Mayurbhanj: land of hills and temples

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By BIBHUTI BARIK
  • Published 28.02.11
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Bhubaneswar, Feb. 27: The story of Orissa’s tourism will be incomplete without mentioning Mayurbhanj. Not only the Similipal Tiger Reserve, which is one of the best preserved habitat for tigers and elephants in the state, but also there are numerous archaeological sites of great historical significance and temple architecture like Brahmeswar and Lingaraj of the Old Town area in Bhubaneswar.

The Kichakeswari Temple in Khiching was the epicentre of the erstwhile Bhanja dynasty, which ruled the province having parts of Mayurbjanj and Keonjhar in Orissa and Singhbhum and Midnapore in Bihar and Bengal respectively. The temple with its beautiful carving and chlorite stone architecture is a major attraction in the region with a distance of 150km from Baripada and 205km from Balasore.

The best season to visit Mayurbhanj is from November to June. The rulers of the Bhanja dynasty ruled the erstwhile state from 9th century AD. Though Khiching was the name gradually coined due to faulty pronunciation by the local people, in Sanskrit the region was referred to as Khijjinga Mandala or Khijjinga Kota. The region was the capital of the empire.

During the Moghul era, the territories of the Bhanja dynasty was extended up to the Bay of Bengal. The copper plates issued by the former rulers of the kingdom were found in different places of the region. The remains of Buddhist era were found near Khiching and a statue of Buddha was also seen near the temple and the museum in Khiching.

Secretary Orissa Institute of Maritime and South-East Asian Studies, Sunil Kumar Patnaik, said: “The presence of Buddha statue and other items of the era tells an interesting aspect of Khiching. The remains of Buddhist era are also seen at Badasahi and Manatri in the district.”

Many historians have gathered proof of influence of Jainism in many parts of Mayurbhanj. Besides the Kichakeswari Temple, the remains of a fort is seen near the bank of Khairabandha river. Kutaitundi and Chandrasekhar temples are seen near the main temple. The presiding deity Kichakeswari of the main temple is a form of Chamunda with 10 arms. Remains of Viratgarh and Kichakagarh of the Mahabharata era are found near Khiching.

The age-old stone carving tradition is seen in Khiching. While the state government is taking several initiatives to popularise the tradition among the local youth, it is the dedication of artisans, which binds them to the trade. Now Khiching is famous not only for ornamental statues, but also for making stone-based utensils and other accessories in the state which are exported.

Local activist Sarat Tripathy, who works for a social service organisation, said: “Mayurbhanj was a treasure trove of several minerals like iron ore, china clay, lead ore, asbestos, soap stone and quartzite but due to over exploitation of these ores in the last five decades the district could hardly get its share from the deposits of Gorumahisani, Badampahar and Suleipat area.

Haripur

Tourists can reach Haripur, which is just 16km from the district headquarters. Founded in 1400AD as the capital of the kingdom by Maharaja Harihar Bhanja, it has the ruins of some palaces and temples. The Rasikaraya temple is an outstanding example of a brick-built monument, currently found in Bengal. Equally impressive are the ruins of the inner rooms of the queen, the ‘Rani Hamsapur’ and durbar with its beautiful carved stone columns and arches.

Kumbhirgadi

Situated on the banks of the river Subarnarekha, the lingam of Baba Bhusandeswar is being worshipped for years in a remote village of Kumbhirgadi. Carved out of black granite, the lingam is about 3.8 metre in height and 3.5 metre in diameter and one of the largest in Asia. It is housed inside a temple from 1984. Legend has it that to grant the wish of the demon king Ravana, Lord Shiva gave an ‘atma-lingam’ to him but warned that one cannot remove the lingam from where it was once placed. When Ravana was carrying the lingam to Lanka from Kailash mountain, he felt thirsty and asked a young shepherd to hold it till he returned. Unable to hold it, the boy put it down. On returning, in spite of all his strength, Ravana could not uproot the lingam and with every effort its size kept on increasing. He returned to Lanka and since then it was enshrined at Kumbhirgadi and worshipped as Bhusandeswar.

Baripada

The district headquarters town was established by the Bhanja rulers during the British era after Haripur. Another gateway to Similipal, Lulung is just 50km from the town. Lulung, a famous destination for travellers for its hill station like ambience, is also a preferred place for shooting films. The town’s main attraction is the car festival and it is the second biggest after Puri. Here the chariot of Devi Subhadra is pulled by women. The ‘Chaitra Parba’ in Baripada town showcases the famous Chhou dance. Earlier, this dance was performed by warriors before they ventured into battle grounds.

Kuliana

The place near the district headquarters town is famous for its dhokra craft. While many traditional art form developed and designed by the tribals are becoming extinct with the progression of technology-driven world, the dhokra craft is gaining fame in the national arena for the finish and contemporariness.

Similipal

Situated in the central part of Mayurbhanj district, the 2,750 sq km area is home to many unique plants, animals and interesting epiphytic orchid varieties. Valleys of green forest, grasslands, rich biodiversity and riverine systems have made Similipal a beautiful and stable project tiger habitat, project elephant site, National park, a wildlife sanctuary and now a biosphere reserve, designated by Unesco.

Botanists working on research projects on forest vegetation of Similipal find species of Himalayan, north-eastern and Western Ghat, making it an ideal centre for forest growth. However, in general it is of semi-evergreen to dry deciduous forest type where 1,076 plant species are found including 94 species of wild orchids. Similipal has one of the largest wild orchid collection in the entire eastern India next to the north-eastern states.

Wildlife expert Prof. Sushil Kumar Dutta said, “The entire biosphere reserve is also unique in keeping the regional balance of North Orissa. Without conserving the ecology of Similipal we cannot think about the existence of the area. The water table of the region and the rivers originating from the hills of Similipal would no longer survive if we fail to save its ecology. So Similipal is very important as a mean of survival of the human habitations around the Biosphere.”

With an average elevation of 900 metres, Similipal has evergreen hills like Khairiburu (1,178 metres), Meghasani (1,158 metres) and several others. Rivers like Budhabalanga, Khairi, Salandi and Palpala originate from these hills and flow through the thick jungles of Similipal serving as a habitat for many creatures. It has three beautiful waterfalls, two in the core area and one on the periphery.

Barehipani

It falls from the Meghasani hills and the is highest waterfall which descends from a height of 400 metres. As the evening falls and the forest goes into its silence with the chirping of birds, the sound of the waterfall increases. On full moon nights, the view of the waterfall from the opposite hill is breathtaking.

Jorandha

Similipal is a home for Jorandha falls (150 metres) amidst the rich sal vegetation. The tall trees around the falls create a wonderful ambience.

Devkund

Devkund falls under the periphery of the Similipal Tiger Reserve and has many beautiful waterfalls and the shrine of goddess Ambika. It is 65km from Baripada and 140km from Chandipur. On the outer periphery of the sal forest, a waterfall is situated under the Udala block. The water falls from the hilltop in five stages by creating five kundas or reservoirs named Amrita kunda, Ghrita kunda, Haladi kunda, Devi kunda and Deva kunda. On the banks of the river Dev festivals such as Raja and Makar Sankranti are celebrated annually.

Ramatirtha

Ramatirtha is a crocodile breeding centre and one of the oldest in the state. The place is on the bank of river Khairi and visited by tourists who come to see the historic forest range office in Jashipur.