Bhuvaneswar, the modern capital of the State of Orissa (India), is an ancient place of pilgrimage called ‘Bhuvaneśvara’ or ‘Ekāmratīrtha’ in the purāṇas. It is situated in the Khurda subdivision of the Puri district and is 440 kms. (286 miles) from the city of Calcutta.
It was a great centre of Śaivism in the Kaliṅgadeśa (now Orissa) and was often considered as a rival of Vārāṇasī (the modern Banaras, the most celebrated of all the Śaiva places of pilgrimage). It was also a centre of Buddhism for some time, the remnants of which can be found even now in the hills of Udayagiri and Khaṇḍagiri.
Known as the city of seven thousand shrines, mostly surrounding the famous Bindusāgara or Gosāgara lake, it now has hardly a hundred.
Though the city of Purī (better known as Jagannātha Purī or Jagannātha-kṣetra) is now much more well-known and resorted to, the tradition is that one who wishes to visit the latter must first make a pilgrimage to the former. Even Śrīkṛṣṇa Caitanya (A. D. 1485-1533) the great Vaiṣṇava saint, is said to have had the darśan of Lord Liṅgarāja of Bhuvaneśvara first before proceeding to Purī.
A pilgrimage to Bhuvaneswar starts with a ceremonial bath and śrāddha (obsequial offerings to the departed manes) at the Bindusāgar, a lake measuring 420 by 330 metres (1400 ft. by 1100 ft.). It is believed to have been dug out by Lord Śiva himself to quench the thirst of Pārvatī, his consort, a little water from all the sacred rivers being drawn into it.
After worshipping Gaṇapati, Gopālinī (Pārvatī as a cowherdess), Skanda and Nandi in the nearby shrines, the pilgrim is advised to enter the temple of Liṅgarāja to offer his worship there.
The great Liṅgarāja temple was built around A. D. 1000. It is acclaimed as the finest example of a Hindu temple, of the Nāgara style, in eastern India. It stands amidst a cluster of 65 smaller shrines in a spacious compound measuring about 160 by 140 metres (530 ft. by 460 ft.), the tower being nearly 55 metres (180 ft.) high.
The temple consists of the garbha-mandir, the sanctum sanctorum, also called ‘Śrīmandir’ with a hollow vimāna (small tower) over it. The image of Śiva is a liṅga which is a huge uncarved block of granite, about 2.4 metres (8 ft.) in diameter surrounded by a rim of black chloride. The image itself is called as ‘Liṅgarāja,’ ‘Tribhuvaneśvara’ or ‘Kṛtti-vāsa’. Daily worship is done 22 times, water, milk and bhāṅg (Indian hemp) being used to bathe the liṅga.
The Bindusāgara is situated to the north of the temple.
Other temples situated in the vicinity are those of Ananta-Vāsudeva, Rāja-Rāṇi, Mukteśvara, Paraśurāmeśvara, Siddhe-śvara and Kedāreśvara. Out of these, the Mukteśvara temple, though small, is considered to be very beautiful with elaborate carvings.
Situated at a distance of about 5 kms. (3 miles) from Bhuvaneswar, are the hills—Udayagiri, Khaṇḍagiri and Nīlagiri—containing as many as 66 caves. There are many carvings in them, both Hindu and Buddhist.