Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.
The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise
Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village
For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently. Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.
The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.
The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.
Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.
Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport
Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.
At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning
Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.
After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.
The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.
We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.
On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.
At Golden Beach in Puri
After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.
After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.
On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.
In Bhubaneswar Temples
After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.
After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage. Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.
After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.
Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.
Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.
At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda
In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.
Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.
At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra
In the words of Beverly Frankel
I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers. The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.
Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal. It was magical – dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.
Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.
Odisha, unlike Gujarat, Kerala and Himachal, has not been known for wood carving heritage to the outside world. However, it does not mean that the state has a shortage of wooden heritage. More than one-third of the state’s geography is densely covered with forest. Little wonder, Odisha’s state deity Lord Jagannath is made of wood.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, Odisha had reached its climax in the construction of wooden temples. The Biranchi Narayan Temple in Buguda of Ganjam District testifies the culmination of the skill of Odia woodcarvers. Dedicated to Lord Surya, the temple is often regarded as the Wooden Konark of Odisha. The temple of Biranchi Narayan Temple was patronized by the Bhanja rulers of Ghumsar, the present Bhanjanagar region.
Apart from Biranchi Narayan Temple, in a large part of south coastal Odisha and around the holy town of Puri, one of the finest wood carving heritages of South Asia flourished depicting the rasa of Lord Krishna and Radha and episodes from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and Lord Jagannath. Some of these wooden wonders are now shown in various museums including the Odiarat Purvasa Museum at Chilika Lake.
Wooden Carving of Lord Krishna and Gopis at Ganga Mata Matha in Puri
Exhibit at Odiart Museum
For more than 800 years the Bhanjas of Ghumsar had ruled over Kandhamal region in highland central Odisha. Kandhamal is inhabited by various branches of Kondh tribes who speak in Kui language, a branch of Indo Dravidian language family. The Kondhs are known for their aboriginal beliefs and lifestyle resembling prehistoric ways of life. In the past, they were notoriously known for human sacrifices under the guidance of their Jani (the tribal priest) with a belief that planting human flesh and sprinkling blood would yield a good harvest. Today the human sacrifice is mostly replaced with buffalo sacrifice.
The Bhanja rulers of Ghumsar had largely patronized the Kandha beliefs and practices and incorporated many of their ritual elements in Hinduism to draw the hegemony of their tribal subjects. For instance, there are dedicated shrines of Kandhuni Devi and Maa Patakhanda in various villages in the erstwhile territory of Bhanjas. In these shrines, one finds an interesting blend of tribal beliefs and Hindu rituals.
Poda Poda is located in between Baliguda and Phubani towns in Kandhamal District. Connected by excellent road, one can visit Poda Poda from Darigibadi and Mandasaru as well. For accommodation, the nearest town is Baliguda (30 km).
Shrines of Kandhuni Devi
The Bhanjas also had built temples in Kandhamal in the same fashion and artistic style which they had erected in and around their capital. Today, however, most of these temples are lost over time except Poda Poda, a small village located on Phulbani – Baliguda Highway in Phiringia Block. Surrounded by enchanting hills and valleys, Poda Poda has preserved the remains of a wooden temple dedicated to Lord Nrusingha, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
Built as a rectangular structure the temple is a single building without having any porch. Its original roof is long gone and now replaced with asbestos sheets. The shrine of Nrusingha is shown as a bearded man sitting on a serpentine coil and protected by the cobra hood. Conventionally the display of the deity does not fit into the iconographic canons of mainstream Hinduism.
As you approach the temple what draws your immediate attention is the wooden door jamb depicting a tantric ritual tale. The panel has a display of various forms of sex perhaps associated with fertility cult. Women are shown having sexual intercourse with multiple men in various actions. Above the lintel, there is a mastika panel displaying the popular Gaja Sihmha character of Hindu temples in Odisha. On its top, there is a display of yet another woman showing her virginal.
The backside of the jamb has the depiction of beautiful geometrical patterns and a group of peacocks forming a circle.
On tops of wooden posts, there are depictions of animals, such as bear, elephant, lion and tiger in different cardinal directions. There is also a depiction of birds like parrot and swan. These panels were painted with various shades of colours as one finds at Biranchi Narayan Temple in Buguda. However, only traces are left.
In the interior part of the temple, there is yet another door jamb depicting the scene of Dasavatra (10 incarnations of Vishnu). On its mastika panel is a pair of fish displayed with intricate design as one sees in Ganjam. Fish symbolises peace in Odia culture.
The wooden temple of Nrusingha at Poda Poda is truly a remarkable example of Odisha’s splendid wooden heritage now lost in time. It is difficult to believe that a tribal-dominated region like Kandhamal could possess such intricate heritage. However, if no immediate attention is paid we may lose this wonderful wooden structure forever.
They call themselves children of Kui Dina (Kui Country) and for outsiders, it is Kandhamal (named after Kondh Tribe). Thousands of square miles of rolling hills and dense jungle, Kandhamal is a nature lover’s paradise. Her forest is rich in majestic Sal trees followed by Piasal, Kendu, Gambhari, Kusum, Harida, Bahada, Amla, Mango, Tamarind, Mahua, and many more.
The forests of Kandhamal can be classified as dry and wet deciduous forests depending upon the season you visit. On its deep valley mountain floors, there are hundreds of villages of Kondh Tribe scattered around the deep jungles. The 19th-century British romanticists referred to this area as ‘Kondhistan’.
The Kondhs speak in a Dravidian language called ‘Kui’ which is spoken in an extreme nasal form.
The utilisation of forest wood is an integral part of their heritage. Their houses are made of wooden posts plastered with mud. Their settlements are fenced with wooden posts erected in a line, some time for hundreds of meters.
The term Meriah is a corrupt form of the Kondh term ‘Mervi’, which refers to the Kondh God Mervi Pennu, a brother of the Earth Goddess Tari Pennu. The Kondhs believe that buffalo sacrifice would give them good crops and protection against all diseases and natural disaster. The buffalo is purchased and brought to the middle of the village. After worshipping earth goddess and the victim, the buffalo is tied to a wooden pole.
The victim is decorated with flowers and vermillion. Then the Kondhs bring their knives and tangi (axe) and after getting intoxicated they sing and dance around the victim for a few hours. Then at a particular moment, the priest (Jani) signals and all of them (numbering between 30 and 50) hit the buffalo at the same time. The blood stuck to the instrument is considered auspicious and the instrument would prove ultimately to be very lucky, efficient and productive that year.
Throughout this event, the Kondhs assign the buffalo the supernatural soul carrier. Inside many Kondh traditional houses you will find buffalo horned wooden posts showing nice carved designs (clan marks), which are worshipped as symbols of the household ancestors.
