A sleepy little village, located off the cashew-processing industrial town of Palasa (about 180 km from Vizag), Tarlakota was, once upon a time, described as a jewel in the crown of the Kalinga empire. The Tarla kingdom was, in fact, described by various historians in glowing terms for its contribution to various fields such as theatre, arts, ayurveda, and also, in no small measure, for the splendid architecture of three majestic temples of Jagannath, Basudeva and Gopinath. Today, the temples, unfortunately, lie in a state of shambles.
It is recorded that Raja Purusottama Dev built the beautiful and massive Jagannath temple around 1435 AD, which was completed around 1465 AD. The Basudeva Temple was built by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who stopped over at Tarla during his visit to Sri Kurmam Vishnu Temple, probably in the 16th century.
While the Gopinath Temple (not recorded who built it) is about 80 per cent destroyed, the Basudeva and Jagannath temples are so far intact, but on the verge of crumbling due to the lack of preservation efforts.
Of special significance is the Jagannath Temple, whose architecture can be compared to the Puri Jagannath and Konark Sun Temple. Behind the temple lies a dilapidated three-storeyed palace, which, along with the temples, lies amidst lush green fields, surrounded by breathtaking vistas of the mountains of the Eastern Ghats.
The Jagannath Temple was built from red stone, joined by limestone, as in the case of ancient Kalinga temples. The temple has three garbha grihas (womb chambers) housing the deities of the temple. In the middle one is the single image of Lord Jagannath, worshipped as Dadhi Bamana. The southern side has two idols of Nitai Gopal and on the left, a bronze statue of Radha-Krishna is worshipped. The Kalinga architecture style flourished in the ancient Kalinga region or the present state of Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh.
A noteworthy feature of the temple is its grandeur of construction, reflected in the details of the sculptured figures, delicate stone carvings as well as architectural elements. On the upper part of the walls are various erotic sculptures and on the lower side of the walls lie figures of different gods and goddesses.
Due to the negligence over the years, the residents of Tarlakota and the neighbouring Palasa apprehend that the temples may crumble completely in the near future, as there is no protection to the temple and its idols, even though it falls under the jurisdiction of the endowments department of Andhra Pradesh.
According to Vadisha Hari Prasad, ex-Zilla Parishad member, Palasa, Srikakulam, “This is a historical monument and has a splendid architecture. Due to lack of proper care, the beautiful monument is going to crumble. I only feel sorry that I could not do enough as a public representative. I would personally appeal to the archaeology department of government of India to take urgent steps to preserve the monument.”
Tarlakota was probably a part of the Gajapathi empire. Around 15th century AD, it was established as an independent kingdom. The inscriptions found at Gokaneswar Temple, atop Mahendra Hills, mention the Tarla kingdom as a flourishing one. Written in Telugu and Sanskrit, the inscriptions date back to 1123 AD.
It is said that the famous battle fought by the Puri Maharaja against the mighty Maharaja of Kanchi was won by the former because of the tantriks and warriors of Tarla. Folklore has it that the tantriks created an artificial lake, which washed away the soldiers of Kanchi. The surrounding area of Tarla was once famous for Tantra Sadhana, like the Kamakhya Temple in Assam.
Residents are concerned that if no urgent action is taken by the government, a splendid piece of history will be lost for ever. It can be developed into a tourist complex and heritage site. As Dr Hari Rajakumar Panda, a practicing surgeon in Palasa says, “It can be counted amongst one of AP’s most beautiful monuments, ancient and valuable. Efforts should be taken by the government to restore the temple, its sculpture and architecture.”