Chausathi Yogini Temple - Hirapur

Chausathi Yogini Temple – Hirapur

Located amidst paddy fields beside Mahamaya Puskarini pond just 20km east of Bhubaneswar near the village of Hirapur, the beautiful and mysterious Chausathi Yogini Temple was one of the major reasons I planned a trip to the state of Odisha in the first place.

Having already seen and documented the Ekattarso Mahadeva near Mitaoli and the Chausath Yogini temple at Khajuraho, I guess this a continuing quest to perhaps see all the yogini temples in the Indian subcontinent.

Amazingly, this temple wasn’t discovered until 1953, when archaeologist and historian Kedarnath Mohapatra of Odisha State Museum came across the sandstone blocks of a ruined temple. It was subsequently pieced back together, giving us a circular roofless (hypaethral) structure with provision for the images of 64 female divinities within. It is quite unlike any other Kalingan style temple you will see near Bhubaneswar, and interestingly it must look like a circular yoni from above.

The 64 yoginis are based on the Asta Matrakas or the eight major forms of Devi, the mother goddess. These are Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamunda and Narsimhi. Each of these yoginis has eight attendants and when they are all assembled, they add up to 64 yoginis.

The legend surrounding the origin of the yogini temple at Hirapur, as told by the priest, is that the Goddess Durga assumed the form of the 64 yoginis in order to defeat a demon. Upon victory, the yoginis turned to Durga and requested to be commemorated in the form of a temple shrine dedicated to them.

Dating the temple has proved problematic. Some scholars have speculated that it may have been instigated by Queen Hiradei of the Bhauma dynasty during the 8th – 9th century A.D, as the nearby village of Hirapur (originally Hiradeipur) was named after her. Based on some of the architectural elements incorporated into the building, other scholars have suggested a slightly later date of 11th century A.D.

This virtual tour of the temple will start with looking at the outside of the temple, before we venture within.

Detailed descriptions of the carvings are available by clicking on the individual images, from where you can cycle through each set.

Katayani Images

The exterior of the 2m high circular temple wall is relatively plain, but contains niches housing Katayani images.

At the base of each Katayani image is a severed head, flanked my animals that mostly appear to be dogs. This is typically interpreted as animals one would typically find near the carcasses of dead bodies.

Each Katayani is holding a blade of some sort, as if the beheading has just occurred. Above them is an umbrella.

Click on any of the images below to see a more detailed description of each carving.

The temple entrance is flanked by two guardians. The southern carving (left) depicts a male figure with ear ornaments and lotus creeper on the pedestal. The northern carving (right) is quite different, a wrathful male figure with disheveled hair, protruding stomach, and holding a skullcup in his left hand.

The entrance is quite low, clearly designed to ensure anyone entering has to bow down in order proceed. It also adds an element of theater to the overall experience, as you go through the short passage, head down, into the mystical womb-like interior.

Temple Wall Yonginis

Inside the open-air temple, the inner face of the temple wall has 60 evenly spaced niches just above ground level, each one containing an extraordinary standing figure (yogini) carved from fine grained chlorite.

Each idol is delightfully posed, many with a soft smile that enhances their attractiveness even further. They are all standing on their own pedestal or vahan, which typically consists of an animal, human head, or demon.

The variety of their hairstyles, weapons and accessories is incredibly interesting and ensures no two images look alike. It is the details on some of these carvings that have suggested to some scholars the earlier 8th – 9th century date for this temple. Unlike other temples associated with tantrism, there are no erotic carvings to be found here.

As an archaeologist and photographer keen to document the monuments of India, it was inevitable that I would photograph each of the Yoginis here.

So, here are the first 30 yonginis inside the temple, going clockwise (to the left) from the entrance.

Click on any of the images below to see a more detailed description of each carving.

The presiding deity of the temple is Mahamaya, located in the 31st niche, who is worshiped as a form of Durga/Kali by the local villagers. As is often the case in Odisha, the image was almost completely covered which prevented me from photographing it along with 32nd image of Usha (Rati).

Continuing the circuit around the temple wall, here are the next 30 idols to complete the full set of 60 around the perimeter.

Click on any of the images below to see a more detailed description of each carving.

Central Chandi Mandapa Yoginis

At the center of the temple stands a square Chandi Mandapa. It is a fairly recent structure built on top of an older platform. It has entrances on all four sides with two niches provided on either side of each entrance, resulting eight niches in total.

An image of Shiva was originally found in the mandapa in 1953 when the temple was rediscovered, but sadly it disappeared shortly afterwards.

Provision for the remaining four yoginis accounts for half of the Chandi Mandapa niches, taking the total to 64 yoginis. Unfortunately one image, that of Sarvamangala, is now missing. There had been speculation that it was moved to Yamuna Kuda near the Kuakhai River, but studies of the statues there did not match the style of the carvings here. So what happened to this last yogini remains a complete mystery.

So here are the remaining three yoginis in the Chandi Mandapa, click on any of the images below to see a more detailed description of each carving.

Central Chandi Mandapa Bhairavas

The remaining four niches in the central chandi mandapa house Bhairavas. Three of them are seated, the only standing one has just one leg and is known as Ekapada Bhairava.

Click on any of the images below to see a more detailed description of each carving.

For at least 500 years ancient rituals were practiced at this temple, until the cult started to diminish and ultimately the temple was abandoned. This may coincide with when some of the yogini faces were damaged, said to have been done by the Afghan invader Kalapahad, who also desecrated the Panchu Pandava Temple at Ganeswarpur.

Despite being a very short distance from Bhubaneswar, the Chausathi Yogini Temple at Hirapur feels a world away from the city. The isolated rustic atmosphere combined with a unique and mysterious temple is simply unforgettable.


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17 replies »

  1. Thank you. If possible you should be aware of another Tantric place, Sathalpur, near Alaka river, in Jagatsinghpur, and 1 hour drive from Hirapur. Sapta Matrukas, Ajaikapada Maha Bhairaba,and in nearby village, there are some temples, believed of comparative later period.
    But, Tantric Point of view it is unique.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Astounding! Did you even stop to eat or drink? You have covered so much! Fantastic! I think only you can hold a match to the prodigious architects of medieaval Odisha!

    Like

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