Temple Tradition: The Evolution of Temple Architecture of Orissa
Orissa is a land that is culturally very rich and equally affluent historically. Testimony to its great past is the monuments and temples that still endorse the architectural ingenuity of its ancestors. It is thus hardly surprising that traditionally, the focal point of Orissa tourism has been its architecture. The landscape of the state is dotted with as many as 4000 sites of archaeological importance that include Jain caves and temples; Buddhist Viharas (Monasteries), chaityas (apsidal structures), stupas; Hindu temples; mosques; churches; ancient and medieval forts; palaces of erstwhile kings and the colonial architecture. It has been thus truly observed that there are perhaps more temples now in Orissa than in all the rest of India put together. For tourists interested in architecture, Orissa offers its rich treasure of monuments in a pristine and fortunately intact form. The great tradition of monument building which is as old as the recorded history or even older, finds an echo in the religious and cultural life of the people even today.
More often than most, the Kalingan war of third Century B.C. which led to the advent of Buddhism in Orissa and the establishment of Ashoka as its emperor, is taken as a parameter for gauging the historical significance of many events in Orissa. In a way the war proved to be a boon in disguise for Orissa as it brought the traditionally independent land to the mainstream Indian political scenario and consequently led to the development of art, architecture and culture that evolved and flourished further in later periods. Interestingly, there are hardly any monuments that can be dated beyond the third century B.C. in Orissa. But from that time, we have a long range of monuments which cover a period of about two thousand years and present a varied and interesting study.
The earliest specimen of Oriya art is the colossal figure of the front portion of an elephant carved on the top of the boulder containing Ashoka’s edicts at Dhauli about five miles from Bhubaneswar. There was also an Ashokan pillar now enshrined inside Bhaskareswar temple in Bhubaneswar which was converted into a Shivalinga later on. These Ashokan monuments were significantly the genesis of Oriya art and architecture.
The next stage of the development of Oriya architecture is marked by the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri that stand besides each other at a distance of five miles from Bhubaneswar. These hillocks have been honey-combed with rock-cut caves meant for Jain ascetics. The graphic account of emperor Kharavela’s reign and campaigns of 1st century B.C. are found in the Hatigumpha inscription of the Udayagiri hill. The excellently carved caves bear base-relief depicting the Jaina pantheons and objects of devotion. The carvings are an example of superb artistic tendencies marked by vigor and simplicity that is unparalleled.
Architecture received a setback after this period. No notable progress is seen in the history of Orissa until the medieval period, when the Sailaodbhavas, Bhaumkaras, Somvamsi’s and Gangas again started showing active interest in architecture and patronizing it with revitalized enthusiasm. The development of different religions was the basis of such abundant output of art. The best specimens of Buddhist art came up at this period at Puspagiri, Udayagiri, Lalitagiri, Solanpur, Khadipada, Ayodhya, Khiching, Kuruma, Boudh, Banpur and other places. The finest establishment of the Buddhism was at Ratnagiri which housed two spacious Viharas, a magnificent stupa, and several other Buddhist sculptures of great artistic excellence. The figures of Boddhisatwas discovered from Lalitagiri and Langudi are distinguished by unsurpassed grace and slender suppleness. Recent excavation in Langudi hill has brought to light a huge Buddhist structure along with two Asokan statues with inscription.
The period from 6th to 10th century was a golden period in the history of Oriya architecture with marvelous constructions and sculptures coming up at this period. It is also considered as the formative stage of Kalingan architecture which started with the rule of Bhaumkaras and the Sailodbhavas. The distinctive form of Kalingan architecture with its curvilinear Vimana and pyramidal Jagamohana, the sanctum and the porch was developed during this period. What was unique to the Kalingan architecture apart from the outdoor design of the temple was the “Carving”. All the temples developed during this period were heavily carved. Interestingly the carvings were done only on the outer walls of the temple, while the interiors were devoid of any such carvings. The temples of Lakshmanesvara, Bharatesvara, Satrughnesvara, Svarnajalesvara and Parasuramesvara are among the earliest temples of Orissa. The Prasuramesvara temple assigned to the 7th century A.D. is the best preserved specimen and is known for its sculptured decoration. Lakulisa, Nataraja, Saptamatrikas, Ganesa, Kartikeya etc. are seen on the walls amidst other artistic carvings.
The next stage of evolution can be noticed in temples like Vaital, Sisiresvara and Markandesvara in Bhubaneswar. Starting from the mid 9th century till the 11th century under the rule of Bhaumkars and Somvamsis(the Kesharis). These temples with oblong plan and barrel vaulted roof belonged to the Khakara order. The progress of the style can also be traced through a series of temples outside Bhubaneswar, the notable examples being Bhringesvara temple Bajrakot, Kanakesvara temple at Kualo. The temple architecture developed further in the 10th-11th centuries under the Somavansis. Another feature of architecture of this period is the introduction of erotic sculptures due to the influence of Vajrayana philosophy.
The Muksesvara temple (10th century) marks the transition between early and late temples. Its deul has a curvilinear Sikhara and the Jagamohana is a Pidha temple. This shows the development from the stage of the rectangular mandapas with very fine carvings on its walls and a beautiful torana at the entrance. The temple with carvings of extra-ordinary skill is one of the most revered archaeological points of the country. Similarly the Rajarani temple (11th century) is famous for its splendid figures of dikapalas and charming Alasa Kanyas. The Lingaraj temple sensitizing the Vimana, Jagamohana, Natamandira and Bhogamondapa, is another exquisite piece of Oriya architecture of that period. The Gangas kept on with the tradition of temple building in Orissa. The Jagganth temple of Puri was built under the patronage of Anantaverman Chodagangadev. Other splendid examples of the Ganga period include Chatesvara temple at Kisenpur, Gopinath temple at Kakudia, Sobhanesvara temple at Niali, Madhava temple at Madhava and Dakshya Prajapati temple at Banpur besides a few smaller and lesser known shrines at Bhubaneswar
The magnificent Konark temple marks the climax of the Kalingan temple style. Built by Narasimha-I (1238-1264) during the hey days of Orissa’s great political ascendancy, it is the greatest and the best of Orissa’s monuments. The grand conception of this beautiful temple of Orissa, as a chariot of the Sun-God with twenty four wheels, is in fact without parallel in the whole range of the world arts. The main temple originally about 228 feet high, has long since collapsed, but the imposing Jagamohana with its fine carvings still stands as the reminder of its past glory. The life size loving couples and female figures, the celestial musicians playing cymbals, drums and flutes, war elephants and horses trampling vanquished enemies are some of the marvels and finest specimens of superb and excellent art works of Konark. It is indeed poetry in stone.
The period of 13 th to 16 th century was a period of decadence of architecture for Orissa. The Suryavamsis, who succeded the Gangas remained preoccupied with political problems and could, not give much time for temple building. Of the few temples, the temples at Kapilesvara at Bhubaneswar belonged to this period. Towards the later part of the 15th century AD impoverishment was noticed. Pidha deul became the choice for both vimana and the jagamohana. The building materials are mostly laterite. The walls of the temple are devoid of sculptural embellishment and decoration. Such insolvency was also noticed in the decoration of doorjambs, which also largely remained plain. Thus the temple building activities that started during the 6th century AD reached its climax during the Ganga Period started declining. The most important factors for the declines of temple building activities are lack of royal patronage and decline of Hindu power. Whatever it may be, till recently Orissa has possessed the rich Temple heritage, that are the imprints of our ancestor withstanding the ravage of time. These are most compact and homogenous architectural group in India.