Nabhigaya: Where Ancestors are Liberated

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    Imagine a place so holy that it promises to liberate the souls of not just one or two, but twenty-one generations of ancestors. This is the mystique of Nabhigaya, a circular well located within the Biraja Mata Temple in the Jajpur district of Odisha. For Hindus, attaining liberation or 'Mukti' of the soul is the ultimate goal, and Nabhigaya is regarded as one of the most sacred places in Hinduism where performing certain rituals can lead to this highest attainment.

    The Land of Goddess Biraja

    Journey 98 kms from Bhubaneswar and step into the enchanting historic town of Jajpur, where time stands still and history whispers its tales. This is a place that has witnessed the rise and fall of numerous dynasties, from the Bhuamakaras to the Somavanshis, leaving behind a rich tapestry of culture and heritage. Also known as the ‘Viraja Kshetra’ or ‘Land of Goddess Biraja’, Jajpur is home to the revered Biraja Temple, where the divine presence of Goddess Biraja is palpable.

    As you step into the temple complex, your senses are awakened by the sight of countless devotees performing sacred rituals with the priests. Among these rituals is the powerful ‘Pinda Daan’, where one can liberate the souls of their ancestors. This ritual draws lakhs of devotees to Jajpur every year, seeking spiritual solace and divine blessings.

    What is the reason behind the pilgrimage of devotees from all corners of India to Jajpur for Pindadan? The answer lies in a circular well that lies adjacent to the sanctum sanctorum of the Biraja Mata temple.

    This is the sacred ‘Nabhigaya’, a place that holds a profound significance in Hindu mythology. Some religious texts believe it to be the holy ‘Nabhi’ or Navel of the powerful Goddess Sati, while others believe it to be the navel of Demon Gayasura, blessed by Lord Vishnu. This enigmatic well is a source of deep spiritual energy that draws countless devotees every year, seeking to connect with the divine and seek spiritual liberation for their ancestors. As per belief, obulation to one’s ancestors before ‘Gadadhar Vishnu’ on the 3rd day of Vaishakha month of the Hindu calendar, is said to liberate the souls of twenty-one generations of one’s ancestors.

    The Legend of Goddess Sati’s Navel

    There are two captivating legends associated with the story of ‘Nabhigaya’. The first legend mentioned in the 11th century text ‘Tantra Chudamani’ takes us back to the story of Goddess Sati, who immolated herself in the sacred fire of her father Daksha when he insulted her husband, Lord Shiva. In an outburst of inconsolable grief, Lord Shiva carried the lifeless body of his beloved and performed the ‘Tandava’ or the ‘Dance of Destruction’. The Gods feared the end of the world and pleaded with Lord Vishnu for intervention, who cut Goddess Sati’s body into pieces with his Sudarshana Chakra. These pieces are said to have fallen on the earth, giving rise to the ‘Shaktipithas,’ or the Shrines of Goddess Shakti. According to the legend, the navel of Goddess Sati fell at Jajpur, where the Biraja Mata temple stands as one of the revered ‘Shaktipithas’.

    The Legend of Gayasura

    The second legend is connected with demon Gayasura, who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. This story finds mention in the ‘Gaya Mahatmya’ chapter of the Vayupurana, one of the major eighteen Puranas of Hinduism. As per ‘Gaya Mahatmya’, a demon named Gayasura was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. He performed ‘Tapas’ or ‘Penance’ for thousands of years and pleased Lord Vishnu with his devotion who granted him a boon that whoever touched his body would go to ‘Vishnuloka’ or heaven as a liberated soul.

    As a result, people started touching Gayasura and going straight to heaven and the Yamaloka or ‘Hell’ was left desolate. Alarmed that everyone was going to heaven, the Gods requested Gayasura to offer his body for sacrifice. Gayasura agreed on the condition that the three gods of the Hindu trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva would reside on the earth where his head, navel and feet would fall.

    The wish of Gayasura was granted and Vishnu remained at Gaya in Bihar where his head fell, while Brahma resided at Jajpur where his navel fell and Lord Shiva resided at Mahendragiri (in Gajapati district of Odisha) where Gayasura’s feet fell. All these three places emerged as important shrines of ‘Pitrutirtha’ where souls of ancestors could be liberated. The story further goes that Lord Brahma performed a yagna and consecrated the shrine of Goddess Biraja around the Nabhi or Navel of Gayasura. This is how the current temple of Goddess Biraja and the Nabhi Gaya next to it, took shape.

    Historian’s perspectives on Nabhigaya

    Notably, distinguished historians from the Odiya region such as KC Panigrahi and other experts in the field assert that the two narratives surrounding Nabhigaya provide insight into the intersection of Shakta and Vaishnava worship in the area. Preceding the establishment of the Biraja Mata Temple, present-day Jajpur held significant importance as a Tirtha Kshetra. In accordance with Hindu customs, it is believed that the Pandavas and Draupadi were guided by Sage Lomasa to Viraja Tirtha, where they performed ablutions in Vaitarani and offered Pindadaan to their ancestors.

    According to eminent historians, Viraja Kshetra and the Baitarani River held immense significance as a pilgrimage destination as early as the 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the Gupta era. It was during this time that Hinduism experienced a revival in the region, and local deities were assimilated into the Hindu pantheon. The legend of Daksha Yagna and Sati's Navel, believed to have fallen in this area, gained popularity in the 7th and 8th centuries when Shakta worship thrived. However, with the ascent of Vaishnavism from the 9th century onwards, the story of Nabhigaya, as the Navel of Gayasura, a devout Vaishnavite, became increasingly popular.

    In the 9th century, under the rule of the Somavanshis, Vishnu worship prospered, and Jajpur was established as their capital. Evidence of this can be seen in the Ashwamedha sacrifice performed by King Jajati II and the construction of a flight of steps on the banks of the Vaitarani river, as Lord Vishnu is the presiding deity of the Ashwamedha Yagna. The ancient sacred Tirtha situated along the Baitarani river resurfaced as the Pirtrutirtha of Nabhigaya, where one could perform pindadaan to liberate the souls of their ancestors.

    Today, while Jajpur continues to evolve and grow, the importance of Nabhigaya remains unchanged. The convergence of Shakta and Vaishnava traditions in the area is a testament to the diverse religious practices that have taken root here over the centuries. Today, Nabhigaya remains a revered pilgrimage destination, where visitors can pay homage to their ancestors and seek spiritual solace.

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