Situated within a well manicured garden a short distance from the centre of Bhubaneswar old city, Rajarani Temple is one of the finest examples of mature Odishan style temple architecture. The site is managed by the ASI, and is the only Hindu temple in Bhubaneswar for which an entrance fee is charged.
When Rajendra Mitra visited the site in the 1870s he reported the temple was in a ruinous state, with some of the images already absent. Shortly afterwards the Jagamohana collapsed and the main deity was removed. The temple was subsequently repaired and renovated in 1903.
On first seeing the temple, I was struck with how much it reminded me of the temples at Khajuraho. Here the carvings on the temple exterior are of a higher quality than any other temple I saw in the city, and the shikhara far more complex and monumental in appearance. I don’t know if this temple’s construction drew any influences from central India, or whether this evolution in temple architecture occurred independently.
Locally the temple is known as the “love temple”, because of the erotic carvings can be seen on the exterior. It might help explain why there were so many young couples here having engagement photoshoots 🙂
So how did this temple get its name ? One theory is that the temple’s environs were once used as a pleasure garden for an unnamed Odishan king (Raja) and his queen (Rani). A second and perhaps more likely theory is that the temple was dedicated to a queen by a king.
Scholars widely agree that the original name of this temple was Indresvara. It is mentioned in the Ekamra Purana (religious texts) and is said to be sited east of Siddheswar Temple. The name Indresvara would suggest it was built by the Somavamshi dynasty king Indranatha. This would date the temple’s construction to circa 11th century A.D, broadly belonging to the same period as the Jagannath Temple at Puri.
The sanctuary walls significantly project outwards, so as to create a plan that is almost circular. Set on a deeply modeled platform that mirrors the contours of the temple, each projection consists of two sculpted panels, one above the other. These are in turn flanked by bands of foliage.
At the corners appear Dikpalas; Indra and Agni (south-east corner), and Vayu and Varuna (north-west corner). In between these are maidens clutching trees/foliage, and amorous couples. Vyalas are set deep into the recesses.
Miniature representations of temple towers are positioned beneath the three central niches, all of which are now missing their images which is a great shame.
The Jagamohana (santuary) is in stark contrast to the sanctuary, and has very little in the way of exterior carvings. It’s not clear to me if this was always the case, or whether during the reconstruction in the early 1900s a lot of the carved Jagamohana masonry had been removed.
Flanking the Jagamohana windows on the north and south elevations are elephants below a rampant lion. A very common theme to be found at Odishan temples, most famously of course at the Konark Sun Temple.
Coiled around the columns flanking the Jagamohana doorway are nagas holding garlands, below are further images of elephants being suppressed by lions. Immediately above the doorway is Lakulisa, followed by the all to familiar navaghra panel, each of the nine celestial bodies of the universe set within a separate niche.
The temple interior is plain. Rajarani Temple is no longer a living temple and there is no idol within the sanctum.
Without doubt, Rajarani Temple is one of the highlights of anyone doing some temple touring around the city of Bhubaneswar. The Department of Tourism of Odisha organises a Rajarani music festival annually at the temple every year during January, and recently the temple closing time has been extended to 9pm. So you can now also visit the illuminated monument during the early hours of darkness.
Rajarani Temple is open every day, 6am to 9pm.
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