The largest temple in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, is a 1000-year-old Shiva temple that is adorned with a pinak (Shiva’s bow) instead of the usual trishool (trident) on its pinnacle. This is the Lingaraj Temple, where the main presiding deity is considered to be both Shiva and Vishnu.
The Lingaraj Temple, situated in the heart of Bhubaneshwar, was built in the 11th century by King Jajati Keshari. It is believed that certain portions of the temple were constructed in the 6th century and subsequently developed over centuries, with major expansion and construction work carried out in the 11th century. The original site was called Ekamra-kshetra or ‘the region of one mango tree’, denoting the sacred mango tree under which Lord Shiva meditated after he moved away from Varanasi.
The name of the temple, Lingaraj, is derived from the Sanskrit words 'linga' (symbol of Lord Shiva) and 'raj' (king), signifying the king of lingas. Devotees believe that a visit to this sacred abode not only cleanses the soul, but also ensures spiritual enlightenment. The temple is built on the banks of the sacred Bindusagar Lake, the largest water body in Bhubaneshwar. The lake is believed to have been created by Lord Shiva to quench the thirst of Devi Parvati after she slayed two demons. This lake continues to be an important part of many rituals performed at the Lingaraj Temple.
The construction, expansion, and embellishments of the temple over many centuries led it to become a seamless blend of diverse architectural styles. The Lingaraj Temple is thus a harmonious fusion of Kalinga architectural style with other influences. The towering spire, known as the Vimana, symbolises the cosmic axis and the abode of Lord Shiva. The shrine has a self-manifested swayambhu linga, made of a natural stone in the Garbh Griha. The linga is worshipped both as Shiva and Vishnu. At the main entrance there is a statue of Lord Shiva and two statues of Lord Vishnu on either side. Since the Lingaraj Temple is important to devotees of both Shiva and Vishnu, it is also called the Hari-Hara Temple.
The Lingaraj Temple complex sprawls over a vast area, featuring a central shrine, a hall of offering, a hall of festivals, an assembly hall, and numerous smaller shrines, nearly 150 in number. The second largest shrine is that of Devi Parvati. The intricate carvings on the walls depict scenes from Hindu mythology and daily life, showcasing the exquisite craftsmanship of the artisans. Other than Shiva, Vishnu, and Parvati, there are also idols of Ganesha and Kartikeya that occupy prominent positions in the southern and western shrines.
The major festivals celebrated at the Lingaraj Temple include Mahashivaratri, Ashokashtami, and Chandan Yatra. While Mahashivaratri is the most important festival here, the other two festivals are also celebrated with great enthusiasm. Beginning on Akshaya Tritiya, Chandan Yatra is a 21-day festival in which the idols of the deities are taken on a boat procession in the Bindusagar Lake. These beautifully decorated boats are called ‘chapa’. The idols are then smeared with chandan (sandalwood paste) to sanctify them. Ashokashtami is the annual chariot festival or the Rukuna Rath Yatra of Lord Lingaraj. During this festival, the idol of Lingaraj is carried to the Mausi Maa Temple in a decorated chariot, for four days.
The Lingaraj Temple is one of the few unique temples where the powers of Shiva and Vishnu merge. The millennia old historical connection, the architectural brilliance, and the religious significance make this temple a unique place of devotion and culture