I first heard of Biraja Devi at Jajpur when I read the Adi Shankaracharya’s Stotra describing the 18 Shaktipeeth across India. He calls it Odyaan Peeth, a word that comes in many Shakta texts like Lalita Sahastranama. Then at a presentation on Puri Yatra at Indica Yatra Conference, I heard about the 4 Khsetras or regions of Odisha, of which Jajpur is one. So, when we were planning our trip to Odisha, I knew we have to visit Biraja Devi Shaktipeeth at Jajpur and we did on our way back from Bhitarkanika.
Brief History of Jajpur
Word Jajpur comes from Sanskrit Yajpur or Yagnapur as the story of this city goes back to the time when Brahma did a Yagna here. It is also believed to be a place where various Ashwamedha Yagnas were done, another reason for it to be called Jajpur.
From the 8th CE to the mid 10th CE, Jajpur was the capital of Odisha region. It was ruled by as many as 6 women rulers during this time. Later the capital moved to other regions including Bhubaneshwar.
In mid-16th CE the Kalapahad from Bengal, who was responsible for destroying many temples including Jaganath Puri and Konark, also attacked Jajpur. He destroyed all the ancient temples here too.
Story of Biraja Devi
She is supposed to be Adya or the primary goddess, who was born when Brahma did a Yagna here in Champak Van. She is called Biraja here but Adi Shankaracharya and other texts call her Girija which would mean Parvati or the one born of the mountain. One interpretation of the name that I read in a book I picked up at the temple is – Biraja means the one without Raja or one who has only Satva Guna. She is also treated as Vaishnavi as she is born out of the Vishnu Yagna.
Read More – Mahalakshmi Shaktipeeth of Kolhapur
Biraja Devi Murti is in standing posture with two arms only. She is holding the tail of Mahishasura in her left hand and killing him with the trident in her right hand. This is rare as most ancient Murtis of Devi have more than 2 arms, including all the other Shaktipeethas.
The most important iconography of Biraja Devi is in her crown. The crown has miniature Murtis of Ganesha, Vasuki – the king of Nagas, Shivalinga in a Yoni & moon. This crown brings together all the different paths that Hinduism has. Scholars interpret as all the paths eventually lead you to the Adya or Para Shakti that Biraja Devi is.
She is supposed to have been born on Paush or Triveni Amavasya. On that day, she is worshipped with Gayatri Mantra.
Read More – 50 Places in India Named After Devi
As a Shaktipeeth, it is believed that the navel of Devi Sati fell here, also getting it the name Nabhi Peeth.
Her temple is located in the middle of a triangle formed by three Shiva temples – Krateshwar, Varuneshwar, Beleshwar. Two of these are underwater now.
Land of 5 Vs or Bs
At the Saptamatrika Temple in Jajpur, the priest Bhola Nath Panda Ji told me about the 5 V or B as the Odias pronounce it, that form the sacred geography of the Biraja Kshetra. These being:
- Varaha – The avatar of Vishnu worshipped here
- Viraja Devi – Presiding Goddess of the region
- Vedas – All the knowledge of the world
- Vipra or Brahmins
- Vaitarani River that flows here
Places to See in Jajpur
Jajpur is a small town located on the banks of the Vaitarani river – the river that we all have to eventually cross. The city still revolves around the temple of Biraja Devi like they do in most pilgrimage places. On the day that I spent there, I did see many more things in this ancient town. Come with me to see this lovely town.
Biraja Devi Temple Complex
The temple looks like a small walled fort from outside. This is how I saw it in the late evening when we first entered the town. The next day morning, when we visited it, it looked very different and very vibrant with its colorful entrance duly guarded by two lions on either side.
I stepped in to see the temple in pristine white with colorful Amakalas on top of its Shikhara and Mandapa. It was being freshly painted. A series of smaller temples in the same color scheme surrounded it.
