December 30, 2015

Sisiresvara Temple - Bhubaneswar

Site Name: Sisiresvara Temple 
Site Type: Hindu ancient temple 
Location:   Bhubaneswar city, Odisha state, India
Highlights: One of the oldest temples of Bhubaneswar
Nearest Railway Station: Bhubaneswar
Nearest Airport: Bhubaneswar
How to reach: Well connected by road, rail and air
Hotel: There are many options across the city
Restaurants: Varieties of options

Bhubaneswar is not only about the gigantic Lingaraja temple or the architectural marvels such as Raja Rani temple or Parasurameshwar temple. The city has a lot more to offer for any enthusiastic and art loving traveler or devotee. The city, which is the capital city of Odisha (formerly Orissa) state of India, is called as 'the City of Temples'. It once had around 3000 temples and even today hundreds of temples are located in every nook and corner of this heritage rich city. Let us explore a little known temple, Sisiresvara temple, in this article.

Introduction:

Sisiresvara temple is located in the same complex, where Baital Deula temple is situated. It is located at the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city, on the left side of the road leading from Mausima chowk to Badehibanka chowk. 

History:

The temple belongs to the 8th century CE and was built by the Bhaumakara rulers

Architecture/Temple Layout:

Sisiresvara temple has a rekha vimana. The Jagamohana has a flat terraced roofed structure; there is a clerestory in between two tires of roof.  It shares the compound wall with a nearby Baital Deula temple. The temple is pancharatha on plan and triangabada in elevation.


It is a living temple enshrining Shiva Linga. The vimana and jagamohana are decorated with architectural designs such as floral motifs, scroll works, animal processions, amorous figures, erotic figures and few deities including Nataraj.

A beautiful Ganesha in the sitting posture, Shiva in yogic posture and few other Shaivite deities are found as the niche idols. The exterior wall of the temple is full of architectural designs or idols; not even a single inch is left out.

Happy travelling. 



December 29, 2015

Chopta - Mini Switzerland

Site Name: Chopta
Site Type: Hill Station
Location:  Uttarakhand state, India
Highlights: An unexplored hill station on the Himalayas
Nearest Railway Station: Rishikesh, at a distance of around 210 kms
Nearest Airport: Dehradun - around 230 kms 
How to reach: It is located on Rudraprayag - Gopeshwar Highway; at a distance of 65 kms from Rudraprayag; Well connected from Rudraprayag, Ukhimath and Gopeshwar
Climate: Oct to Dec - winter; Apr to Jun - summer; Jan to Mar - snow-bound
Hotel: Mid-range to luxury hotels are available in Chopta, but very few
Restaurants: Limited options

Chopta is a little known, unexplored and secluded hill station located on the Himalayas. It is situated at a distance of around 40 kms from Ukhimath and 65 kms from Rudraprayag. This beautiful mini hill station is called as Mini Switzerland of India. 
Chopta is located at an altitude of around 2700 meters. It is the starting point of the trek to the famous Tungnath Temple, which is one of the Panch Kedar temples. This unspoiled and non commercialized hill station is one of the most picturesque spot in the entire Uttarakhand state of India. 

When you go to Char Dham yatra next time, plan to visit this tiny beautiful hill station too. It is a perfect destination to spend time with your family and friends.

Happy travelling.



December 28, 2015

Uthiramerur Sundara Varadar Temple

Site Name: Sundara Varadar Temple
Site Type: Hindu ancient temple
Location:   Uthiramerur, Tamil Nadu state, India
Highlights: Three tiered Vimana; Nine Murtis of Vishnu
Nearest Railway Station: Kanchipuram
Nearest Airport: Chennai
How to reach: Well connected by road from Kanchipuram and Chennai
Hotel: Go to Uthiramerur for mid-range hotels; for better option, go to Kanchi or Chennai
Restaurants:  Limited options in Uthiramerur


Uthiramerur town is located near Kanchipuram city in Tamil Nadu state of India . The town is famous for the democratic practice that was existed around 1000 years ago. Click here to know about the same. The most famous temple of Uthiramerur is Sundara Varadar temple. Let us explore this temple in this article. 


