Thick in the Crowd
I have been in Bhubaneshwar for three whole days and seen quite a lot of things in and around the city. Getting to the city however was not smooth. Almost an entire day was wasted on the train with many delays along the way. Travelling in the general compartment is quite an experience. People will push and shove like its their birthright. The worst of human behaviour comes into play. People will audaciously push and edge the naive off their seats.
Soon after leaving the station, I walked out to Cuttack Road, turned right and along the way I found the board of Hotel Upasana. It turned out to be a good and convenient place to stay. I took a single room with a shared bathroom since they didn’t have any available ones with attached bathrooms. The staff were friendly at this place. For the first time in my trip, I stayed at the same place for more than one night. In fact, I stayed here for three nights.
City of Temples
I never found the bus station in Bhubaneshwar. Buses seem to start from squares and street corners. For my entire stay, the focal point was Kalpana Chowk, a place with which I am now well familiar. Shared auto-rickshaws are common. I took one to the Lingaraj Temple. The temple looms like a piece of architectural miracle above a city that is largely of a low profile. The curvilinear shikara is massive. Even if we were to strip it of all its friezes, reliefs and art in stone, it will remain impressive by its sheer size.
One of the interesting aspects of the shikara is that it starts to rise ambitiously from ground level. There is no pedestal of any sort. Neither is there any distinction to the garbha griha from which shikaras usually take their shape. A moulding of inverted lotus joins to another moulding that’s amphora-like. Halfway up the tower, all four sides have sculpted lions. The carvings on the shikara create unending perspectives, both vertical and horizontal. The verticals provide the loftiness by which the structure is first appreciated. The horizontals provide an aesthetic stability and packed artwork. On the whole, the shikara puts to shame every other structure within the temple complex. The other structures are by no means mean or lacking in art; but here is the case where a greater greatness masks the lesser greatness.
Through the days, I visited other wonderful temples in Bhubaneshwar. I don’t even know the names of some of them. Besides the group within the Lingaraj complex, there are temples all around. The Parasurameshwara temple is a compact structure. The Mukteshwara and Siddeshwara temples are full of interesting reliefs. I visited them twice. There are temple structures in people’s backyards. A row of common houses leads to wonderful shikara covered in creepers and climbers.
Bhubaneshwar was a busy place while I was there. People had flocked to it for the full moon of Karthik month in Indian calendar. The tanks of temples were afloat with styrofoam boats, brightly coloured with paper designs. Stems of the banana plant had been used to make offerings and then left to float in the waters. In this atmosphere, I witnessed one of the poignant scenes of real India which I will never forget.
At a temple facing the Bindu Sagar lake, there is a pillared mandapa at the center. This is surrounded by stalls of vendors selling rice and daal in brown-red earthern pots. It is about 1 pm and right time for lunch. The scene is intense and full of activity. There are families seated on the bare stones having their lunch on banana leaves spread out right in the middle of the walkway. Vendors are shouting at the top of their voices like its a fish market. I look around out of curiosity. I have already had my lunch in town. Someone catches sight of my interest, mistakes it, sees in me a potential customer and calls out with urgency. Another joins him right away. A verbal fight ensues between the two.
‘I spotted him first. Come here brother,’ he rallies. I move on.
Cows are foraging for food. This is not an incidental statement. It appears cows gather here at precisely this time, not just one or two but by the dozen. Some are licking at daal and rice from a pile of broken pots that lie in a corner. Another is pissing right next to a family having their lunch. A cleaner is attempting to bring back some respectability by sweeping the paths while people eat without bother. Vendors continue to call out, allowing customers to taste the rice and daal before committing a purchase. They scoop out the foods with bare hands. Their standards of hygiene are quite different from mine.
Here is India’s real face. It is the amalgamation of the good and the ugly, the rich and the poor, the consecrated and the desecrated. Society is not meant to make a pretty picture. It is definitely not meant to be twee. While this is a positive acknowledgment of reality as it is and should be, it is too much for me to get used to. There is such a thing called civilization and progress, tools which help us to bring order in an otherwise chaotic world.
