History of Evolution of Temple Architecture in Odiaha

The art and architecture of a nation is considered as her property. The history of Odishan art and architecture starts with her dated history i.e. from 261 B.C., when Asoka conquered this land, then known as Kalinga. The art and architecture of Odisha, in its formative phase took a new turn. The style was so elegant, balanced and beautiful that it carved a new identity for itself. This was famous as Kalinga School of art.

Odisha is famous in the world for her beautiful temples. In fact, the temples constitute the most dominant and significant form of architecture in Odisha. They form “One of the most compact and homogeneous architecture groups in India.”

Styles of temple architecture in India

Out of the three styles of temple architecture found in India like Nagara, Dravida and Vesara, Odisha has followed the Nagara with a distinctive regional bias of its own known as ‘Kalinga’. An inscription in Amritesvara temple at Holal (Karnataka) dated 1235 A.D. mentions the names of all the four categories like Nagara, Dravida,Vesara and Kalinga.

Texts on temple architecture

In due course of time, several canonical texts were written for the construction of temples. Among such texts Bhuvana Pradipa, Bhuvanapravesa, Silpasastra, Silpasarini, Silpaprakasa, Silparatna Kosa and Silpi pothi etc are prominent. These texts helped in maintaining basic standards in the construction notwithstanding varieties of form and size. The Silpasarini mentions about several kinds of temples, viz., Manjusri, Mrudanga eka bhagika, Vasusri, Mahameru, Kailasa, Ratnasara, Vartula ratha Vimana and Suvamakuta. Each variety has its own design based on a specific yantra (diagram).

Initial years of temple architecture in Odisha

The history of temple building in Odisha is said to have begun with Laxamanesvara,Bharatesvara and Satrughnesvara group of temples at Bhubaneswar in 6th century A.D. and culminated with the Sun temple of Konarka in 13th century AD. The earliest surviving temples at Bhubaneswar are the three ruined temples like Laksamaneswar, Bharateswar and Satrughneswar. These are Rekha temples in triratha plan. On the basis of an inscription on the Laksmaneswara the date of the temples are assigned to the .later half of 6th century AD. Each of them has niches on its bada to contain parsvadevata. The front raha of Bharateswara temple is carved with two chaitya windows containing Ravananugraha form of Siva and Nataraja in the lower and upper niches respectively. These temples are unicameral i.e., having only the sanctum without the Jagamohana. The Parsurameswara temple assigned to 7th century AD. is the best preserved specimen among the early group of temples. It consists of both Deula and Jagamohana. The Deula is tri-ratha in plan in the bada but features of Pancharatha are visible in the Gandi. The Sikhara is of modest height and gives a squattish look. The Jagmohana is a rectangular hall with a terraced roof sloping in two tiers with clerestory in between. The Svavnajalesvara temple at Bhubaneswar offers another example of the early type. The temple, consisting of vimana only, bears clear affinities with the Parasurameswar in elevation and decoration. For example, the theme of marriage of Siva and Parvati is rendered almost in an identical manner in both the temples.

Growth temple architecture between the 8th and the 10th centuries

The next stage of growth of temple architecture is noticed in the temples built between the 8th and the 10th centuries. The 8th century temples at Bhubaneswar include Vaital, Sisiresvar, Uttaresvar, Mohini and Markandesvar. Outside Bhubaneswar, the notable temples are Bhringeswar, Siva temple at Bajrakot, Kanakesvar temple at Kualo, Manikesvar temple at Sukleswar, Dakshesvar temple at Badgan and Nilakanthesvar temple at Padmapur. The changes and innovations of the period are seen at the Sisiresivara temple (cir. 775 AD.). It is pancharatha in plan. The front raha paga contains the image of Nataraja in a chaitya window. The Jagamohana, like that of Parasuramesvara is rectangular in plan and has a terraced roof but does not have any window or pillar. The roof is held in its position by cantilever principle. It is an advancement in architectural feature.

The Mohini temple on the South bank of Bindu Sarovar has a totally undecorated pancharatha sikhara, with a plain recessed bandhana below it. The Mukhasala, a recent restoration with plain blocks of stone, is a pillared hall with pilasters against the side wall. The Svapnesvar temple at Kualo on the bank of the Brahmani near Talcher is a badly damaged example of a panchayatana temple. The main temple, like the Satrughneswara group and Parasuramesvara, contains an Astagraha Panel on the lintel of the shrine. The main temple is dedicated to Siva while the corner shrines contains images of Durga, Ganesa, Surya and Visnu.

The Durga temple at Vaidyeswara is a small shrine in the Khakhara Style, with a height of about 12 feet. The barrel-vaulted roof is made of in two levels and the narrow sides are decorated with Vajramastakas containing Ekapadasiva and Ganesa on one side and Andhakasura badha-form of Siva and Nataraja Siva on the other side. It appears to be the precursor of the Vaital Deula which has an oblong sanctum, a wagon-vault roof and a mandapa like that of the Parasuramesvara. It has interesting architectural features-instead of Raha projections, the Bada has elegantly carved shallow pilasters. At each of the four comers of the Jagamohana stands a miniature rekha temple. Though small in size, the tower of the temple is most proportionate and very beautiful. However, the style did not thrive because of the popularity of Sikhara Style.

