The ancient Siddheshwar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva gets very crowded around ‘Maha Shivaratri’. Situated atop Siddheshwar hill, the cave temple is not far from the banks of the Mahanadi. Legend has it that in the Mahabharata era, the Pandavas resided here briefly during their exile in disguise. It is believed that Arjuna installed a Shivalinga and worshipped it to get ‘siddhi,’ as a result of which the temple deity is known as ‘Siddheshwar.’ The Pandavas are said to have lived in the caves adjacent to the temple.
According to Buddhist tradition, several Buddhist monks came to this place to meditate and obtain enlightenment. The monks found the hill caves suitable for meditation. One can see several stone idols of Lord Buddha in the area, lying in a dilapidated state due to neglect over the years.
The temple located close to the Naraj barrage, near Cuttack, is 36km from the capital, Bhubaneswar. A Trust, comprising members of the nearby village of Talagarh, manages the affairs of the shrine. Baba Shiva Prakash Brahmachari, who resides in the mutt adjacent to the temple, narrated the history of the temple. According to him, Kalapahada invaded Orissa in 1568 during the Mughal period. He is said to have demolished several temples of Orissa and Buddhist statues and other sculptures in the hill caves. The broken statues still stand testimony to a Buddhist settlement near the caves.
A mendicant named Jugal Kishore Sharma, who had come to the place 36 years ago in quest of salvation, stayed at the hill shrine worshipping God. As Kalapahada had destroyed the temple, Sharma tried to consecrate a Shivalinga (white in colour) in the cave by bringing a shaligram stone from the bed of the river Narmada on the advice of pundits from Kashi. Consequently, the Shivalinga is also referred to as Narmadeswar after the river Narmada.
Shiva devotees and local volunteers raised a building at the entrance of the cave. Hundreds of people regularly visit the temple. The number swells to lakhs during Mahashivratri. The Trust makes arrangement for a five-day yaga (Jagyan) which commences four days prior to Mahashivaratri and concludes on the fifth day with the lighting of the ‘Mahadeepa’ coinciding with Shivaratri. The yaga is performed atop the hill. Sadhus from different areas of the state come to the place at the time.
Residents of Talagarh believe that the “formless Shiva in symbolic form” in the shrine listens to people’s prayers. Sahukar, a villager, said that Siddheshwar fulfills genuine wishes of his devotees if they make a wish in front of the Shivalinga.
The area around the cave temple is scenic. The Sapua river, a tributary, joins the Mahandi below the hill shrine, and flows towards Cuttack. “It was dense forest when I came here 25 years back and there was no way to go up to the cave temple when Kulamani Rout, a government officer, wanted to go there during Mahashivaratri,” says Baba Shiva Prakash.
After the official went back, he sanctioned some amount to construct a concrete road from the foothills to the temple. Baba adds, “A railway bridge was under construction close to the hill when some miscreants planted dynamites at the bottom of the hill to extract stones for the construction work. This has led to gradual disintegration of the “Mukhasala” (frontal elevation) of the temple.”
The stairs leading to the temple have started crumbling. Local residents have been demanding that the Archaeological Survey of India should take up the restoration of the temple to prevent it from falling into further ruin.
Says temple priest Sanjaya Nana, “I am the seventh generation of my family worshipping the Lord Siddheshwar. All your wishes will be fulfilled if you offer prayers here with a clean heart and mind. Nobody has ever returned without his wishes being granted.”