By Hemant Pande: Odisha is famous for its temples, shrines and pilgrimages since time immemorial. One of the ancient pilgrimages “Hari Shankar” popularly known as Sri Sri Harishankar Devasthanan is situated on the slopes of beautiful Gandhamardhan hills in Balangir District of Odisha.
TheTemple is unique of its kind as two Hindu Gods – Vishnu and Shiva are worshipped together- Hari the name of Lord Vishnu and Shankar, the name of Lord Shiva. Hence, it is a very sacred place for both the Vaishnavs and the Shaivites.
A Series of festivals are celebrated in this temple premises throughout the year. Important among them are- Shivratri, Makar Sankranti, Maagha Mela. In addition, special pujas are offered on all Ekadashis and Sankrantis that attract millions of pilgrims every year.
The deity of Harishankar was discovered by a Chauhan dynasty king of Western Odisha during the 14th century AD. Since then, the deity has been worshipped. A dancing Ganesha image was also found, which can be traced back to the early 12th century AD. According to Devnagari inscriptions, the temple was constructed by the order of then queen Durlabha Devi of Maharaja Vaijjal Dev Chauhan in early 15th century AD.
Hiuen Tsang, The seventh-century Chinese traveler was also spell-bound by the beauty of the temple during his visit here. He has also spoken about the Buddhist University of Parimala Giri near the Gandhamardhan Mountain.
It is also believed that the GanndhamardhanMountainhas its connection in the Great epics of Ramayan. While Hanuman was carrying the Giri Gandhamardhan from the Himalayan Range, which was bestowed with full of medicine plants, in order to save the life of injured Laxman, a part of mountain fell here. Accordingly, present Gandhamardhan Hill is well-known for its rich medicinal plants.
GandhamardanMountainis about 30 KM in Length, 1.5 KM in height and 10 KM in width, enriched with Alumina and bauxite creating a platue like plane on the top. It is covered with valuable Sal, Non Sal woods including hundreds of medicinal species. Thus, the spectacular ever green dense forest maintains an ecological balance to its surrounding Odisha and Chhattisgarh state.
In addition to this, a natural spring of water appends to the beauty of Harishankar. The water of theHarishankarFallsgushes down to the granite floor of the shrines. It creates a series of captivating waterfalls that makes an out and out scenic beauty. It also acts as a natural shower for the pilgrims.
The foaming waters sparkle vibrantly, acting as an enjoyable contrast to the unmelting hardness of the granite bed from which it cascades through the sun-dappled jungle. Echoing its joyful song, birds and bathers thronging the pool shaped by the swirling waters seem to give thanks to the presiding deities ‘Hari’ and ‘Shankar’.
As a holy place, along with a beautiful natural stream passing on the granite bed, it has given some visitors a feeling of peace and joy. On the opposite of side of the Gandhamardhan Hills, another temple of Nrusinghanath is located. The plateau between the two temples has been found to have ancient Buddhist ruins, which are considered to be remnants of the ancientParimalgiriUniversity.
For centuries, the Hari Shankar temple has been an important center of Hindu worship. This temple is a central element in all aspects of everyday life among the locals and the pilgrims. It is very significant not only for its religious instincts, but also for the elements of culture, scenic beauty, medicine plants, Buddhist University of Parimala Giri and so on.
It is however alleged that the state government does not give much attention on the development of these tourist spots because it is interested on the bauxite and alumina reserves in the hill.
Once mining is taken place in the area, it would be a serious negative consequence of the environment extinct of the rare species of medicinal plants that are available here. Hence, the government should approach a holistic way to preserve its age old shrines and natural resources.
In fine, this temple reflects the rich art and culture of Odisha where the spiritual, philosophical and the human dimensions are merged to yield the finest civilized life.