Mahendragiri is situated in the Paralakhemundi sub-division of Gajapati district in Odisha, about 245km south west of the state capital Bhubaneswar.
The triple-top highland is part of the Eastern Ghats and the second highest mountain peak of Odisha at a height of 4,925ft after the Deomali mountain (5,486ft), which is in the Koraput district.
Paralakhemundi city is the headquarter of Gajapati district, lies around 56km southwest of Mahendragiri. Gajapati is a backward district and one of the 19 districts in the state, covered under the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF).
The history of Mahendragiri traces back to the 2nd century CE, when Gautami-Putra Satakarni, the emperor of Satavahana Kingdom is known to have extended his empire in the east up to Mahendragiri.
Originally, the place was inhabited by native Savaras and Pulindas in the ancient era. Towards the beginning of the 1st century CE more civilized races began to settle here.
Kalidasa describes the King of Kalinga as a Lord of Mahendra in the Raghuvamsam, suggesting Mahendragiri was the seat of political headquarters of Kalinga rulers. It was also an equally important religious-cultural center for the Kalingas.
The Eastern Ganga dynasty who ruled Kalinga from 11th century to 15th century installed their family deity Lord Gokarnesvara (Lord Shiva) on the crest of Mahendragiri. This marks the importance of the hill in the minds of the ruling dynasties.
In 1434CE, Gajapati Kapilendra Deva, the founder of the Gajapati dynasty, became the king of Kalinga through a military coup. It is said that towards the end of the 15th Century, one of his sons came to Paralakhemundi and founded the Royal family of Paralakhemundi.
Ever since, this family controlled Paralakhemundi, which was a large zamindari estate and later a princely state under the British rule. It covered a vast area of land bordering the then larger Vizagapatam district in the west and the Jeypore zamindari and the Eastern Ghats in the north.
The architect of Odisha State
Krushna Chandra Gajapati Narayan Deo (1892 – 1974) who ruled the princely state of Paralakhemundi is considered as the architect of an Independent United Odisha state formed in 1936 still under the British rule. He was honorably known as Maharaja because of his welfare policies and efficient governance.
He was the first Prime Minister of the Odisha state in 1937 for a short period and again from 1941 to1944. When the new district was created in 1992 carving out of the Ganjam District of Odisha, it was named after him, i.e., the Gajapati District.
Krushna Chandra Gajapati Narayan Deo was a great patron of Oriya literature, art, and music. He encouraged Oriya writers, poets and dramatists by extending financial support. His contributions in the fields of education and sports were remarkable.
His progressive steps in the field of agriculture, especially in the irrigation system, later on, led to the establishment of many water reservoirs, such as Ramasagar, Sitasagar, Krishnasagar etc.
The rulers of Paralakhemundi were highly religious, and they built a number of temples and monasteries across the region at different periods of time.
Himalayas of Kalinga
Several dynasties which ruled Kalinga over the centuries treasured the significance of Mahendragiri’s strategic geographic location. The mountain is regarded as one of the seven Kulaparvatas or holy mountains in the country; others being Malaya, Sahya, Saktiman, Rikṣha, Vindhya and Pariyatra. Mahendragiri is also known popularly as the Himalayas of Kalinga.
There are many small hills around the highland. Mahendragiri at the top is plain with frequent clouds looming over it. The mountain has numerous streams flowing on it and most of them join either Rusikulya or Mahendratanaya rivers down the hills.
The river Mahendratanaya emerges from the foothills of Mahendragiri and flows through south Odisha and Andhra Pradesh before joining the Bay of Bengal at Barua.
The places around Mahendragiri are dotted with abundant natural beauty and eye-catching pastoral panorama. Thus, it is an important tourist place filled with diverse vegetation, rare medicinal plants, and other floral foundations as well as a trekkers’ ultimate paradise.
