150 Kms away from Baripada, the headquarters of Mayurbhanj District and 25 Kms from Karanjia, the Sub-Divisional headquarters is situated at modern Khiching (Khijinga Kotta), the ancient capital city of the Bhanja Kings from about the middle of the ninth century AD. to the middle of the twelfth century AD. It lies between 21.50 degree north latitude and 85.50 degree east latitude near the confluence of the rivers Khairibhandana and Kantakhairi. This wonderful land of fascinating beauty and a long tradition of art and architecture, exquisite temples and historical monuments speak volumes of its past glory.
The religious history of the Bhanja Kings of Khiching is cosmopolitan, for Buddhism, Jainism and other cults flourished side by side with Hinduism. The worship of the Panchadevata, namely Vishnu, Siva, Surya, Ganapati and Sakti were widely prevalent here.The Bhanja Kings were devout worshippers of Sakti as borne by the fact that Kichakeswari (Khijingeswari) or Chamunda was the tutelary deity of the Bhanja dynasty. Several images of Durga, Mahisasuramardini and Saptamatruka bear evidence of the popularity of Saktism
The existing temple of Goddess Kichakeswari is not the original one. It was during the rule of Maharaja Purna Chandra Bhanja Deo that a systematic excavation of the Thakurani compound was first started by Raibahadur Rama Prasad Chand, who had been deputed for the purpose by Sir John Marsal at the request of the Maharaja. Mr. Chand during excavation of the Thakurani compound in 1922-24 came across the foundation of a great temple which measured 35’ square at the base.
This foundation represented an old temple’s vestiges which had long since disappeared in the limbo of history. The installation of Goddess Kichakeswari on the ruins on an earthen platform was an impromptu affair accomplished at a time when the circumstances were quite unfavorable. Chanda observed two things: (i) the old temple had enshrined a life-size image of Hara with many other life- size images as Parsadevatas / Parivaradevatas and Dwarapals (now preserved in the site Museum) and (ii) the temple had collapsed due to weak foundation. It was quite unbearable for the Bhanja ruler, Maharaja Purna Chandra that the family deity was being worshipped in a provisional structure. There was no dearth of material. Standing on the ruins of the Thakurani’s compound it was quite natural for the king to search for and think of the possible ways and means to restore the monuments besides providing a temple for the family deity. The Report on the Administration of Mayurbhanj 1923-24, p.81 para 5 clearly records.
“Foundations of the original temple in which the God Siva was enshrined have been traced. Over the shrine of the original temple stands small brick-built temple wherein the Goddess Kichakeswari is at present enshrined. At the request of the people of the locality, the Maharaja (Purna Chandra Bhanj Deo) with his brother, the Chhotrai Saheb (Pratap Chandra Bhanj Deo) visited the shrine on the 24th January 1924 and promised to restore the original temple.”
In his conservation note J.A. Page, Assistant Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India, Central Circle, suggested that the brick-built shrine of the Thakurani be removed from the compound as its ugliness did not conform to the surroundings. The demolition of the shrine would make construction of a new shrine imperative, he wrote. At the request of the Maharaja the Director General of Archaeology asked Mr. Page to make a plan for a simple structure of Indo-Aryan style. Since it was decided to use the doorjamb, door lintel and three images on the three niches of the old temple in the proposed new temple, the Khandiya deula (ruined temple) was demolished. Therefore, the idea to arrange a plan / design was mooted. The weak foundation of the old temple was considered unsuitable for erecting the proposed new structure. The Administrative report of 1933-34 informs that the Maharaja was in favour of building a temple of Khiching style.
In 1924-25 the construction of a new temple for Goddess Kichakeswari was proposed and accordingly J.A. Page gave a plan of IndoAryan style of temple design. As the style of the Khiching temples were different from that of temples of Bhubaneswar, it was decided by the Maharaja to have a design of a temple of Khiching style. The first thing the Maharaja did was to build a site museum for the better preservation of sculptures for which a large plot of land was acquired to extend the temple compound and to fence it with wire. The non-descript brick temple of the Goddess was demolished and removed from the compound. The Goddess was put in a newly constructed shed till a proper temple was built.
Due to tragic death of Maharaja Purna Chandra Bhanj Deo in 1928 the progress in the matter was delayed for a few years and ultimately Babu Sailendra Prasad Bose, the Archaeological Supervisor of the department made the design on the data obtainable from the existing temple and his design finally received the approval of the Maharaja. This challenge of Mr. Bose was formidable one demanding hard work, dedication, perfect skill, integrity and leadership. The work for the temple began before the close of the 1933- 34 financial years and completed by the end of 1941. The deity was installed on 14th March 1942 amidst pomp and ceremony. The height of the temple measured 68’ above the ground level and a sum of Rs.80,000/- was spent in its reconstruction and conservation.
The temple in its restored form also adheres to the Orissan Rekha type of architecture with a peculiarity of its own i.e. absence of a porch. It is otherwise a Pancharatha temple consisting of five pages (Pilasters). The sanctuary is square in the ground plan, rectangular parallelopiped from above the base, and surrounded by a curvilinear tower. The original temple was built in the tenth century A.D. and as such it is almost a contemporary of the Brahmesvar and Lingaraj temples at Bhubaneswar. The image of Kichakeswari, now being worshipped at the main temple at Khiching is the grim figure of the Goddess Chamunda. This figure, although broken in three parts has been joined together and inspires awe and fear among the devotees. According to N.N Vasu this image is one of the forms of Bhima, the emaciated body disclosing a hideous skeleton with the bones and ribs all laid bare
The Goddess is seated on a lotus issuing from the naval of Purusa. Over the head and back of the Goddess rises the figure of Airavata. On other side of her crown there is a serpent with uplifted hood. Of the eight hands the left ones are in Abhaya and Varada poses and hold rosaries and a head where as two right hands hold a dambaru and a cup, the other two being completely damaged. Thus the temple of Goddess Kichakeswari is a priceless embodiment of superb charm and inimitable grace, and occupies a significant place among the famous monuments of Orissa like Konark, Puri and Bhubaneswar as a sacred sanctuary of religious activities and the Goddess Kichakeswari in the form of eightarmed Chamunda of Sakta pantheon stands gloriously betokening the heyday of royal dignity and aristocracy.