Ancient Kalinga has virtually remained in isolation from other parts of India & in this very isolation, it has preserved some of the most important & unique aspects of Odisha’s cultural heritage. It is for this reason that this state has so much to offer to curious tourists who seeks to unfold new mysteries. One such mysterious location is the Chausathi Yogini Temple at Hirapur, near Bhubaneswar. Drive of around 15 kms east from Bhubaneswar, through Puri Main Canal, amidst paddy fields, will take to the small quiet hamlet of Hirapur, which despite being near to a city, holds its rustic atmosphere intact. What makes this temple quite unique is that it’s the first 64 Yogini temple in India & from here it spread to other states. And, its the smallest temple among the list of four major surviving 64 Yogini temples in India (in fact in world), among which two are in Odisha.

This beautiful yet mystic site of ancient tantric practices was discovered in ruins, by eminent historian & archaeologist, Kedarnath Mohapatra, amidst heap in 1953. He literally pieced it all back together to the circular roofless structure that holds the 63 female divinities (56 in wall cavities & 7 on central wall) with one missing, said to be taken to a somewhere place called Yamankuda. This temple is built with coarse sandstone blocks with laterite in its foundation by Queen Hiradei of Bhauma dynasty during 8th-9th century, as per whom the village is named.

Hirapur (originally Hiradeipur). The temple belongs to a genre of architecture, which is completely different from the major Kalingan style & finds no mention in silpa-sastras as they were kept secret by the sectarian practitioners of the cult. The architecture will leave the visitors spellbound since the temple doesn’t have a roof & looks like a circular yoni from above.

A circular wall, hardly 2 metres in height, containing 64 niches within its inner circumference encompass this hypaethral (roofless) yogini shrine. If one takes an aerial view, the temple will look like a chakra with 64 spokes.The temple’s outer walls holds nine Katyayanis (Navadurgas) in niches, the entrance has two dwarapals, Kaal and Akaal on either side. At the base of the Katyayani statues, are either a severed head, a jackal or a dog (or all) – normally interpreted to be the animals found near dead bodies or carcasses, and almost all the Katyayanis hold different types of blades as if raised to dismember or behead, but with similar umbrellas. The entrance is of low height & one has to virtually lean to enter the shrine. As someone said “The narrow entrance to the peeth is like the passage of the yoni, constricted at the opening, but widening into an open circle (a womb) that embraces urdhvalinga Shiva at the centre”.

The idols have been carved from fine grained grey chlorite stone & many of the faces have been said to be destroyed by Kalapahad, the Afghan invader, but even now had failed to diminish the beauty in the eyes of the curious visitors. The Yoginis here are extraordinary standing figures, all delightfully poised with the soft smile that further enhances their beauty, while the fact that some of the Yoginis have animal heads does not detract from their attractiveness. Each yogini stands on pedestal or vahan of her own (an animal, a demon or a human head), each showing different expressions with a unique hairdo, weapon and the most delicate of accessories that suggest the shrine dates back to a little after 800 AD.

The 64 yoginis have evolved from the Saptamatrukas who are the personified powers (Shakti) of different Devas – Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi & Chamunda. Additional member include Narsimhi, making it Astamatrukas. Among the tribal traditions associated with yoginis, one tradition focuses on the yoginis as acolytes (assistant) of the Great Goddess: the matrukas. This tradition describes the yoginis as being born of eight mothers and formed into eight groups (8×8=64).

[Author is Diploma in Architectural Assistantship 3rd year student at Lovely School of Architecture and Design, LPU, Punjab]

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