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Orissa Review * July - 2005

Orissan Temple Architecture

Dr. Soma Chand

Orissa is a land of temples. The concentration of The Indian temples in general are divided
the largest number of temples all over the state into three categories based on their geographical
has made it a centre of unique attraction for the location and peculiar features -
scholars, indologists, tourists and others. The Northern Indian temples branded as Nagara
Out of the five different types of architecture Style of Architecture.
that is - devotional, memorial, civil, military and The temples of Deccan belong to the Vesara style.
domestic - we mainly come accross the devotional
The third category is called Dravida Style found
type of architecture in Orissa while others have in South India.
disappeared with the ravages of time and power.
The Orissan temple architecture ranging
Temples as free standing structures came from 7th to 13th century A.D. however
to Orissa after the Gupta period through Dakshina corresponds to an altogether different category
Kosala. The Hindu hegemony of Bhaumakaras, for their unique representations called Kalingan
Somavamsis and Gangas inspired the Orissan Style of temple architecture. Though broadly they
architects to carry on the spirit of creating their come under the Northern style or Nagara style,
own style of architectural temple representations they have certain special features which are unique
without any Islamic or Persian influence. The of their own.
period thus ranges from 6th century A.D. to 16th The Orissan temples are of three types -
century A.D.
Khakhara Deula
The builders of the Orissan temples gave
Rekha Deula
vent to their feelings on the basis of indigenous
canonical texts like Bhuban Pradip, Silpapothi, Pidha or Bhadra Deula
Silpasastra, Vastusastra Upanisad, The Khakhara Deula is altogether a
Silparatnakara, Silpasarini, Silpa Prakash, different style of architecture closely appearing
Padma Kesara, Deula Mapagunagara, similar to the Dravidian Gopuram design. The
Bhuban Prabesh, Soudhikagama etc. indicating word is derived from kakharu (pumpkin, gourd)
the standard achieved by our ancestors in the field as the crown looks like a barrel-vaulted elongated
of temple architecture. roof. The Sakta temples are generally of

Orissa Review * July - 2005

Khakhara order. Varahi temple of Chaurasi in Curvilinear Tower or Rekha or Rathaka.

Puri district and Gouri temple of Bhubaneswar Neck or the recess below the Amalaka
are two glaring examples of Khakhara temple. Sila called Beki.
Other Saivite and Vaisnavite temples in Denticulated blockes of stone called
Orissa represent both Rekha and Pidha types. Amalaka Sila.
In the formative period of Orissan temple
architecture there were only two structures of Stone cap resembling an unfolded umbrella
the temples. or Khapuri
The first is original sanctum or Vimana or Bada Finial or Kalasa
Deula. Trident Discuss on the top.
The second is Jagamohana or Mukhasala. From the ground Vimana rises vertically
The sanctum of the temple is of Rekha order to a height than is a curvilinear design up to the
which has a curvilinear superstructure. But the neck. From the base to the Gandi or trunk
Jagamohana standing before the main structure portion the rise is perpendicular and then the
is of Pidha order. The Pidhas form several tiers temple slowly inclines inward in a critical manner
sitting one upon the other rising to a pinnacle. till the four reclining walls join together at the Beki
or neck. Above the Beki is the portion called
With the march of time the Oriya architects Mastaka or crown which consists of the Amlaka,
began to invent new forms of structure. Thus in inverted Kalasa and Dhvaja. Finally comes the
big temples we find four structures - mark of the deity - trident or trishul in case of a
Vimana or Bada Deula Siva temple and a discuss or Chakra in case of a
Vishnu temple. The crown portion is called
Jagamohana or Mukhasala or Hall of
Khapuri. Over the Ayudha there may be a flag
as auspicious mark. Thus a temple is represented
Nata Mandira or Festive Hall. as a Purusha.
Bhoga Mandapa or the Hall of Offerings. In a pyramidal Pidha type of temple,
The constructive peculiarities of Orissan curvilinear Vimana is not there. The Gandi or
temple is marked by uniqueness. The architects trunk rises from the ground perpendicularly upto
perceived the temple in the form of a human male a point and then the pyramidal roof is constructed
figure or Purusha. Like human physical divisions on the four walls that looks much alike the shape
of leg, thigh, waist, chest, neck and head, the of a thatched house from a distance.
temple had similar shapes and structures. Another way is to study the Orissan temple
The main temple of Orissa is always of by resorting to vertical division. This is done with
Rekha designs with these special features such the help of vertical segments marked on the
as - Vimana of the temple called Pagas. The
projection at the centre is called Rahapaga, on
Pavement or Talapattana the either side of Raha are two Anurahapagas
Plinth or Pitha and at two corners are two Konakapagas. In
Cube or Bada course of time by gradual evolution Triratha plan

Orissa Review * July - 2005

of the temple became Pancharatha, Saptaratha aesthetically innervating. For centuries now, the
and Navaratha. Orissan golden triangle of Bhubaneswar-Puri-
Konark has retained a vintage point on India's
Another distinctive feature of the Orissan
temples is the decorative programme, which is of pilgrimage circuit for their devotional as well as
three types : architectural background.

Constructive Lingaraj temple of Bhubaneswar marked

the culmination of the evolution of Orissan temple
Representative architecture. Exactly a century later started the
Purely ornamental or decorative construction of Jagannath temple with the final
product of Orissan architects - that was the temple
These designs are governed by
of Konark.
specifications laid down by Silpasastra. The
vertical projections called Pagas are designed as The Orissan Temple Architecture holds an
maniature shrines with niches which contain appeal that is magnetic and almost stupefying in
different sculptures to beautify the temple. The its extravagance and mobility. The dizzying heights
canons of architecture classifies soil, stone and of the heavily sculptured towers are as much
temples and contains details of designs and reasons for wonder as are the exquisitely carved
placement of icons, decorative motifs, base-reliefs within their numerous halls. From the
Parsvadevatas, Dikpatis, Astasakhis, Naga splendid ruins of Konark to highly sanctified
and Nagini, Sardula, Ulta-Gaja-Viraja Singha, environs of Jagannath and Lingaraj temples, one
Navagraha, Vetal, Kirtimukha, types of scroll can get an unforgettable experience of Orissa's
like Phulalata, Natilata, Patralata, Vanalata, art and crafts. They are the symbols of Orissa's
elephant, horse, bull, Makara and other animals. cultural heritage that remain an eye-opener even
After 13th century there was a perceptible decline today.
in the artistic merit of the decorative programmes
of Orissan temple architecture.
The antiquity of Orissa is endorsed by her Dr. Soma Chand is a Reader in History in Ravenshaw
temple architecture which is as sublim as it is (Autonomous) College, Cuttack.


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