Mahendragiri is surrounded by thick forests on three sides. And, they are home to peacocks, flying squirrels, giant squirrels, elephants, spotted deer, leopards, wild boar, mouse deer, golden geckos, pied hornbills, grey hornbills, and myna.
The Ministry of Tourism has selected Mahendragiri as one of the 15 centers under the Ramayana circuit for its religious significance, historical importance, and tourist attractions
The Mahendra mountain is considered to be a sacred mountain as per traditional Hindu texts, as the place is associated with a number of events in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
According to the Ramayana, Lord Hanuman wanted a high place to jump over the ocean to Lanka to find the whereabouts of Mata Sita, abducted by the demon king Ravana. It is believed that he chose Mahendragiri, a kulaparvata for this feat.
The Ramayana says Hanuman jumped a distance of 100 yojanas to cross over the sea. As1yojana equals 8 miles, Mahendragiri is largely believed to be the place where from Hanuman made his leap to Lanka successfully, reflecting his faith in his abilities and devotion to Lord Ram.
Mahendragiri is believed to be the abode of Lord Parshuram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu and one of the seven Chiranjeevis or immortals. He is an important character in both the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
He chose Mahendragiri for conducting a long, rigid penance and earned Lord Shiva’s blessings and the famous weapon parsu or double-ax from the Lord. There is a temple of Lord Shiva and Parshuram at the foothill near the Tumba village.
The legendary Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata were believed to have stayed in the caves of Mahendragiri during one of their journeys in exile along with their mother Kunti. Bhima used to worship Lord Shiva while staying here.
The holistic place has three temples atop the hills believed to be built by the Pandava brothers. These are known as Bhima temple, Yudhishthira temple and Kunti- Gokarnesvara temple. Today, this place is an important pilgrim center for Hindus, witnessing large crowd especially on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri.
Mahendragiri is located between 18-58’-10” N latitude and 85-26’-4” E longitudes in the middle of the Eastern Ghats, facing the Bay of Bengal lying around 26km away. The nearest cities Paralakhemundi and Brahmapur are within the reach of around 50km and 76km respectively.
People, Language, Culture
As mentioned, Mahendragiri is located in Paralakhemundi sub-division of Gajapati district. Paralakhemundi has a population of 48,990 according to the 2011 census. Whereas, Gajapati district has a total population of 5,75,880.
The present population in Paralakhemundi is estimated to be around 80,000. The average literacy rate in the urban area is around 69%. People speak mainly Oriya language.
Majority population are Hindus and religious minded. The vast number of temples in the region and its close connections with the mythological events mentioned in Hindu texts have a strong influence on the people’s social and religious life in the region.
The climate of the district is generally equable with the level of humidity nearly dry and constant throughout the year. The annual average temperature is around 300 c. The climatic conditions are often influenced by depressions and cyclonic storms originated in the Bay of Bengal.
The risk is strong during the monsoon and post-monsoon periods, affecting the area and people of the district. The region receives rainfall from both South-West monsoon and North-East monsoon. Average annual rainfall in the region is around 1200mm.
How to reach Mahendragiri
The distance to Mahendragiri by road is around 19 Kms from Mohana and 56 Kms from Paralakhemundi. The mountain is approachable from three sides; i.e., through Tumba village form Brahmapur side, through Burkhat from Paralakhemundi side and through Jangalapadu from Srikakulam side.
The nearest railway stations are Palasa railway station (42km), Paralakhemundi railway station (58km) and Berhampur railway station (77 Km).
The nearest airport to Mahendragiri is Bhubaneswar, the state capital, which is around 254 Kms by road via Mohana.
Places of Interest
There are several tourist spots in and around Mahendragiri, including Chandragiri (Jiranga) and some beautiful waterfalls such as the Gandahati Waterfall in the Rayagada Block and the Mankada Dia Waterfall in the R.Udayagiri Block.
Chandragiri is located in Lobarsing Gram Panchayat of Mohona Block around 70km from Mahendragiri. A large number of Tibetan refugees has settled here.