Highlights:
  • God - Sundara Varadar
  • Goddess - Anandavalli
  • Lord Vishnu is seen in all the three postures namely, irundhan (seated), ninran (standing) and kidandan (reclining)
  • Five Murtis of the temple are named as Varadar; they are Sundara Varadar, Vaikuntha Varadar, Achuta Varadar, Anirudhha Varadar and Kalyana Varadar
  • Three tiers of Vimana one above the other having shrines and deities in all the tiers
  • Shiva is wearing Namam
  • Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva found in the same shrine
  • There is a stucco idol of Dakshinamurti in the Vimana which is unusual for a Vishnu temple
  • There are totally nine different forms of Vishnu in all the three tiers of Vimana; hence, it is called as Nava Murti Sthalam.


Legend:

As per the legend, the Pandavas of Mahabharat epic, during the last one year (Agnanavas) of their exile, visited this site. There are five Vishnu deities in this temple in the name of Varadar, which were worshiped by the five Pandava brothers. Vaikuntha Varadar was worshiped by Yudishtra, Sundara Varadar by Bheem, Achuta Varadar by Arjun, Anirunddha Varadar by Nakul and Kalyana Varadar by Sahadev. Due to five Varadars worshiped by the five Pandavas, the site is also called as Pancha Varada Kshetram.

Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas, worshiped the Goddess of the temple, Anandavalli.


History:

Nandivarma Pallavan donated this entire town to 1200 Vedic scholars in the 8th century CE. Hence, it was called as Uthiramerur Chadurvedimangalam in those days. This temple of Sundara Varadar is believed to be built during the Pallava reign in the 8th century CE. In the 11th century CE, it was renovated by Rajendra Chola. Again in the 16th century CE, Krishnadeva Raya renovated the temple and made many additions to the structure.

As the bricks and lime were also used as the building materials for second and third tiers of the Vimana, there are scholars who debate that the temple must belong to the 6th century CE. They claim that the Pallavas would have rebuilt the pre-existing temple.

There are few scholars, who believe that Tirumangai Alwar might have referred Varadar of this temple instead of Vaikuntha Varadar of Parameswara Vinnagaram (Kanchipuram) in his hymns. Nevertheless, this temple is not recorded as a Divya Desam, as majority of the scholars believe otherwise. 

Temple Layout:

This is one of the very few temples where Lord Vishnu is found in all the three postures namely, Irundhan (seated), Ninran (standing) and Kidandan (reclining). Another important feature of the temple is three tiered Vimana. Each level of the vimana is found one above the other and in each level there are deities and shrines.

The other three temple in Tamil Nadu which have three tiered Vimana are Tirukoshtiyur, Paramesvara Vinnagaram and Koodal Azhagar. All these temple have just one murti in each floor. However, this temple is different as there are totally nine murtis in all the three floors (four deities each in first and second level, one murti in the third level). Another difference is that all the other three temples are Divya Desam temples, whereas this temple is not a Divya Desam.

First Level:

In the first level that is in the ground floor, the sanctum sanctorum enshrines the presiding deity of the temple, Sundara Varadaraja Perumal. He is found along with his two consorts Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi. He is in the standing posture (Ninran). This shrine is facing the east direction.

The southern side facing shrine enshrines Achuta Varadar. Behind Sundara Varadar, there is shrine of Aniruddha Varadar facing west. Kalyana Varadar shrine is also present in the same tier which faces towards the northern direction. Kalyana Varadar is found seated on Sesha serpent.

Second Level:

Above the sanctum sanctorum in the second level of the Vimana (or simply the first floor), Vishnu is found in the sitting posture (Irundhan). He is called as Vaikuntha Varadar in this shrine.

The idols of Arjun and Krishna, shrines of Yoga Narasimha and Lakshmi Varaha are also found in the second level. Krishna has four arms and is found preaching Gita to Arjun. Lakshmi is found seated on lap of Varaha.

Third Level:

In the third level or the second floor, Vishnu is seen in the reclining posture (Kidandan). He is called as Ranganath here. He is reclining on Adi Sesha with Brahma emerging out of lotus from his navel. Lord Shiva is found near his feet. Thus the Tri Murtis of Hinduism namely Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are seen in a single shrine, which is very rare. Another unique feature is that Shiva is wearing the Vaishnaivite sign 'Namam' instead of his own sign 'Vibhuti' or 'Bhasma'. Ranganath is blessing Markandeya Rishi. Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi are also present in this shrine. The Rakshasas Madhu and Kaitabha are also found near the feet of Ranganath.

