The circular enclosure with no roof to the sky is a very peculiar shape for an Indian temple but at Hirapur you will find this and an even more interesting set of deities worshipped.
Little is known about the Yogini temples thanks to the fear they still evoke among the locals
The temples of the Chausath (64) Yoginis, are strewn across the heart of India, in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. The most famous among them is the one at Hirapur, just outside Bhubhaneshwar in Odisha. Little is known about the Yogini temples thanks to the fear they still evoke among the locals. In fact the very existence of the Hirapur Yogini temple, came to light only in 1953!
The Tantric sects of Hinduism that evolved outside the main orthodox Brahmanical system, are perhaps the least known or understood. A lot of this is because they were always kept out of the mainstream and shrouded in mystery for the uninitiated and hence taboo.
Infact, the fear of Yoginis goes back all the way to ancient times. The Brahmanda Purana, one of the main texts of tantra states that anyone who reveals the secrets of the purana will be cursed by the Yoginis. Another, the Jnanavarna Tantra, goes beyond, adding that whoever tells the secrets of tantra to the uninitiated, will become food for the Yoginis!
So who are the Yoginis?
They are a group of forest spirits or mother goddesses of the forest who were later incorporated into the Hindu pantheon This incorporation of these goddesses, from tribal to tantric happened in the 8th century CE. It is not surprising that most of these Yogini temples are in the heart of the old Gondwana forests of central India, where tribals live.
The temple at Hirapur was built by Queen Hiradevi of the Brahma dynasty during 9th century. In fact, there are references to kings doing tantric pujas at these Yogini temples to harness the power of these Yoginis against their enemies.
Yoginis are a group of forest spirits or mother goddesses of the forest
In the Hirapur Yogini temple, there are just 54 statues in the circle. In the centre, is a Chandi Mandapa that has the remaining eight goddesses on all four sides. Thus, the Hirapur Chausath Yogini temple, has only statues of 62 Yoginis instead of 64. There is no specific names given to each of these Yoginis and different texts give them different names.
The cult of Yoginis was very powerful between the 9th and 12th centuries CE, but it was virtually wiped out by the 17th century CE. However, some aspects of Yogini worship survived across India. In fact, there is a reference to a Yogini vrata or a puja undertaken by ladies in the Walkeshwar area of Mumbai as late as the 1900s!
Even today, much feared and revered by locals, the Yogini temple at Hirapur continues to hold on to it’s secrets and mysteries.
Inputs from: Yogini Cult and Temples by Vidya Dahejia
LHI Travel Guide
The Chausath Yogini temple is situated in Hirapur, a hamlet on the outskirts of the capital of Odisha, Bhubaneswar. The nearest railway station is at Bhubaneswar, about 10 kms away and the closest airport is Biju Patnaik International Airport, Bhubaneswar which is 10.5 kms away from the temple.