Biraja Temple Museum
On the left, as soon as you enter is a museum that introduces you to the story of the Devi. I do not recall a museum like this in any other temple I have visited. In a small room, through a series of dioramas, it tells you the story of the Devi. It shows the Yagna of Brahma, Devi emergence close to a stone pillar called Subha Stambha, her killing of Mahishasura and her different forms as Navadurga.
In the center of the room, the three primary forms of Devi – Mahalakshmi, Mahakali and Mahasaraswati are shown emerging from the Devi. A Shiva sculpture in the corner shows up as Ardhnarishwara when viewed from an angle.
It is a small storytelling space that tells a lay visitor the story of the Devi and her temple. It is here that I learned about the other places to visit in the city. I must thank Shrikanta Ji, the caretaker of the museum for showing it to me with great interest.
Biraja Devi Temple
You first meet the Vahana of the Devi, a Simha or a Lion on a stone pillar. This is Odia temple architecture style. In all the temples, you see the Vahana on top of a pillar, unlike other places where they may have a mandapa of their own or a platform in front of the deity.
Read More – Kanchi Kamakshi Shaktipeeth
Inside the mandapa has four red-colored pillars and you go around the pillars to reach the Garbhagriha. In between, there is a Dhuni or fire burning. You see the Devi wearing the Odia Sari and adorned with flowers all around. You can not see her Vigraha, the best place to see that is in the museum.
Pandas play the mediator as they take your Dakshina and give you the Charnamrita.
Other temples in Biraja Devi Temple Complex
Baglamukhi Temple – Towards the backside of the main temple, on the left side is a small but beautiful Baglamukhi Temple. Some people also call her Bhramarambika, possibly because a lot of Andhra devotees visit it. The temple door in wood has all the 10 Mahavidyas carved on it. Around the temple are Murtis of Mahamaya, Mahakali & Kapaal Bhairav.
Ek Paad Bhairavi Temple – To the right is a temple dedicated to Bhairavi with one leg. She is accompanied by two-legged Kali. It is believed that at the end of Kaliyuga, the Murti would move.
Shiva Temple – The Swayambhu Kshetrapal of the temple.
Baba Vaidyanath Temple – Shiva temple bang opposite in the same style.
Dola Mandap – it is a platform with an arch where a swing is hanged when the Devi comes out to play Holi. It is also called Holi Mandapa.
Koti Linga – You see two big rooms full of Shivalingas. Many of these are Sahastralingas – i.e. with many miniature Lingas carved on the single linga. I was told that Jajpur is the land of Koti or 10 Million Shivalingas. Even today, every time the earth is dug up, some Shivalingas are discovered. They all come to this temple to get worshipped. The sheer number of Lingas in the temple compound will make you think about how the ancient city must have been.
One of the unique features of the temple is the fact that post-life rituals are performed here, something that is not done at any other Shaktipeeth. The temple has a well called Nabhi Gaya. It is believed that it is the middle part of Gayasur whose head is in Gaya in Bihar and whose feet are in Peethapura in Andhra Pradesh.
This is the place to conduct post-life rituals for your ancestors. As of now, it is a, well with modern ceramic tiles all around it.
In one corner of this room, is a small opening with stone steps leading down to a Shivalinga. It is believed to be connected to Ganga. It is believed that every Amavasya, Purnima and Sankranti, the water level rises to bathe the Shivalinga.
Wishes on a Tree – A huge tree in the temple premises is full of red clothes tied to it. All these are wishes
Festivals of Biraja Devi Temple
During the Sharad Navaratri, a 16 days festival is celebrated in the temple. During these days, Rath Yatra of Biraja Devi takes place on a chariot called Simhadhwaj. This is also unique to this Devi temple.
No moon day of Magh month or Triveni Amavasya is celebrated as the day Devi emerged from the Yagna.
Varuni Mela takes place on the banks of the Vaitarni river in the month of Chaitra.
Holi is played in the temple.