Khandagiri & Udayagiri
‘There are no buses to Khandagiri,’ I was told. I got the same response from a shopkeeper, an auto-rickshaw driver and a bus conductor. It is best to get this sort of information from multiple sources and definitely not just from an auto-richshaw.
‘Do you want to come back to Kalpana Chhak,’ enquired an auto-rickshaw driver, chhak being the Oriya version of Hindi’s Chowk.
‘No. Just drop me at Khandagiri,’ knowing too well that I take my time at places and do not like to rushed. The fact of someone waiting for me puts me in a rush.
‘It will cost you 70 rupees,’ he replied.
It was still early in the morning. I will find out another way which would be cheaper. So I left the man to his morning beedi and proceeded to wait for something. I found an auto-rickshaw that would take me to Baramunda where I can get another one to Khandagiri.
Khandagiri and Udayagiri are twin hills facing each other cut by a single narrow road. The foot of the hills have shops for tourist business. Both these hills are home to numerous caves that were created for Jain monks. Some caves are small. Some are long, divided into cells. Interestingly, the back of many caves are slightly elevated. It is said that these caves were also dormitories and the elevation in the smooth rock-floor was their basic pillow. All caves are low. Monks probably only sat in meditation or slept in them. Some caves have beautiful carvings, particularly on door jambs, lintels and architraves. Like in many cases of these early cultures, many of these are inspired by nature with floral details or animal motifs.
The common langurs at these caves are not bored of humans. One woman offered a langur some groundnuts on a piece of paper. The langur would have none of it. ‘You are offering me only peanuts,’ it seemed to say.
Dhauli and its Peace Pagoda
In a manner similar to the earlier visit to the caves, an autowalla offered to take me to Dhauli and back for Rs. 250. Indeed, there are no buses to Dhauli. Shared auto-rickshaws are rare and only if you are lucky. However, vehicles will leave you on the highway. From here it is a walk of 3.2 km to Dauli.
The Peace Pagoda, or Shanti Stupa as it is commonly called, was built with help from the Japanese. It is a massive stupa situated on a hill. It can be seen from a great distance. From the top, you can see a river making its way into Bhubaneshwar where the Lingaraja Temple can be seen clearly through a hazy air. There is a Hindu temple of top as well. People pray there but visit the stupa only out of curiosity. In India, Buddhism can seem to be truly dead but within world context it is seeing a minor revival.
The stupa reminded me of my visit to Amaravati. While the Amaravati stupa is no more, Shanti Stupa does give a sense of how it might have looked. Many drum slabs on this stupa are modern but some appear to have come from an older time. Noteworthy by their artistic merit are the dream of Buddha’s mother and Buddha as a prince leaving the city. There is a reclined Buddha of which I made a sketch. The folds of the Buddha’s gown captivated me. These strong and fluid lines were mirrored in the drapery like moulding on the pedestal on which the Buddha slept. There is also a standing Buddha in a clearly Japanese style.
I asked a couple of people about Ashoka’s rock edict. No one seemed to know. I finally found it along the road. On my way to the hill’s summit, I had taken a shortcut and therefore I had missed it. At Dauli is one of Ashoka’s rock edict, writings in a script undecipherable by me; but just imagine being able to see into someone’s thoughts and actions that occurred 2000 years ago. This is the endurance of stone over fabric, paper or palmyra.
Orissa State Museum
When I arrived there was no electricity.
‘When will the power return?’ I asked the guard.
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. A valid reply but he said it without any attitude of respect. He couldn’t care more so long as his salary was paid regularly.
The power did come soon enough. The museum has many galleries. Exhibits are arranged well. Lighting is good in most cases. The fault is exhibits are titled without explanations. It is difficult to learn much. There are also no way signs for the visitor. Some important galleries were closed due to repair work.
I got a glimpse of Orissan culture, particularly the many tribes of the state and their ways of life. I was spellbound by Pattachitra, colourful paintings on cloth. They are usually narrative and talk mosly of Krishna Leela. There is some discrepancy in the way artists represent the ten avatars. Some put Jagannath as the ninth avatar while others put the Buddha. Palmyra manuscripts also interested me a great deal. There are even figurines made of cowdung.