Black Pagoda

Material Information

Black Pagoda
Ebersole, Robert
Place of Publication:
University of Florida Press
Physical Description:
xiii, 105 p. : illus. ; 29 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Sculpture -- India -- Konārak ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Bibliography: p. 105.

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University of Florida
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Copyright by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida. This work is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit You are free to electronically copy, distribute, and transmit this work if you attribute authorship. However, all printing rights are reserved by the University Press of Florida ( Please contact UPF for information about how to obtain copies of the work for print distribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the University Press of Florida. Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the author's moral rights.
Resource Identifier:
00512967 ( OCLC )
57012929 ( LCCN )
NA1508.K6 E2 ( lcc )
726.145 ( ddc )

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University Press of Florida

Full Text

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Architecture and Fine Arts




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OF FLORIDA PRESS BOOK published with assistance
from The Ford Foundation. Copyright, 1957, by
the University of Florida. All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Catalogue Card No. 57-12929.
Printed by the Record Press, Inc., St. Augustine,

to barbara

The author wishes to acknowledge his very considerable
debt to several persons who provided stimulating advice
and many helpful suggestions during the years this book
was in preparation. In particular he owes thanks to Dr.
Niharranjan Ray, Bagisvari Professor of Indian Fine Arts
and Culture, University of Calcutta; Dr. Bellary Kesevan,
Director, National Library, Calcutta; Mr. Julius Vaz, Chief
Architect to the Government of Orissa; Mr. E. B. Samuels,
Home Secretary, Government of Orissa; Miss Aileen
Aderton, Cultural Affairs Officer, United States Information
Service, Calcutta.



DR. NIHARRANJAN RAY was educated at the universities of Calcutta,
London, Munich, and Leiden, and is Bagis-
vari Professor and Chairman of the Depart-
ment of Indian Art and Culture at the
University of Calcutta.



My first meeting with the young American couple, Robert
Ebersole and his charming wife Barbara, occurred during
the academic year of 1951-1952 when they joined my
postgraduate seminar on the history of Indian art and
culture, at the University of Calcutta. Early in 1952 I
had to go abroad, leaving the Ebersoles to fend for them-
selves; but before I did so they had put in with me six
months of hard, honest, and conscientious work and were
about to set forth on an extensive tour of as many sites
and centres of Indian art and archeology as they could
manage before they were due to go home to their respec-
tive callings there.


X This brief but very fine book is one outcome of the
encounter of a young American with the traditional life
and mind of India as expressed in her art of a given
region in a given time, the region being Orissa, the time
being what is known in Indian history as "early medieval."
Judging by the results, I fondly believe the encounter has
been a successful one, and indeed, a very gratifying one
too, for India as well as for America. At any rate, I feel
I must congratulate the author on his being able to orient
his mind and sensitivity towards the correct understanding
of an art and culture that is almost totally alien to all that
he was fed by and nurtured in since he first saw the light
of day.
The topic the author chose for his special interest is
admittedly a difficult one, and the fact that on several
occasions it has been written upon by competent students
of Indian art and archeology, both indigenous and foreign,
makes it still more difficult. But he has been largely suc-
cessful in offering a fresh approach and communicating
his sensitivity and understanding lucidly and intelligently.
All this he has done with humility and reverence that do
him credit, as a scholar and as a man.
I am indeed very happy to see one tangible result of
the meeting of minds that began within the four walls of
my classroom, now more than five years ago.


foreword niharranjan ray IX
list of illustrations XIII
introduction 1
I. the hindu and the temple 6
II. the hindu craftsman 12
III. the hindu temple 22
IV. medieval temples of orissa 29
V. the black pagoda 63
VI. the sculpture of the black pagoda 75
notes 104
bibliography 105 XI


31, 32, 33, 36, 37

38, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47

52, 55, 56, 57

5. RAJARANI TEMPLE..........


58, 61
62, 64, 67, 68, 71, 72, 74, 79, 81, 83,
86, 90, 91, 95, 96, 101, 102



The beached boats of the village fishermen are watchful
as night animals hulking above the moonlit sands that
line the coast of Orissa in eastern India. Silvered by the
tropical sun and whitened by the salt spray of the Bay
of Bengal, the craft seem fragile for all the stout lashings
which bind the hand-hewn planks together. As the warm
still night approaches dawn, a wind springs from the
great sea to nudge in gentle arcs the hempen ropes fes-
tooning the sturdy rising prows. And in the early morn-
ing, thin brown fishermen leave an ephemeral signature
of footprints at the water's edge when they gather about
their primitive vessels. The boats are dragged into the

rolling breakers and are rowed out to the open sea; the
sun floods above the eastern horizon. Far out from the
shore, long nets are cast for the fish that are the mainstay
of life for the coastal villages. Through the morning and
the hot sun of noon, boats move back and forth across
the water while men work their filigreed nets. And every
afternoon, the men pull at heavy oars which take the
boats back to the flat coastal plain that has almost dis-
appeared in this pursuit of one silvered school of fish
and then another.
The bulwark of their unfailing faith in their hardy
craft; the ancient tradition of fishing as a life and a duty;
the feel and smell of the sea which comforts a fisherman
these lend courage to the ever-widening search for the
elusive fish. The simple people have no need for compli-
cated navigation; for long after the thin line of the flat
coast has disappeared over the horizon, two landmarks
still stand against the sky. The tower of the White Pagoda
at Puri pierces high above the green verdure of the coast;
and some twenty miles to the north, a crumbling mass of
ruins the Black Pagoda beckons with skeletal form
to the boats at sea. Almost beyond the beginning of leg-
end, these two temples have guided the coastal fishermen
in their return.
When the day begins to spend itself, women gather near
the shore to gossip quietly and to wait the day's catch.
Like a scattered band of sea birds regrouping for the night,
vessels beach one by one. Fish flash for a moment in the
ruddy light of the sunset as they are poured into the
great baskets brought by the women. Empty nets are
folded; the boats are left for another night. Again, as
yesterday and tomorrow, the tired fisherfolk are trailed
by their long shadows while they walk across the darken-
ing sands to the thatched huts of some village.