The shrine also has some interesting paintings. The river deities Ganga and Yamuna are found in the form of Dwarapalikas of this shrine, which is unique.

The idols that are found in the vimana in all the tiers are very beautiful.

Main Shrine:

The main shrine is situated on a high raised platform (mada kovil). The flag staff, bali peetha and Garud shrine are all located facing towards the main shrine.

Apart from the sanctum sanctorum where the presiding deity is enshrined, the main shrine also has long ardha mandapa and maha mandapa.

Goddess:

The Goddess of the temple is Anandavalli. Her sub-shrine and the sub-shrine of Andal are located in the prakara around the sanctum sanctorum in the first level.

Anjaneya:

Outside the temple complex, near the temple tank, there is a shrine for Anjaneya. It is in the form of relief image sculpted on a very big rock. It was installed by Sri Vyasaraja, the Guru of the King Krishnadevaraya.

Tower:

The temple has a beautiful and gigantic seven tiered gopuram (tower). The tower is east facing. A big temple tank is located near the tower. The stucco images in the tower are very attractive.

Mandapas:

The temple is full of many small and big sized mandapas. All the mandapas have pillars with many interesting carvings.

There are few other sub-shrines such as Senai Mudaliyar and Alwars found in the temple.

In the outer prakara, there is a Ganesha idol, which is not usually found in Vishnu temples.

Happy travelling.




December 26, 2015

Baital Deula - Bhubaneswar

Site Name: Baital Deula Temple 
Site Type: Hindu ancient temple related to Tantric cult
Location:   Bhubaneswar city, Odisha state, India
Highlights: An important temple related to Tantric cult
Nearest Railway Station: Bhubaneswar
Nearest Airport: Bhubaneswar
How to reach: Well connected by road, rail and air
Hotel: There are many options across the city
Restaurants: Varieties of options


Bhubaneswar is not only about the gigantic Lingaraja temple or the architectural marvels such as Raja Rani temple or Parasurameshwar temple. The city has a lot more to offer for any enthusiastic and art loving traveler or devotee. The city, which is the capital city of Odisha (formerly Orissa) state of India, is called as 'the City of Temples'. It once had around 3000 temples and even today hundreds of temples are located in every nook and corner of this heritage rich city. Let us explore a very unique and ancient temple related to Tantric cult called as Baital Deula temple in this article.


Introduction:

Baital Deula temple a.k.a. Tini Mundia Mandira is a fine example for the occult practice that was prevailing in Odisha. The temple is located at the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city. It is located on the left side of the road leading from Mausima chowk to Badehibanka chowk. 

History:

The temple belongs to the 8th century CE and was built by the Bhaumakara rulers

The Bhaumakara Kings ruled Odisha between the 8th and 10th centuries CE. They were originally Mahayana Buddhists and were later converted into Shaivism. In fact, the period of Bhaumakara rulers brought a new era in the religious and architectural history of Odisha. Shaktism and the tantric cult made its appearance in Odisha only during their period. It appears that the Bhauma queens patronized the tantric culture and many Shakti shrines were constructed in their period. 


Baital Deula is an important temple among the Tantric shrines. It might have been built by the Bhauma queen Tribhuvana Mahadevi who was also called as Katyayini. The actual name of the temple is Kapalini temple. The temple is a Tantric temple which were worshiped by Kapalikas and Tantriks. The temple was called as Vaital temple by the locals, which was probably derived from the word 'Vetal' which means spirit. 

In Odisha, the alphabet 'V' is generally pronounced as 'B'. Hence, the Vaital temple became Baital temple.


Architecture:

The east facing Baital Deula temple has a rectangular vimana with semi-cylindrical shape roof and Jagamohana enclosed by an irregular compound wall. It shares the compound wall with a nearby Sisireswarar temple. Its vimana is a good example for Khakhara order of vimana. This vimana slightly resembles the Dravidian Gopuram style. The Jagamohana is flat roofed and has miniature rekha shrine at each corner of the four sides. The temple is triangabada in elevation. 

