Chausathi Jogini Mandir (Temple of the 64 Yoginis)
It was godhuli (that time of the evening when cattle return home from pastures) when we reached Hirapur thirsty but untired. A group of elderly villagers guided us to the temple that we were seeking. Those familiar with Hindu mythology might have an inkling of the importance of the 64 yoginis in shaping events by the sheer force of their magical power and moral uprightness. Though the term yogini means lady ascetic, the 64 yoginis are supposedly followers of Devi or Durga who are seen as the epitome of female austerity and power. It is believed that they hold the power to confer the title of chakravarti on a king provided he answers their riddles. Only those who successfully pass the test of the yoginis by correctly answering the difficult riddles in accordance with their duties as an administrator of justice eventually go on to become the king of kings.
Strangely however, not many instances of worship of these 64 yoginis who are of such seeming significance in Hindu tradition are present. Only a few temples exist (the count is said to be 9 across the states of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Assam) where the 64 yoginis are worshipped. Perhaps the most famous of such temples dedicated to the yoginis is at Hirapur, a small village on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. Also, known as Mahamaya Mandir, this temple is believed to have been used as a centre for tantric practices. Folklore abound on the power of the yoginis and those who have been blessed or cursed by them.
Discovered in the year 1953 by Kedarnath Mahapatra who was then working for the State Museum of Orissa, this hypaethral temple is unique in its architecture. The shrine is circular and only about two and half metres high. Made of coarse sandstone that is common to the area, it bears sculpts of yoginis standing on different mounts (tortoises, boars, parrots etc.) and in different postures on the inner circular wall. However, the figurines of the yoginis themselves are made from black chlorite that is not available locally. While some of the yoginis have animal heads, others have intriguing coiffures. There is a square column at the centre of the courtyard that houses 8 yoginis in different mudras (dance postures). The idol of the presiding deity goddess, Mahamaya is taller than the other yoginis’ and has a distinct 10-armed representation. Sadly, most of the idols are disfigured or in the process of disintegration.
Supposedly built in the 9th century AD, this temple has an aura of mystery surrounding it that’s almost palpable. Locals swear by Mahamaya and to this day the temple is regarded as a high ground of tantric rites. Whether or not the yoginis and their followers are relevant in modern times, this temple of the 64 yoginis stands as a vibrant testimony to the beliefs and practices of times when kings harboured ambitions of being chakravartis.