the instruments of enjoyments that tempt the individual soul (jiva). Sixty and four are the divisions (kalas) within jiva; Sixty and four are the chambers of jiva’s chakras; Sixty and four; where Shiva-Shakti reside.”

– Thirumandiram V. 1418

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India has been and am sure will continue to be a land of radical thoughts and beliefs. It is a country that has been a confluence of beliefs and existence of them in different places and almost at similar times. Many had emerged, caught onto the believes of peoples and with the advent of a newer system, many of ancient traditions went away into oblivion until they were researched and practiced in pockets.

Odisha, the eastern state of India has not only been an historical place but also a place where the cultural and religious beliefs have come into existence. Buddism, Saivaism, Jainism, Shaktaism and later Vaishnavism have been prevalent for many years here. It is well known that the worshiping of Mother Goddess is an integral part of the Hinduism, but  it also branched off into Shaktaism for its uniqueness and Tantric practices. The cult was prevalent from the 9th century AD to 12 century AD and flourished well as people started to look out for different ways to connect with the all mighty. To me, it does symbolise the diversity and the openness to not only believe but also practices of different cultures was open and accepted.

Bhubaneswar or Ekamra Khetra (as it was known earlier) has been a seat for Devi (Goddess mother) and Tantric Pujas. The evidences can well be seen in some of the temples that were created and the idols prayed.

One such symbol of Devi puja is the “Chausathi Jogini” (64 Jogini) temple on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar at Hirapur. A temple dedicated to the “Women who possess magical  Powers”. It is well said that, a true Jogini is one who is an enlightened woman possessing exuberant passion, spiritual powers and deep insight.

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In India there are close to 12 such temples that have been discovered and ASI has taken over to protect it. The one at Hirapur is the smallest of all. All the Jogini temples are circular in nature and do not have a roof (hypaethral). They are open in nature.

I had spent my childhood at Bhubaneswar but never knew about this place, it was only while researching about some other locations, I accidentally stumbled upon this beautiful open temple. They say, “when the lord calls, you visit”. It was exactly that, after close to 2 years of planning to visit this place, I visited “Chausathi Jogini” temple. It had poured the previous night and as we started for the place. The place turned out to have had a good wash and ready to receive us. We crossed the small bridge over the Kuakhai river and entered the paddy fields.

The directions are very clearly laid out and the roads are very good though narrow. The temple is surrounded by some lush green paddy fields. It was as though guarding the temple from outsiders. The smallness of the temple took us by surprise but once you enter the temple you would largely be struck by the beautiful sandstone sculptures.

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Betal

The entrance would be 5 feet in height and has a small vestibule guarded by two Betals on either side. On the inner sides as you enter the place you will find 64 Yogini sculptures. The temple would be around 30 feet or so in diameter with a square mandap (Platform) in the centre.

 

Each sculpture is so so different from one other. They not only seem to represent the various avatars but are so feministic in their nature. Some have beautiful faces while some have taken up animal faces. The hairdos and the ornaments are also unique to each one, wether it is the armlet, anklet, bangles necklace or even the earrings. All the avatars are standing on top of either an animal or a musical instrument. Each symbolising a significant nature of the avatar. Some of the avatars are Rudra (Ferocious) while some are calm. Some faces are human whiles some have animal heads.

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The 31st idol is “Mahamaya” which is the main idol and is prayed daily. She is the only one who is ten armed goddess among the 64 idols. During the Dusshera Puja there are special rituals that are done here. On the Dusshera day, even today there is a sacrifice in this temple but that is of a Fish. A symbolic of appeasing the goddess. Interestingly at Yogini 61, there is no idol. It seems to be the same one at some of the other yogini temples too. I felt it depicting that “No Form” is also a “Form”… I have seen such earlier at Belur and some other temples in southern India too.

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Puja performed for Mahamaya

At the centre of the temple is the mandap is also called the Chandi mandap or yogini mandap. It is said that there was a lord Shiva idol as Nataraja which was worshiped in the centre. This image of Lord Shiva is also called Moha Bhairav. There are four Bhairavs at the four pillars of the mandap. This is also considered as the seat for Tantric puja & rituals.

 

The outside of the temple is guarded by two dwarapals and on the outer wall are the nine Katyayanis. The Katyayani are standing on a smiling severed human head. Some have swords while most of them have an umbrella cover held by one of their helps.

One could feel the goosebumps with the energy that this place could generate. The power of women in its urga or ferocious form is a testimony of the times when women power and its importance was way significant that what it is now.

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Once you step out of the temple area, you are welcome back to the peaceful quite village banyan tree and the pond. As if all the energy source is stabilised by it. We tried to leave the place twice but every time there was something there that held us back and we returned into the temple. What could have been a fifteen minute exploration and prayers, turned out to be more than an hour.odisha-412

I am a novice into spirituality but I am really mesmerised by the bold acceptance of that era to depict and present a different aspect of life. An era where equality might not have just been stated but would also been practiced and respected.

We left the place with lots of peace and bliss. It also taught me what acceptance of different beliefs could do to human beings. It would help in exploring the non existent me within me for sure.

