Located on the left bank of the river Birupa beside Jaluka hill in the quiet sleepy village of Ganeswarpur, Panchu Pandava Temple is just 52km north-west of Bhubaneswar, so can be easily reached as a day trip out from the city.
My driver who has been taking tourists around the sites in and around Bhubaneswar for over ten years had never heard or been to Ganeswarpur, which often means I’m in for a treat. This is sort of monument I love to visit in India, the lesser-known places that so often turn out to be the most surprising and enjoyable. The Panchu Pandava Temple did not disappoint.
Set in the south-east corner of a large expanse of park land which is maintained by the ASI, the temple is of the panchayatana class with a central main temple and four smaller subsidiary shrine located in the corners the platform.
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the khandolite superstructure (vimana and jagamohana) of the main temple have long since collapsed, although the corner shrines do still exist and are in a good state of preservation.
Inside is an image of a four-armed Vishnu made from green chlorite standing over a rectangular yonipitha pedestal, flanked by a female figure on each side holding a lotus.
The exterior of the temple is decorated with architectural motifs such as vajra mundi, khakhara mundi, pilaster designa, and decorative motifs such as chaitya medallion, kirtimukha, purna kumbha and nayikas.
The exterior of the temple and subsidiary shrines is quite severely weathered, but some of the detailed minute carvings you can still make out.
Of particular note is a carving of a seated Buddha. I could only find one, but there may be more to be seen here.
It’s times like this I wish I had a time machine to go back and see how this place looked 1,000 years ago before time (and humans) took their toll.
Three of the four subsidiary shrines remain standing with various levels of reconstruction having been undertaken by the ASI. The best preserved is the south-west shrine, which appears to have remained relatively intact. The north-east shrine no longer exists.
Based on architectural features and sculptural details found here, it is thought the temple was built by the Somavamsi dynasty, sometime around the second quarter of the 10th century A.D.
Locals here believe this is the site where the Pandavas (in the Mahabharata era) stayed for a few days during their secret exile. Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula, and Sahadeva resided here under the Jaluka hills, whilst their eldest brother Yudhisthira lived in the nearby village of Rudrapur with mother Kunti. A very similar legend surrounds the Panchu Pandav Caves in Bhubaneswar.
In memory of the Pandavas stay here, it is thought king Yayati I (circa 922 – 955 A.D.) may have instigated the construction. The presiding deity was Lord Krishna (Vishnu, accompanied by Rukmini and Satyabhama) with the smaller shrines dedicated to the four junior Pandavas.
Locals also assert that during the medieval period this was probably one of the most visited temples in the whole of Odisha. Whether that is really true or not I guess we will never know, but we do know that sometime in the 16th century the temple was destroyed by the Muslim invader Kalapahada. 80% of the main temple became rubble, and the deity idol severely damaged.
Evidence of the temple destruction lies all around the edge of the temple platform. A vast amount of carved masonry from the main temple and missing south-west shrine are lying discarded just waiting to be pieced back together.
Perhaps this is a project for K.K. Muhammed, who did an outstanding job reconstructing over 80 temples at the Bateshwar temple complex in Madhya Pradesh.
The carvings provide a great insight into just how magnificent this temple was, although what remains is impressive enough. Of particular interest is a panel depicting two wrestlers in the midst of grappling each other
The ASI have clearly dedicated a serious amount of time and resources both partially renovating this temple and creating a vast garden/park. They’ve done a really good job thus far, and yet very few people seem to be aware of its existence. The travel company based in Bhubaneswar that I used to provide a car and driver were not aware of it, and even on the internet there is scant information available.
It seems a great shame that little hidden gems like this exist just waiting to be discovered by only the few who spend an inordinate amount of time researching regions prior to visiting. I’m sure the village of Ganeswarpur would welcome a few more visitors to boost their local economy, and it wouldn’t take much to make that happen. Perhaps this blog will help a little bit in that respect. If you are staying in or around Bhubaneswar for any amount of time, I highly recommend a trip to see the Panchu Pandava Temple.
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