Kapilas:A Centre of Cultural Activities

Kailash Chandra Das

The tribal root of Kapilasa has been presented in the Oriya Mahabharata of Sarala Das. According to a version of Vana Parva of Sarala Mahabharata Siva had given away his abode (Kailasa) to a Sabara named Sikhara for his extreme devotion (Vana Parva of Sarala Mahabharata,Ist Part,p.96-97). This indicates that Kapilasa was a centre of the tribals before it was converted into a Saiva centre.


    Kapilasa which has been presented as the Darjeeling of Odisha by Damodar Pattnaik in an interesting focus in a well known Oriya weekly Newspaper in 1884 is situated on the boundary line of Dhenkanal in lat.20o 401and 40” and longitude 850 431 53”(Utkala Dipika, 19th April 1884). The height of the hill is 2098 ft. Kapilas is a celebrated centre of pilgrimage down the ages. It continues to be a centre of religious and spiritual activities in the modern age for attracting a vast concourse of pilgrims. The present focus is on the development of the site as a centre of culture in Odisha from the early phase to the 19th century A.D. on the basis of an interpretation of the traditional accounts and on the review of the literary works.


    The present name Kapilasa is known to us from the Sarala Mahabharata which was composed in the 15th century A.D(Sargarohana Parva,Sarala Mahabharata,p.30-33). But the site was well known as Kapilasa Sikhara as early as the period of the Ganga kings.The Kapilas inscriptions engraved on the kalasa of the Sikharesvara temple belong to the period of the Ganga king Narasimha I and these inscriptions give us an idea of the geography of the area(Sircar 1959/1960:41-45). Inscription No.I states that Narasimha Deva constructed a temple for the god Kailasa-Sikharesvara .No.II states that the king Narasimha granted the village of Nagana-Bhimapura in favour of the god Kailasa-Sikharesvara.Inscription No.III records the grant of a village(Rayi-grama) in favour of the god Kailasa-deva, no doubt the same deity called Kailasa-Sikharesvara. There is a village called Nagana in Dhenknal District which is well known for the temple of Naganathesvara.It is about twenty kilometres away from Kapilas.Bhimapur is a village near it which is associated with a fort (Singhadeo and Pattnaik 1980:16-17). Bhimanagri Dandapata is known to us from Rajabhoga of Madalapanji and this is stated in connection with the Ganga king Anangaabhima III, the father of Narasimha I (Madalapanji, p.27-31). It indicates that Kapilasa was well known as a centre of Saivism during the Ganga phase; But during the period of the Suryavamsi Kapilendra Deva it was not known as Kailasa but Kapilasa, which is frequently stated in Sarala Mahabharata of this period.The name Kapilasa is a local modification of Sanskrit Kailasa (Sircar 1959/1960:41). It might also be called after the name of Kapila who was associated with Saivism-one of the ancient seers. Whatever may be the interpretation, Kapilasa as the name was popular from the Suryavamsi Gajapati phase in Orissa. The Puranic texts including Kapila Samhita refer to both the names of Kapilasa and Kailasa.

    Kapilasa was a centre of Siva worship in the Ganga Gajapati phase and the Sivaratri festival was observed in this phase, which is stated in Sarala Mahabharata (Sargarohana Parva, p.30-33). Before Kapilasa was a centre of Saivism it was also a very important seat of a tribal group. There are two sets of Sevaks or worshippers at Kapilasa.The non-Aryan worshippers have the charge of cooking the rice offerings of the god and are called Chintapatris(Roy 1927:294-295). They claim that they are a branch of the Daitas of Puri. They are purely of Sabara origin.The Brahmins do not take the cooked rice offerings of the god on the ground that they are cooked by men of Sabara descent .According to the Chintapatris, they were the original worshipers of the idol (Ibid).The Chintapatris cook the rice offerings of the god and bathe him and do everything except the purely incantation portion of the worship. The existence of this group of priests in the temple of Kapilasa is an important evidence to connect the centre with the tribal worship. The tribal root of Kapilasa has been presented in the Oriya Mahabharata of Sarala Das. According to a version of Vana Parva of Sarala Mahabharata Siva had given away his abode (Kailasa) to a Sabara named Sikhara for his extreme devotion (Vana Parva of Sarala Mahabharata,Ist Part,p.96-97). This indicates that Kapilasa was a centre of the tribals before it was converted into a Saiva centre. Sarala Das must have marked the gradual Hinduization of the tribal centre from the traditional accounts of his time and there is no reason to distrust the view of Sarala Das, although he presented it in a symbolic manner.