Chamunda:

The presiding deity of the temple is Chamunda. She is also called as Charchika or Kapalini. She is in a terrifying form. The idol is actually a relief image carved in the central niche inside the main shrine. She sits on a corpse which is flanked by a jackal and an owl. She has emaciated body (literally skeleton) with sunken belly, sunken eyes and open mouth. She wears garland of skull and has serpent on her head. She has eight arms and holds snake, bow, shield, sword, trident, thunderbolt and arrows. The neck of a Rakshasa is pierced in the arrow. 


The carvings of Shiva and Parvati in the seated posture are found in the back side of Chamunda. A small carving of Lakshmi is found above Chamunda.

The interior is very dark. Chamunda is surrounded by many ferocious idols. I am sure one who visits the temple alone might get a fearsome experience.

Other Deities:

The Chamunda niche is surrounded by few smaller sized deities carved in the lower parts of the walls. Each deity is found within a niche and each niche is separated by a pilaster. 


Ganesha, Sapta Matas (the seven female deities), Veerabhadra, Bhairav, Shivaduti, Mahakala, Abhalakapeswara and Kuber. All these deities are found in the sitting posture and their respective mounts are found along with them. 

Shivaduti is a female deity. It is rare to find eight female deities together (along with Sapta Matas). 

Chamunda is one of the seven Matas. She is found in the central niche whereas the other six Sapta Matas are in the side walls. 

Bhairav is not in his usual posture. Similar to Chamunda, his body is also emaciated with sunken belly and is looking ferocious. 

Abhalakapeswara is a form of Shiva. He is found under the serpent and is in the sitting posture. More than Shiva, he resembles Jain Tirtankara.

Mahakala is another form of Shiva who is found seated on a corpse.


Designs and Carvings:

The outer walls of temple have many panels of deities mostly related to Shiva and Shakti in different forms. Some sculptures depict the erotic couples and few scenes like hunting processions or capturing the wild elephants. Also, so many Nayikas are found in different postures all over the outer wall. 

Few notable carvings on the Jagamohana include Surya with Usha and Pratyusha shooting arrows on his either sides and Arun in his front side driving the chariot of seven horses. There is also a beautiful carving of ten armed Nataraj. 

One more important sculpture found in the outer wall is MahisasuramardiniMahisasuramardini has eight arms. She holds sword, trident, thunder bolt, Trisula, shield, bow and snake. The buffalo headed demon Mahisa is lying down under her feet. The mount lion bites the right elbow of the demon whereas the snake in the arms of Goddess draws out the tongue from the mouth of the demon.

Another important sculpture found in the outer wall is of DurgaDurga has four arms and holds japamala, trident, khadga (a type of sword) and a vase in her arms. Above her head, two flying Vidyadharas are found. Two female attendants flank her.

Some of the other designs and sculptures on the outer walls of the main shrine and Jagamohana include jali pattern, scroll works, elephants, lions, Ardhanareeswara, Lakulisa, Vidyadharas and Mithuna figures.

In front of the Jagamohana, there is a stone post where the sacrificial offerings were made in the olden days. Also, there are two pillars with few carvings. One of the carvings is Eka pada Bhariav, Bhairav with single leg. (In South India, he is form of Shiva and is called as Eka pada murti).

Happy travelling.


December 24, 2015

Kedarnath

Site Name: Kedarnath
Site Type: Pilgrimage for Hindus
Location:  Uttarakhand state, India
Highlights: An ancient temple located on the Himalayas; One of the twelve Jyotirlingas; One of the Char Dham temples
Nearest Railway Station: Rishikesh, at a distance of around 220 kms
Nearest Airport: Dehradun - around 250 kms from Kedarnath
How to reach: Kedarnath is approachable on foot from Gaurikund, which is connected by road from Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dehradun and other important hill stations of Garhwal and Kumaon hills 
Other modes of transport: Ponies and palanquins are available from Gaurikund till Kedarnath temple
Climate: Sep to Nov - winter; Dec to Mar - snow bound; the other months are pleasant
Best time to visit: May - Oct
Clothing: Light woolen in summer; heavy woolen in winter
Hotel: Mid-range to star hotels are available in the nearby hill stations; people stay right from Rudraprayag to Gaurikund to visit Kedarnath
Restaurants: In Gaurikund - vegetarian option alone