Across the Plaza from the Lion Gate of the Temple
of Jagannath in Puri, a narrow street leads to the palace
of the Mahant Maharaja of Emar Math, chief priest of
the Jagannath Temple and leader of the Hindu sect
which worships Vishnu in the form of Jagannath. We -
2 my wife and I, an American companion, and an inter-

preter had just passed through the gate of the palace;
for, in order to reach the Black Pagoda at Konarak, we
needed the help and cooperation of the Mahant Maharaja.
According to religious custom, no leather, lest it be from
the hide of a sacred cow, is permitted within the precincts
of any place of Hindu worship. We had left our shoes,
belts, and camera cases outside the immense iron-studded
door through which we had come. Slowly and carefully,
we explained our desires.
It was approaching the end of the monsoon season; and
the rivers and streams, which during drier seasons were
thin trails meandering across the mud flats, were now
boiling currents sweeping out over the low rice fields.
The floods made the usually difficult journey even more
hazardous. We three Americans were hoping that the
Mahant Maharaja could be of assistance to us in our
trip to the distant temple.
The high priest, a huge man draped in the traditional
sheetlike garment of the Indian, looked at us intently
as he heard our request translated by the interpreter at
our side. On his forehead was painted the trident symbol
of Vishnu in broad white strokes. He sat cross-legged in
a large chair with his sandalless feet tucked under his
white dhoti. His eyes were a brilliant and surprising blue.
We hoped, we said, that his holiness would be so kind
as to lend us the use of four of his great bullocks and
two of his high-wheeled carts for the trip ahead. We
would need drivers, too, we added. In all this broad
stretch of coastal plain, only the Mahant Maharaja had
bullocks large and strong enough to pull the heavy carts
through the muddy waters of the submerged fields.
A curious and attentive crowd of temple attendants
stood quietly around us. The noise of the busy temple
square sounded hushed beyond the high wall and heavy
gateway. A few questions were asked, were repeated, and
finally the reasons for our request having been deemed
satisfactory the Mahant smiled at us and promised
that two of his carts would be at our door in the late after-
noon. Night travel, said he, was imperative because of
the hot coastal sun.
As we walked out into the cobbled street to reclaim our
leather possessions, we wished that we could have spoken
more with this priest, the religious head of thousands of

4 Indians and of a temple which was one of the sacred places
of pilgrimage for all devout Hindus of this tremendous
sect. But language barriers and the difficulties of convers-
ing through an interpreter made this impossible, so we
hurried back to the dak house to ready ourselves for the
trip ahead. There was little likelihood that we would find
food along the way. A few loaves of bread, fruit, a package
of oatmeal we were provisioned for the trip. Cameras
were checked, film was loaded, baths were taken all
around. And we heard the slow creaking of the bullock
carts being punctuated by the soft musical commands of
the drivers as they came down the dusty road. When the
carts drifted to a stop at our doorstep, the drivers broke
into rapid and heated discussion with our interpreter.
They did not want to make the trip; they were not exactly
sure of the way through the night; they were afraid we
would be attacked by roving thieves; the rivers were too
broad and swift for the bullocks to swim. But their objec-
tions were overruled, and we climbed into the high beds
of the carts and under the arching woven reed shelters.
The night was black; and the clop-clop of the plodding
bullocks, the rattle of the heavy wooden yokes, and the
liquid chanting of the drivers were magnified in the press-
ing darkness. It was a journey into nowhere. Occasionally
we had to leave the carts to ford or swim some swollen
stream to an opposite shore for which we could only feel
in the moonless night. The lightened carts floated behind
the bullocks as they followed us from one bank to another.
Toward dawn, we camped on the edge of a wide river to
wait for villagers across the way to come for us in dugout
canoes. The stolid bullocks were unhitched and driven
out into the swift current. Canoes were placed under the
hubs of the large wheels, and the carts were floated pre-
cariously but ingeniously to the other side. The journey
continued on, seemingly endless now, for we were tired
and aching from our long night on the joggling floors of
the wagons. Our clothes were soaked and our stomachs
were begging for something other than the raw oatmeal
and dry bread we had munched for an early breakfast.
Ahead of us lay a broad flat plain stretching into an
interminable distance under the pale light of the new
day. Almost bare itself, the plain was fringed at the dis-
tant horizon with a promise of trees and shade. There,

said the drivers, there beyond the trees lay the Black 5
Pagoda. But it was not until the sun was high above us
that we rounded a low rise at the far side of the sodden
plain and saw immensely majestic, desolate, and grand
- the top of the Black Pagoda. In commanding strength,
it rode over the surrounding trees this landmark of
numberless fishermen, this fountainhead of myth and
legend, this symbol of the culmination of one of the
most energetic periods of Indian artistic achievement.
This was the great temple which synthesized elements
of Hinduism and the mysteriously ritualistic fragments
of Tantrism that had crept into a segment of the prevail-
ing faith. The Black Pagoda had never been completed,
never been used. It began as the dream of a prince -
so says one legend this majestic Temple of the Sun
at Konarak, but it came to be called the Black Pagoda
as tales of its origin were whispered through the centuries.

the hindu and the temple

1 There is a legend among the villagers of Orissa which
A prince of the royal family, heir to the Raja, was
looked upon with favor by all the gods. He was a Brah-
man born under the proper signs; was fair in form and
fortunate in marriage. One day, however, he injured an
elephant and angered Vishnu, who had taken the form
of Indra. As Indra, Vishnu caused the prince to fall ill
with leprosy and to be driven from his father's palace.
The prince wandered about the kingdom for many years
in great remorse, scorned even by men of the lowest castes.
One morning, at dawn, he lay upon the beach of the great
6 ocean; and, as the first rays of the sun broke above the

water, the wretched prince cried out to Surya, the Sun
God, to help him in his distress. The leper promised that
he would build a temple dedicated to Surya, that it would
be built in the shape of the god's Sun Chariot and would
be the greatest temple in all of India if Surya would but
cure him of his disease and restore him to his rightful
place in his father's home. The god looked with pity
upon the prince and granted his fervent request.
Some years later, the happy prince fell heir to the
kingdom and became a mighty ruler. Although he con-
quered many peoples, he did not forget his promise to
the Sun God. On the beach where he had been cured of
leprosy, the king began the construction of a tremendous
temple designed in the form of a twelve-wheeled chariot
pulled by seven rearing horses. The steps of the beautiful
temple were lapped by the waves of the sea. When the
god, Surya, mounted his celestial chariot to begin his daily
journey across the sky, the first rays of his light gilded
the top of the tower. The great building grew, and the
kingdom prospered until it became the strongest in all
of India. But the king, in the glory of his conquests, began
to neglect his promise to Surya; his temple builders often
lay idle.
One day, as Surya was coursing the heavens, he per-
ceived that the work had ceased. In great anger, he smote
the tower and caused it to crumble earthward. He pushed
back the sacred waters of the ocean and caused the power
of the king to fall away. The temple, destroyed in the
black rage of the powerful god, lay forgotten in the drift-
ing dunes; conquerors came. The mighty kingdom was
no more.
"The abomination of all India," said a Victorian writer.
"Even those whose judgement is critical and who are
difficult to please stand amazed at the sight," said Abul
Fazl, Emperor Akbar's historian in 1585. "... finest archi-
tectural effort the Indian Master-mason ever made," says
a prominent contemporary art historian. "Frank pornog-
raphy" "perverse nature" "degraded people,"
say other sources. These are but a few of the comments
which have sprung from the pens of historians through
the past few centuries concerning a temple which is unique
among the works of man. This is the Temple of the Sun
at Konarak; this is the Black Pagoda.