    The Hinduization of Kapilas must have been possible from the period of the Sulki dynasty to the Ganga dynasty after several phases leading to the settlement of caste group of Aryans. As we have seen above Kapilas was a Saiva centre by the time of Anangabhima III and his son Narasimha I,the two Ganga kings who were associated with the areas.Although the Ganga kings had contribution to the Saiva centre Kapilas, it was almost in a declining stage by the time of the Suryavamsi Gajapatis of Orissa, because Sarala Das, a contemporary of Kapilendra Deva of the Suryavamsi family in Orissa described the Bhubana Kapilasa as a Gupta Tirtha. The later Gangas probably did not pay attention to Kapilas for which there was a check on the development of the Kshetra.


    The temple of Kapilas is under the care of a good set of priests. The Chintapatris are the most important group, which was associated with many ritualistic works-pasting chandan on the body of the deity, supplying flowers, and ‘bel’ leaves for the worship of the deity and cleaning the inner and outer spaces of the temple. They also directly worship the deity (Singhdeo and Pattnaik 1980:22). There are three ‘dhupas’ and five ‘abakasas’ for the deity like Purushottama-Jagannatha of Puri (Ibid.). After Jayamangala Arati of the morning prasad is offered at 9 A.M., at mid-day there is ‘dhupa’ and at evening there is ‘tarapana’. The cooked food of the temple is called Kothbhoga. It is also distributed to the Mathadharis which is called Khairatbhoga(Ibid.,p.23). There are some ‘Maths’ in Kapilasa, ‘Dandi Brahmachari Math’, ‘Harihara Math’, ‘Basudeva Math’, ‘Padmapada or Gumpha Matha’. There are four ‘Khamaras’ of the deity which are situated at Durgaprasad, Mahulkhali, Kaisia and Sandapasi(Ibid.). The income from the lands of these Khamaras is utilised for the bhoga of the deity. There are about 202 acres of lands of the Khamaras for the deity( Ibid.).

    There was remarkable progress of the centre of Kapilasa during the period of the Singha Vidyadhara family in Dhenkanal. For the management of the seva-puja of the temple of Kapilasa a disciple of Puri-Gobardhana Matha was engaged in the past whose abode was fixed at the southern part of Briddhesvara. A Matha was built for him, which was called Dandisvami Matha or Brahmachari Matha. It is difficult to determine when actually this Matha was erected at Kapilasa. It was probably an event of medieval phase.Kapilasa contains the temples of Chandrashekhar(Sikharesvara), Biswanath, Narayana, ruins of a medieval fort, wooden mandapas with carvings of cult icons and several loose sculptures (Mahapatra 1986:185-188). The Sikharesvara temple built in rekha style rises to a height of 60 feet from the plinth level. It has five projections on the outer walls. The ‘bada’ portion has five divisions-pabhaga, talajangha, vandhana, upper Jangha and the baranda. The Jagamohana of this temple is finished with a pidha roof.Images of Ganesa,Parvati and Karttikeya are installed as Parsva-devatas of the deity. They are very delicately carved, in front of the Jagamohana and on the western edge of the wooden mandapa are kept a number of Vrishabha images fashioned in granite stone. Of the series,one contains an inscription on its pedestal. This Vrishabha is said to have been brought from Bhimanagri to this place. The original Vrishabha image of the god is installed on a pillar set very close to the wooden mandapa. Towards the east of the main temple are two other shrines dedicated to Narayana and Biswanatha. The Narayana temple was constructed by Annapurna,the queen of Dinabandhu Mahendra Bahadur, the ex-ruler of Dhenkanal state. But the Biswanath temple has been assigned to a date in the period of the construction of the original Sikharesvara temple. The Narayana figure inside the temple is so fashioned as to allow spring water to ooze out through a small opening on its right foot,an ingeneous attempt to demonstrate the Puranic account that Ganga took shelter inside the nail of the right toe of Lord Narayana (Mahapatra 1941:13).

