The temples at Orissa, or Kalinga which is its ancient name, provide some of the finest examples of the Indo-Aryan style of temple architecture, which is distinct from the south Indian style. The main group of temples is concentrated in the town of Bhubaneshwar where there are over thirty of them. A few miles from this temple town are two of the largest buildings in eastern India, the temple of Jagannath at Puri and the Sun temple at Konarak. Other examples of this style of architecture can also be seen further north on the southern borders of Bengal.
The earliest of these temples date from the eighth century A.D and the largest and latest, the Sun temple at Konarak, was erected in the middle of the thirteenth century. Thus these temples represent the scene of sustained architectural activity for nearly five hundred years. The earliest temples (c. A.D 750 to 900) are all present in Bhubaneshwar. Even in this early phase, the sculptural treatment was elaborate.
The two temples of monumental proportions, the Lingaraja at Bhubaneshwar and the Jagannath at Puri, were constructed around A.D 1000. Both these temples consist of four structures which comprise the fully developed Orissan style of temple architecture. Even today, the great tower of the Lingaraja dominates the entire town of Bhubaneshwar with its height and size; the Jagannath temple at Puri is still larger and of a slightly later date. In colonial times, an elaborate set of representations was built around the Jagannath temple: it became iconic of Hindu fanaticism, as devotees were supposed to hurl themselves in front of the temple’s large chariot and get crushed by its gigantic wheels. The word ‘Juggernaut’ is derived from Jagannath.
The grandest achievement of this school of architecture is the Sun temple at Konarak (c. A.D. 1250) , standing entirely by itself some twenty miles from Puri. The temple is dedicated to Surya, the Sun god, who has traditionally been represented as riding his winged chariot drawn by seven horses. The temple is therefore fashioned like a ratha (chariot) and the base of the structure has 12 giant wheels, each nearly ten feet high. The entire surface is filled out with sculpted forms, some of outstanding beauty, while the others are of a markedly erotic character. These indicate the emergence of a particular phase of Hinduism, better known as Tantrism. However, it appears that this cult soon lost much of its following, and today the temple lies abandoned, under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, unlike the Jagannath temple at Puri which is an important pilgrimage site. Though much of this structure is now in ruins, its sheer grandeur and size still inspires awe.
- Michell, George. The Penguin guide to the monuments of India, Vol I. London: Viking, 1989.
- Tadgell, Christopher The History of Architecture in India. London: Phaidon Press, 1990.