Standing like a deserted skeleton on one of the beaches
of Orissa in eastern India, almost inaccessible during most
of the year, this temple is a magnificent monument to the
creative craftsmanship of man. Whatever the personal
moral reaction of observers through the past seven cen-
turies, it has never been denied that the Black Pagoda
stands as the culmination of the art of Hindu temple
building. During the nineteenth century, when consider-
able exploration into the history of Hindu temple con-
struction took place, the historian often and with difficulty
by-passed the literal content of the temple sculpture while
yet endeavoring to ascertain competently its aesthetic
merit. The subject matter which so disturbed some writers
was the representation of openly sexual acts as described
in the ancient Hindu religious text, the Kama Sutra.
When viewed out of context with their original intent,
the sculptures seem obscene to the Western eye. It is,
however, grossly unfair to judge them in this manner;
for things which seem alien to the modern mind can be
understood only through a thorough comprehension of
the way of life which produced them.
In order to understand the Black Pagoda, it is necessary
to know the importance of his religion to the Hindu; to
know his position in the social order of the caste system;
to know the craftsman and the code under which he works;
to know the evolution in temple construction which led
to the building of the Black Pagoda; and to know of
the religious developments which brought about the use
of the subject matter found in the sculpture. It is only
through such knowledge that the Black Pagoda can be
judged intelligently.
There are, at the present time, about 304,000,000 Hin-
dus in India. To these people, Hinduism is not just a
religion but an arbiter of social order, a code of daily
conduct. Religion enters into every act of their life, for
proper propensities in this life will determine their posi-
tion in the next life. To the Hindu, life in this world is
one portion of a lengthy pilgrimage. Death does not bring
final release; but is, instead, a doorway opening upon
another section of the journey. Only if one properly ful-
fills his present station in this life according to all religious
tenets may he attain his final goal. What is this goal,
8 this ultimate, this Moksha or Nirvana? It is "final release

from all conditions of existence, from all limitations,
[and] is gained through Knowledge; and Knowledge, the
realization of Supreme identity, is the means and the end
itself; it gives and is release."'
It is possible for some Hindus to attain Knowledge
during this life; some attain it at, or after, death. But
for the great bulk of the people who have neither the
opportunity nor the inner capacity for such attainment,
there are other paths which can lead to ultimate realiza-
tion and release. Chief among these is travel to places
of holy designation. "It brings joy and release to those
who have achieved control of their minds and of the
actions of their hands and feet; who have sapience, and
who have practiced austerities and have a good name."2
Thus, through pilgrimage, there is still a way for the
common man to attain the Centre, the goal.
The places of earthly pilgrimage are many and are situ-
ated in all parts of India. They are of two kinds: Tirtha,
meaning a ford on a river; and Kshetra, meaning hallowed
ground. Tirtha usually refers to a place on a bank of a
river, lake, or the sea. "Water, the purifying, fertilizing
element being present, its current which is the river of
life can be forded in inner realization and the pilgrim
can cross over to the Centre; but it is not itself the goal
and only the means for crossing to the Centre."3
Sacred ground is usually found in or near groves of
trees located close to rivers, mountains, or springs. It is
essential that sacred ground be adjacent to water, for it
is there that one may perform his ablutions and also
discover the gods. In the absence of a spring, lake, or
river, temples are built overlooking a tank or artificial
According to the Hindu religious code, every body of
water is regarded as sacred, however small it may be.
Holiest of all is the river Ganges, where to bathe is to
purify both body and soul of any sin ever contracted.
So effective are the Gangetic waters that it is considered
possible for a person living some distance from the river
to obtain the advantages conferred by the cleansing waters
through self-anointment with a few drops of the precious
fluid which may be brought to him by an obliging pilgrim.
Just as there are some bodies of water that are especially
sacred to the Hindu, so are there Kshetra, or pieces of


10 ground which are more holy than others. Seven is a mystic
number in India, and there are seven cities which are
considered most holy: Benares, Hardwar, Ujjain, Mathura,
Ajodhya, Dwarka, and Conjeeveram. In addition to these
principal places of pilgrimage, there are other cities which
are considered sacred by some particular sects of the
Hindus. Among these is Puri, in the eastern state of Orissa.
There are designated days of the year when each of these
cities is thought to be most holy. Such periods usually fall
during the celebrations of the most important Hindu
religious festivals; and at these times, millions of pilgrims
fill the roads leading to the shrines. It is evident that
these holy cities represent an extremely important facet
in the social structure of India, for every devout Hindu
undertakes to complete at least one major pilgrimage
during his life in order to expiate his accumulated sins.
Despite the importance of the seven holy cities, it is
the small village temple which plays the greatest part in
the everyday life of the people. The temple is the heart
of every small village and the point around which its life
revolves. Shops are grouped around the religious com-
pound, and the native market is always nearby. The re-
ligion and the temple are often the only recognized bond
between villagers separated by caste, and the temple serves
to unite all classes in common endeavor. Thus the com-
pound serves as a social as well as an economic and re-
ligious center.
The village temples are visited each day by the Hindu
Indians who kneel in supplication before their gods, light
votive lamps of ghee, and anoint the feet of the images
with oil and sandalwood paste. Often the villagers come
to the temples to leave offerings of food for the idols or
to strew them with fragrant flower petals. Inasmuch as
the devout Indian bathes every day for both religious
purification and cleanliness, the temple tanks become
the gathering places for the entire community. This is
particularly true in the absence of nearby flowing streams
or other bodies of water. Psychologically, the Hindu re-
ligion exerts a powerful force in the lives of the people
since, to most of the long-suffering villagers, it offers
the only hope for eventual release from the plaguing
misery of poverty which haunts their present existence.
These daily pilgrimages to the temples, the holy grounds

where sins are mitigated, are the sustaining elements in 11
the Hindus' struggle against the exigencies of their world.
This is the place of the temple in the life of the Hindu.
The devout Hindu accepts and understands his religion
in terms of his daily life. His legends, his temples, his
daily worship are neither bizarre nor unnatural, since to
him they are traditions passed unquestioned from remotest
antiquity. The villagers' story of the origin of the Black
Pagoda is beautiful in its simple explanation of the ruined
temple as it stands today. It is the expression of a people
whose religion is implicit in their understanding of the
world in which they live. They ask for no further explana-
tion. They do not question the moral content of the sculp-
tures of their temples; for the sculpture represents life,
and the acts depicted are essential to a continuation of
man's existence. It is only through the eyes of a person
unsympathetic to the traditions and culture of India that
the subject matter of the sculpture seems immoral.
The fact that the village temple plays an important
role in the life of the community cannot be overestimated.
It is but another indication of the all-pervading influence
of the Hindu religion. Throughout Indian history the
temple has been the visual representation, the literal as
well as spiritual translation, of Hinduism. Geographically
and historically, this interpretation has varied sufficiently
to produce differentiated "schools" of temple building.
Western man cannot judge Indian art in the light of his
own culture, for he has to understand the way of life
which produced the building and the sculpture in order
to appreciate more fully the rich aesthetic content of
forms indigenous to this great country.