Interestingly, the Hindu God of Death, Yama is also associated with water buffalo acting as a mythic vehicle (vahana) to the ether world. Archaeological interpretations also suggest that sacrifices of buffalos were seemingly performed by the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation for some unknown religious rituals. Today, not only Kandhamal but in many parts of Eastern India, buffalo acts as the chief sacrificial animal in a class of structurally related death and ancestor worship ceremonies.
Baliguda is at the heart of Kandhamal strategically located on the highway that connects Bhubaneswar with Rayagada, Kandhamal and Kalahandi. Most of the Kondh villages are around Baliguda, which has also decent staying options. The village of Podpada is before Baliguda (20 km) on the highway from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 7 hours in a private vehicle to reach Baliguda. There are also comfortable night buses. The other option for stay is at Daringibadi, a popular tourist place among Indians located at a distance of 50 km from Baliguda.
The Baliguda region of Kandhamal, which also forms the core of Kui Dina, was under the rule of the Gangas from the 10th century and under the Bhanjas of Ghumsar from 18th century until the time it was annexed by the British in the mid 19th century. During the reign of the Bhanjas (18th-19th centuries), Kandhamal also saw architectural activities, similar to the coastal plains of Odisha.
One major aspect of the architectural tradition is the extensive use of wood carvings in-ceiling and doorjambs, similar to ones found at Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda.
The Nrusingha Temple at Podapoda Village on the highway that connects Phulbani with Baliguda is the only remains of rich wooden heritage. Though mostly gone, the temple has been known for its wooden gems featuring Tantric rituals and geometrical motifs on its lintel. Unfortunately, its roof is replaced with tin sheets now. Depiction of peacocks forming a circle at the central part of the lintel is a major draw. Besides, there are representations of garudas and monkeys noticed in the interior of the structure.
The wooden heritage of Kandhamal is truly unique, but sadly many of its priceless treasures are in a sorry state of preservation due to lack of patronage and loss of interest among Kondhs. To save them we need a strategic plan inviting heritage conservationists, historians, travel professionals and of course involving local stakeholders, such the community members of Kondh Tribe and non-Tribal communities.
A two-hour drive from Bengaluru on Hyderabad Highway drops you at a mysterious land surrounded by a cluster of dramatic hills and a vast semi-arid plateau of Andhra’s Anantapur District at the vicinity of the dried up Pennar River. A legend goes: this was where the blind Jatayu fell, wounded after a futile battle against Ravana, who was carrying away Sita. When Sri Ram reached the place, he saw the bird and said compassionately, “Le Pakshi” – “rise, bird”, in Telugu.
Keeping aside the legend, the tiny town of Leepakshi is however known for its 16th century Veerabhadra Temple, a grandeur in Vijayanagar art and architecture, and one of the finest monuments in the whole of South India. The temple is built on a tortoise shaped low hill called Kuruma Shaila.
Veerabhadra, the fierce god created in his rage after the Daksha Yagna and the immolation of Parvati is the main deity here.
The construction of the temple of Veerabhadra is attributed to the initiative of two contemporary brothers, namely Veeranna and Virupanna at the provincial Vijayanagar Court of Penukonda. It is said that Virupanna was the officer in charge of the state treasury of the provincial government at Penukonda, administered by a governor appointed by Achyuta Deva Raya (1529 – 1547 CE), the Vijayanagar Emperor from Hampi.
The Ruins of Penukonda – The Provincial Capital of Vijayanagar Empire
Penukonda or the Ghanagiri (as described in Vijayanagar inscriptions) was an important and influential province of the Vijayanagar Empire, and the rulers of Vijayanagar and Penukonda were also related through matrimonial alliances. The cult of Veerabhadra was quite popular during this period throughout the Vijayanagar Empire. He was the mascot, the war-cry and a source of inspiration for the Vijayanagar army. It is believed that both the brothers had a special affinity towards Lord Veerabhadra and had been inspired to build a temple at Leepakshi, which had been strongly linked with Puranic tradition.
The Veerabhadra Temple complex is a wonderful example of Vijayanagar architecture. Filled with gopuras, vimanas and sprawling courtyards the temple’s major architectural features are the ranga mantapa and ardha mantapa. Carved with an exquisite array of images of dancers, musicians and the Puranic deities, like those of Anantha Sayana, Dattatreya, Brahma, Tumburu, Narada and Rambha, the temple is however incomplete. The sprawling Kalyana – Mantapa meant as a sacred space for celebrating the wedding of Shiva with his beloved Girija has splendid and carved massive pillars, but there is no roof over them.
A major attraction of the temple is the ceiling murals depicting 14 aspects of Shiva, flanked by rishis whose gazes direct a viewer’s eyes to subsequent depictions from the killing of demon Andaka to Ardhanairswara, a figure whose body is composed of Shiva on the right side and Parvati on the left. There are also manifestations of Shiva as Kirata (boar hunter), Shiva’s wedding with Girija, scenes of Krishna’s childhood, and the legend Manu – Neeti – Cholan who disposed justice even to animals. There is also a scene of Viranna and Virupanna worshipping Shiva and Parvati in the company of other courtiers.
Leepkshi is located at a distance of 120 km from Bengaluru off Hyderabad Highway in Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh. The nearest town is Hindupur, which is 15 km away. It takes about 2 and half hours to reach Lepakshi from Bengaluru. There are both buses as well as rail connectivity to Hindupur from Lepakshi. If you are travelling by bus or train hire an auto from Hindupur to Lepakshi. Lepakshi can be covered in a day trip. Penukonda is further north about 50 km from Lepakshi.
The murals of Leepakshi manifest the contemporary life in Vijayanagar Court and society. Full of vitality with protruding eyes, angular postures, grace and delightful movement these provide primary pieces of evidence to appreciate the grandeur of cosmopolitan Vijajayanagar. The costumes of men and women, colour embroidered sarees, jewellery, hairstyle, tall headgears (kulavi) are among the finest in Indian mural tradition. The wealthy traders and officials in the 16th-century court are seen dressed in Persian styles are depicted in Leepakshi murals. According to Brigitte Khan Majlis, an expert on Leepakshi murals, the textiles show a wide spectrum of patterns, some bearing a close similarity to extant cotton textiles of Kalamkari tradition, produced along the east coast for export to Indonesia in 17th and 18th centuries.
Veerabhadra Temple’s yet another major attraction is a mammoth Ganesha – hewn in stone and leaning against a rock. Perpendicular to it is a massive Naga with three coils and seven hoods. It forms a sheltering canopy over a black granite Shiva lingam.
The first sculpture at Leepkashi is, however, you will encounter is a spectacular Nandi of 27 feet length and 15 feet height, reputedly India’s biggest monolithic Nandi.
Scientists call him a great naked-eye astronomer. When the west had the privilege of having the best of telescopes and other aids for astronomy, he took observations with indigenous and handy instruments, all fabricated by himself. He was Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar (1835 – 1906) from Khandapada, an erstwhile princely state in Odisha’s Nayagarh district.
Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar
The Ancestral House of Pathani Samanta
Pathani’s greatest contribution in the field of scientific literature is a systematic record of his lifelong research in astronomy. The treatise ‘Siddhanta Darpana’ has been written in Sanskrit and Odia in the lines of Hindu tradition initiated by Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara, Satandu, Sripati and many more at different periods of history.
Chandrasekhar was born in the royal family of Khandapada. Nicknamed as Pathani by his parents (sources say that he was temporarily sold to a Muslim Faqir as a part of the local tradition), Chandrasekhar was initiated to identify stars by his father when he was a child. He received primary education from a Brahmin teacher. As he grew, he started mastering in subjects like lilavati, bijaganita, jyotisa, siddhanta, vyakarana and kavya using the resources available at the family library.
Then on Samanta Chandrasekhar became an ardent observer throughout his life. He spent many sleepless nights for making observations throughout his life.
Today Chandrasekhar’s childhood town Khandpada has probably been forgotten by many of us. However, a leisurely walk through this little town surrounded by nine hills, forest and interspersed valleys, wetlands and soulful Odia villages is like transporting to yet another world. You are driven through layers of history and myths of this offbeat Gadajat land.
Apart from the ancestral house of Pathani Samanta and the museum built to showcase his work, the star attraction of Khandpada is the palace. The 250-year-old palace, locally called Rajabati is a magnificent structure showcasing a fusion of Mughal and Odia architecture. The palace has two parts, the outer darbar hall overlooking a large courtyard and the inner Rani Mahal. While you can visit the Darbar Hall, entry to the inner chambers is restricted.
Khandpada is located in Nayagarh District at a distance of 80 Km from Bhubaneswar via Baghamari. Both Khandpada and Kantilo can be covered in a day trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Khandpada also explore Sunamuhi wetland on the outskirt of the town towards Nayagarh. The Nila Madhav Temple gets closed for darshan by 1 PM. You can also have food at the temple by paying a certain amount.
Khandpada State was initially part of Nayagarh State, founded by a former ruler of Rewa State in present-day Madhya Pradesh. It became a separate kingdom in the 16th century when Jadunath Singh Mangaraj, the first ruler of Khandpada received the title Mangaraj from the Gajapati King of Puri.
The state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India in 1948. The present Raja is His Highness Sri Bibhuti Bhusan Singh Mardaraj, who lives in Bhubaneswar.
The Jagannath Temple built beside the Rajabati is an architectural landmark of the town. Situated within a spacious courtyard, the temple draws a huge crowd during Rath Jatra and other festivals associated with the Jagannath Cult.
A visit to Khandapada is incomplete without experiencing the darshan of Lord Nila Madhav located on a hilltop on the bank of River Mahanadi at Kantilo.
Lord Nila Madhav occupies a central position in Jagannath Cult.
At the time, Puri became an established place of Jagannath Cult, here Biswabasu, a chief of Sabara Tribe worshipped Kitung as the God was known in Sabara dialect.
The legend goes: once upon a time, Indradumyna was ruling as the king of Malwa. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.
Once he had a dream…Vishnu had reincarnated as Nila Madhav in the distant land of Sri Kshetra. The king deputed one of his counsellors, Vidyapati to travel to Sri Kshetra and confirm the presence of his lord.
Vidyapati travelled far and wide but was disappointed. One day he met Lilita, a Sabara girl, who was the daughter of Biswabasu, the chief of the Sabara Tribe. Both fell in love and got married.
Vidyapati noticed that Biswabasu would go into the forest every afternoon. Vidayapati was curious but the Sabara Chief refused to tell him where he goes every afternoon. After much persuasion, Lalita admitted that her father went into the forest to worship Nila Madhav.
Hearing this from his spouse Vidyapati was over joyous. He nagged his father-in-law to take him to the shrine. Finally, Biswabasu agreed with a condition that he would take him a blindfold. Vidayapati had no choice. When he saw the heavenly beauty of Nila Madhav he was mesmerized. He hurriedly left for Malwa to give the good news to his master King Indradummyna.
Today, the locals still believe that Biswabasu lived in a nearby hill across the town and he would come every afternoon to the spot, where the present temple of Lord Nila Madhav stands.
Built-in the Kalinga School of Architecture, the Nila Madhav Temple resembles a miniature Jagannath Temple at Puri. From here one can have a sweeping view of the mighty Mahanadi River.
Truly Khandapada is a timeless journey shrouded in mysteries of time, culture and myths. It was a land which nurtured great souls like Pathani Samant. Here at every bit of its land, you will find the magical charm of rural Odisha.
You are a curious onlooker to countless sensuous carvings in close embrace and interlocked in lovemaking. You are puzzled, keen to unravel their stories shrouded in mysteries. Then you seek the help of a trained guide, who narrates you – “the erotic sculptures were made after the brutal Kalinga War in remote 3rd century BCE. The battle had been fought between Emperor Ashoka of Magadha and the army of Kalinga. 1,50,000 soldiers had died leading to a severe scarcity of warriors in Kalinga. The population declined sharply. The erotic sculptures you see here were made as a medium to attract sexual indulgence. Since women visited in large numbers on a daily basis, the erotic figures motivated them to indulge in more sex with their spouses. This led to more childbirth and in the processes created more warriors for Kalinga”.
Female Musicians and Dancers
Not satisfied, you seek an explanation from yet another guide. He narrates:
“None of these things — none of those acts, ever happened anywhere. They were made up by the sculptors because they were away from home for a long time and were missing their wives.”
What Rubbish! The timelines between two events were 1600 years apart in history. The logic for the second narration is neither acceptable by any serious traveller to the world heritage site of Konark, an architectural wonder, now frozen in stone.
Konark is seaside town to the north of Puri and northeast of Bhubaneswar. Together with Bhubaneswar and Puri, Konark forms the golden triangle of Odisha. While the Sun Temple is the main attraction here, a traveller can also visit the nearby archaeological sites such as Kuruma and Gangeswari Temple in Gop. The other major attractions are Chandrabhaga and Ramchandi Beach and the marine drive that connects Puri with Konark, which is also part of Balukhand Sanctuary. Within Konark, the other major attractions are light-and-sound shown in the evening, interpretation centre and the ASI museum. While most travellers prefer Puri to stay, we recommend Konark as a better alternative as it is less crowded and more serene. Konark is a heaven for seafood lovers.
Konark, among all Hindu temples of India, has the highest concentration of erotic sculptures, ranging from oral to group sex, perhaps depicting all 64 types of ratikrida that find mentioned in Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra. The concentration is so high that Lowell Thomas, an American traveller and broadcaster described Konark as the most beautiful and at the same time the most obscene building in the world.
