From very ancient times, Sonepur is considered as a holy city. The Kosalananda Kavya of Kavi Gangadhara Mishra, written in 1664 A.D., describes the temple city of Sonepur as the second Varanasi of India. Sonepur came under the Chauhans during the days of Ramaideva, the founder of the Chauhan rule in western Odisha in the middle of 14th century A.D. But Sonepur got the status of a separate state in the first half of 17th century, with Madana Gopala Deva as its king. The work of the court poet, Kavi Gangadhara Mishra shows that there were many temples at Sonepur prior to the Chauhan rule. The Somavamsi charter also corroborates this fact. The copper plate inscription issued in the 17th regnal year of the Somavamsi king Janmejay I (850 A.D.- 885 A.D.) states that the temples of ‘Sri Kesava’ and ‘Aditya Deva’ were very famous This inscription has been unearthed near the Stamvesvari or Khamvesvari, situated in the heart at the present Sonepur town. The Maranjamura Copper plate of Yayati II, the Somavamsi ruler, issued in his 3rd regnal year from his capital Suvarnapura, also makes a reference to the temples.
The description Sonepur,inscription wonderful.inscription, there several temples and gardens, which enhance the beauty of the town.After that there are no references about the temples of Sonepur till the coming in of the Chauhans in mid-14th Century.A.D. The temple building tradition might have continued in Sonepur, but no inscriptional or architectural evidence is available with us. Further research may throw more light on this.Almost all of the temples now standing at Sonepur were built during the Chauhan rule. On the basis of their cult images, the temples of Sonepur can be divided into three thematic divisions i.e., the Saiva, Vaisnava and Sakta temples. Besides, there are a few other temples like those of Hanumana and Sasisena which are of special importance. Among the present Saiva temples of Sonepur, the temple of Suvarnameru is very famous. It is situated on the left bank of river Tel towards the south-west of the confluence of river Mahanadi and Tel. It stands slightly on the outskirts of the town proper.Scholars differ on the date of the temple. According to B.C.Mazumdar, though the existing temple was built during the reign of Maharaja Madan Gopal Singhdeo(1630-1660AD) Suvarnameru Mahadeva has been the presiding deity of the State since a very remote time. But other scholars one of the opinion that it was built during the reign of Maharaja Lal Saheb (1660-1680A.D.), son of Maharaj Madangopal.
The temple of Gopinatha is situated near the Jagannatha temple. It’s construction work was started during the time of Raja Prataprudra Deva and completed during the reign of Maharaja Vira Mitrodaya Singh.Situated in the Ghodaghatpada, Sonepur, the temple of Dadhivamana Deva was built during the reign of Maharaja Prithvisingh Dev (1786-1841). The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Jagannatha , Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. By the orders of Maharaja Vira Mitrodaya Singh, the then tehsildar, Mr.Keshab Chandra Guru, raising a huge amount of donation from the people, constructed the temple of Sri Vrindavan Vihari at Bada Bazar.The 34.7mt. high Gundicha temple is the tallest temple of Sonepur. Rani Gundicha Devi, wife of Maharaja Prithvisingh Dev, constructed the temple to commemorate the birth of her son Niladhara Singh and dedicated.Initially, there idol of Lord Narasimha in accordance with the Gundicha temple at Puri. With the passage of time the wooden idol was damaged. It was replaced by a metallic iconic or anthropomorphic form of the deity i.e., Lord Nrusimha by Maharaja Sri Prataprudra Singh Dev. The Mandapa of the temple was built in 1934 by Maharaja Sri Vira Mitrodaya Singh.