the hindu craftsman

2 In the beginning was the spirit of Brahma. Desiring to
create the universe, he created the waters first. In the
waters he placed a productive egg; and in that egg he,
himself, was born in the form of Brahma. Desiring to
create the human race, he caused the Brahmans, the
possessors of prayer, to spring from the mouth of Brahma.
He caused the Kshatriyas, or protectors, to spring from the
arms of Brahma; and from the thigh of Brahma came the
Vaisyas, or industrial producers of wealth. Lastly, there
issued from the feet of Brahma the Sudras, or laborers.
Thus say certain of the Hindu texts have men been
divided into the four castes since the original creation.
Created by Brahma, sustained by a foundation of religious
customs and rules, the caste system is held inviolate by
the devout Hindu; caste is not just a socio-economic ex-
pedient, but is part and parcel of the Hindu religion
The Hindu religion is one of the oldest faiths in exis-
tence today. Although the various Vedic texts assume
considerable antiquity, it is probable that the religion
as we know it today was evolved from a coalescence of
12 many indigenous cultures and civilizations with that of

nomadic Aryan tribes who entered India from the north-
west between the years 2000 and 1500 B.C. These Aryans
were the southeastern wing of an immense migration
which began somewhere in southern Russia and Turkestan
between the Oxus and Danube rivers and which swept
westward over most of Europe and eastward into Asia.
Politically and economically, they completely subjugated
the earlier and indigenous cultures. From the action and
interaction between the Aryans and the indigenous peoples
a new and somewhat integrated culture was formed as
differentiating factors blended in the passage of time.
The Hindu of today considers that his religion and
customs come directly from the early Aryans, but there
are a great many elements in modern Hinduism which
cannot be traced to Aryan sources alone for they echo
the subtle influence of the other earlier and primitive
cultures and civilizations of the land.
Caste, as such, was not, perhaps, an original precept
of the Aryan religion. But presumably there were three
principal divisions within the nomadic society divisions
which divided the Aryans into a class system. First to be
designated by the earliest Aryan religious text, the Rig-
Veda, were the Kshatriyas, or the warrior class. This repre-
sented the rulers, overlords, and kings. Second were the
Brahmans, or priests; and third, the Vaisyas, or artisans
and craftsmen. Some distinctions were made between the
conquering lighter-colored Aryans and the conquered
peoples of darker skin who were called the Dasyu, or
Sudras. The important distinction between this early
class system and the later caste system is that the Aryans
designated the warrior class, or Kshatriyas, as first in
rank and relegated to the Brahmans the second position.
In the later caste system this order was to be reversed.
In the beginning, however, the fixed idea of caste was
unknown. Intermarriage between classes and the changing
of occupations were not uncommon; and even the Sudras
were sometimes permitted to mix with the upper classes.
The earlier Aryan Vedic religion was marked by a
belief in single gods each highest in his own right. The
chief gods were Indra (rain), Agni (fire), and Surya
(sun). These were the gods to whom all Vedic hymns
were addressed; they were the personification of natural
phenomena as might be expected in the religion of a


pastoral and still half-nomadic race. Sacrifice occupied
such a prominent place in the Vedic ritual that it came
to assume godlike attributes as a separate entity.
In time, the subtle influence of the priest-ruled Ha-
rappa-Mohenjodaro culture of the Indus Valley seems
to have been felt by the Aryans; for the Brahmans,
ordained as the prayer-bearers of Brahma, became the
highest caste in the Hindu social structure. Gradually
Brahma displaced the group of equal gods to become the
one supreme being; and each of the other gods, from the
least deity to Brahma himself, became a manifestation
of Brahma, the spirit of prayer. Thus, in spite of the fact
that the Hindu religion evolved a complicated pantheon,
it is essentially a monotheistic faith. There are no temples
dedicated to Brahma, and none of the Hindu sects wor-
ship him directly; but the underlying tenet of the Hindu
religion sees Brahma as so great that he need not be repre-
sented by images. For no matter which god is represented
by an idol, no matter what form he takes, he (Brahma) is
prayer and is therefore present in all worship and in each
The priestly caste maintained their sublime position
through an interpretation of the Hindu texts which stated
that prayer (Brahma) could command all gods. If prayer
(Brahma) could so command the gods, then prayer was
supreme among the gods; and the Brahmans, prayer-bearers
to Brahma, were supreme among men. The Brahman posi-
tion at the top of the Hindu caste structure has been un-
questioned throughout subsequent Hindu history. Support
for such rank may be found in an extract from the
Mahabharata (Santiparvan), which contains the following
statement: "There is no difference of castes: this world
having been at first created by Brahma entirely Brah-
manic, became (subsequently) separated into castes in
consequence of works. Those Brahmans who were fond of
sensual pleasure, fiery, irascible, prone to violence, who
had forsaken their duty and were red limbed, fell into the
condition of Kshatriyas. Those Brahmans who derived
their livelihood from kine, who were yellow, who subsisted
by agriculture, and who neglected to practice their duties,
entered into the state of Vaisyas. Those Brahmans who
were addicted to mischief and falsehood, who were covet-
14 ous, who lived by all kinds of work, who were black and

had fallen from purity, sank into the condition of Sudras."
Although there are a great many explanations for the
origin of the caste system as it has existed throughout
most of the history of India, the role which it has played
in the past cannot be overestimated. Whatever its chrono-
logical codification, its ecologic mutation, some facts can
be stated with surety. To the three broad class divisions
of the nomadic Aryans, the rulers, priests, and artisans,
was added a fourth class, the Sudras, from the earlier in-
digenous peoples. In any case, it is more or less clear that
at least five centuries before Christ, the present Hindu
social structure was firmly established. It was a social
structure based upon the caste system which placed the
Brahmans first, the Kshatriyas second, the Vaisyas third,
and the Sudras last. The Sanskrit word for caste is
"Varna," which means color. This would indicate that
there was originally a distinction between the lighter-
colored Aryans and the darker peoples whom they con-
The four early caste divisions have been subsequently
divided and redivided into a complex system. Nowhere
in the world has there developed a distinction of class
so complex, so systematically organized, and so rigorously
enforced by ritual and taboo. To a certain extent, castes
in India tend to represent racial differences; even more
do they represent previous tribal affiliations, religious
antecedents, occupations, and other cultural separations.
If a group within a caste diverges from the general pattern,
it becomes a subcaste. This, in turn, may split into further
subcastes until a complex series of classifications is evolved
in which the original caste is divided ad infinitum.
Each caste strives to maintain its hereditary position
and holds itself to an inalienable rank relationship. Re-
strictions are closely drawn, and the occupations, customs,
and rituals of its members are fixed by code. Caste observ-
ance is a virtue, and social contacts with a lower caste
are a degrading vice. A member can seldom rise above
his caste. Unchanging, eternal, absolute these are the
conditions which face each Hindu born into a caste from
which he cannot deviate. "Caste is a system of Noblesse
Oblige: each man is born to his ordained work, through
which alone he can spiritually progress. This religious
conception of a man's trade or profession as the heaven-


