Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lesser Known India - Bustling Bhubaneswar, and, Karmic Konark

Lingaraj Temple, Bhubaneswar.

A meeting in Bhubaneswar, and the calendar showing a few days of light work load, resulted in the Author and Gurmeet combining work and pleasure, to plan a short trip to Chilka, Asia's largest brackish water lake, conveniently located about a 100 km away from Orissa's capital city. Mandatory side trips to Puri and Konark added additional spice to the trip. 

Odissi Dancer, Bhubaneshwar.

The capital of Orissa has a history going back 3000 years and is often known as the 'Temple City'. It is said that there are over 10,000 temples, big and small, in Bhubaneswar, with the Lingaraj Temple being the most famous. Be that it may, modern Bhubaneswar is one of the few planned cities in India and was laid out in 1946 by the famous German Architect Otto H. K√∂nigsberger. It is a green city that does not seem to be too crowded and along with its twin city Cuttak, is the center for commerce in Orissa.A modern vibrant city, it showcases the best of Orissa's Art, Culture and Cuisine.  

Lingaraj Spires.

Mukteshwar Temple.
Bhubaneswar's most famous temple is the Lingaraj temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva or Jagannath as he is popularly known. This temple reflects the best of Indian temple architecture. Overlooking the city, the 11th century temple, is 147 ft high and was built by Lalatendu Keshari of Somavamsi dynasty. Interestingly, the presiding deity's 'Swayambhu Linga' symbolizes half of Vishnu the preserver and half of Shiva the destroyer, epitomizing the natural harmony of Hindu religion.

Mangaleshwra Temple.
Yameshwar Temple.
Other Temples of note are the Jaleswar Siva, Kapilesvara Siva, Mukteswar, Nagesvar,  Mangaleshwra, Parsurameswar, Yameshwar and Rajarani Temple. These show the development of temple architecture in Orissa, from the 7th century onwards. The Rajarani Temple also has some erotic carvings for outside ornamentation.

The Oberoi, Bhubaneswar.
  We explored the city over two days, sampling its food and shopping for the exquisite silks and handicrafts that Orissa is famous for. We were comfortably ensconced in The Oberoi Bhubaneswar, a nice comfortable luxury hotel, with excellent staff and services. 
The Oberoi Room.
The only fly in the ointment was that like most Oberoi hotels, this property offered rather indifferent cuisine catering to the lowest common denominator of the 'Everything for Everyone' school of thought, without offering any dish of note. An honorable exception was the breakfast, which was excellent. All was not lost, however, as the Mayfair hotel next door offered excellent local food and there were many popular eateries across the road or within easy reach.

Non Veg Oria Food Thali.
Eating Out and Entertainment

Bhubaneswar surprisingly has very few stand alone restaurants that can be called up-market, especially those featuring local Orissa cuisine. These tend to be 'Popular Priced'. Local restaurant chains named Dalma and Dalema offer a fairly good selection of Oriya food.

Vegetarian Oria Food Thali.
Fresh Fish - Great Dishes.
The 'Thalis', a composite meal featuring a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes in tasting portions along with traditional accompaniments, are excellent value in these restaurants and offer the foodie a sampler of Oriya cuisine. Looking for better comfort and ambiance? Some up-market hotels, notably the Mayfair Lagoon and The Swosti Plaza, offer signature Orissa dishes in their restaurants, with the Mayfair lagoon being the far better choice.

Orissa is a fertile, agrarian state with hundreds of kilometers of ocean coast line and also home to Chilka, the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia. Blessed with nature's bounty both in terms of farm produce and sea food, the state's cuisine has evolved distinctly, with influences from Andhra Pradesh on one hand and Bengal on the other.

Popular and famous Oriya food dishes are:

Dalma is the defining vegetarian dish of Orissa's cuisine. Brinjals, tomatos, white pumpkin, papaya, cauliflower and several other vegetables chopped fine and cooked in 'ahrar dal' (lentils) to which a 'tadka' (tempering) of panch phoron, literally five spices and red chilies, fried in oil or clarified butter, is added. Best enjoyed with 'Luchis' fried bread or local rice.
Maccha Besara.