Sakta Temples Ancient Sonepur was a famous seat of tantricism. Even now Sakti worship is more prominent at Sonepur than any other cult. Some of the most important Sakta temples are Sureswari, Stamvesvari or Khamvesvari, Bhagavati, Samalesvari, Budhi Samalei, Manikesvari, Narayani, Sitalei and Lankesvari. The temple of Suresvari is situated on the left bank of the river Tel towards the north of Suvarnameru temple and south-east of Ramesvara temple. It is difficult to determine the time frame of the installation of the deity. However it seems that, Sureswari was the presiding deity of the Suvarnapur fort during the Somavansis in about 9th century A.D. The present Satabandha, Gudialibandha and Jilabandha or tanks and the adjacent mud ridges were probably the water trenches and walls of the fort.
According to the Bratacharita, Suresvari Devi was being worshipped as the guardian deity of the fort at the entrance gate of the Satabandha. According to legends the legendary hero Parasuram built the temple on the request of his mother to make him free from the sin of killing the Kshyatriyas of the World, after performing a Yagnya. A noteworthy fact about this is the presence of an ancient and big altar, which is believed as the altar of Parasuram by the local people. Some people believe that, this is the seat of Renuka mother of Parusuram herself. The present temple of Suresvari Devi was constructed by the Chauhan king Achal Singh Deo, with an eight armed Mahisamardini Durga image as its presiding deity. Goddess Suresvari is offered fish everyday. It is a must for her. The same practice is prevalent in the Varahi temple at Chaurasi.
The main festival of the temple is the Bali Parva which covers fifteen days starting from Asvina Amavasya to Purnima. The temple of Stamvesvari or Khamvesvari is situated in the center of the town. When this temple was built is not known. It is said that wife of Raj Singh Deo, mother of Achal Singh Deo brought her deity Khamvesvari from the house of her father, the Raja of Kimidi. Later King Raj Singh built a temple for the deity to honor the goddess of his wife’s forebears.According to Dr.N.K.Sahu, Stamvesvari is the oldest Sakta deity of Odisha. Monarchs belonging to different dynasties like Sulki, Bhanja, Tunga had described themselves as the ‘Padabhakta’ or devotee of the deity, in their charters from 8th to 11th century A.D.” From the Somavamsis Stamvesvari worship was accelerated during this period. From the above fact, it can be said that Stamvesvari worship was prevalent in this region much before the coming to The word stamva or Khamva means pillar. A black wooden post symbolizing the deity was initially being worshipped and later on an image was installed.
According to the court poet Kavi Gopinatha Panigrahi, the image of Stamvesvari is built after the Vanadurga icon. He again opines that, there is the tradition of keeping two , that is a type of musical instrument made of iron, hidden. So, there must be two Nisanas kept hidden, here also.The Bhagavati temple is situated on the eastern part of the town. Nothing definite is known about the date and builder of the temple. But it is regarded as an ancient monument by the local people. The presiding deity of the temple is called Bhagavati, a form of Durga. The icon, though blurred, exhibits an antiquarian work. Some scholars identify the deity with Panchambari-Bhadrambika, as mentioned in the Maranjamura plate of Mahasivagupta Yayati II.
The temple of Samalesvari is standing on the right bank of river Mahanadi towards the south-east of the royal palace. Goddess Samalesvari was the tutelary deity of the Chauhan dynasty of both Sambalpur and Sonepur. Maharaja Sobha Singh (1771-1786A.D.) constructed the present edifice.The Bruddha Samalei or Budhi Samalei is situated towards the north of the Dadhivamana temple facing north. As the Goddess is installed here from an ancient time, she is given the name of Bruddha Samalei. Initially she was worshipped in a thatched house. The present structure is the creation of Maharaja Prataprudra Deva (1891-1902A.D.).
The Manikesvari temple stands on the right side of the Sonepur-Monamunda road. Manikesvari was the tutelary deity of the fisherman community. The present temple was built by the headman of the said community named Chamar Makhalik during the reign of Maharaja Prataprudra Singh Deo.The Narayani temple is built towards the north of the Gopinatha temple. It was built by Maharaja Prithvi Singh Deo. But it is not known, when and by whom the Sitalei temple was built. Its Mukhasala was however, constructed by Maharaja Vira Mitrodaya Singh in 1935A.D.