ordained work of his caste may best, perhaps, be likened
to the honor of medieval [European] knighthood. For the
priest, learning; for the king, excellence in kingcraft; for
the craftsman, skill and faithfulness; for the servant,
service. The way and the life are various, but progress
is possible alone each in his own way: 'Better is one's
own duty even without distinction, than the duty of
another, even with excellence; in another's duty danger
lies.' And so it is that for each, culture comes in life itself,
not as a thing separate from life."' Thus the entire Hindu
social structure was, and is, directly dependent upon the
distinctions in rank which evolve from principles of caste.
In a consideration of the art products of most past
civilizations, it is not necessary to think of such art as
having evolved from a particular segment of the popula-
tion. In Egypt, Sumeria, Palestine, and China there were
definite classes which produced most of the weaving, pot-
tery, jewelry, painting, and sculpture; but these were not
considered degrading occupations by custom, and arts
and crafts were created for many reasons by people of
every stratum within the culture. In India, however, one
may say that the art products of the past were executed by
particular segments of the population the Vaisyas and
Sudras whose occupations were governed by the in-
flexible codes of caste. It is to the Vaisyas, and partly to
the Sudras, that one must turn for some understanding of
the factors which determined the aesthetic standards of
Hindu art.
The god of all craftsmen was Visvakarma. He was con-
ceived as "Lord of the Arts, the Carpenter of the Gods,
the fashioner of all ornaments, who formed the celestial
chariots of the Deities, on whose craft men subsist, and
whom, a great and immortal God, they continue to wor-
ship."2 The leading Hindu craftsmen claim to be de-
scended from the five sons of this deity: a blacksmith, a
carpenter, a founder, a mason, and a goldsmith. Visvakar-
ma, however, is the patron god of all Hindu craftsmen no
matter what their area of work. He is, in effect, the group
soul, the inward inspiration, the artistic ideal with whom
the craftsman may identify his alter ego. Beauty exists on
a spiritual level which only he who follows the path may
discover. The true nature of things exists in the condi-
16 tioned mind and not as the eye interprets them. The in-

ward voice, the guiding spirit, which leads the under-
standing craftsman to real beauty and enables him to
comprehend reality this is the god Visvakarma, the
protector of all craftsmen.
The broad artisan caste includes a large proportion of
the Hindu population and forms an integral part of all
village life. Each village usually contains men from a
number of castes, each fulfilling his hereditary occupation.
The principle of caste which decrees that a man may
never leave the caste into which he was born has thus
fostered a system of hereditary craftsmen. In some in-
stances, whole villages consist of men of one craft a
potters' village here, a weavers' village there. In the past,
however, in cities of size or in places of extensive temple
building, there were systems of craft guilds similar, in some
respects, to the medieval guilds of Europe. These guilds
flourished until approximately the eighteenth century
when such remnants as were left after the Muslim con-
quests disappeared under British rule.
Craft guilds existed under the confluence of a large
mixture of peoples; they were similar to, but not in every
case identical with, the division of the craftsmen into
subcastes. Because of the infinite subdivision of the caste
system it was common for artisans following a single craft
to be placed in one caste subdivision in one district of
India and into another caste division in another district.
When men of the same craft but different caste subdivision
gathered together in some cities, they formed guilds
without reference to such class distinctions. However, in
the larger cities where extensive population permitted it,
guilds were composed of men not only of the same trade
but also of the same caste subdivision. The guilds, as well
as the castes, drew their codes from the religious texts.
Since these codes were extremely rigid in nature, the
guilds differed from their medieval European counterparts
in that, as far as the craftsmen were concerned, their
structures were constrictive rather than constructive. Re-
ligious canons limited each equally the craft and the
guild. The organizations, however, formed but one aspect
of the entire picture of the Indian craftsman. It is to
the traditions of the small village craftsman that one must
turn to understand the full aesthetic impact of caste as
a way of life.


An hereditary caste system cultivates hereditary crafts-
men. Knowing his lifework to be predestined, the youth
born into a craftsman caste began to absorb the nature of
his duties at an early age. It was a thorough apprentice-
ship, for in addition to his ordinary education, the boy
had to commit to memory all the Hindu canons of art
and their meanings as applied to his craft. He learned to
make the tools of his trade; he learned to use them well
in the required techniques. He was taught that the knowl-
edge he was acquiring was not based on the accumulated
skills of the ages but had originated in the divine skill
of Visvakarma, the God of the Crafts, and was revealed
by him to the craftsmen.
All crafts were made for direct religious use or bore
some religious significance. The codes fixed the materials
from which various articles were created, as well as their
proportions and the colors with which they were decorated.
Success in achievement depended solely upon the thorough-
ness with which the craftsman understood the inner mean-
ing of the work ritual and his adeptness at conforming
to its stringent requirements.
In a study of the history of Hindu art and temple build-
ing there are several facts which immediately come to
the fore. The most important of these is the obvious
similarity of physiognomy and function among Hindu
temples regardless of placement in time or geography.
This occurs despite political divisions, cultural or language
differences, and racial variations. A second consideration
is that, although there exists a certain basic similarity in
temple form and function, there are subtle differences
in style based upon geographical location irrespective of
date of construction. One may identify, for instance, a
temple built in Orissa or a piece of Orissan sculpture
and be positive in identification, even though it has been
a random selection from a five-hundred-year period of
development. However, one will search in vain for the
name of an individual Hindu architect, artist, or sculptor.
What, then, is the ethnologic and aesthetic background
to the Hindu culture which produced this pattern?
There have existed, throughout the history of post-
Aryan India, two institutions which have had considerable
influence on the aesthetic development of the country.
18 These were the caste-guild system and the Silpasastras, or

canons of art. As has been seen, the caste-guild system
produced an hereditary craft tradition. Such an heredi-
tary system limited the practice of each craft to those
individuals born into the proper caste, and the techniques
of the craft were passed from father to son through the
generations. The system tended to establish "schools" in
which conception and execution were stabilized and in-
dividual inspiration minimized.
Just as the castes and guilds restricted the creative scope
of the individual artisan, so did the Silpasastras, or canons,
restrain any evolution in aesthetic theory. The Silpasas-
tras (Sastras meaning "divine writing") are a portion of
the early sacerdotal texts, the Upa-Vedas. The Upa-Vedas
are presumed to have been divinely revealed codes which
governed various aspects of the social system. In their
complete form, the Silpasastras deal with all spheres of
human activity, but it is that part pertaining to aesthetics
which has served to govern the crafts and such forms of
artistic expression as architecture, painting, and sculpture.
In the section specifically relating to the building arts, one
finds detailed directions for all manner of building con-
struction, both religious and secular. The Silpasastras con-
tain comprehensive doctrines fixing rules of proportions
for temples and prescriptions for applying them in prac-
tice. Supplementing these are guides for astronomical cal-
culations plus religious precepts pertaining to artistic
expression. The precepts were passed orally from master
to apprentice to form a workshop language which, through
reiteration, fixed the formulas as the artisan's second na-
ture. The Silpasastras served as a dependable authority
which, if adhered to closely, precluded any likelihood of
failure. Finally, they preserved the inner character of
the arts, so that in no matter what locality the artisan
practiced his craft, this inner character of his product
remained constant. Such a discipline tended to stifle the
creative expression of the individual Indian artist; and
it must be acknowledged that such progressive evolution
as did occur, did so not because of the Silpasastras but
despite them.
One may say, therefore, that principal among the causes
which integrated the whole pattern of Indian art through-
out its vast historical and geographic scope was the fact
that underlying all creative expression were the religious