Erotica on the walls of Konark Sun Temple generates curiosity and even puzzles the mind of every visitor. The brazenness and ethereal beauty of these sculptures are not only sensuous but also artistically rich and vibrant. They are mostly concentrated on the outer walls of the temple.
In Indian culture for all ages our ancestors had emphasized on wholesome living, kama or sex is an essential part of living. According to Stella Kramrish, an international authority in Hindu Temple art:
‘This state which is “like a man and women in close embrace” is a symbol of moksha, final release of the reunion of two principles, the essence (purusha) and nature (prakriti)’.
Love making in Odisha had been more explicit compared to rest of India. This may be due to remaining of Odisha in isolation for a very long time from the influence of Islamic civilization as one sees in Deccan, Gujarat, Central and North India.
In the 12th century CE, Jayadeva, Odisha’s classical poet wrote Gitagovinda, lyrical poems celebrating the romance of the divine cowherd Krishna and his beloved Radha.
Exhibit in Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar (18th Century)
Some Examples from Gitagovinda
“Abhinava jaladhara sundara” — beautifully dark-hued like a fresh rain-bearing cloud (shritha Kamala kucha)
“Shrimukha chandra chakora:” — longing for Goddess Lakshmi’s face as a chakora bird longs for the moon (shrithaKamala kucha)
“Shri Radhapathi paada padma bhajanaanandaabdhi magno anisham tham vande Jayadeva sathguruvaram Padmavati vallabham” — I bow down to that foremost preceptor Jayadeva, who is always immersed in the ocean of bliss in worshipping the lotus feet of the consort of Radha and who is the spouse of Padmavati (Dhyanaslokam – Shri Gopalavilasini )
Jayadeva was born in Kenduli village on the bank of Prachi River, not far from Konark Temple in Coastal Odisha. It was the time when the cult of Jagannath and Vaishnavism had established strong footings around Prachi River. Several temples built on Prachi Valley during this period show an array of erotic and amorous sculptures on their walls against the spread of bhakti-rasa in the background. Bhakti is about shared joy, about sharing Krishna, it is about yearning for Krishna and wanting that union on an individual level — ‘I want him. He wants me.’
Erotica Depicted in Soveswara Temple near Niali on Prachi Valley
It is most probably the spread of these ideas from Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda that had deeply influenced the master builders of Konark and their patron to conceptualize and execute erotica in a grand way.
Erotica in Konark was however not new. Odisha had a long tradition of depicting and celebrating love and passion from time immemorial. Like Vrindavan, in Ekamra (Bhubaneswar) during the period of their sojourn, Parvati once expressed a desire to indulge in ratikrida (sporting dalliance) with Shiva. Shiva agreed to the proposal and emanated himself in eight different forms. To play the game of dalliance, Parvati also emanated herself into 8 different forms. The Chaitra Purnima (April-May) was selected as the most auspicious time for the purpose. The sport continued for the whole night and when the curtain was drawn Shiva installed eight Sambhus and eight Gauris around the banks of Bindusagar Tank.
The dalliance between Shiva and Parvati in Parasuramaeswara Temple in Bhubaneswar
In describing Ekamra (Bhubaneswar), the holy city of Shiva which yields worldly pleasure and salvation on this very earth itself, Brahma once had said: ‘In Ekamra dwell the most beautiful women on earth. With their slender waists, plump breasts, ample and beautiful buttocks, lotus eyes, sweet languor due to intoxication they represent the celestial ladies of heaven. They remain gay and jolly days and nights. They speak pleasing words. They are clever and skilled in arts and crafts. They are expert in dancing and singing. They are proud of their feminine virtues. These beautiful women pleasing to behold are expert in flirting with men. Young men are fascinated the moment their slight glances fall on them’.
In temples, right from the beginning, we find depictions of amorous couples. For example, at the 6th century ruined Shiva Temple of Bankadagada near Banapur (140 km from Konark in the southwest), we find a large number of amorous couples associated with Tantric rituals depicted on its walls.
Amorous Couples in Bankadagada (6th Century CE)
The early temples of Bhubaneswar including Parasurameswar and Vaital also exhibit numerous erotic and amorous couples on their walls. But unlike Konark here they were part of Tantric rituals associated with Kapalika sect of Shaivism.
Amorous Couples in the earliest Bhubaneswar Temple, Parasurameswara
Though difficult to accept but true – the Buddhist monasteries of Ratnagiri too had adopted sex a part of Mahayana Tantric rituals.
Erotica in Ratnagiri Buddhist Monastery
In the later phase (10th -12th centuries CE), the decorative programme in temples was dominated by the images of women who may appear alone or as partners in mithuna images, carved in high reliefs on temple walls.
According to Puranas, ‘in the marriage procession of Shiva, the physical beauty of God is such that the women of the city leave all household duties to catch a glimpse of him. One in her haste runs out half-dressed holding her cloth and girdle in her hands. Another, in the midst of her bath and toilet, come out with the shampoo powder still held in her hand’s whiles still, another come out with her garments worn inside out’.
According to scholars, the amorous activities of gods and celestial as found mentioned in the Puranas actually showcased as models of behaviour and conduct for the luxury living aristocratic society by the 12th century. The constant interplay between human conduct and celestial behaviour, the changing moral ethics, behaviours and aesthetic tastes of the aristocracy and the priesthood were being constantly incorporated into the religious texts and temple iconography.
Amorous Couples in Brahmeswra Temple in Bhubaneswar (11th Century)
This was the time when Konark was conceptualized as an epitome of Odia architecture and art. After so much experimentation with amorous art in Odisha here, the builders had mastered perfection to showcase erotica as a symbol to the union of the individual soul with the universal spirit. The outside of the temple represents various activities that belong to the ‘samsara’; beyond that and within the temple is the image of God. The worshipper must overcome the world of pleasure to find this god.
The erotica depicted in Konark offers not only windows to explore Odisha’s past, but also to present, how life needs to be celebrated to attain mokshya through kama, two essential pillars of Indian wisdom. Unfortunately, today discussing sex in open forums is seen as a taboo. Work pressure, alternative lifestyles and stress especially in urban India has kept people distance from kama. Perhaps a visit to Konark and appreciating how our ancestors celebrated life may inspire us for a deeper retrospection to tune our lifestyle in sync with ancient wisdom and practices.
It was 6 PM on an October Day. I was at Salia Dam enjoying the pristine beauty of nature, sun going down against the western sky turning it into a pallet of golden and turmeric hues; and a fisherman sailing through the placid water after the day’s catch in his bamboo raft, a watercraft that has survived from the prehistoric time.
