Saturday, November 1, 2014

Exploring Cuttack - Odisha's Silver City

Known for its rich cultural history, extravagance and brotherhood, Cuttack is a tourist destination par excellence. An island lying at the head of the Mahanadi Delta formed by rivers Mahanadi and Kathajodi, Cuttack is often referred to as a Millennium City owing to its 1000 year-old history. The City was ruled by Mughals, Afghans and Marathas before coming under the British rule, during which it became the capital of Odisha. In 1956, the capital was shifted to Bhubaneswar. The Mughals, however, ruled the city for the maximum period as a result of which, there is quite a number of Muslim monuments in Cuttack. Popular for its Baliyatra, Eid and Durga Puja, both Hindus and Muslims celebrate every festival in great fervour and bonhomie. Here's a look into places of historical and tourism importance in Cuttack.


Dhabaleswar is popular for the temple of Lord Shiva that stands on a hillock in the middle of river Mahanadi. Located in an island on the river near Mancheswar village of Athagarh block, 37 km from Cuttack city, the temple is embellished with stone carvings that date back to the early 10th and 11th century. It is said King Purusottam Dev established the temple in the middle of river Mahanadi so that his queen Padmabati could worship Shiva. However, the historians are silent over the exact timing of its establishment. According to old scriptures, this sacred place was known as Hariharpitha.
Far away from the madding crowd, the Dhabaleswar temple, both scenic and enchanting, is nestled amidst natural environment. Here 'Bada Osha' is considered the most auspicious of festivals. It draws devotees in lakhs and is celebrated with religious fervour. 'Bada Osha' is observed just a day before Kartika Purnima in November. The added attraction to the shrine is country's longest suspension bridge which connects the island to the mainland. Visitors can reach Dhabaleswar from Cuttack by using boats and ferries. They can also take the foot-over bridge route to reach the temple by paying a nominal fee.

Swarajya Ashram

The Swarajya Ashram at Telengapentha is synonymous with Mahatma Gandhi's relationship with Odisha, Cuttack in particular. The double-storey Ashram, located opposite the banks of river Kathajodi. was in the thick of the Non Cooperation Movement in the 1920s. This is where Gandhi spent his nights during his visits to Odisha; the first visit being on March 22, 1921. It is from here that the Father of the Nation went to the river bed of Kathajodi through the Ganesh ghat area in the mornings to address public gatherings.
After ages of neglect, the ashram that spreads over 1100 sq ft area has been converted into a protected monument by the Government of Odisha. There are around 200 photographs in the Ashram that captured Gandhi's visit to Odisha beginning with the one in 1921, the first of his seven trips to Odisha's 69 sites till 1946. A stone slab in the hall of the ashram, where Gandhi during his meetings, has been plastered and a statue of Gandhi installed on it. Historians say that Cuttack was the seat of the Freedom Movement is Odisha and the Swaraj Ashram played a pivotal role in paving the way for Swaraj Movement. During this period, the ashram was the place of meetings for all National leaders who visited Odisha during the Freedom Movement. The building has been developed into a tourism site by the Odisha Government and INTACH and it remains open round the year. Currently, INTACH is working on projecting the site as a freedom fighters memorial.


A large roof designed with beautiful images from Ismalic art and ornate minarets mark the 18th century Muslim shrine in Cuttack, Qadam-l-Rasool (Footprint of the Messenger). Located in the busy Jail Road area in Cuttack, the dargah was built in Indo-Islamic architectural style by Shujauddin Mohammed Khan. It spreads over an area of 57 acres and has a high compound wall with towers at each of the four corners. A large minaret in the centre of the dargah, bearing the crescent and the star, is complimented by nine small minarets that have been designed with wood carvings and lacquer craft. The Qadam-e-Rasool or the footprint of the Messenger has been placed inside a metal basin in the centre of the dargah, which also has a music gallery known as Nawabat Khana. There are three smaller mosques inside the shrine.
Cuttack-based historian Amal Kumar Mishra says footprint of the Prophet Mohammad engraved in a circular stone was brought to Cuttack by Haji Syed Alimullah, a close relative of Syed Hashim of Mashar of Persia, from Najab in Arabia with the signature of the Sheriff of Mecca. The sacred relic was kept under a tree at the remote Kukuriapada village in Cuttack district to testify its power and genuineness. "When people in the village and nearby areas started getting cured of many ailments, the then deputy nazim Shujauddin Mohammed Khan decided to bring it to its present location, which is Cuttack town," he says. A similar relic can be found in Dargah Qadam Sharif in New Delhi.