20 codices which, through their restrictive and definitive
nature, provided the artisans of all times and places with
like aesthetic standards and objectives. That there were
stylistic innovations marking particular geographic loca-
tions may be attributed principally to the fact that the
art was transmitted from generation to generation wholly
through a rigid caste system which allowed neither ex-
perimentation nor the importation into a district of
workers whose aesthetic standards differed from the estab-
lished local norm.
The Hindu craftsman was strongly affected by Karma,
the Law of the Deed, which states that whatsoever a man
does will react on himself, if not in this life then in
another. This law of Karma, when applied by the crafts-
man in his adherence to the canons pertaining to art as
outlined in the religious texts, produced a strong incentive
for correct observance of the definitive artistic codes.
Some verses from the Mayamataya refer to good and evil
craftsmen and their fate in lives to come:
"Builders that build houses thus, after their death will
be reborn in a royal family; painters, if they make images
accordingly, in noble families; cunning and skillful
builders, though they should die, are friends of mine, for
as they do, they become rulers and nobles, such is the
old saying of the sages. One who knows amiss his craft,
taking hire wrongfully, the which wife and children eat
and enjoy, bringing misfortune on the owner of the house,
that builder will fall into hell and suffer these sayings
are in the Mayamataya, what remedy can there be then,
O builders? There are men who make images of Buddha,
though knowing naught of their craft; put no faith in
what they say. Builders and painters both, who know
naught of their craft, when hire is given according to the
work accomplished, take that money and rush home there-
with; though they get thousands, there is nothing even for
a meal, they have not so much as a piece of cloth to wear,
that is the reward of past births, as you know; dying, they
fall into hell and suffer pain a hundred lacs a year; if
they escape, they will possess a deformed body, and live in
great distress; when born as a man, it will be as a needy
builder; the painter's eyes will squint look ye, what
livelihood can there be for him? Builders who know their
business well will become rajas lacking naught, so also

cunning painters are meet to become nobles. Builders and 21
painters taking money falsely from other men, thereby
grow poor, so ancient sages have declared and shewn;
doubt not this saying was in the Mayamataya book of sages'
lore; therefore, let builders and painters study Mayama-
taya: misfortunes ensuing in this world and the next are
told in its stanzas, behold how excellently."3
The Silpasastras denied the artist conscious self-expres-
sion. He could not choose his problems but was forced
to follow those of the sacerdotal order. He could evaluate
neither his nor his fellow craftmen's work from an aesthet-
ic standpoint, but was forced to appraise it with regard to
religious conformity. If there was beauty in any work, it
developed from subconscious creative expression. "Even
a misshapen image of a god is to be preferred to an image
of a man, howsoever charming. Not only are images of
men condemned, but originality, divergence from type,
the expression of personal sentiment, are equally for-
bidden. 'An image made according to rule is beautiful:
some deem that beautiful which follows after their own
fancy, but that is not according to the rule and appears
unlovely to the discerning.' The spirit of these uncom-
promising views lies at the root of the Hindu view of
art: these limitations and these disciplines are the source
of its power."'
The nature of the beauty in Hindu art is not derived
from any one individual but stems from generations of
artists who have distilled the essence of religious meaning
and refined their art to an ultimate form. The craftsman
was never an individual expressing his individual fancy,
but was a link in a chain which bound the ideals of eternal
beauty to an unchanging law.

the hindu temple

The early Harappa-Mohenjodaro inhabitants of the Indus
Valley evidently had little need for complex temples. Al-
though the temples of an ancient civilization frequently
form a large part of the archeological remains, none have
been found in the extensive excavations which have been
conducted at these sites in the past few years. A number
of small shrines were discovered in the homes which sug-
gest that worship was conducted in small family groups.
If any temple style was introduced by the conquering
Aryans, it is probable that it was developed in perishable
materials; for archeologically there is no evidence that
temples existed as such. However, in the early Aryan
period there did exist a religious custom which is con-
sidered by some scholars to be a first step in an evolution
which led, finally, to the development of the medieval
During the early Aryan era, when cremation was not
yet demanded by the Hindu religious code, inhumation
was often used for the disposal of the dead. "There is
then reference [in the Rig-Veda] to a standing post erected
22 in connexion with the ceremonies, and earlier there is

an enigmatic phrase, 'Here I erect this barrier for the
living,' which has been taken by the commentators to
imply some sort of fence around the grave or its covering
Other sources refer to a fence or barrier which is erected
around the grave to mark it as set apart and to protect
it from the accident of human or animal desecration. This
could easily have been the prototype of the Buddhist
stupa which emerged fully developed during the reign of
Asoka (267-232 B.c.). The stupa was a mound of earth
and rubble which usually contained a burial or some
relic of the Buddha. Generally, it was enclosed with a
railing which was a faithful stone replica of the wooden
type which preceded it, and the mound was usually en-
cased with masonry. Fixed at the summit of the mound
was an umbrella, or a series of umbrellas, symbolic of
A subsequent step in the development of the medieval
Hindu temple style came, possibly, when ritualistic Hin-
duism regained prominence following the decline of Bud-
dhism. "It has been endeavored to show that the sikhara
[spire or tower] of the Northern Indian type of temple
[which includes those of Orissa] developed out of the
Buddhist stupa, gradually becoming elongated from the
semi-globular mound, through the various credal changes
that took place during the early centuries of the first
millennium until it finally took the form of a spire or
tower. This progress has been carefully traced by means
of a number of graded authentic examples illustrating
that as Buddhism merged into Hinduism so the symbol
of the chaitya [the Buddhist temple] eventually merged
into a sikhara from the ceremonial umbrella through the
stupa to the tower."2
The stupa railing is, perhaps, the predecessor of the
high walls which so often enclose the Hindu temple of
later periods. And there is the torana, or gateway, of some
medieval temples (as, for example, the Muktesvara at
Bhubaneswar in Orissa), which appears to be a direct
descendant of the gateways through the rail enclosure
surrounding the stupa. Through evolution, the solid stupa
becomes the towering sikhara housing a cell which con-
tains an image of some god and with a passage cut for
admission to that cell. The umbrella symbol of Buddha


is replaced by the three-pronged trident of Siva or the
wheel of Vishnu, and the chaitya-windows of Buddhist
monasteries adjacent to the stupa become decorative ele-
ments in the Hindu structure.
In her book The Hindu Temple Professor Stella Kram-
risch advances another plausible explanation of temple
evolution. At various places in south India, there are
temples of the "Dolmen" type. The Dolmen is character-
ized by a large flat slab of stone supported by three up-
right slabs so set as to form a small chamber with one
side left open to serve as an entrance. Inside the enclo-
sure is often found a stone lingam, the phallic symbol of
the Hindu God, Siva. "Like the menhir [a stone mono-
lith] it [the Dolmen] marks ... a sacred site. Neither the
Dolmen nor menhir are necessarily memorials to the
dead, they commemorate the importance of the site which
is marked by them. 'Kynmaw' which means 'to mark with
a stone' is the word used by the Khasis in Assam, in con-
nection with monoliths, table stones and cromlechs. There,
in the Dolmen, a suprasensible presence is confined and
enshrined. The marking of a site shows that it is dedicated
by a higher presence."3
The flat-roofed temple found in many parts of India
is a direct derivation of this Dolmen type. Even the late
flat-roofed temples with their elaborate, sculptured super-
structures retain as the sanctuary a small cubical inner
space unbroken by any opening other than an entrance.
There are two other forms which have contributed to
the Hindu temple, according to Professor Kramrisch. They
are the "Shed of Initiation" of the Vedic times and the
"Tabernacle" of undatable origin, in which a divine pres-
ence is known to dwell while being worshipped. The Shed
of Initiation was a square hut which was placed in front
of a temple and which furnished additional secrecy to
the ritual being performed within. This could be archetype
of the mandapa, or jagamohan, of the medieval Hindu
temple. The Tabernacle of antiquity was constructed of
four palm leaves or bamboo poles placed at the corners
of a square, rising vertically and tied together with cord
to form a junction at their highest point. When this frame-
work was covered with grass mats, it created a shape not
unlike the curvilinear sikhara, or deul. This Tabernacle
24 shape, when placed upon the flat-roofed temple containing