In less than 30-minute pitch dark shrouded all around us. I and Chitra, my companion dared to drive into the jungle of Barbara, Asia’s largest teak forest. The distance was less than 10 km, but the forest road in the dark came as a major obstacle. There was not a single soul to ask. We lost the direction. With no hope of finding in the middle of nowhere and fighting against the eerie evening, we gave up our daring adventure. We turned back our vehicle in the direction of Odiart Museum, my camping site. To drive 30 km, it took nearly 2 hours in the dark jungle treks.
Barbara Forest is a nature’s best-kept secret near Chilika Lake in coastal Odisha. It is named after a British woman, Barbara who had been killed by a tiger in the late 19th century while she was with her husband in a hunting expedition.
However, Barbara Forest is not very old. Historically, this region was under the rule of Raiyat Zamindari System of Banapur. Till 1870, there was no restriction for cutting trees in today’s Barbara Forest. The locals had almost cleared the forest to support their agriculture. In 1871 for the first time restrictions were made to fell trees and the practice of seasonal agriculture. In 1880, it was declared as protected forest and in 1883 it was taken over by the Forest Department, Bengal.
Barbara Forest is spread over Khruda and Nayagarh Districts near Banapur Town in Coastal Odisha. The forest and its surroundings can be approached from National Highway that connects Bhubaneswar with Berhampur. While at Barbara, one can also visit the nearby Chilika Lake at Balugaon and Barkul, which have also staying and food options. Also, visit Banapur Bhagawati Temple and the 13th-century Dakshya Prajapati Temple. The nearest airport is at Bhubaneswar (120 Km) and railway station is at Balugaon (25 km). The other nearby city is Berhampur (70 km).
According to Mr A.L. McIntire, Conservator of Forests, Bengal, 1908:
‘In 1883 the forests were placed under the management of the forest department, a forest settlement being carried out at about the same time. Under the latter a total area of 110 square miles of forest was declared reserved forest, free of rights, and the rest of the forest and waste, was declared to be protected forest, in which revenue paying Raiyats were allowed to exercise a number of privileges, such as gazing their cattle and cutting bamboos and trees, of kinds which were not received, for making their houses, agricultural implements, etc and for firewood. The most important timber and fruit trees were reserved, and they were not allowed to cut or damage them, nor were they allowed to cultivate any parts of the protected forests before such parts were properly leased to them, and they were required to pay grazing fees for cattle in excess of the numbers supposed to be necessary for ploughing and manuring their fields, and cesses for permission to remove unreserved trees for firewood, etc. Since 1883 the 110 square miles of reserved forest have been carefully protected from fire, grazing and unauthorised felling; and efforts have been made to increase these forests by planting teak in small parts of the area. Under this management, the growth of trees has steadily improved’.
Thanks to the British Forest Management, even today, the slopes in the hills still hold the natural evergreen-deciduous forest, where teak is the prominent trees. Some of these trees are more than 80 feet high and 10 feet wide in circumference.
To oversee the forest management, the British also had built a teakwood panelled forest bungalow in 1912. Today it is a major attraction in the forest. Giant squirrels are found in great numbers in the teak forest of Barbara. While on a trek, one can find them in their acrobatic best jumping from one branch to another. But I was unfortunate. The forest is also a heaven for bird watchers. Woodpeckers, bulbul, bets, oriole, jungle fowls, baya weaver bird, parakeets are found in abundance in Barbara Forest.
On my day 2 trail, I stepped into mystic ruins on the fringe of Barbara Forest. Bankadagada, the remains of a fortress butting out of a hill, and a Shiva Temple built in Pre-Kalinga style of architecture are the major archaeological heritage of the area, that any serious traveller to Barbara cannot miss.
The area was the capital of Sailodvaba in the 7th century CE. Sailodvabas ware the first to introduce temple building activity in Odisha. The ruined Shiva Temple is one of the earliest having beautiful carvings of amorous couples and Tantric deities on its walls. There are also loose sculptures carved in the formative styles sheltered within the complex. Some of these sculptures strongly resemble with sculptures of Java and Sumatra (Indonesian Archipelago). One may wonder – around this time of history, the nearby Chilika was a major hub for maritime trade. Ships would sail from ports of Chilika to Southeast Asia for trade and business using wind power. Ideas would be exchanged between these regions and therefore bring artistic influences.
According to a local legend, during the reign of Sailodvaba ruler Pulind Sen, the king once saw in his dream the next ruler of the dynasty, a heavenly personality, was coming from the Mahendragiri region. Pulind Sen followed the instruction and welcomed the young man and coroneted him as his successor.
The temple built in Astayana style (the central temple surrounded by seven smaller temples) was perhaps built by the successor of Pulind Sen.
The Barbara Forest is surrounded by the timeless rural charm of interior Odisha. Inhabited by Sabara tribes and ethnic Odia communities, you are simply drawn to vast paddy fields that appear as emerald greens as far as your eyes can stretch. Sabara is an ancient tribe and were the original worshippers of Lord Jagannath. They speak in Mundari language, a branch of Mon-Khmer group of the language spoken in Mainland Southeast Asia. Apart from their adaptation to jungle life they also do subsistence farming, fishing, animal rearing and brewing of mahula alcohol. Their houses are made of wattle and daub. Sabaras also revere Barbara Forest and each of its trees as their Gods.
The region around Barbara is also a major elephant corridor. To chase out elephants, apart from being vigilant and night after a night patrolling they erect manchas (temporary small raised structures) to watch animals’ movements in harvesting season.
For a traveller, each one of these wonderful souls has countless tales, ranging from their version of tribal and Hindu mythologies to sustenance, farming to food security and local actions against global climate change. You are simply back in time with scores of experiences that you can cherish for your rest of life.
Once sages asked Brahma, the creator God: ‘Which is the most excellent place on earth that bestows virtue (dharma), love (kama), wealth (artha) and salvation (mokshya)’. Brahma replied: ‘Bharata, the Indian Subcontinent…in particular, however, Utkala and its four great religious centres, Puri, Konarka, Ekamra and Viraja’. In describing Ekamra (Bhubaneswar), the holy city of Shiva which yields worldly pleasure and salvation on this very earth itself, Brahma further replied: ‘In Ekamra dwell the most beautiful women on earth. With their slender waists, plump breasts, ample and beautiful buttocks, lotus eyes, sweet languor due to intoxication they represent the celestial ladies of heaven. They remain gay and jolly days and nights. They speak pleasing words. They are clever and skilled in arts and crafts. They are expert in dancing and singing. They are proud of their feminine virtues. These beautiful women pleasing to behold are expert in flirting with men. Young men are fascinated the moment their slight glances fall on them’.
The words of Brahma somehow reached Kashi where Shiva and Parvati lived happily for a pretty long time. But they found the city getting overcrowded. Once heard about Ekamra they decided to leave Kashi and settle in Bhubaneswar. The couple happily spent long fifteen years in the Ekamravana. During the period of their sojourn at this place, Parvati once expressed a desire to indulge in ratikrida (sporting dalliance) with Shiva.