    The wooden mandapa in front of Jagamohana and the Vedi Mandapa within the premises were constructed during the period of Bhagirathi Mahendra Bahadur(A.D 1830-1877) (Mahapatra 1986:186-187). Both the structures were erected on masonry pillars and covered by tinned roofs. Local artists of the ex-state of Dhenkanal were employed for the construction of these mandapas. On the beams and rafters of the front mandapa beautiful carvings of Giri Govardhana Puja, Kaliyadalana, Radhakrishna Yugalamurtti, and Krishna under Kadamba tree have been executed. They are all carved in relief and convey traditional artistic finish. The Vedi mandapa though smaller in dimension displays more episodes from Bhagavata and Siva Puranas. Lotus medallions, scrollwork, gajasimha motifs, birds and animals fill up the vacant areas of the beams and rafters of this mandapa. Near the lion’s gate are seen superbly designed figures of Bhairaba and Chamunda kept on a high platform. In a higher altitude are noticed some natural rock shelters bearing the names of Padmapada Gumpha,Kendupania Gumpha and Sitagumpha (Mahapatra 1941:13:Mahapatra 1986:187)


    The centre of Kapilas has been associated with many thinkers,philosophers and seers among whom two were well-known-Sridhara Swami and Mahima Gosain.According to a traditional account the Gajapati king Prataprudra Deva had sent one Ramakrishnananda Swami to Kapilasa for the management of the temple. He was a disciple of Puri Govardhana Matha.Sridhar Swami, the great commentator of Bhagavata Purana,was a disciple of Ramakrishnananda (Singhadeo and Pattnaik 1980:25). Kapilasa as the seat of Sridhara Swami has been described in Kapila Samhita. Sridhar Swami was born in the village of Manjari near Remuna of Balasore (Mahapatra 1987:26-27). He had prepared a commentary(Subodhini Tika) of Srimad Bhagavata Gita. Although many commentaries were prepared before Sridhar by the Vaishnava preceptors the commentary of Sridhar was well appreciated by Chaitanya and his commentary was called Bhabartha Dipika (Singhadeo and Pattnaik:1980:27-28). According to another traditional account Sridhar had built his cottage near Saptasajya of Dhenkanal and he had started the worship of Narasimha there. His descendants are still living in the village Marei. He had gone to Kapilas for silent thinking and there he had concentrated to write a commentary on Bhagavata (Ibid:31-32). Thus on the basis of popular traditional accounts and literary evidences, Kapilasa has been claimed as a seat of Sridhar Swami,an exponent of Bhagavatism. Mahima cult, which represented an autochthonous reform movement of the 19th and 20th century A.D., was also associated with Kapilasa. According to the statements of the Mahima group the founder of the sect, Mahima Swami who came to this earth through the Himalayas turned later to Utkala, the holiest land of India,and settled down at Kapilasa mountain under the shelter of the snake god(Naga) (Eschmann 1978:38I-382). There he lived only on water for twelve years without indicating his true nature (Ibid.).This has been taken as his early connection with Kapilasa, which motivated him to undertake sadhana. From the early connection of the Mahima cult with Kapilasa and the popularity of the cult in the 19th century Garjat States (like Banki, Dhenkanal and others) it appears as a counter movement to priestly dominated Jagannatha cult. In that case Kapilasa has occupied a central part in the reform movement. The gadi of Mahima at Joranda,another place nearer to Kapilasa testifies to the fact that Kapilasa was a holy land that initiated a movement to counteract the ugly aspects of Hinduism.


