Deity Manikeswari is the tutelary goddess of Kalahandi. The name of the deity is significant as it is believed that the name of the deity Manikeswari has been derived from the word Manikya (Ruby). The Kalahandi region is famous for various types of gemstones including that of Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Topaz, Iogite and many other verities of gemstones. Kalahandi was known as “Karund” and till 18th century the Naga kings of Kalahandi were known as Karundadhipati. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Page 478, Vol. 6 the nameCorundum (base metal of Ruby) is derived from its place where it is collected. Incidentally the Sanskrit name of Corundum is Korund or Kurundum. It is believed from Kurundum the old name of Kalahandi i.e. Karund was derived and from it the word Corundum was derived. The Chindakanaga kings of 12th and 13th century A.D. were worshippers of Goddess Manikya Devi alias Manikeswari which is known from Jatanpal, Dantewara and Bhairamgarh inscriptions. Later she became tutelary deity of Ganga and present Naga kings of Kalahandi. The medieval period between 10th to 13th century was a period of political disturbance in Trikalinga and South Kosala region due to continuing warfare between Somavamsi, Kalachuri, Chhindakanaga, Ganga dynasties and Kalahandi virtually turned in to marching route of army and witnessed many battles. Availability of large numbers of Sati and Hero stones from different parts of the district is indicating long warfare. There was virtual competition among different powers to adorn the title of Trikalingadhipati. During this period the Chindaka Nagas suffered due to their friendship with Gangas against Kalachuries. In order to terrorise and to give lesson to Gangas, Kalachuries crushed Chakrakota Nagar of Chhindak Nagas.
Kalachuri king Ratna Deva-II of Ratanpur also defeated Jateswar alias Kamarnava the son of Chodaganga Deva, the Ganga king of Utkala. This lost glory was at last recovered only by Anianka Bhima alias Anangabhima Deva, the great grand son of Chodaganga Deva, defeating Kalachuri ruler Pratapa malla. The tradition says that the Gangas adopted Manikya devi the tutelary deity of their friend Chindaknagas. During this chastic period of power struggle, this region turned in to a vassal state of Gangas with no importance and when the Ganga rulers were weakened, local powers like Chauhans in Bolangir region and Nagas in Kalahandi raised their heads. The Darbar Records of Naga rulers say that after the death of the 6th king of Naga dynasty his widow queen along with her minor son Ramachandra Deo took shelter in her maternal house at Gadapur who belong to Ganga family. Later the KondhUmras and important citizens brought the queen and son from Gadapur. While returning back home Ramachandra Deo brought Manikyadevi from his maternal uncle’s home. Manikyadevi was established at Jugsai Patna in the form of Manikeswari and the ruins of the old temple there is still visible. Later Ramachandra Deo installed Manikeswari at Bhandesir garh (present Bhawanipatna) and ruled from Jenabali Patna or present Junagarh. However during the rule of the 27th king of Naga dynasty Fatenarayan Deo, there was out break of epidemic in the capital and even the 2nd son of the king was also the victim of the epidemic and the eldest son Udit Pratap Deo was in serious condition. He was believed to be cured after the prayer of the king before deity Manikeswari and in the year 1850 the king shifted his capital to Bhandesir Patna or present Bhawani Patna. The temple of Manikeswari was constructed by King Fatenarayan Deo in the year 1852 but a new temple of gigantic order in the present form was constructed in the year 1935 by king Brajamohan Deo. The present temple is located adjacent to the palace, which is 56 feet tall and in the form of Rekha deula. The Manikeswari Temple at Bhawanipatna is 56 ft. tall and consists of Mandapa and Sanctum. The temple architecture is of Rekhadeula style. The Pillared Mandapa is linked with the main temple and once it was decorated with mural paintings of Dasamahavidya and natural scenaries, which is at present not seen due to erosion. The Mandapa is having columns of six rows and six columns in each row. The temple of Budharaja has been installed as a Parsvadevata in the northern entry of the temple. There are three other small Rekha shrine temples of Vaishavi in the North of the temple, Narasimhi in the West and Varahi in the South. Combingly the temple complex has a gigantic look. Manikeswari though having conception of Chhinnamasta from its iconography it is worshipped in the Ekakhyra mantra of Kali.
Apart from Bhawanipatna Manikeswari is worshipped also in Sankhemundi, Paralakhemundi, Sonepur, Kashipur and also in Thuamul Rampur and Jugsaipatna of Kalahandi district. The main Temple of Manikeswari is situated in the campus of the Palace of Naga kings of Kalahandi at Bhawanipatna. Manikeswari deity is a happy blending between Tribal and Non-Tribal culture. There is close resemblence between the iconography of Stambeswari or pillar worship and the present Manikeswari deity. Significantly the Manikeswari deity of Bhawanipatna is headless. And the body is only a cylindrical structure and over it a clay head has been fixed and the body is covered by cloths and ornaments. Like Navakalebara of Jagannath each year on Mulastami day a clay head of the deity is placed engraved with gems after replacing the old head, which is immersed in the midnight in the Purusottam Sagar adjacent to the temple amidst secret ritual. Besides this tradition several other traditions and rituals are also linked with deity Manikeswari. Similarly another interesting ritual is observed before deity Budharaja (Bhairaba) located in a small temple in the northern side of the Manikeswari temple. It is only once in a year on the occasion of Mahastami this temple is opened and offerings offered. After offering before Budharaja, theChhatar of Manikeswari is left for Jenakhal and makes its return journey on Navami early morning known as Chhatar Yatra. Interestingly although Navanna or Nuakhai is observed before other deities and people observing Nuakhai either on Rushi Panchami (Bhadrava Shukla Pakshya Panchami) or Bhadrava Shukla Pakshya Dasami, the new rice is offered to Budharaja only on Mahastami i.e. the day when the temple is opened for the day. So the royal family after waiting for the occasion take Navanna only on next day i.e. Mahanavami after Chhatar Yatra of deity of Manikeswari. This is an unique tradition. Besides. Manikeswari Deity being a happy blending between Tribal and Non-Tribal culture. There is close resemblence between the icnography of Stambeswari or pillar worship and the present Manikeswari deity. Kondhs treat Maniksairo as the sister of the deity Dharnipenu. A narrative song of Kondh tribe says : “Juhar Juhar Manikesari Maa Raije Maharani Sayabani mahan Laybani mahan Dharni San Baheni” So there is a belief that the deity Manikeswari in the present form and Kondh traditional Manikesari is interrelated and through the universalisation process the present form of Tantra worship of deity evolved. In the similar process there is evolution of Kondh male deity Budhapenu taking evolution of Budharaja or Bhairaba. The Sharadiya Utsav of Deity Manikeswari starts fromMulastami and the most important function is Astami, Navami and Dashami. After Sandhi Puja of Mahastami the Chhatra of deity is taken to Jenakhal in the outskirt of the town. On the early hours of Mahanavami the Chhatra makes its return journey to the temple accompanied by Jenabadya, Ghumura, Nishan, Ghanta. The chorus creates a thrilling sensation and a sense of awe and wonder to the lakhs of devotees congregate from different parts of the State including neighbouring States. As a mark of fulfillment of wishes devotees make offerings. It is an occasion for every body irrespective of caste, creed and religion to find the Deity amidst them.