Shiva agreed to the proposal and emanated himself in eight different forms. To play the game of dalliance, Parvati also emanated herself into 8 different forms. The Chaitra Purnima (April-May) was selected as the most auspicious time for the purpose. The sport continued for the whole night and when the curtain was drawn Shiva installed eight Sambhus and eight Gauris around the banks of Bindusagar Tank.
Bhubaneswar is the capital of Odisha and a vibrant metropolis. Also known as ‘The Temple City of India’ Bhubaneswar hosts the largest concentration of Hindu Temples built in Kalinga School of Architecture between 7th and 16th centuries CE. The city also has been known for its incredible Jain (the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri) and Buddhist heritage (Dhauli Hill).
Bhubaneswar is well connected by air, rail and road with all important cities and other state capitals of India. The city has a plenty of choices for accommodation of various categories, from budget to high-end. The city is best known for its seafood delights, Pahala Rasagola and a variety of snacks and street foods.
These descriptions in the Puranas are best expressed through images of lovemaking in the temple walls of Bhubaneswar. These images appear in all parts from simple and seemingly innocent mithuna (amorous couples) to explicit erotic friezes.
Beginning in the late 8th Century CE, images of women make their appearance in the walls of Bhubaneswar temples. Around this time the homage is not just directed to Devi but also to women as sensual and graceful being, alas kanyas or ideal females represented in everyday life. It was part of the belief system that alas kanyas were auspicious apart from their beauty and protected temples.
By the 10th Century CE, the decorative programme was dominated by the images of women who may appear alone or as partners in mithuna images, carved in high reliefs on temple walls.
In the 11th Century CE, with the introduction of two storied janghas, their images were shifted to the upper storey along with mithuna and maithuna images, so that they appear more like celestial damsels, being high above eye-level.
Pleasure gardens surrounded the temple complex and the entire Ekamra Kshetra as the realm of Kama.
According to Puranas, in the marriage procession of Shiva, the physical beauty of God is such that the women of the city leave all household duties to catch a glimpse of him. One in her haste runs out half-dressed holding her cloth and girdle in her hands. Another, in the midst of her bath and toilet, come out with the shampoo powder still held in her hands while still, another come out with her garments worn inside out.
It is evident that the amorous activities of gods and celestial did, in fact, serve as models and behaviour and conduct for the luxury living aristocratic society by the 12th century. The constant interplay between human conduct and celestial behaviour, the changing moral ethics, behaviours and aesthetic tastes of the aristocracy and the priesthood were being constantly incorporated into the religious texts and temple iconography.
Raja Srikar Bhanja of Ghumsar! History might have forgotten him, but his contribution to art and culture even today stuns visitors and art scholars alike.
A distant relative of Kabi Samrat Upendra Bhanja, Srikar came to rule in 1790. However, after ruling 9 years in 1799 he renounced to lead the life of an ascetic devotee of Lord Sri Rama in South India. In 1819, the British unseated his son and successor Sri Dhanajaya Bhanja and reinstalled him again as the king of Ghumsar (today’s Bhanjanagar). While being in the heartlands of Southern India Srikar had got exposed to a diverse range of mural heritage in different courts including the Maratha wooden buildings.
Once started a fresh reign, Srikara took initiatives to experiment with his yearning for his beloved Ghumsar. A major project was the construction of a wooden and stone temple for Lord Biranchi Narayan taken from his capital to Buguda, 25 km away and the project site. The building was painted by murals said to be so fine that they looked as if the divine artisan Viswakarma himself has made them. The year of its construction was 1820.
Biranchi Narayan Temple is widely celebrated as the Wooden Konark of Odisha. A legend goes: Once a cowherd boy while tending cattle stuck his feet against a metal plate at the foothill. Consequently, the villagers dug up the portion and unearthed the life-size image of Biranchi Narayan.
The temple is built in the form of a chariot driven by seven horses. Apart from murals, the temple is noted for its remarkable wood carvings on the ceilings of the mandapa and the jambs of the entrance door.
Buguda is surrounded by a number of other interesting spots of tourist interest, the most noted being Buddhakhol, 3 km away. Amidst forests and streams, there is a cluster of 5 Hindu temples at the top of the hill, dedicated to Lord Shiva. In the past, the area was part of a major Buddhist civilisation which can be testified with the findings of a number of Buddhist images and caves where Buddhist monks once lived to meditate during rainy seasons.
Buguda can be approached from Berhampur (70 km), South Odisha’s largest city, Gopalpur – on –Sea (75 km) and NH-16 at Khalikote (70 km). A ride to Buguda from these cities/towns is going to be an experience of a lifetime, especially if you are travelling in monsoon and winter. On your way, you would discover rich ethnic life of Southern Odisha along with lush green paddy fields, hills and unspoiled forest.
Buguda does not have staying options. However, in Berhampur and Gopalpur one may find a number of hotels/resorts of various ranges. We recommend avoiding Berhampur which is highly chaotic and messy. Gopalpur – on – Sea is a better option where one can easily spend two days relaxing in one of the finest beaches on the Bay of Bengal.
In Odisha, Puri was the major centre for Odishan chitrakaras, whose work was connected with the Jagannath Temple.
Depiction of Schematic Map of Puri Srikshetra in Biranchi Narayan Temple
Some of them moved to various sassana (Brahmin villages) villages around Puri to work for their Brahmin patrons. The widely celebrated Raghurajpur and Dandashahi villages are attached to two sassanas near Puri.
During the 18th century, secondary Jagannath temples were built in feudatory (gadajat) states of Odisha. Chitrakaras were sent out to provide replacement images and perform other services to temples. As a result of these migrations, several distinctive styles of paintings evolved, including Dakshini style of Ganjam.
Some of these chitrakaras had settled at nearby villages, such as Mathura and Balipadara. Today both villages are active centres of art and craft. According to local people, chitrakaras from either of these two villages had painted the murals of Biranchi Narayan Temple where more than half of the repertoire represents Ramayana Katha. Today their conditions have deteriorated to a large extent. However, the remnants still shine thanks to the burnished surface of the wall over which the murals are drawn.
Painted according to classical canons, the Buguda murals have an exceptional aspect, the subdued earthy palate. In addition to yellow and russet ochre (appear in older pattachitras of Puri) a greyish green is prominent. Blue occurs very rarely and in a duller form then the pattachitras. Another unusual feature is the unusual amount of white background in the narrative panels. This was perhaps to make simply the story clear. Another feature of the panel is that they are not executed in sequential order and appear like a jigsaw puzzle. The first three sections of wall organized in neat registers and balanced as a whole with repeated elements of design, but all later panels move in haphazard manners, at times from right to left, at times from left to right and at times from top to bottom. It is believed that the irregularity meant for depicting varieties and for not making the overall organizations too predictable and monotonous.
