The temple town of Ranipur Jharial in Balangir or Bolangir district is renowned for its prowess in Tantra Vidya. This historical town of inestimable importance was part of Dakshin Kosala where Lord Rama spent a great deal of his time. Ranipur Jharial is mentioned as Soma Tirtha in the scriptures and deemed to have many ancient structures of historical and religious significance. There are many rare monuments like the Someshwar Mahadev temple and the hypaethral temple of Chausathi Yogini as well as over 200 temples spread across a large area that date back to the 8th century and large yantras carved on the rocks that have baffled historians and archaeologists.
A unique structure made entirely in brick that is considered to be one of the tallest temples in Odisha is the Indralath Temple. This majestic temple in Ranipur Jharial is one of the few surviving brick temples in India. Legend has it that the original Shiva Linga was worshipped by Lord Indra who then built this temple in his honour.
Historians have been unable to conclusively determine when and by whom this temple was conceived. One of the three namely the Nala dynasty, Panduvamshis of Dakshina Kosala and Somavamshi dynasty who ruled over Odisha and Chhattisgarh between the 6th – 12th century could be credited with its construction but no inscription has been found.
Some archaeologists opine the temple was built between the 6 – 8th century based on the brickwork. On further observation, they found the bricks were conjoined with a paste made from rice bran. This technique is seen in the brick temples of Vietnam built after the 8th century which has prompted archaeologists to suggest that this temple must have been an iconic building drawing high praise from across the world.
The temple stands on an elevated sandstone platform. There might have been other structures in the temple complex but none have survived. The main shrine is built in the typical rekha deula style of architecture with a shikhara which is more than 70 feet high. The original Shiva Linga made of sandstone is placed outside indicating that this temple was desecrated at some point in time. A water channel depicting the Ganga has been found from the original Shiva Linga in the sanctum sanctorum. Another Shiva Linga has been placed inside the garbha griha which also houses images of Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesha, Lord Kartikeya and Hara – Parvati among others.
There are beautiful carvings of Yoga Narasimha, Lord Narasimha, Lord Nataraja, gods and goddesses in the niches, Naga stambha and interesting intricate decorative elephants, linear and floral motifs in the recesses and on the shikhara.
This temple is the only surviving brick structure of Tel basin and draws large crowds during the auspicious occasions of Maha Shivaratri and Krishna Janmashtami. This temple is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) but the harsh weather conditions seem to be taking its toll on the structure.
This ancient brick temple was memorialized on stamp by India Post for its ingenious architecture and craftsmanship.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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