Chandragiri is home for the highest Buddhist temple in South Asia, named as the Padmasambhava Mahavihara Monastery. The temple has a huge statue of Dhyani Budha enshrined inside the shrine. The temple was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 2010.
Iconic Palaces, Temples
Paralakhemundi city houses a host of temples, historical monuments, and elegant buildings, including the Basant Niwas Palace and the iconic Gajapati Palace.
Basant Niwas Palace was the historical summer palace of the royal family of Paralakhemundi, occupying an area of 26 acres. Built in 1926, the palace was designed by German architects.
The Gajapati palace is an architectural grandeur designed and built by the British architect Robert Fellowes Chisholm between 1835-43 during the reign of Jagannath Gajapati Narayan Deo-III.
Most of the temples in this region are Shiva temples and Sakti temples. Large groups of pilgrims visit these temples on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri every year.
There are three ancient temples atop Mahendragiri, which are named after the Pandavas and known as Kunti Temple, Bhima Temple and Yudhistira Temple.
The Kunti temple is also known as Gokarnesvara temple is located on the second peak of Mahendragiri. This is one of the earliest Shiva temples of entire South Odisha. The temple is around 30ft tall, designed in ‘Rekha Deula’ style of Kalinga type of architecture that is associated with Vishnu, Surya and Shiva temples in Odisha.
It is said to be built by the first ruling prince of Kalinga Indravarman, a staunch worshipper of Lord Gokarneswar (Lord Shiva) in the early century. Lord Gokarneswar became the family god of all branches of the Gangas of Kalinga.
At the entrance to the temple, there are two inscriptions dating back to 1045 and 1055. The temple is believed to be repaired or reconstructed by the Eastern Ganga rulers around the 12th century.
The main deity of the temple is Shivalinga. A section of scholars believes that the original shape of Gokarneswar was wooden pillar worshipped by earlier tribal communities on the Mahendragiri.
This later turned into the shape of a Shivalinga and named Gokarneswar. The temple has some sub-deities, such as Lord Ganesh placed on the southern side, Lord Kartik and Lord Vishnu on the eastern side.
According to puranic literature, Lord Shiva himself established the temple of Lord Gokarneswar on the hill. He is believed to have performed penance on Mahendragiri for killing a divine cow named Kapila.
The body of the cow fell in the sea and ear or Karna or Kana fell on Mahendragiri, says the Puranas.
On the occasion of Shivaratri, devotees from across Odisha, as well as the nearby Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, visit the temple in large numbers.
Bhima Temple is believed to be built by the Mathra King Uma Varman, during his reign period 360-395 CE. It is situated in the southwest of Yudhistira temple on Kubjagiri, the highest peak of Mahendragiri mountain.
The temple is built in a unique style, using seven huge cut pieces of granite stones kept balanced on one another with a flat-roofed structure.
The largest single piece of stone used for the construction is 9ft in length, 4ft wide and height of 3ft. The temple itself is approximately 25ft tall.
The temple has one small door opening of nearly 4ft height and about 1ft wide. It is devoid of any common deity inside, but one block of stone is placed as an object of worship.
Hindus believe that Pandava brothers built this temple while staying here for a while during their 12-year exile in the forest. They climbed the sacred Mahendragiri to acquire divine powers.
The Yudhistira temple believed to be of the 6th century CE period is located on the top of the Mahendragiri. Constructed with hard granite blocks, the style of the temple is somewhat of the type of Satrughaneswar group of temples at Bhubaneswar of the 6th century.
It is also likened to the Somesvaraand Madhukeswara temples of Mukhalingam in neighboring Srikakulam, but with different sculpture style.
Like the Bhima temple, there is no deity installed inside the Yudhistira temple. Facing to the west, the temple has four Chaitya arches on all sides of its tower. The front door of the temple lintel contains an inscription of the Chola King Rajendra Chola.