Macchha Besara
Fish cooked in a mustard paste and yogurt (or tomato) gravy. It is said that a new bride's cooking was judged by her ability to balance the bitterness from the mustard paste and the sourness from the yogurt, to deliver a perfect Besar. In the author's opinion this is the defining non-vegetarian dish of Orissa. Tastes great with boiled red or local rice.

Maccha  Patua.
Maccha Patua (Banana Wrapped Fish )
A simple and delicious recipe, fresh fish is smeared with a spicy mustard and garlic paste , wrapped in plantain/banana leaf and cooked slowly over a charcoal or wood fire. Popularly called 'patua' in Orissa. You can get similar results in a moderate oven or within a few minutes in a microwave.

Chinguri Jholo.
Chinguri JholoFresh prawns or shrimp in a thin spicy gravy, flavoured with fried mustard, fennel and red chillies. Prepared with fresh prawns which have just been landed at the various fishing jetties on the Chilka Lake, this dish makes for a sublime experience.

Mansa Kasha.

Mansa Kasha
A famous meat dish, the name literally says 'special meat'. It is dry mutton (goat meat) dish made with sliced onions and Indian spices.

Amba Khata.
Amba Khata
Literally 'Sour Mangoes'. Raw mangoes cooked with sugar, spices and salt. A sweet and sour delicacy often served as a side dish with rice.

Kakara Pitha.

Kakara Pitha
Kakara pitha is an Oriya sweet traditionally made during any festival or special occasion. There are many varieties, but the one favorite seems to be made from fresh coconut and wheat flour.

The Empty Bar at The Oberoi.
Those looking for 'Nightlife' would be disappointed, as Bhubaneswar does not have any such options. The most adventurous thing one could do is to get 'High' at a bar, there too, there is not much independent choice or variety and the best options are the up-market hotel bars.
Odissi Dancer.

Of course one could always add to one's cultural quotient and attend a performance of the world famous Odissi dance, one of the most graceful classical dances of India.


The best of Orissa's textiles and art can be had in various markets, stores, emporiums and art galleries in Bhubaneswar. Inveterate shoppers will find enough to occupy them and will be spoilt for choice. The beauty of shopping in Orissa, especially for textiles, is that you can get excellent material at price points to suit every budget.

Oriya Shambhalpur Tassar Silk Sari.

The distinctive hand-woven textiles of Orissa in traditional patterns and vibrant colours are a thriving cottage industry. The state is famous for its silk ikat weaves created by an intricate process called the "bandha" in which warp and weft threads are tie-dyed to produce the pattern on the loom while weaving. Typical design motifs include birds and animals, fish, seashells, traditional patterns and temple spires. 

Orissa's 'Tassar' silk is world famous for its glaze, feel and texture. Sambalpur, Berhampur, Mayurbhanj and Nuapatna are the main production centers. The special silk fabric, embellished with verses from the Gitagovinda, used to dress the idols at the Jagannath Temple, is produced at Nuapatna. Berhampur is famous for the heavy Pata silk sarees with narrow borders.
Oriya Silk Sari.
The Saktapar saris and fabrics, from the weaving looms of Sambalpur, Bargarh and Sonepur are identifiable by the double ikat checkerboard pattern (passapalli) and brocade borders.

Bomkai Cotton.
The Bomkai cotton saris from Ganjam district, influenced by tribal art, are embroidered with temple spire patterns on the border.
Other typical varieties of Orissa textiles, in silk and cotton, include the glossy Khanduas  with elaborate designs, the rich red 'Jotai ikat' with rows of stylized trees and temple spires on borders, the unbleached cotton fabrics from Koraput, offset by a vibrant red dyed borders, the Taraballi and the Bichitrapuri fabrics.

Patachitra Painting.
Fabric painting is a well established tradition in various tribal districts and the beautifully detailed 'Patachitra' paintings have gained worldwide renown.

The best places to pick-up silk and cotton fabrics and saris are, Kalamandir, a famous Bhubaneswar store, an institution in itself, various state government emporiums and cooperatives which stock a variety of fabrics, paintings and handicrafts.

