Bhabani Shankar Temple Complex (also known as Bhabanishankar or Bhavani Sankara Temple) is located immediately west of Bindu Sagar Road heading from Lingaraja Temple to Bindu Sagar Tank in Bhubaneswar old city.
This set of small temples were not on my radar at all prior to visiting Bhubaneswar, I happen to catch a glimpse of them from the adjacent Suka and Sari Temples and thought they were worth checking out.
As is so often the case when you walk around the old city, you chance upon ancient structures at every turn and many of them are not exactly widely known. Often these hidden away places have a surprise in store as well, and here was no exception.
According to local legend, the Goddess Parvati (or Bhabani) was residing in Ekamra Kshetra (the old name for Bhubaneswar) disguised as a cowherd when the demons Kirti and Basa confronted her. She killed them by crushing them underground, and exhausted by her toils the Goddess fell asleep with Lord Shiva by her feet.
Bhabani Shankar Temple was built to consecrate the spot, and two small identical laterite burial temples located in the precinct are said to be of the two demons. There are a number of temples in Bhubaneswar associated with this particular story and others concerning Parvati and Shiva, more on that in later posts…
There are a number of temples in this small compound at ground level, one dating potentially to the Ganga period (14th century) along with clearly more modern constructions.
Of particular note is the large collection of carvings, idols, mukhalingas and a sahasralinga residing just in front of the demon burial temples. I suspect these are not all from this location, but have perhaps been collected and relocated here for safe keeping over the years.
It’s an impressive collection, and not untypical of the sort of thing you can stumble cross in the old city when you least expect it.
The biggest surprise however is one that at the time went a little unnoticed by me, and as an archaeologist I’m quite ashamed to admit this. The area in question was quite overgrown, so I didn’t investigate any further.
At the far west end of the complex the ground level abruptly drops 3m to a much lower level, which takes you to what I believe is the original Bhabani Shankar Temple. All that is visible is part of the eastern facade of this temple, the rest of the temple lies buried UNDER the adjacent K.C.G. Sanskrit College !!
In my previous blogs on the ancient temple sites of Bhubaneswar I have commented a few times on the horrific level of encroachment that has taken place in the city. There was clearly a phase of Bhubaneswar’s urban development when absolutely no consideration was given to the monuments of the city. Classic examples of this (thus far) being Pabaneswara (Daitesvara) Temple, Sisiresvara Temple, Markandeshwar Temple, Ladu Baba Temple and Bakresvara Temple. I’m sure more examples will come to light as I work my way through this current series of blogs.
But here, we have encroachment on a completely different level, quite literally ! The State Archaeology Department have recognised the importance of this site and the need to act. The problem is compounded by the amount of vegetation that is constantly growing around and out of the structure, and of course the fact that the old ground level is significantly lower than the modern day ground level.
The Archaeology Department wrote to the college in 2012 requesting that a portion of the building be removed to free up the temple, but unsurprisingly absolutely nothing has happened.
The temple is thought to date to the 7th century A.D. and was discovered by chance while digging for a drain some years ago. Who knows what might be sealed today below the Sanskrit College building. It’s also testament to the architects and builders from 1,400 years ago that a massive structure like this could be built directly on top of the temple wall, they would never have accounted for that much load being placed on the structure originally.
One can only imagine what they would think if they could see the sorry state of this temple today.
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