Four major images of the rear of the temple abandon the sequence of each episode. Each panel presents a single event drawn from the Vana Parva (forest section) of the Ramayana, following Rama’s exile. In each, the principals are seated on top of a hill, which is filled with rural details. Most heads are tilted upward, providing a deliberate and heroic cast to their actions. The occasionally drawn down turned positions suggest pensiveness, modesty or subservience. Characters are further simplified with a single curve defining the leg muscle and knee joint, or the leonine male torsos, their shoulders turned almost frontally.
Depicting landscape is a major feature of Buguda paintings. Hills in the four iconic panels are defined by overlapping lobes, their edges outlined in contrasting hue and edges with curved cross-hatching primarily to suggest volume. These multi-coloured lobes are cunningly populated with varied plants and creatures including monkeys and bears.
The pattern used for landscape depiction is also carried by noted pattachitra artist Bijay Parida about whom we have done two stories earlier. One of his creations depicting the Vana Parba episode is highly influenced by Buguda murals. It is exhibited at ODIART Purvasha Museum.
The murals of Buguda is the first major attempt of professional paintings in Odisha’s pictorial tradition and till today play as a role model for a host of pattachitra artists including Bijaya Parida. The Buguda artists had devised their own forms with a sense of innovation and experiment in which narrative concerns were part of the picture.
“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” ~ UNESCO
As I sat down to read the books and various journals that I had bookmarked in order to write on my recent heritage run in Telangana, I would sometimes pause to wonder on the fact that when I had started my journey, how ill prepared I was to meet the grandeur of the Kakatiyan temples, with almost no idea about the dynasty that had built them. While north Indian temples have always figured in my travel itineraries, and many a time I have stood in awe at some of their exquisite craftsmanship, I was still unprepared for the sculptural magnificence of the innumerable temples that dot the southern parts of India. It was my first foray into South Indian temple architecture, technically termed as Dravidian temple architecture, and the beauty and splendour of it is indescribable.
A look at our history will show that architecture and sculpture were two distinctive forms of art, and developed as such from the ancient times. The two became intertwined during the Buddhist era; and as Buddhism declined, in the southern parts of India the intertwining continued, as beautiful figures were sculpted on temple walls during the Pallava and Chalukyan period, a practice later adopted by the Chalukyan vassals: the Kakatiyans. As the Kakatiyas declared their independence and slowly turned into a dominant ruling dynasty of the Andhradesa, their architecture and sculpture, which evolved simultaneously over the three centuries of their rule, merged seamlessly into each other. This is evident in their various temples, which are filled with exquisite figures covering each pillar, wall, door panel, door jamb, lintel, and ceiling.
Beautiful sculptures fill the door jambs and pillars of Kakatiyan temples
Who were the Kakatiyas? A rather complex history
There are no clear records of how the Kakatiyas got their name or their caste, and few theories make the rounds. From two stone inscriptions it is learnt that the Kakatiyas got their name from a place called Kakatipura, which is a place where the Cholas once ruled, and where the temples of Ekavira devi and Kakati devi or Kakatamma (Chamunda of the saptamatrikas) stand. It is also believed that the Kakatiyas worshipped the Kakati devi, from whom the family name may have been derived. Some epigraphical evidences suggest that the Kakatiyas belonged to some Ratta (Rashtrakuta) clan, hence they were Sudras (Chaturdhakulajas), with claims to Kshatriya-hood based on their warrior like activities.
Devi Chamunda or Kakati devi (Kakatamma) from whom the Kakatiya dynasty was likely to have derived its name, 13th century, Kolunapaka
Trying to decipher the Kakatiyan lineage:
870-895 CE – Gundaya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal
895-940 CE ~ Ereya’s reign as Rashtrakuta vassal
The Mangallu inscription in 956 CE shows Kakatiyan Gundyana fighting under the Eastern Chalukya king; hence likely their vassal (noticeably the inscription doesn’t place the prefix Rashtrakuta before Gundyana’s name showing the disconnect with the clan)
973 CE ~ Collapse of Rashtrakutas
996-1052 CE ~ Beta I installed as king of Annumakonda or Hanamkonda by Erana and his wife Kamaseni (Beta I’s sister)
1052-1076 CE ~ Prola I rules as Kalyani or Western Chalukyan vassal under king Trilokyamalla Someswara. The latter gave the official ruling rights of Hanumakonda to Prola I (which was already bestowed upon him by his aunt Kamaseni), after Prola fought a successful battle against the Cholas.
1076-1110 CE ~ Beta II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal of king Tribhuvanamalla Vikramditya
1110-1158 CE ~ Prola II rules as Kalyani Chalukyan vassal
1158 CE ~ As the Western Chalukyas fall from power, Rudradeva or Prataparudra I declares his independence, and becomes the first independent ruler of the Kakatiyan dynasty. He rules as the first king of the Kakatiya dynasty until 1195 CE.
1195-1198 CE ~ Mahadeva rules. He dies in a war in 1198 CE and his young son Ganapatideva is imprisoned. Later Jaitugi of the Yadavas set him free, and Ganapatideva comes under loyal guardianship of his faithful vassal Recherla Rudra.
1199 -1262 CE Ganapatideva rules. In 1262 he hands over his throne to his daughter Rudrammadevi. In 1269 Ganapatideva dies.
In 1289 Rudrammadevi dies in a battle along with her loyal Senani Mallikarjuna Nayakudu.
In 1289 Prataparudra II starts his rule. He was Rudrammadevi’s grandson (daughter’s son), brought up by the queen herself and trained as her successor.
In 1323 CE after a fifth time invasion of Kakatiya kingdom by Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the capital of the Kakatiyas, Warangal finally falls. Prataprudra II was taken a prisoner, and while being taken to Delhi he commits suicide by drowning in the Narmada river.
In 1323 CE Kakatiya rule comes to an end.
As the loyal vassals of the Kakatiyas, the Nayakas, snatch power back from Delhi and take over. Prataprudra II’s brother Annamdeo moves to Bastar with his army and carves a kingdom there, which is held by his successors until 1947.
All five Islamic invasions faced by the Kakatiya kingdom took place during King Prataprudra II’s rule. The deadliest attack was launched during the second attack by Alauddin Khilji’s army under Malik Kafur in 1309, when different Kakatiyan cities, including Hanamkonda, were brutally destroyed by Khilji’s army. It was during this attack that Prataprudra II offered the Koh-i-noor diamond to Khilji in exchange for peace.
Remains of temple parts inside the 1000 pillared temple complex in Hanamkonda. The temple complex was started by Rudradeva (1163 CE), and later completed by Ganapatideva (1213 CE), and it is believed that Rudrammadevi came here everyday from the Warangal Fort to pray. Parts of this temple and the entire city faced massive destruction under Malik Kafur’s army (1309 CE).