Naraj is a picturesque spot on the outskirts of the district headquarters town of Cuttack. Here, visitors can enjoy the scenic view of the river Mahanadi at the origin of its branch Kathajodi. The site, which gives a panoramic view of the vast expanse of the river Mahanadi, is also frequented by devotees for offering prayers at the temple of Lord Sidheswar that stands nearby. The small ornate temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is frequented by devotees during the annual Shivaratri festival.
Apart from the scenic beauty that the place offers, Naraj was also once a famous seat of Buddhist culture and learning. Excavations by archaeologists in the past had revealed presence of various small and big Buddhist images from the spot. Every year during the winter, thousands of locals visit Naraj for picnicking. The place is located 14 km towards west from Cuttack town and 28 km from the State Capital of Bhubaneswar. It can be approached through taxis and the nearest railway station is at Cuttack. Visitors can also take buses to the site from the Badambadi bus stand at Cuttack. Best time to visit is between October and January.

Jobra Barrage

The Jobra Barrage, also known as Mahanadi Barrage, is probably the most popular hangout for Cuttackians. Build over the majestic river Mahanadi, the Jobra Barrage carries a 2 km long road bridge connecting Cuttack and Jagatpur. The barrage is situated near to the longest river bridge of Odisha and one of the longest in India, the Mahanadi road bridge. Along the road bridge, there is a Jobra Park, a Deer Park and a sunset point.
Another interesting thing to see is the stone revetment on the banks of river Kathjhodi, a marvel of ancient engineering technique. The centuries-old stone formation bears testimony to the technical skill and logical thinking of Odias of 11th century. Built by the Keshari kings and having survived the test of time, the revetment safeguards the city from seasonal floods. In fact, it was built with a purpose of saving the Millennium City from the devastation of the floods caused by the river Mahanadi. A typical example of the ancient Odishan architecture, the stone pavement gets tourist footfall round the year. The place should not be missed by both architecture and nature lovers. The best time to visit is during winter when migratory birds can be seen in the river.

Netaji Museum

History buffs interested in Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose will surely find the Netaji Museum in Odia Bazaar at Cuttack interesting. Netaji was born in Cuttack on January 23, 1897 at the Janakinath Bhawan, named after his father Janakinath Bose. This ancestral house has been converted into the Netaji Museum by the Odisha Government and memorabilia associated with the great leader are being showcased through 15 galleries. A large gate with green sculptures of Netaji leading his Indian National Army (INA) stands at the approach road to the museum. The wall on one side of the road has been decorated with graffiti on the various stages of life of the leader and outside the house, is a beautiful garden and a replica of a horse carriage used by Netaji.
Inside, one gets to see his rare photographs, letters that he wrote to his family members during his stay in various jails and Netaji's INA uniform, among the various rare artefacts. The museum is a two storey house with 12 rooms and each room has been converted into a gallery. There is a study room that contains the table and chair of Netaji and book shelves, while in another gallery on his prison life, letters written by him from the prison have been exhibited. Netaji's rare letters that express his views about a strong and Independent India are the most prized possession of the museum. From 2010 to 2013, the Odisha Government added three more galleries to the museum which includes a special gallery that throws light on the spiritual aspect of Netaji. The spiritual beliefs of Netaji are not well known among people; not many know that Netaji always carried a copy of the Gita, a photo of Goddess Kali and Rudrakshya beads with him. Visitors have to pay a nominal entry fee to visit the museum.

Ravenshaw University

The Ravenshaw University evokes a feeling of pride and honour in every Odia. One of the oldest and the largest educational institutions of the country, Ravenshaw University is a witness to the history of modern Odisha. The majestic structure stands on College Square Chack, close to the Cuttack Railway Station. As per the records of the University, it came into existence on the November 15, 2006; it was an upgradation of Ravenshaw College established in 1868. During the freedom struggle, the Ravenshaw College played a vital role in promoting nationalism and geared up youths to take part in the fight against British.
The records also state that the university's hall was the venue for the declaration of Odisha as a separate province on April 1, 1936 and thereafter it housed the State's first Legislative Assembly. After Independence, the Assembly was shifted to Bhubaneswar, the new capital of Odisha. During Quit India Movement of 1942, students of the institution brought down the Union Jack as a mark of Nationalistic fervour. As far as its architecture is concerned, Ravenshaw University is an amalgamation of Victorian, Indian and Gothic architecture. The beautiful columns, capitals and designs give a lot of information about the architecture of the British era. The 95-year-old red building has been constructed over a sprawling area of 87.4 acres of land.

