Samaleswari Temple is a Hindu temple in Sambalpur, Western Odisha, India dedicated to the goddess known as 'Maa', also known among the natives as Samalei maa, meaning Mother Samaleswari. It’s the most famous temple of western Odisha, located at the bank of Mahanadi River. Shree Shree Samaleswari, the presiding deity of Sambalpur, is a strong religious force in western part of Odisha and Chhattisgarh state of India. On the bank of the river Mahanadi the mother goddess Samaleswari is worshipped from ancient times as Jagatjanani, Adishakti, Mahalaxmi and Mahasaraswati. The region in which the temple is situated has a rich cultural heritage. Sambalpur region is popularly known as Hirakhanda from ancient times. Ptolemy has described the place as Sambalak, according to Tavernir, the French traveller, and Edward Gibbon, the English historian, diamonds were exported to Rome from Sambalpur. Sambalpur region is popularly known as Hirakhanda from ancient times.
Samaleswari temple was built sometime in the middle of 16th century. It was rebuilt by the 7th independent king of Sambalpur namely Chhatra Sai Deo who reigned during 1657 to 1665 AD. Some historians say that, the idol of goddess Samaleswari under the simili tree was worshipped by tribals since third century A.D. till the temple was built by Balaram Dev.
The temple is of Sandhara order, temples have a square sanctum enclosed by a gallery of pillars meant for Pradakshin (circumambulation). It is built of a kind of stone durable as granite, cemented with lime mortar, the whole building is plastered, but in the course of time the surface has become mouldy. The temple comprises two separate structures. The square sanctum sanctorum enshrining the deity is four step below the 10-foot-wide covered circumambulation, which is supported by 12 stone pillars. Eleven parswa devis (side Goddess), are embedded on the outer wall of the sanctum, so that the devotees can worship those deities during parikarma through the vaulted circumambulation. The Idol of Shree Shree Samalai Devi consists of a large block of Granite rock with an inverted, trunk like projection at the bottom. A shallow cut on her “Baraha” like face symbolises her mouth. Traditional Sambalpuri nose ornament of pure gold hangs down from her imaginary nose. Beaten gold leave fixed on two disproportionate golden eye like depression on the face acts as substitute for her eyes in an attempt to define the face of the mother deity on a mass of self-shaped rock, the Devi’s idol inspires sublime sentiments of awe, fear, reverence, devotion, love and affection towards all-pervading motherhood.
She is worshiped with a great care and devotion by the natives in her temple, famously known as the samaleswari temple. Among the varieties of festivals observed before the goddess throughout the year three festivals are observed prominently. The first two are navaratra puja during the months of March and April and during the months of September and October. Among these two navaratra pujas (nine days continuous worship of the goddess) the second one is observed with a great splendour and devotion. The third festival which is said to be the chief festival of the whole western Orissa (Sambalpur) region is nuakhai. In this festival the farmers offer the first produce from their lands to the goddess before using it for his personal use.
It is said that on a particular day king Balaram Dev crossed river Mahanadi and came to the right bank with his hounds for hunting. While hunting, he noticed a miracle. He saw that his hounds, instead of chasing a small rabbit, were being hotly chased by the rabbit itself. It seemed his hounds were in mortal fear of the rabbit. The king stood stunned and later noticed that the rabbit returned to the foot of a huge simili tree on the left bank of Mahanadi and disappeared. Balaram Dev returned to his camp and had a strange dream at night. Goddess Samaleswari manifested herself before him and said that she was residing in gumadarha inside the river and that he should establish her at the foot of the simili tree and build a temple. She blessed the king and vanished. Next morning Balaram Dev made up his mind and considering the importance of the left bank of Mahanadi on the ground of religion and administration he established his fort. He installed Goddess Samaleswari under the of Kalapahar According to legend Kalapahar, military commander of the nawab of Bengal, in course of one of his visits to Sambalpur camped with a huge army at a place near Durgapali on the bank of Mahanadi beyond the temple Samaleswari. He had a huge drum made of cow hide and had oversized bells (Hulgulas). It is said that with the beating of the drum and the confusing noise made by the bells (Hulgulas), the limbs of deities of the temple automatically disappeared. The intention of Kalapahar was to destroy the temple of Samaleswari and other temples in the historic town of Sambalpur and deities installed therein. Before Kalapahar could start the depredation, in a fine evening, a beautiful milk-maid dressed up in gold jewellery with a basket of milk, curd and cheese on her head, reached the camp of Kalapahar. She sold the articles to Kalapahar and his army. Next morning it is said that the entire army including Kalapahar suffered from cholera and other allied diseases causing total chaos. Kalapahar abandoned invasion of the temple and left the territory with survivors of his army leaving most of his armoury, the huge drum and the brass bells (Hulgullas). It is believed that the Goddess Samaleswari manifested hereself in the form of a milk-maid and caused devastation in the army of Kalapahar. Whether this is a fact or fiction no one can say, but for many years, a huge drum and a large number of bells used to be kept at the Mukhashala of the Samaleswari temple. Even a large number of tombs believed to be those of the dead soldiers of Kalapahar are found in a mango grove near Samaleswari College building on the bank of river Mahanadi. There are many legends in connection with the temple and in reality the devotees feel the presence of such power in the day to day affairs. It is known that one person namely Krupasindhu Panigrahi and his wife were buried in the foundation of the temple during construction. In course of time human sacrifice was discontinued and the practice of sacrificing buffalo was adpoted. Again in course of time this practice was also abandoned. The last buffalo sacrifice in the temple was within a couple of decades which is in public memory. It is heard that in ancient times human sacrifice was offered once in a year. Human sacrifice was stopped following miracle of Maa Samaleswari with a saint from Amritsar, who became the Mahanta of Gopaljee Math later on. Maa Samaleswari has a very special place in the hearts of the people of Western Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Akhada Hanuman, Bhairva and Mauli Devi are worshipped in separate temples while Sitala Thakurani is worshipped in "Sangudi" or Mandap Mandir. A large size Bahana Singha Bigraha has been installed in recent years in the middle of the temple premises which is supposed to be the biggest astadhatu Bahana Singha Bigraha in Asia. The Bhumi Puja of the said place was performed by his holiness Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Goverdhanmath, Puri, namely Swami Nischalananda Saraswati. Almost all towns and villages of this region have a temple of Maa Samaleswari. In modern Orissa no single goddess has sway over a large territory after Lord Jagganath. The main temple of Goddess Samaleswari at Sambalpur is the source of inspiration.
As a community, the Hindu Temple has enjoyed a great deal of interaction with other religious traditions in the community. They are also involved in many different community service types of projects.The temples objective is to provide a place of worship and meditation for the Hindu community, to provide facilities for Pujas, havans, marriage ceremonies or other religious sanskars, to arrange for the celebration of Hindu religious and cultural festivals and to provide facilities for the education of our children in various aspects of Hindu relegion, culture and languages
Sambalpur is famous for Sambalpuri songs, dances, forest and world famous Sambalpuri handloom fabrics. The rhythmic beats of Sambalpuri drums are heart- pounding and pulse racing and create profound joy.