Odisha offers one so much to explore that, the more I discover.. I realise how less I know about this beautiful eastern state of India… Really Incredible Odisha and certainly Incredible India!!!

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Sublime ecosystem – Chilika

 

odisha-325Chilika, the shallow brackish lagoon on the south eastern part of Odisha, today is an integral part of the state. A distinctive landmark that is not only well established from tourism perspective but also is well know for its “Tiger Prawn” cultivation worldwide. A landmark that was once a maritime hub with a rich history, today largely remains a source of livelihood through tourism and prawn cultivation. This pear shaped lagoon stretches 64.3 Kms across Puri, Khurda & Ganjam districts of Odisha. Apart from being a support to the human livelihood, this natural beauty is a mother to the 225 species of fish ecology and it hosts 160 different species during peak migratory season.

This was my second visit to this beautiful lagoon. My first trip was some 11 years ago from Berahmpur side. The vastness was what pulled my interest. This time I was more excited as I wanted to see the beautiful lake from the Puri side. Also, this part of the lake has the lesser known Irrawaddy Dolphins. The fascination drove us down to visit the place once again.

Well, how much early that I think of starting, still ended up leaving only by 7.30 am from Bhubaneswar. The newly laid outer ring road is very smooth to drive and is a toll road today. The stretch of 135 kms took us 4 hours with some stops in-between for breakfast and at Alarnath Temple on the way.

It was a beautiful drive, also which cut off from the Puri main road. on our way we could see the great Jagannath temple. The Puri – Satapada road is filled with lilies on both the sides. It was a sight to see, awesome will be an understatement.

As we entered the Satapada area, we were almost chased down by a biker. He waved his hand vigorously and wanted us to stop. I slowed down the car to a stop, as I rolled down the window I realised that he was one of the local guys trying to get people for the boat rides. If one is not careful you could actually end up paying a higher price. The IMG_20161106_214234.jpggovernment owned boards are much cheaper and better which is near the lake boating point. We left him and trusted on the GPS to guide us to the spot. We were welcome by a small toll booth who showed us the way forward. We finally happened to reach at the lake boating area by 11.30 am. As we happen to get down there were a bunch of fishermen odisha-213community guys got hold of us positioning their deal for a boat ride. Though hesitant to pick it up we managed to get a good deal for three hours, which included Dolphin viewing, Rajhans island and Muhana (The lake mouth meeting the sea). We stacked up our ration of water, juices and snacks and went ahead to the boat designated for us.

After having exchanged the pleasantries our boats man pushed the boat into the main water. It was really unexpected of us that we would see the Dolphins within five minutes into the lake. It was a family of three that came up the surface and then ducked into the water. They were swift and moved very rapidly. Catching them on camera once needs to understand the patterns in their movement. Finally I managed to get their bums shot. It was an real beautiful experience to see them.

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Irrawaddy Dolphins

These dolphins are so different from that of the regular ones that one sees and reads about. According to a census in 2010 there are only 156 dolphins in Chilika. Hope the number have gone up now rather than nose diving.
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After our beautiful rendezvous with these mammals we headed off on a solitary trip to Rajahans Island. Chilika being spread over such a huge water space, there happens to be many small islands and water ways are a very strong mode to move from one island to another, as well as connecting it to the main land. One would also see the intricate spread of fishing nets either for catching the fish or prawn. These nets also become a good hunting ground for birds to get their hunger satiated.

20161006_123044By the time we reached Rajhans island it was already 1.00 pm and we were exhausted odisha-296because of the sun heat and the water around. But the breeze happened to be a good solace in the whole drive.

Rajhans was a small beautiful island, in-between the lake and the sea on the other side. The heat was really strong and the Akashiya shade was a real solace. Oh must say, the beach gave a feeling of odisha-298peace and was an amazing place for doing some great photo shoot. We spent close to 20 mins there before we headed back to our boat for our return. For the heat and the hunger that had caught us by now, we decided to skip the lake mouth. The sea shore at Rajhans was reassuring enough for the day.

We reached back at the shore in another 45 mins and that was a killer of time. Exhausted and parched. Was wondering how our boatsman managed to stand in that hot sun all this while and we the delicate lot even under the tarpaulin sheet were feeling the heat. Well nature has its own way of balancing it I suppose. The cool breeze made us to catch up with couple of winks before we reached our destiny.

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Lunch stop after the ride

The hungry souls finally got satisfied with a feast on awesome fresh sea food catch. You name it and it was there and the food was of local flavour which was finally topped up with some delightful pan (beetle leave).

Though the journey back was in the cool air condition of the car but the heart was left behind in the pristine waters of Chilika, as if it beckoned us to come back again and be a part of that wonder….

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Some experiences:

  • Avoid the touts trying to lure you in for a private trip.
  • Cover you head with caps and wear loose cotton clothes. 
  • Carry loads of drinking water while on the boat.
  • Carry fruit juices and not aerated drinks. You could juices near the boating area.
  • Liquor is not allowed on the boats.
  • Try to get a covered boat
  • There are no proper restrooms around
  • Food for vegetarians could be a challenge
  • Swatch Bharat… the place is relatively clean, try and keep it that way.

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