    In the 19th century, Kapilasa was also a well-known place of pilgrimage like Purushottama Puri and Lingaraja. In Orissa, originally in the 17th and 18th century A.D. the path to the height of the hill was very precipitous and there a single drop of water was not available. In the 19th century there was a new path superior to, easier and shorter than the former one (Utkala Dipika, 19th April, 1884). This path, which was something like a road was made by the manager notwithstanding the objections of some people who said that by this enterprise the solemnity and curiosity of seeing the sacred place would be lessened. The spring which gushes forth from near the top runs down by the side of this new road. There were good many big stones distributed by nature here and there. It became pleasant when a man became fatigued to sit on one of those resting stony chairs under the shadow of trees when air touched by water soothed his limbs and sweet fragrance of “full many a flower born to blush unseen” delighted him. The murmuring sound of water, the humming of bees and the whispering sound of wind charm his ear like tinkling of music.

    In this path there were only three ascents, which looked very beautiful from a distance and taught the pilgrims that man cannot have happiness without surmounting difficulties. Having got over the ascents the pilgrims could reach the sacred spot, which was far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife. The place was a suitable retreat for summer season. Near the temple there is a spring, which comes out of the hill. There were five reservoirs in the 19th century. On the beauties of Kapilasa there is more of nature than of art. John Beames, the great Commissioner of Orissa, being charmed of the place remarked that the water of Kapilasa was as sweet as champagne (Ibid.). In 1884 Damodara Pattnaik from Dhenkanal who was a great lover of Oriya culture in a note requested the Commissioner, Larminie to take kind notice of this sacred mountain and to take steps for its improvements (Ibid.).


    The history of Kapilasa is associated with the history of Bhimanagri and Ramachandi, which are still to be reconstructed on the basis of reliable documents. In order to study this sacred site the historians must be familiar with Bhimachakra Durga, Arjun Harichandan and Mahanta Biswananda. The traditional accounts on Ratnamani and Bisadini which have been represented in Sambalpur Hiteisini (1899 and 1900) need to be examined in the context of the history of Kapilasa. Kapilasa like Mahabinayaka, Viraja, Konarka, Lingaraja and Jagannatha is a sacred centre for people of diverse creeds.


  1. Utkala Dipika(Oriya Weekly Newspaper),1884

  2. Madalapanji, ed. A.B.Mohanty,1969,Utkala University, Bhubaneswar

  3. Sarala Mahabharata,Vana Parva and Svargarohana Parva,Cultural Affairs Department, Government of Orissa,Bhubaneswar.

  4. Eschmann, A.,(1978) “Mahima Dharma: An Autochthonous Hindu Reform Movement”,in The Cult of Jagannatha and the Regional Tradition of Orissa, ed.Eschmann,Kulke and Tripathy,p.375-410

  5. Mahapatra Nagendranath,(1941),Sebakalara Katha(Tales of that Time), Dhenkanal.

  6. Mahapatra, Golak Chandra,(1987),Yuge Yuge Baleswar, Balasore.

  7. Mahapatra, Ramesh Chandra,(1986),Archaeology in Orissa, Vol.II, Delhi.

  8. Roy Satindra Narayana (1927),”The Sabaras of Orissa”, Man in India,October-December,Vol.VII,No.IV,p.277-336

  9. Sircar, D.C.(1959/1960),”Kapilasa Inscriptions of Narasimha Deva”, Epigraphia Indica,Vol.XXXIII,No.5,p.41-45

  10. Singhdeo,G.P., Pattnaik,R.K. And Singhadeo,S.P.(1980),Sambhukshetra Kapilasa O Sridhara Swami,Cuttack.