This country given its spiritual history has seen many temple towns that grew and remained centered around a religious magnet. One such town from the Kalinga empire is the city of Bhubaneswar. The smart city movement recognized Bhubaneswar as the smartest city in the country. The unique positioning of this city on the intersection of historical religious importance and futuristic expansion is unique. The city succeeded Cuttack as the capital of Odisha and since then has seen tremendous impetus in urban growth while staying true to its inception.
The state of Odisha had been the seat of continuous culture for 2500 years. It covered an area of 510 acres, an amalgamation of 4 villages. This religious precinct was touted to have had 1000 temples, a conglomeration of mandaps, monuments, and ritualistic ponds. One of those 4 villages was Bhubaneswar, which saw exponential growth over the next decades.
Post-independence, on 13th April 1948, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru declared Bhubaneswar the capital township of Odisha by laying the foundation stone. The town planning was commissioned to Koenigsberger and was built between 1948-61. Industrial, institutional areas were not envisaged then and did not find a place in maps of that period. The agrarian society prevailed and the small population that did reside in the city visited the fields nearby to farm.
The city is reflective of the Master planner’s intent wherein he viewed the city as an autonomous body with its laws, jurisdiction, and right to self-determination. He noticed an organized sense of communal relationship along secular lines. He channelized his design to reconcile the conflict between rationalism and symbolism between the new town and the temple town. The town was divided into small manageable neighborhood units to replicate the prevailing organic nature of the settlement.
During 1956-76, Government offices started coming up. The administrative centers were established. Several schools, industrial units, and industrial estates were established and the population which migrated towards these amenities started residing in the area.
The constitution of Bhubaneswar Regional Improvement Trust (BRIT) in 1976 and subsequently Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA) in 1983 came into existence and were a push to direct the planning forces in the direction of urban growth. This stage in the evolution of the city saw the rise of mass housing and organized living quarters in various areas of the city. Major housing schemes and multistoried buildings were executed during this period. The emergence of markets near residential complexes was observed.
The city originally planned for 40,000 people now accommodated 8 lakh 50 thousand and counting. The originally planned area of 16.84 sq.kms is today a sprawling urban area of 148 sq.kms. Interestingly there has been no growth southeast due to the presence of flood plains of the Kuakhai River and the Daya River. The city is in tandem with physical features guiding its form and in the process, the religious magnet today seems absent from the discourse.
The city’s urbanization has had multiple positive impacts on boosting the old town area. Today the centuries-old Lingaraj temple sits amidst a massive redevelopment project which is believed to give the entire precinct a much-awaited facelift. Not only does the government use its administrative machinery to mobilize public interest but also use the generated impetus to benefit the improved investment. The non-built area visibly reduced over the decades bringing along the antithesis of authenticity. Due to the abundance of educational and business opportunities migration began from the nearby poorer states. The city which revolved around the temple precincts who were sevayats (temple priests usually reside near the temple), slowly transitioned into a melting pot of different cultures and economic classes. However, the followers of religion remain forever enthusiastic to regularly pay visits to the religious center.
The Ashokan empire also saw a bleeding Daya river and a converted Ashoka believer of Buddha. The city no longer a religious entity now has truly blossomed into a worthy capital. To take an Ekamra walk on a winter morning and to relive the magic of the preserved temple town is a treat to the eyes. One hears sounds of devotees chants and smells of Prasad( food offered to the God) and walks along with the holy ponds of blooming lilies. This image is a projection of the efforts of the citizens who strive for making Bhubaneswar a smart city as well as a temple city like no other. Bhubaneswar truly is India’s Best Kept Secret (tagline for the Odisha Tourism Campaign). The evolutionary trail of the city never lost sight of the true essence of this city and pushes to enhance it.