Did the Kakatiyas rule well?
The Kakatiyas emerged as the most powerful rulers during 12th -13th CE, in the entire Telugu land. Their rule ushered in many new bearings in politics and administration, agriculture (especially in terms of irrigation), religion, literature, architecture, and arts. While it is believed that originally they might have been Digambar Jains, their temples predominantly show their Shaivite beliefs. The many conquests and good maintenance of their vast empire by the Kakatiyas; while encouraging growth of arts, literature, and temple architecture; and simultaneously defending their kingdom from constant onslaughts of invading armies, place them foremost amongst the ruling dynasties of modern Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They united the Andhradesa and bought all the telugu speaking people under a single umbrella thus establishing a unique identity of the telugu people and its language.
During their three centuries rule, the Kakatiyas focused on developing the three Ts : Town, Temple, and Tank. Keeping the basic monarchical form, the Kakatiyas gave great importance to decentralisation of authority by distributing power horizontally to their subordinates (thus creating central, provincial, and local levels of administration). Owing to their continued policy of developing widespread tank irrigation, the kingdom at this time saw unprecedented economic prosperity. This led to large-scale trade activities, and development of many new trade guilds. Motupalli at that time was a well known sea port of the Kakatiyas. Marco Polo, the famous traveller visited the Kakatiya kingdom during the rule Rudramma devi, via Motupalli, and in his travel diary praised the prosperity of this kingdom.
Most of the temple and tank construction projects took place during Ganapatideva’s rule, while his successors Rudrammadevi and Prataprudra II spent their lifetimes fighting invasions. Innumerable majestic temples were built under the supervision of Ganapatideva and his loyal general Recherla Rudra, which included the well known Ghanpur temples and tank, Ramappa temples and tank, Laknavaram tank, and Pakhal tank, amongst many others. The Kakatiyan temples predominantly are dedicated to Shiva, and follow the Ekakuta, Trikuta, or Panchakuta plan. The sculptural art of this time gives us an idea of the socio-religious atmosphere of that era. A favourite theme in temple sculptures of this time were stories from various epics, such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavat Gita, and the Puranas. The artisans would take inspiration from these texts and transfer their imaginations onto stone sculptures on temple walls and panels, making it easily available for the viewing and understanding by the common people. The Andhradesa society during the Kakatiya era also saw some religious movements associated with Jainism, Buddhism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism.
From an overall perspective, the Kakatiya rulers provided their citizens with stability, security, and economic prosperity; while ushering in art and architectural growth, and literary development, which was unique and unheard of previously. The cultural roots sown by the Kakatiyas can still be seen and felt in the innumerable tanks and temples built by them that still dot the area.
The Nameswara temple in Pillalamarri village
During the rule of Ganapatideva, many tanks were constructed using the irrigation bund system, large forested areas were brought under cultivation, and many Shiva temples were constructed. The first tank was likely to have been constructed in village Pillalamari by Namireddy. He also constructed the Nameswara temple in Pillalamari in 1202 CE. The temple has a stone prakara and a tall dhwaja stambha in front. The temple has a large mandapa which is entered by 6 steps. The door to mandapa has dancers sculpted on the door jambs and six dwarasakhas, each intricately carved, while the lintel holds a gajalakshmi. There is a garbhagriha, antarala, and a square mandapa with a circular dance-mandapa at the centre (nritya mandapa). The temple has a small shikhara with later modifications. The mandapa has a kakshasana, with aasanapatta and mattavaarana, running all around it on the inside. The roof has a jutting out cornice, with tiny shikharas raised at the end on the inside of it. The door jambs to the antarala also have exquisite dancers carved on them, and there are chowrie bearers, yalis, eight handed Shiva, dancers, Brahma, and Ganesha to complete the line on the antrala door panels. The mandapa pillars are square with circular discs, and each pillar is a marvel with intricate carvings of dancers and musicians.
At night it is believed that here in this temple (as in Rudreswara temple too) when the world falls asleep, Lord Shiva on the antarala door panel lifts his feet, and all the dancers come alive, along with the apsaras, and the drummers. Then the heavenly dance starts and goes on until day break.
Sri Erakeswara temple in Pillalamarri village
Pillalamarri village was once the fief of Recherla Rudra’s family, a powerful vassal under the Kakatiyas. This temple also has a dhwaja stambh in front, and stone steps lead up to the mandapa. The main deity here is Lord Shiva. As per an inscription plate, Sri Erakeshwara temple was built in the year 1208 CE under King Ganapatideva’s rule by Recharla Rudra in memory of his wife Erasanamma. Another inscription mentions the rule of Rudradeva (1195 CE) and both are seen in this temple. The pillars are similar to that of Nameswara, with square blocks and circular discs, and have dancers and musicians sculpted on them.
In this temple the mandapa is partly broken (the broken pillars are still standing) and large dancers on the temple pillars all gone with just their stubs remaining, reminding us of those grim days when Malik Kafur’s army attacked the Kakatiyan empire during Prataprudra’s reign.
The temple has a stellate form and stands on a high platform. The temple pillars show floral motifs, elephants, and beautiful pushpalata mandalas that are often depicted for protection or beneficence.
slideshow —–> Pillar sculptures in Erakeswara temple.
slideshow —–> Door to the antarala: a female figure holding a child and dancers are carved on door jambs, while the pilasters show the dwarashakhas with dancers, floral motifs holding tiny human figures carved inside vines. The lower panel of the doorway also has female figures, likely to be dancers. The deity inside the garbhagriha is a Shiva lingam.
figures on a stone panel above the mandapa door
Kakatiyan temples : Thy name is beauty
In terms of architecture, the Kakatiyas followed their former masters, the Chalukyas, in form, but managed to create a distinctive feature of their own by bringing in more indigenous forms of art, such as paintings (Cheriyal paintings) that once adorned the temple walls and still survives in various manifestations. The artisans used granite, basalt, and sandstone that were locally available, while lime and bricks were used for making superstructures. Black granite and basalt were used for making pillars, lintels, jambs, ornamental motifs and figures. One must not forget that these were hard rock and not particularly easy to carve. The perfection of the edges and shapes of the lathe turned pillars especially those that adorn the Natya Mandapa speak eloquently of the skill of the artisans and the technology that was developed by them.
The various Kakatiyan temples show a gradual evolution of their unique style
Kakatiyan sculptures, from what remain, show a focus on kirtimukhas, dancers, Anna pakshi
Kakatiyan temple architecture show high levels of sophistication, and one can see the gradual evolution of their style starting from basic temples having a simple mandapa, antarala, and garbhagriha, with pillars lacking sculptures; to the complex trikuta and stellate form of the Thousand-pillared temple; and finally reaching its climax in the exquisitely carved Rudresvara/Ramappa temple.
Author – Monidipa Bose
She can be reached at email@example.com and at monigatha