the Dolmen cell, closely approximates the structure of
the medieval sikhara; and when a Vedic Shed of Initiation
is placed in front of the sikhara, one recognizes the Hindu
temple in its completed form.
These, then, are projected theories of the development
of the basic medieval temple style. They are theories as
difficult to prove as they are to disprove, and until further
archeological evidence sheds more light upon this stylistic
evolution, the theories suggest likely explanations.
The use of stone in temple construction was unknown
in India until the time of Asoka during the third century
B.C. The sudden and extensive use of stone is generally
attributed to the influence of the invading Greeks who,
under Alexander, came to northwestern India just prior
to the reign of Asoka. In early Aryan times, wood and
brick were the chief materials used for temple construc-
tion, and the earliest Vedic texts state that only these
materials are sacred enough for use. Later texts, however,
admit stone as an acceptable building material, and by the
medieval period stone was used almost exclusively.
Methods used in the construction of temples indicate
little inventiveness in solving structural problems. The
absence of the true arch, vault, dome, or other structural
devices such as the cantilever demonstrates that there was
no attempt to apply to temple structures the principles of
equilibrium of forces which had long been utilized by
the Western world. Instead, the Indian architect chose
to follow the traditional building codes as dictated by
the Silpasastras. As a result, he obtained a cohesive struc-
ture by depending solely upon the laws of gravity, solid
mass supporting solid mass, with stability maintained
through ponderous weight which thrust vertically to a
solid footing. All pressure was directed downward with
flat courses supporting flat courses of stone. There was
no need for mortar, and it was rarely employed. The
Indian temple can often be used to illustrate the principles
of fine art but seldom those of the mechanical art of
building construction.
During the latter part of the seventh century A.D., the
structure of the Hindu temple began to assume the fixed
quality of form characteristic of the period known as
medieval. As has been indicated, this form became general
throughout India during this time. Just as the temples 25

followed a prescribed form, so the nomenclature, as de-
rived from the Silpasastras, became adopted throughout
most of India. Unfortunately, the one section of India
which did not adhere to this nomenclature of temple parts
was the Bhubaneswar district of Orissa. The Orissan archi-
tects evolved a system of names peculiarly their own, a
fact which makes the work of the historian more difficult.
The nomenclature used herein will be that which was
applied to the temples of Orissa unless otherwise stated.
Since the average Westerner is unfamiliar with the
general plan and elevation of the Hindu temple, frequent
reference to Figure 1 will help orient the reader during
the following discussion of temple parts.
In Orissa, the Hindu temple usually consists of two
parts, the pyramidal jagamohan, and the spirelike portion
called the deul. (The deul is identical with that part of
the temple known throughout the remainder of India as
the sikhara.) The Orissan term deul denotes a temple,
but since many of the temples in that locality consist of
a tower only, the term is also assigned to the tower itself.
The deul is the sanctuary; it contains the most sacred
portion of the temple the cell, or garbhagriha. Here
is found the altar and the image of the god to whom the
temple is dedicated. The lower portion of the deul is
known as the bada. The elliptically curved and ribbed
portion that rises above it is the chhapra, and its finial
is called the kalasa. There is a doorway on the western
side of the garbhagriha which opens to a short passage
leading into the adjacent square assembly hall known
as the jagamohan. The jagamohan is divided into a lower
portion, the bada, and an upper pyramidal roof, the pida.
These two edifices (deul and jagamohan), when combined,
form the essential parts of the Orissan temple type. As
the architecture evolved and a more elaborate temple ritual
developed, it became necessary to add other buildings to
the front of the jagamohan. When this was done, an axial
alignment east and west was maintained. The two build-
ings usually added were the nat-mandir, or Dancing Hall,
and in front of this, the bhog-mandir, or Hall of Offerings.
The base, or platform upon which all these buildings
stand, is known as the pista. Each section of the temple,
even to the smallest cornice or fluted curve, has a pre-
26 scribed name; but further reiteration of nomenclature



L---- Kalasa

S ---- Amla







would simply confuse the average reader and is quite
unessential to an understanding of basic temple forms.
It has been said that the square is literally the funda-
mental form of Indian temple architecture. Aesthetically
and mathematically, the square connotes order. "It [the
square] presupposes the circle and results from it. Ex-
panding energy shapes the circle from the centre; it is
established in the shape of the square. The circle and
curve belong to life in its growth and movement. The
square is the mark of order, of finality to the expanding
life, its form; and of perfection beyond life and death."4
The primary lesson taught to an Indian architectural
apprentice was that of the meaning and execution of the
square temple plan according to the established codes.
Before any work could begin on the construction of the
temple, it was necessary to draw the square of the temple
plan on the ground upon which the edifice was to be
erected. This was a ceremonial ritual wherein the proper
stretching of cords and the marking of lines were felt to
sustain the growth of the construction much as a proper
foundation supports a structure. These ritualistic move-
ments were not subsidiary to the process of construction;
they were, indeed, the spirit of the temple itself and were
continued throughout the erection of the building. The
drawing of each curve, line, and ornament had its own
meaning according to the Silpasastra code; and this
meaning was carried forward into the temple itself and
amplified, through the transformation of sacred concepts,
to the attainment of an ordered existence.
Careful examination of the plan of a typical Orissan
temple in Figure 1 will show that the square is the geo-
metric figure upon which the temple is based. The altar
in the garbhagriha forms the unit of measurement and
the remainder of the plan consists of multiples of this
unit. The altar represents Oneness, the Supreme Energy
from which all else is derived. The remaining area in the
garbhagriha is divided into squares, each square repre-
senting a principal god of the Hindu pantheon. Each
space division in the entire plan is derived from the basic
unit, multiples of four (the sides of a square) and seven
(a mystic number) predominating. The above represents
a simplified explanation of the mathematical and geo-
metric considerations involved in the planning and con-


