Gangeswari Temple is located in the tiny village of Bayalish Bati, close to Gop in the Puri district of Odisha. The site is approximately 60 km from Bhubaneswar and 35 km from Puri, and is unquestionably a worthwhile visit if you happen to be heading to Konark from Bhubaneswar.
The temple was built around the 13th century A.D, the presiding deity being the family deity of the rulers at that time, the Goddess Gangeswari. It is a wonderful example of Kalingan architecture, and some effort has been made by the ASI in recent years to renovate the temple and strive to hold back the ravages of time.
Although the temple foundation is of laterite stone, the temple itself is constructed of sandstone. The weathering and erosion from the last 800 years has certainly taken it’s toll. Despite this there are still fine sculptures to admire here, especially in the more protected areas of the temple, and it doesn’t take much for your imagination to put in place the level of detail and complexity that once existed on the exterior of this temple.
There are some fantasic and wonderful images to admire here, chamunda, ashtadikpalakas, nayikas, animals, hunting and social scenes. The most striking for me being the four-armed Varahi as Parsvadevi, tongue sticking out, holding a bowl of blood, a dagger, and shield. Sadly the fourth arm is largely missing from this image.
The temple faces south-west and is built according to the “Pancharatha” style of Kalingan architecture. Whilst the exterior is heavily decorated with carvings, the interior is is almost free of carvings and is instead decorated with paint which appears to be quite fresh. Within the santum is the four-armed Mahisamardini, this is very much a living temple with the temple priest living in the corner of the temple compound.
A specific carving I missed but one worth looking out for is that of Muchalinda Buddha. You may think this a little odd for a Hindu temple to contain an image of Buddha, but scholars believe that the tantric form of Buddhism (Varrayana Buddhism) originated in Odisha and has very close parallels with Hindu tantrism.
The whole of the Prachi Valley (where this and many other ancient temples reside) is considered the epicentre of a uniting of Buddhism, Hinduism and Tantrism, so it is perhaps not too surprising to find such an image here afterall. It is also thought that Adi Shankara visited Odisha in the 9th century A.D, which potentially resulted in Buddha being accepted as the ninth avatar of Lord Vishnu in the 10th century A.D.
There is a legend often mentioned by the Bayalish Bati villagers that associates this area with the great Sun Temple at Konark. It is said that Konark’s chief architect, Sibei Samantaray Mahapatra, belonged to this village and it is here that the 1,200 craftsmen, engineers and supervisors of Konark stayed whilst making their plans for constructing the sun temple. It is also said that much of the masonry for Konark was transported via log rafts on the nearby Patharabuha river.
Adjacent to Gangeswari Temple is a large pond, the now silted up and blocked Patharabuha river that perhaps did once act as a major artery for the construction of the great Konark Sun Temple just 14 km away.
As is so often the case, the legend does of course extend a little further. Some say that not only did the workman for Konark stay and plan their efforts here, but the Ganeswari Temple itself was a precursor to the Sun Temple, a prototype that perhaps was constructed prior to the larger-scale efforts commencing. Both temples do share similarities in plan and iconography, but they were of course broadly constructed during the same period so that is not altogether surprising.
Regardless of whether this legend has any thread of truth to it or not, Gangeswari is a real gem of a temple. Set within peaceful and attractive lush green countryside, it is a far cry from the hoards of visitors Konark receives on an hourly basis, and is thoroughly worth the excusion to visit.
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