Jajpur is situated on the right bank of the Baitarani River at longitude 20051 N and latitude 86020 E. The origin of the name of Jajpur is shrouded in mystery. Some scholars think that it is derived from the word Yajnapura, while other scholars opine that the name originated from Jajatipura. King Yajati of Somavansa was known to have made a great yajna called Dasaswamedha at this place. For this, he brought 10,000 Brahmins from North India and settled them in various Sasanas for which now we find a series of Brahmana Sasana villages in Jajpur area. Some historians are of the opinion that Yajati Kesari made his capital here and named the city as Jajapura. However recent research indicates that the place has a hoary antiquity.
In ancient times Jajpur was called as Viraja or Parvati Khetra. At times it was also known as Baitarani Tirtha. Viraja Khetra finds mention in Sanskrit in the Mahabharata. The Puranic literatures refer to Viraja as Baitarani Tirtha, which was one of the famous tirthas of India. The place has also been described in the Kapilasamhita, Brahmanda Purana, Vayu Purana, Brahma Purana, Tantrachintamani, Astapithamahatmaya and Caitanya-caritamrita.
It is said that Siva became disconsolate when his wife Sati died. He moved madly with her corpse. In order to put an end to this trauma of Siva, Lord Visnu cut the corpse into three pieces with His Chakra. The naval portion fell at Baitarini Tirtha, i.e., at Jajpur for which it became famous as Navigaya. A temple of Sati was built subsequently which later on became famous as Viraja. However the Brahma Purana states that Brahma himself installed the Viraja Deity at this holy centre. According to the Linga Purana, Viraja originated from the sacrificial altar where Brahma made a yajna at Jaipur. Brahmakunda of Jajpur is believed to be the site of yajna. Since then, Virajakhetra was famous all over India and it is believed that seven generations of ancestors get salvation when one visits the pitha of mother Viraja. There are other 68 subsidiary tirthas at Jajpur to heighten the glory of Viraja.
Jajpur is also associated with the Gayasura legend. He was a benevolent asura who used to save the pious Hindus from perdition and hell. The demigods became envious of his piety and attempted to destroy him. Knowing this, he sacrificed himself on the condition that his head should fall at Gaya in Bihar near the Phalgu river, his feet in the Godavari river and navi in Baitarani river near Jajpur, where when Sraddha ceremony would be performed by the devotees. Doing so, they will escape consignment of hell along with seven generations of ancestors. Accordingly at the three centres, Srigaya, Padagaya and Navigaya developed. Even today, people believe this and visit the site in pilgrimage and perform Sraddha ceremony for the departed ancestors.
It is also said that Brahma performed ten horse sacrifices at Dasaswamedha ghat and so the place became a centre of pilgrimage later on. Among other gods and goddesses, mother Ganga attended the ceremony. It a believed that she has sent a flow of her sacred water through the mother earth which gushed forth at Gonasika in Keonjhar district, where from the Baitarani River has originated. It is believed that a gift of a cow at this tirtha gives salvation.
By about the 4th-5th century A.D. there was an unprecedented revival of Brahmanism in India with the emergence of the imperial Guptas. Various royal houses brought pure Brahmins from Kanauj area and settled them in North-Eastern India to curb influence of Buddhism. Hence in all probability, it appears that a series of great Yajnas were performed on the bank of the Baitarani for revival of Brahmanism, which later on seems to have assumed epic historical dimensions.
During that historical period, under the rule of the Bhaumakaras and the Somavansis, Viraja was the capital of Orissa and was the nerve centre of political and cultural activities. The extant archaeological remains point out that even during the rule of the Gangas and Suryavansi Gajapatis there was unprecedented cultural and monumental efflorescence.
Virajakhetra is triangular. In each corner we find a Siva temple at equal distance. There are Bileswar, Khitateswar and Baruneswar. The first two temples have received land grants from King Anangabhimadeva, as is evident from Madalapanji. Beautiful ancient Buddhist and Jaina images are found in the architectural programme of the temples. The Brahma Purana says that there were one less to one crore Sivalinga in Jajpur area, which indicates the religious importance of the place.
At present, we find there the images of Padmapani Avalokiteswar, Buddha, Garuda, Varahi, Chamunda and Indrani. The images of Sapta Matrukas and Avalokiteswar have been declared as protected ones by the Archaeological Survey of India. The colossal image of Padmapani Avolokiteswara is locally called Shanta Madhava, since it was brought from the nearby village of Shanta Madhava. It measures 16 feet 5 inches in height and 5 feet 3 inches in width. It is carved out in relief. The Chamunda image is 9 feet 1 inch in height and 6 feet in width. It is made of chlorite stone. It is projected as an emaciated old lady seated on a corpse wearing garland of skulls and other ornamentations.
The four-armed Indrani figure (8’8″ x 5’x9″) is found seated in Lalitasana on a high pedestal. The life size Varahi image is found seated with her right leg on the buffalo. She has three eyes and curly hair. Two Buddha figures are carved out in Bhumisparsamudra. Another Buddha image is found in serene posture. Sri Garuda is exuberant for his embellishment, ornamentation and articulation.
The monolithic pillar of Jajpur called Subha stambha and Chandeswar pillar stands majestically on an elevated platform made of three blocks of stones. It is square at the base and octagonal and sixteen sided at the top. It is made of chlorite stone and the total height from ground level is thirty-one feet. It is believed that the Somavansis, as their mark of victory, have installed this as the Vijaya Stambha or Victory Pillar.
King Anangabhimadeva of Ganga dynasty had built a Jagannath temple at Jajpur, in imitation of the Jagannath Temple of Puri, which was known to have been destroyed by the Muslim invaders. Near Dasasmamedha ghat we find the images of Sapta matrukas, namely Chamunda, Varahi, Indrani, Vaisnavi, Sivaduti, Kaumari and Maheswari. They are found seated on a lotus pedestal with their respective mounts, with babies on their left hand. The figures are heavily bedecked with drapery and ornaments. Sivaduti has been depicted in emaciated form.
One very big sitting Ganesa image is also found at this centre. Other figures like that of Jaina Santinatha, Chandranatha and Parswanatha etc. are found in Jajpur. At present they are being worshipped as Visnavite icons. Apart from these we find a large number of fragmentary sculptures of Jainism, Buddhism, Vaisnavism, Saivism, Saktism and Tantricism. Their study reveals that there was unprecedented religious and monumental efflorescence in Jajpur from ancient times. The two-handed Durga image without her mount (present Viraja) killing Mahisa is considered to be one of the earliest Durga images of India.
The Bhaumakaras ruled in this part of Orissa from 736 A.D. to 910 A.D. and contributed significantly to the history and culture of Orissa. Subsequently the Bhauma Kingdom with its capital Viraja came under the suzerainty of the Somavansis by the 3rd quarter of the 10th century A.D. The Somavansis, the Gangas and the Gajapaties heightened the glory of this tract during their regimes. With the rising Muslim invasions, the kingdom and culture of eternal Jajpur was eclipsed. Nevertheless, the extant exuberant archaeological remains vindicate the victorious heydays of Jajpur in glowing terms.