Other Places & Temples to see in Jajpur
The temple tank, it is believed that this was the Yagna Kund where Brahma performed the Yagna from where Devi emerged. It was surrounded by a forest called Champak Van. Now, of course, it is in the middle of a bustling city.
Read More – Pushkar – the city of Brahma
This is an ancient stone pillar standing within a boundary along with an ancient Banyan tree. The tree tells its age through its girth but the stone can be mistaken for an electricity pole unless you look intently at it. It was a part of the temple, or maybe the temple boundary extended to this point. A Garuda Murti used to be on top of this pillar which now has a temple of its own. This pillar can be seen in all depictions of Biraja Devi.
Scholars say this is the victory pillar of King Yayati-I of the Somvashi dynasty.
This is impeccably maintained huge lake in the middle of the city, with a lovely walking path around it. There are Murtis at places and flowers all around. I could only see it from a distance. If every city in India has a lake like this, we would have healthier India.
This is an ancient Dakshin Kali temple that does not look ancient at all. The only ancient bit is the huge Varahi Murti outside the temple. I wonder if it was the Varahi temple at some point in time.
An ancient Jagannath temple in a typical Odisha Architecture. The bare stone panel with sculpted figures runs at the base of the temple which is rather plain on the top. Lovely vigrahas of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balbhadra are worshipped in the temple.
Here, I noticed a lovely stone bowl, square in shape used for keeping Charnamrit. After this, I will see some version of this in most temples I visited.
A relatively new temple tank is behind.
Budha or Vridhh Ganesh Temple
It is located close to Sapta Matrika Temple. I wonder if it was the part of the temple itself once. A Murti of Jain Tirthankar stands close to this temple surrounded by many old murtis.
A discovery in Jajpur. I heard about this temple during the visit. I assumed it to be a small temple. Well, it is a small temple but its Murtis are huge. Carved in black stone, the Murtis of Saptamatrikas or 7 mothers are giant, powerful and instantly evoke and emotion of awe and potentially fear. Each of them is at least 6 feet by 3 feet and hefty. All of them except Chandika were wearing pale yellow Saris with different prints in red. Kali was in her black color.
Read More – Chausath Yogini Temple at Hirapur
I could not see the Murtis because of the clothes. Later I read that each of them is holding a baby in hand. They appear in this order:
- Shamshan Kali
Apparently, there used to be a huge Saptamatrika temple that was destroyed by the invaders. These Murtis were pushed inside the Vaitarni river by the priests. Many years later they were brought out and a small temple built on the banks of the river by famous king Yayati Kesari. It looks more like a long room that is big enough to just hold the Murtis and allow a priest to walk in front of them.
The entrance to this temple is from the side. Four windows open up towards the river, so you can see the Matrikas.
Varaha Temple Complex
On the other side of the Vaitarni river, there is a Varaha Temple complex. The temple has lovely paintings on its ceilings
There are two Varaha Murtis here along with the Murti of Jagannath and Lakshmi. It is said that there used to be three Varaha Murtis here:
- Yagya Varaha
- Shwet Varaha
- Lakshmi Varaha
Lakshmi Varaha was moved to a village close by and its place in this temple was taken by Jaganath and Lakshmi. Shwet Varaha is the name of the present Kalpa that we are living in.
Around the Varaha temple are many small temples dedicated to Bimala Devi, Shankar with Mukhlinga, Sashthi Devi, Mukteshwar Mahadev, Surya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Ram Durbar, Hanuman, Narsingh.
Travel Tips for Jajpur
- Though a major pilgrimage town is not really visited by many tourists.
- A new town, located 30 odd km away from the old town is an industrial city and looks pretty modern. Most good hotels are located here. You need a car to commute between the two towns.
- Simple food is available around the temple.
- I spent a full day exploring the town including 3 hours at the temple. However, most people can do this place in about half a day.
- You can visit the Chhatia Bata Dham Kalki Temple dedicated to the future avatar of Vishnu that is located about 45 km from here.