Bhubaneshwar was a let-down for me – after those merry marigolds at the airport and the cool breeze that caressed my face through my drive into the city, I expected a lot more. My fault, really, for expecting big things from what has been described as a temple-town (beware of that term – Varanasi, Puri, Tirupati – they are rarely charming – the only exception for me is Madurai) – the problem with Bhubaneshwar is that it is so unassuming about its heritage. Indifferent, actually.
I asked around for the best place to shop – I had Orissa handicraft and handloom in mind – especially the gorgeous Sambhalpuri material in its deep earthy tones. And three times, I was told – Big Bazaar. Bhubaneshwaris (is that what people from B are called?) are understandably proud of their newest “mall” but to fly out there all the way from Bombay to shop at Big Bazaar…? Oh, Utkalika? (when I inquired) wahan kuch khaas nahi hai. Ditto for food. No one I asked – locals all of them – was able to point out good eating joints – my vegetarian status, of course, did not help – they just shrugged their shoulders when I asked about Oriya food and I ended up eating dosa for lunch and dinner the day I was there. Speaking of which, I found the most remarkable spellings for humble old idli on the small restaurants dotting that path to the sun temple at Konark – ranging from iddili all the way to eddle through idli with a ‘h’ in front. Idli, you have come a long way, baby.
On the way back from Konark, my driver insisted on taking me to Dhauli – famous for its Buddhisht monuments. When I refused, his next attempt was to take me to Lingaraja temple, the most famous of the Bhubaneshwar temples. I was rather more interested in seeing the Raja Rani temple, I told him – again the wahan kuch khaas nahi hai refrain. I wonder what it is that makes locals everywhere blind to everything they have by way of history and culture.
I am glad I insisted – the Raja Rani temple is not live – in the sense, there is no god, no idol inside. It stands in what can only be called a park – I know I spotted several birds there from the more common kingfisher to the more exotic I-wish-I-knew-their-names species. I learnt later that the temple used to stand amidst paddy fields till just some years ago. Ah, civilization.
Fresh and sparkling emerald lawns, smiling after the unexpected rains of the previous day, benches for the tired and old, and the lovers who find it the most convenient and secluded spot for their amorous activities, the cold cobblestone under your feet on the flat platform upon which the temple stands, the tall trees swaying to some private rhythm – I could have spent hours there.
I learnt that the RajaRani temple is not named after any king or queen of the region, but in all likelihood, after the stone available lovcally claled Rajaraniya. Dark with red and brown tones, the stone shines smooth in the dull light of the day, depsite its rough texture. The carvings on the walls are as intricate and wonerful as those found in the best temples, including Konark. The images are mostly that of the smaller gods, especially the caretakers of nature. Sexual imagery, the pride of Konark (the tourist guides definitely) is absent on these walls, but the dancing nymphs with their slender waists and sensual poses try to make up for it. Seeing these, one can understand how Odissi, the dance form, came to be so sensuous – most of the poses are said to be derived from the carvings on the temples of Orissa.
If you happen to be in Bhuneshwar, do visit this temple – I also understand that there are other equally splendid temples around the same area which I coud not visit for lack of time. It is a wonderful feeling to sit quiet and alone and stare at stone… and sometimes the stones stare back at you, cool, warm, cold.