Framed Sculpture. Oberoi.
Stone and wood carvings abound in Orissa and while heavy, sculptures make for good decoration pieces and garden focal points. Themes include the Konark horse, the sun chariot's wheel, and erotic carvings, among others. The Oberoi in Bhubaneswar has very imaginatively used framed small sculptures to good effect in their corridors and rooms. India Arts is a good gallery for picking-up sculptures.

Dokra Work.
Metal and Silver work is also an ancient tradition in Orissa. 'Dokra' metal work is said to be the oldest form of metal casting in the world. Made by the 'Lost Wax' process, each casting is a distinct work of art as each is from a new mould. 
Silver Filigree Work.
Dokra castings of birds, horses and elephants and figurines are now fast becoming collectors' items as the art is slowly dying out.
The Sun Temple, Konarak.


We made a day trip to Konark to visit the famous Sun Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The journey was pleasant as the road wound its way through green paddy fields and fruit groves. 
The temple itself is a majestic monument, showcasing the Kalinga School of Indian Temple Architecture, is set in pretty gardens.
India's poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote of Konark: "Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man."

The Lion Guardian.
The Konark Sun Temple (also known as the Black Pagoda), dates from the 13th century, and was constructed from oxidized and weathered ferruginous sandstone, during the reign of King Narasimhadeva I (1238-1250 CE) of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. It is one of the most renowned monuments in India. Originally located on the shoreline, now a little over 3 km from the sea, the temple takes the form of the Chariot of Surya (Arka), the Sun God. It celebrates the majestic daily journey of the Sun God, across the heavens.

The entrance is guarded by two giant lions, each shown crushing a war elephant. Each elephant in turn lies atop of a human body. The representation being, the Lion as pride and The Elephant as money, both combining to crush man. The Nata Mandir, literally the 'Dance Temple' near the entrance is where the dancers paid homage to the Sun.

The Chariot of The Sun.

The entire complex was designed in the form of The Sun God's huge chariot, on twelve pairs of beautifully decorated wheels, drawn by seven spirited horses; absolutely exquisite. The huge wheels carved at the base of the temple are one of the major attractions. The spokes of the wheels serve as sundials and the shadows cast by these give the precise time of the day. The pyramidal roof soars over 30 m (98 ft) in height.

The Chariot Wheel.

Apart from the main carvings, almost every inch of the temple exterior is covered with sculptures of great beauty and grace, ranging from the monumental to the miniature. The images include deities, celestial and human musicians, dancers, lovers, and myriad scenes of life, ranging from hunts and military battles, to the pleasures of relaxation. 

The Spirited Steeds.
These tableaux of life are interspersed with intricate botanical and geometrical decorative designs, mythological creatures, birds and animals, notable being the close to two thousand dynamic elephant images carved around the base of the main temple. The carvings are on a very human perspective, which makes the sculptures extremely accessible.
Stone Decoration.

In line with Hinduism's philosophy of intertwining the Temporal and Spiritual, a kindly and indulgent view of life; the Sun Temple complex is also decorated with erotic sculptures similar to those found in the temples at Khajuraho. 

Erotic Sculptures.
These exquisite sculptures are a paean to the joy of Sex in daily life and depict almost every aspect of eroticism, no taboos.

The frank nature of their content is depicted with an overwhelming tenderness and lyrical movement.

Thousands of human, animal, and divine figures
Carnival of Life.
are shown engaged in the full range of the 'carnival of life' postures, with a sense of realism. That being said, some of the poses depicted, require either youth, or extremely supple limbs, please know your limitations before indulging!.

Family Picture!
Fishermen at Konarak.
The Beach at Konarak is pleasant enough, dotted with fishermen's boats and Indian family groups enjoying themselves, but there are better beaches in Orissa and we have to vend our way back to Oberoi at Bhubaneswar.
On the morrow, we will be on our way to the peaceful and beautiful Chilka Lake, combined with a quick stopover at one of India's holiest shrines, the Jagannath Temple at Puri...... but more of that in the next episode.

The Sun Temple at Konarak.