Main innovations of the temples of the 9th-l0th century

Temples of the 9th-10th century temples evolved with more advanced architectural features like the harmonious proportion of pagas on the Bada and the Gandi. The pyramidal form of the Jagamohana emerged in the period. The Singhanath temple in the bed of the Mahanadi in Cuttack district, the twin temples of Nalamadhava and Siddhesvara at Gandharadi in Boud district are some of the specimens of the period. V. Dehejia states that the Singhanath is “the most advanced of our Formative phase Temples as far as the joint between Shrine and Mukhasala is concerned.” The Mukhasala is a rectangular flat-roof and pillared. The roof is triple- tiered without any sign of any clerestory between them. The Shrine Walls are triratha in plan. The main innovations were the tall and slender pilasters on either side of the niches extending up to the Bandhana level.

The Varahi temple at Chaurasi is “one of the most fascinating of early Odishan temples.” Dehejia notes that it marks the transitional phase in Odisha architecture. It is said to have represented the Vimanamalini or Kamagarbha type of temple prescribed in the text of Silpaprakasha. The walls of the shrine reveal pancharatha features and contain the features of a typical transition temple. The Sikhara of the shrine is barrel vaulted like that of Vaital but it has “a richer, more baroque appearance characterstic of the transition period.” The Mukhasala is rectangular, unpillared and has a flat double-roof, profusely decorated with Kumbhas and Mithunas in the clerestory.

The Muktesvara temple belongs to the period of transition. The sanctum is a full-fledged pancharatha in plan and the roof of the Mandapa has a horizontal tier with Kalasa (Vase or Jar) as the crowning element. Its Sikhara gives a rounded look with elegant contours. The central projection contains an elaborate chaitya window flanked by two grinning dwarfs, which constitutes an early form of the “bho” motive. It is an important feature of developed Odishan style. Dehejia notes, “Early Odishan architecture reached its peak in the exquisite little Muktesvar temple located at the edge of a tank at Bhubaneswar. Long years of architectural and sculptural experience here crystallized into faultless shape and dimensions, and, as though this were not enough, the sculptors decided to add a beautiful carved torana gateway and a low sculptured decorative wall enclosing the temple.” It is considered to be a piece of “gem of Odishan architecture.” The Kutaitundi temple at Khiching is another fine specimen of the lOth century A.D. The star-shaped triple temples at Boudh, the ruined Visnu temple at Ganeswarpur, the 64-Yogini temple of Hirapur and Ranipur Jharial may also be assigned to the time. The Odisha State Gazetteer (Vol. Il), mentions, “The fully evolved temple style emerged about the 11th century. A deula of rekha type and a Jagamohan of pidha order became the standard type with all their components clearly articulated. The Pancha-kama pabhaga, Panchanga bada, multiple mouldings as haranda, introduction of Khakhara and Pidha mundi designs on the jangha, Vidalas and Kanyas in the recesses and figures in high relief are some of the changes introduced during the period. The deula with well developed projections, vertically running from the base to the bisama and added with angasikharas on the gandi came to possess a soaring height and majestic appearance not known in the preceding phase. The projecting lion-onelephant motif on the raha, insertion of figures on the beki, etc., are some of the additional features of the rekha deula. The Jagamohan emerged as well-formed pidha deula with harmonious grouping of pidhas in tiers and all the component members in the mastaka.”

Growth of Odishan temple architecture between 11th century A.D. to 13th century A.D.

The Rajarani temple (l1th century AD.) represents a unique experiment in temple architecture. Its Sikhara has been clustered by miniature repetition of the Sikhara (called angaSikhara) around the Gandi in the Khajuraho Style. The beautiful female figures and standing Digpalas are the outstanding features of the temple. The Rajarani temple and its Jagamohana facing east stand on a platform having three mouldings. The bada is divided into five parts indicating a progress from trianga to panchanga bada. While the vimana represents Rekha style clustered with miniature Sikharas, the Jagamohana is a typical pyramidal structure (pidha deula) similar to that of the Muktesvara temple. The Jagamohana is pancharatha in plan and crowned by a kalasa. It is surprisingly devoid of any sculptures in contrast with the heavily carved and decorated main temple. There is no rampant lion on the rahapaga and the top amalaka is supported by four squat figures. The Deula appears circular on account of the anga sikharas which cluster round the gandi. The Silpa ratna kosa calls the type as Manjusri (also called Misragarbha, Misrarekha, Vimanagarbhaka, Vimanamauli and Saptangagarbha) on the basis of the representation of angasikharas. The Brahmesvara temple of 11th century AD. is a fullfledged curvilinear pancharatha panchayatana temple. Its pidha temple and components of mastaka are fully developed and have been followed in the majestic Lingaraja temple.

