Dedicated to Shiva and built circa 950 A.D. during the Somavamshi dynasty, the west-facing Mukteshwar (also spelt Mukteswara, Mukeshvara, Mukteswar) Temple is the most exquisitely ornamented temple to be found in Bhubaneswar.
Built of red sandstone, it marks the culmination of all other previous temple developments, and was constructed just prior to more fully evolved projects that followed in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Set within a pretty well-tended garden complex known as Siddharanya (forest of siddhas), the name Mukteshvara means “Lord of Freedom”.
The name suggests the temple potentially acted as the center of Tantric initiation, perhaps further confirmed by the numerous carvings on the exterior of thin skeletal ascetics in various meditation or teaching poses.
The temple stands within a waist-high walled compound, which is entered through a gateway to the west. There are a number of smaller towered shrines around the temple, with a rectangular tank immediately to the east, and the towering Siddheshwar Temple to the north-west.
Bathing in the nearby Marichi Kunda tank is reputed to help barren women give birth to sons.
The heavily carved torana (gateway) with thick pillars is simply remarkable, and arguably the most important feature of the temple.
Positioned just before the compound’s entrance to the west, it is carved on both sides with images of smiling reclining maidens, human heads set within medallions, foliage, and projecting monster heads at both ends.
A standalone torana in front of a temple does not appear in any other temple in the region, and is therefore unique.
Most scholars agree that this small and compact temple is a successor to the nearby Parashurameshvara Temple, but built earlier than the Brahmeswara Temple to the east of the city.
The temple consists of a square mandapa (jagamohana) with a pyramidal roof, and a towered sanctuary in perfect proportion. This style of roof with twelve tiers was the first of it’s kind in the region, replacing the earlier more simplistic two tier structure.
The exterior of the mandapa is distinguished by large pierced stone windows on the north and south sides, with many geometric designs. These windows are surrounded by friezes depicting playful monkeys set within lotus stalks.
Elsewhere on the mandapa exterior walls are many exquisite carvings of voluptuous jewel encrusted women, holy men, images of Ganga, Yamuna, Gajalakshmi, Rahu, Ketu, nagas, lions, the list seems almost endless. I do get the feeling that female images seem to dominate the overall sculptural theme here, although I am not altogether sure why that might be the case.
The space between the compound wall and temple is actually quite narrow, and designed as a circumambulatory. As with many other temples in and around Bhubaneswar, the quality and frequency of the exterior carvings demands one to perform a number of circuits around the temple. Each time you circle around this temple I guarantee you will see something new and different.
The sanctuary walls have deep recesses, the walls embellished with carvings of maidens, nagas, and a multitude of other images.
Unfortunately and despite the profusion of exterior carvings, all the sanctuary external niches are empty. I can only assume that the images were once separately carved and placed in these places, and have since been removed or stolen.
There are no examples of standalone carvings anywhere in or around the temple that may have once been placed in these niches.
Unlike many other temples in Bhubaneshwar, one of the surprises of Mukteshwar is the amount of carvings to be found within.
The mandapa ceiling has five receding stone courses of different shapes, and is heavily adorned with carvings of miniature warriors, various god and goddesses, flying figures, all set within an intricate geometric pattern with a lotus at the center.
When you visit here the temple priests will be very keen to receive a donation. I was presented with a very official looking book where there was provision for a multitude of information to be entered on a form; name, address, father’s name, phone number, donation amount, etc. I duly filled this form out and gave them 100/- . A week later on a subsequent visit I was approached again, I said I had already donated and flipped back through the book to show my entry from before. To my surprise, the 100/- donation had been changed to a 500/- donation on the form – obviously trying to encourage a higher donation from those who look back to get a sense of what other people have donated. So just a word of word of warning about this scam. It wasn’t very nice to see, but I decided to make a joke of it and commenting how inflation much be high in India if my donation has increased five fold in the period of just 5 days :-).
James Furgusson regarded the Mukteshwar Temple as a “Gem of Orissan architecture” in his book History of Indian and Eastern Architecture Vol. II in 1910. This was followed by M.M.Ganguly commenting “A dream realised in sandstone” in his publication Orissa and her Remains in 1912. I don’t think anyone could argue with either of these two observations.
I found myself constantly returning to this temple during my week exploring the temples of the city. The complex acted as my daily start and end point, from where I would branch off and explore other temple sites.
It’s location close to Lewis Road and being one of the most well known temples in the city means there is no problem getting an auto to or from this location. You would be surprised how little the auto drivers know about their city when it comes to getting a ride to a specific temple outside of the most famous ones.
If you are looking to photograph the temple (without people), I would suggest avoiding weekends and try a weekday in the late afternoon when the sun is less intense, around 4pm onwards would be perfect.
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