Chandi Mandir

The Cuttack Chandi Mandir, one of the oldest temples in Odisha, attracts more than 20 lakh devotees a year. Here, Goddess Kata Chandi is worshipped and she is considered the presiding deity of the Silver City. The fifth generation of the first priest of the temple still continues to perform the daily rituals of the Goddess. Although there is no written history of the temple, the story goes that the late Hansa Panda, who was the Purohit of the then Kanika Raja of Cuttack, used to graze cattle and sheep in the land. One day Panda was feeling tired and took rest there. On the same night, the Goddess Katakeswari Chandi appeared in his dream and requested him to take her out of the land. He narrated the incident to the Kanika king who ordered his workers to dig up the place.
Subsequently, 40 bullock carts of red sindoor and an idol were found. The idol is being worshipped as Goddess Katak Chandi since then. Locals worship the Goddess as a Living Goddess. Durga Puja is a major festival celebrated in the temple when the Goddess is worshipped in various incarnations of Goddess Durga. Durga Puja is celebrated in temple for 16 days starting from Ashwina Krishna Ashtami till Ashwina Shukla Navami and Vijayadashami. Only Hindus are allowed in the temple and the best time to visit is during Dussehra.

Silver Filigree Workshops

A visit to Cuttack, also known as the Silver City, is incomplete without witnessing its Tarakashi (silver filigree) craft. In fact, it is the silver filigree work that has put Cuttack in the world map. The city is home to nearly 2000 Tarakashi artisans who had inherited the craftsmanship from their forefathers. The filigree workshops can be found at Dolomundai, Nayasarak, Choudhary Bazaar, Balu Bazaar and Bania Sahi, among other places in the city. The craft, which dates back to 500 years, includes creating thin strands of silver wires that are used to make a wide range of jewellery, utility items and exquisite showpieces and utensils that are marketed globally. Artisans bend these silver wires into different sizes and create designs out of them. The silver wires are of extremely high quality. Ornaments like necklaces, ear pendants, brooches, anklets, hairpins, bangles and those worn by the Odissi dancers are some of the items manufactured. Some artisans have even made replicas of the Taj Mahal and the Konark Temple in Tarakashi. The beauty of Tarakashi craft can be seen during the famed Durga Puja of Cuttack when, the idol of the Goddess is put up against a massive backdrop that is designed with only silver filigree. Every Durga Puja pandal uses backdrops made up of silver filigree during the festival.

Maritime Museum

Cuttack, with the largest river of the State―Mahanadi, was the seat of maritime activities in the Colonial era. Three years back, Odisha Government opened the Odisha State Maritime Museum that showcases the rich maritime history of the state. Set up on the banks of river Mahanadi over four acres of land, the museum stands on the site of the ancient Maritime Engineering Workshop that was established by the British in 1869. Apparently, this workshop was set up for building, repair and maintenance of vessels from the provinces of Bihar, Bengal and Odisha under the Bengal Presidency of British India. It ensured smooth operation on the waterways―the major channel of communication then.
The workshop was set up by the then PWD department of British administration through the efforts of a Scottish Engineer GH Faulkner immediately after the 1866 famine in Odisha. The museum has 13 galleries showcasing maritime traditions, vessels, boats and other related artefacts from the ancient age to the colonial era. A library with more than 1000 books and journals has been included for researchers in the museum. Except Monday, the museum remains open for the visitors on all working days from 10 am to 4 pm. An entry fee of Rs 10 is being collected from the visitors. For group tickets for persons above 25 years (30 visitors in a group) Rs 200 is being charged. However, there is no entry fee for students and children below 10 years.

Barabati Fort

Barabati Fort, built by the Ganga dynasty on the banks of River Mahanadi, is one of the most sought-after tourist attractions of Cuttack. Located near the Baliyatra Ground, this ruined fort stands on the west side of the Millennium City. According to historians, Barabati Fort once housed a nine-storey palace. While the fort is spread over an area of 102 acres, it has a 20-yard wide moat to protect the structure. What stands at the site today are the ruins of the palace on an earthen mound, the hyacinth-filled moat and the fort. The area is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Historians say the entire site came up over a period of years and construction of the fort was started in 989 AD by King Marakata Keshari while he was building embankments on the shore of river Mahanadi to protect the city from floods. Later in the 14th century, Mukundadev Harichandan, a Chalukyan King, built the nine-storey palace. Excavations carried out by archaeologists have revealed that the fort was rectangular in structure and it was surrounded on all sides by a wall of laterite and sandstone. In the recent years, stone images of deities and dancing women have been found from spots around the moat. The gateway of the fort is minimally designed with large laterite stones. The best season to visit the spot is winter.
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