The Lingaraja is the loftiest, grandest and most majestic temple of 11th century AD. It marks the culmination of temple architecture. It is the perfect specimen, a landmark, among rekha temples of the entire country with fully developed Vimana, Jagamohana, Natamandira and Bhogamandapa. The sanctum is pancharatha in plan. The portion below the spire consists of five divisions and rests on five richly decorated mouldings. The niches of the central projections on three sides contain Parsva-devata images. The upara jangha contains roofs of horizontal tiers (pidhamundis) whereas the tala jangha is presented with miniature shrines of wagon-vaulted roofs (khakhara mundis). It is described as a shrine “……..with a maturity and blooming Odishan style showing fully developed vimana, Jagamohana, natamandira and bhogamandapa. The parabolic curve of the tower, rising to a great height lends a unique grandeur to the temple. The height and soaring character of the towering Sikhara are emphasised by deeply incised lines of the rathas (vertical projections) a pair of which carry four diminishing replicas of the tower itself
as a decorative pattern.”

The Lingaraja temple-pattern followed by a number of temples like the Kedaresvara at Bhubaneswar, Jalesvara at Kalarbhanga, Gatesvara at Algem etc. The Jagannatha temple of Puri is “by far the most important temple of the 12th century and the highest extant temple of Odisha.” The temple, like the Lingaraja, consists of the four components of Deula, Jagmohana, Natamandira and Bhogamandapa. The removal of the coats of plaster, in recent years, from the bada and the gandi revealed the plan as well as the decoration of the temple. The plan is pancharatha with rounded and projecting kanika. The kanika is divided into ten bhumis. Multiple baranda mouldings form the base of the gandi. There is almost no transition from the bada to gandi. Although it is a very lofty tower (about 215 ‘), a perfectly developed specimen of rekha temple, it lacks ‘the elegance and proportion of the Lingaraja’. The first bhumi of the raha has horizontal projections of four angasikharas, two on each side of the Garuda motif which crowns the vajramastaka on the baranda. The Jagamohana is a fully developed pidha deula with a pyramidal roof. The temple has two compound walls with four gates on the four directions.

The Meghesvara temple (cir. 1195 AD.) of Bhubaneswar is an important structure in the evolution of Odishan temple architecture. It stands on a platform. It has seven fully formed pilasters which give it the look of a rounded structure. The intermediate pilasters have a series of complete miniature sikharas running up to the top and making a part of the walls. The comer pilasters have half-amalakas in place of anga- sikharas. The Jagamohana is a plain, undecorated pidha temple with a door and two balustraded windows. The most important change in the plan was adoption of saptaratha in place of pancharatha. It is the earliest example of Saptaratha.

The temple architecture has attained its most advanced form in the 13th century AD. with the construction of the Sun temple at Konark. It is rightly observed “Its advancement is marked by the blending of sculpture with architectural magnificance, chariotcar conception, completely detached natamandira and provision of a high basement for the sanctum and Jagamohana. The intact Jagamohana compensates for the loss of the lofty tower. Its bold conception, massive execution, perfect propertions and imposing dimensions leave the visitor with an undescrible feeling of awe and amazement.” (Art Traditions of Odisha, Odisha Sahitya Akademy) The temple is conceived as the mythical chariot of the Sun god with twenty-four wheels and seven richly caparisoned horses. Each of the wheels is a master piece of Indian art. The conception, in deed, makes it ‘a charming monument unique in the realm of art. The main temple, which is not in existence now, was said to be 228 feet high. The gigantic Jagamohana, which survives, speaks volumes on the attainment of the Kalinga style of architecture. It is pancharatha in plan and stands on a pista. It is a pidha-deula having a three-tiered pyramidal roof in contrast to the two-tiered roof of the Lingaraja and the Jagannatha temples. The interior is a square of 60 feet on each side and the ceiling is supported by four pillars and, iron beams. It possesses three entrances with beautifully carved door-jambs and lintels of finely grained chlorite stone.

The natamandira is, unlike that the Lingaraja and the Jagamohana of the temple, a detached structure, standing at a distance of thirty feet in front of the Jagamohana. It stands on a richly decorated platform. The mandira is a profusely ornate pillared hall. The temple-complex is very huge measuring 865 x 540 feet. The plinth and the pedestal measure 16 feet 6 inches. The stylobate befits the giant wheels each of which measure 9 feet 9 inches in diameter. Each of the seven horses four on the right and three on the left side-measure 5 feet 2 inches. Most importantly, the temple is planned in such a way as to receive the first rays of the Sun, the presiding god of the temple. Abul Fazl, the court-historian of Akbar, has narrated the existence of 28 temples in the grand complex near the Sun temple. The ruins of the temple of Chhayadevi vouch safe the fact. About the Sun temple he narrates, “Near Jagnnath is the temple dedicated to the sun. Its cost was defrayed by twelve years revenue of the province. Even those whose judgement is critical and who are difficult to please stand astonished at its sight.” On the otherhand, Sir John Marshall was overwhelmed with the grandiose plan and unique execution and remarked,“There is no monument of Hinduism, I think, that is at once so stupendous and so perfectly proportioned, as the Black Pagode, and none which leaves so deep an impression on the memory.”


Credit: Inputs from History of Odisha From Earliest Times to 1434AD by Dr Manas Kumar Das