Intoduction:

If you live in India, it is unlikely that you would not have heard about Kedarnath Kedarnath is one of the most popular pilgrimages for Hindus. It is located on the Himalayas in Uttarakhand state of India. It is lying at an altitude of 3584 meters from the sea level. The source of the beautiful Mandakini river is in this town. (Mandakini is a tributary of the river Ganga.) Kedarnath is famous due to Kedarnath temple located here. Lord Shiva in this temple is called as Kedarnath. Everything in and around Kedarnath town are directly or indirectly dependent on Kedarnath temple. In simple words, the town exists only because of this temple.

Not only pilgrims visit this town. Even those who are interested in trekking or those who love to see the snow filled peaks of the beautiful Himalayas also visit this town. To visit this town would be an unforgettable life time experience.






About the Temple:

Jyotir Lingas are important forms of Shiva Linga. There are totally twelve Jyotir Lingas, which are considered very sacred for the Hindus. Kedarnath is one of the twelve Jyotir Lingas.

Kedarnath is one of the four Chhota Char Dhams. The other three Chhota Char Dham sites are Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. 

Kedarnath is one of the 274 Paadal Petra Sthalams. The temple is revered in the Devaram devotional songs. 

During the winter season, that is between the months of November and April, the temple remains closed. Due to heavy snowfall in this period, no one stays in the town. The utsava (processional) idol of Kedarnath is moved to a place called Ukhimath in this period. 

The nearest road head for Kedarnath is at Gauri Kund. From there it is 14 kms trekking. For those who cannot trek can take ponies or palquins to reach the top. The nearby major town is Rishikesh. Travelers and Pilgrims usually book cabs from Rishikesh or Haridwar to visit Kedarnath and Badrinath.

Legend:

As per the legend, after the Mahabharat battle, the Pandavas wanted to get rid of their sin of killing their own cousins. Hence, they went to Kasi to get darshan of Lord Shiva. There, they learnt that Lord Shiva had gone to the Himalayas. Hence, the Pandavas came all the way to the HImalayas looking for Shiva. Lord Shiva perhaps wanted to play Shiva Leela with them. The moment they saw him, he disappeared. The site where Lord Shiva disappeared is called as Gupt Kasi.

Later, the Pandavas came till Gauri Kund looking for Shiva. Nakul and Sahadev found a buffalo which had some unique features. Bhim started running after the buffalo. He could not catch it but he hit it with his mace. By that time, the buffalo started hiding its face inside the ground. Bhim pulled it by its tail. The head of buffalo went to Nepal where it is found in the temple of Bholesvar Mahadev. The tail part was changed into a fire column (Jyotir Linga), which is worshiped as Kedarnath. The Pandavas worshiped Lord Shiva and abstained from their sins.

There are four other sites nearby where the other parts of Lord Shiva appeared as Linga. Those four sites along with this temple are together called as Pancha Kedars.

As per another legend, Shiva gave darshan to Nara and Narayana in this site. They requested him remain in his original form in this site for the welfare of humanity.

It is believed that the original temple was built by the Pandavas. Adi Shankara rebuilt the temple of Kedarnath in the site adjacent to the place where the original temple stood, it is believed. 

Temple Layout:

The Kedarnath temple structure is simple, but it is standing in the middle of a beautiful and wide plateau surrounded by scenic snow covered peaks. It is believed that this temple was originally built during the period of Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century CE. (Please note that there are different thoughts on the period of Adi Shankara; some believe that he was born much before the Christ.) The current structure of the temple is not that old as it would have been rebuilt. 

Shiva Linga called as Kedarnath is found in the sanctum sanctorum. It is basically a conical rock formation and it is not man-made Linga. In the maha mandapa, the carvings of Pandavas and Krishna are found. Nandi idol is found outside the temple facing towards the direction of Shiva. 

The samadhi of Adi Shankara is found just behind the temple. The majestic Kedar peak can also be seen behind the temple.

Gaurikund is the place from where the trekking to Kedarnath starts. There, a small temple to Gauri and hot water springs are found. 

Happy travelling.