Puri, Konark and 64 Yoginis
Puri is a small seaside town in Odisha that is a popular holiday retreat for local Indian tourists. A stroll along the beach on a Sunday afternoon had a great carnival feel lots of bathing in the sea (fully clothed of course) and camel rides. Everyone seemed relaxed and they were certainly enjoying themselves. I took a long walk along the beach and found it less than inspirational. The cultural habit of dropping rubbish everywhere and the acceptance for defecating in public areas made this beach undesirable and certainly not one I would be dipping my toe in. I know I have been spoilt by the beautiful beaches in Australia, but some things I don’t think I will ever get used to in India and the tolerance for pollution and lack of sanitation are certainly two of them.
Puri is close by to some great temples, most notably the Konark (or Sun) Temple. This is a magnificent site and certainly worththe visit to Odisha. The Sun Temple was developed was built in the 13th century and still stands tall today. Surrounded by 24 stunningly crafted wheels, it is designed to be a chariot for Surya (the sun god) and I certainly had the feeling that it could be moved like a chariot at will. It is a large site, and whilst many of the carvings are now outside, or have been moved to museums, there is still so much to marvel at here.
For me though, my favourite temple in Odisha is definitely the Chausathi Yogini Temple (Temple of the 64 Yoginis). This a Temple for the goddess and it is designed as a feminine temple and worships the goddess and her yoginis. One explanation of its shape is that as a feminine temple, it is round and designed to bring the inside world out (just like the uterus), so it doesn’t have an enclosed roof, and has narrow passage between the temple and the external world. Another is that the yoginis worshipped the elements and therefore the shape of the temple is designed to allow all elements in (earth, air, fire, sky and ether).
Inside the temple are magnificent sculptures all around the curved surface. There is one for each yogini (believed to be a semi-goddess who was an incarnation of Goddess Durga) and each is unique. In each one they have a different hairstyle and are standing on top of a different creature or thing. I did photograph every one of them, here are a few of my favourites.
Whilst the temple now has people seeking to gain commercially from it (I was told by repeat visitors that this wasn’t previously the case), I still found it to be such a rare and special place. I have seen many temples in India and around the the world, but I have never seen one designed like this one. The spirit of each of the yoginis and the goddess certainly lives on in this small part of Odisha.