Mayurbhanj in the northern corner of Odisha was the seat of power of the erstwhile Bhanja dynasty. During the late 14th century, the Delhi Sultanate invaded Odisha and ravaged the historical city of Khiching desecrating temples on their way. The Bhanjas were forced to abandon their ancestral capital of Khiching and flee to safety. An old record bearing the genealogical account of Mayurbhanj was discovered quite by accident in the early 1900s which reveals that Maharaja Harihar Bhanja founded the city of Hariharpur named after him in 1400 CE which then became the capital of the kingdom.
Haripur Gada or Haripur Garh became the second capital of the Bhanja rulers before the town of Baripada was founded and served as the next capital of the Bhanja kingdom. Hariharpur was captured by the Mughals after a bloody battle with Daud Khan, Sultan of Bengal who had taken shelter in Hariharpur after he was chased and defeated by the Mughals in several skirmishes. The then ruler of Mayurbhanj, Maharaj Baidyanath Bhanja did not wish to be under attack and left for Rajagada that is about 3 miles from the capital city.
Maharaja Baidyanath Bhanja acknowledged the Mughal power and ruled his region peacefully till his death in 1600 CE. It was during his reign that the famous meeting between Rasikananda Deva Gosvami, prominent disciple of Shree Shyamananda Prabhu and Maharaja Baidyanath Bhanja took place at Rajagada as his capital was occupied by the refugee Daud Khan.
Maharaja Baidyanath Bhanja along with his two brothers found the discourse of Rasikananda on the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu enlightening. He surrendered at the feet of Rasikananda and made him their spiritual guide. Maharaja Baidyanath Bhanja built the brick temple of Rasika Raya as a tribute to his chosen tutelary god in the unique Gaudiya Vaishnavism style of architecture.
The temple made of burnt bricks has richly decorated facades. Though this temple is in ruins today, it is widely regarded as the pinnacle of temple architecture of that period. The superior craftsmanship and detailing seen in this brick temple cannot be found anywhere else in Bengal and Odisha.
This temple bears a striking similarity to the temples found in Bishnupur in West Bengal with its embellishments and depiction of stories from Hindu scriptures. The curvilinear roof form similar to the chala style is one of the distinctive features of the Gaudiya style of architecture.
The excavations at Haripur Gada conducted in the early 1900s revealed that Maharaja Baidyanath built the famous Jagannath Temple at Baripada. The eastern side of the Haripur Gada site measures 1091 feet while the western side is 1702 feet and northern side measures 652 feet and the southern is 686 feet.
On the south-east corner of this site stands the beautiful temple of Rasika Raya covered by trees. The ruins of Ranihanspur lies close to the temple and formed the south-west portion of the palace. It consisted of chambers with adjoining bathrooms. The eastern side of Ranihanspur has the darbar and a chamber that has finely sculpted stone columns and arches.
The excavations at the fort site also unearthed extraordinary sculpted stones, fragments of ornamental plaster work on the floor and walls which is not less than three centuries old. The remarkable feature of this plaster is that a certain substance used for binding rendered it a hardness that could be easily mistaken for modern cement!
The Radha Mohan Temple which stands behind the old court is a plain rectangular building made of bricks and lime plaster. The sanctuary of the temple is unusually separated from the outer wall and is believed to have been frequented by the male members of the royal family. The paintings on the walls of the natmandira are of Hindu deities but have unfortunately been defaced. There are artistic creations of Lord Vamana, Lord Matya, Lord Jagannath and others in the niches. Raja Viravikramaditya Bhanja is the builder of this temple.
A temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath to the south-west of Rasika Raya Temple just outside the fort site has been found. Locals say that the original temple built by Maharaja Harihar Bhanja was shifted to Pratappur village. The outer walls are decorated with paintings in vibrant colours.
A stone image of Mahishasura Mardini known locally by the name of Devi Gadachandi was found in a bamboo grove at Badapada. It was formerly enshrined on the south side of Haripur Gada. An image of Kota Vasini, presiding fort goddess was found standing next to Devi Gadachandi which is older than the latter. The image is disfigured but bears a striking resemblance to Goddess Janguli Tara.
Hariharpur, once the capital of the illustrious Bhanja dynasty finds mention in the writings of poets and disciples of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who passed through this place on his way to Puri. Haripur Gada is a testimony to the grandeur, artistic mastery and architectural ingenuity of the Bhanja rulers.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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