struction of a temple by Hindu architects. The actual
computations governed by the Hindu codes form an exact
science incomprehensible to the layman.
The proportion and symmetry of the human figure is
captured in the plan of the Hindu temple. The head is
considered to be centered in the garbhagriha to the east
where the sun, "the light of consciousness," rises. The
feet are at the opposite end, and the parts of the body fill
the intervening space.\These are not actually visible as
divisions of space according to the physical proportions
of man, but represent the name and measure of man as
he fits into the square plan of the universe. Obviously,
this is a religious concept wherein the temple is not likened
unto man but is Man. Similarly, the vertical elevation of
the temple is a realization of the form of man. The base
of the temple is his feet, resting on sacred ground and
joining the temple, as Man, to the Circle of Earth with its
expanding energy bounded by the ordered Square of the
Universe. The main body of the temple is the body of
man, and each part of the human form finds its counter-
part in the temple structure. Crowning the body of the
temple are the amla, or amlaka, and finial, the head, where-
in resides the power of the gods.
This parallel is discovered again in the codes which
govern the building of the temple. The donor, whether he
be raja or priest, is considered as being responsible for
the completion of the temple once construction has begun;
and the parts of the temple become, figuratively, the parts
of the body of the donor. If the work is not completed,
or if a particular portion is constructed badly, the sections
thus affected will transpose their ills to the corresponding
parts of the donor's body. This, in a notably superstitious
people, is surely a persuasive stimulus to the completion
of a temple once begun.
Thus, it can be seen that the plan of the medieval
Hindu temple evolved from the codification of architec-
tural precepts as established by the Silpasastras, the ex-
acting demands of a ritualistic form of religion, and a
mathematical science fraught with mythology and super-
stition. Though slight modifications were made, the basic
plan of the architectural design remained fairly static,
and no major innovations were introduced over the cen-
28 turies of Hindu temple construction.

medieval temples of orissa

Orissa is first mentioned in the annals of Indian history
during the reign of the Buddhist emperor Asoka, in the
third century B.c. At that time, Orissa was known as
Kalinga and was regarded as a powerful rival of the
Asokan territory. After the death of Asoka, Kalinga under
King Kharavela rose to become a great power in India
during the second century B.C. Between the second cen-
tury B.C. and the eighth century A.D., there are long gaps
in the recorded history of Orissa. Buddhism had become
a dominant religion of India, and even though Kalinga
may have, at times, fallen into the hands of Buddhist
rulers and had superficially accepted Buddhism during 29

such periods, Hinduism retained a strong hold on the
people. At the beginning of the medieval period in the
eighth century, when Hinduism surged forward to regain
its former place as the principal faith of the country,
Orissa led in the religious revival and developed a temple
style which was to become dominant over all of India.
The classical period of Indian art is considered to be
that of a development which took place during the latter
centuries of the Gupta Empire. It is identified as the
Gupta period and lasted from about A.D. 320 to 600.
Though Gupta tradition from the point of view of art
was mainly Buddhist, it existed side by side with a con-
tinuing Brahmanical production of sculptures and temples.
Gupta art is characterized by an aura of perfection.
Through the centuries, techniques had been perfected and
aesthetic ideals had been formulated with mathematical
exactitude. Experimentation was no longer necessary; for
intellectually, an aesthetic consummation had been
achieved. This refinement produced a stagnation which
could change only through disintegration, and Gupta
art survived the fall of the Gupta political empire for
only a short time.
By A.D. 650, Gupta art had almost reached its end,
and the period was followed by a short dark age of con-
fusion. This was an era marked by a rapid regrowth of
the Hindu religion which eventually integrated the more
potent aspects and factors of Buddhism. After the classic
Gupta period and that of the brief but chaotic confusion
which followed, there ensued, hand in hand with the
Hindu revival, an energetic period of temple construction.
This age of religious frenzy and excessive temple building
is known as the medieval period a tremendously im-
portant phase in the history of Indian art.
The medieval period of Indian architecture is marked
by a basic similarity in temple structure regardless of
geographic location. There are, however, two classifica-
tions into which medieval architecture has been divided.
The first, south Indian (called Dravidian), is character-
ized by straight-sided, pyramidal towers (sikhara or deul)
and by the use of pillars and columns. This is an influence
stemming from the pure Dravidian temple type and is
a straight-line development from the prehistoric Dolmen
30 shrines of extreme south India. The second general classi-


fiction is known as Indo-Aryan; and although fundamen-
tally similar both Dravidian and Indo-Aryan styles were
closely controlled by the Silpasastras the Indo-Aryan
temples were derived from other sources. They were
characterized by a curvilinear sikhara, or tower, and
notable lack of any structural use of columns. The Indo-
Aryan temple style is not relegated to any particular por-
tion of India as is the Dravidian to south India, but,
instead, is found in one form or another over at least
three-quarters of the northern portion of the vast sub-
continent. The Indo-Aryan style is further divided, by
virtue of minor differences in the conformation of the
sikhara, into six regional groups. One of the earliest


medieval developments and one of the most definite in
evolution was that which took place in Orissa.
Bhubaneswar, in Orissa, is mentioned for the first time
as a capital city in the journals of the Temple of Jagannath
at Puri during the reign of Yayati, A.D. 474-526. Though
it is believed that at one time there were five thousand
temples located in Bhubaneswar, at present there exist
only five hundred religious buildings, now in various
stages of decay. Historians have theorized that this pro-
fusion of temples at Bhubaneswar probably resulted from
the fact that at one time the site was believed to be partic-
ularly sacred by the Buddhists. There are several first-
and second-century B.C. Buddhist cave-temples in the
vicinity; and inasmuch as the usual Buddhist temple site
is surrounded by numerous small shrines, it is possible
that the renaissance of Hinduism witnessed the usurpa-
tion of Bhubaneswar as a sacred city and a replacement
of Buddhist shrines by those of the Hindus. Whatever
the reason, Bhubaneswar was venerated by the medieval
Hindus and represented a vigorous concentration of build-
ing activity. Of the five hundred temples which are still
presumed to be identifiable, there are few which are
sufficiently well preserved to warrant consideration. The
greater portion have crumbled to heaps of rubble, but a
number remain in so excellent a state of preservation as
to give an accurate and chronological picture of their
position in medieval stylistic development.
The methods used herein for establishing a chronologi-
cal and stylistic sequence hinge upon many subtleties of
interpretation. At present, most scholars of Indian history
accept a chronological sequence basically similar to that
proposed here; however, some historians have placed
the temples in an entirely different sequence, the time-
placement varying by as much as four hundred years (for
instance, the Rajarani Temple has been dated from early
in the ninth century to the beginning of the thirteenth
century). From the beginning to the end, the Bhubaneswar
or Orissan medieval style remained basically the same,
and any temple in the Orissan area is immediately recog-
nizable as belonging to that general group. An Orissan
temple (with the exception of the Rajarani) would never
be confused with a temple from the south of India, the
32 Dravidian style, or with one from any of the north Indian


Indo-Aryan schools. Though these were all contemporary
with Bhubaneswar and similar in concept and basic design,
they differed in structure and plastic decoration to the ex-
tent that they are easily identifiable as belonging to their
particular locations.
Although religious canons dictated that there be no
change in temple design, there was in the five-hundred-
year medieval period in Orissa some slight evolution
of form. In the political histories of Orissa, there is
nothing which reveals an exact date for any of the early
temples. There is, however, an inscription on the Para-
suramesvara Temple which uses a peculiar formation of
characters not introduced into the alphabet until the latter
part of the eighth century in other parts of India. Thus.


34 in placing the Parasuramesvara Temple as far back in
time as is possible, it still cannot be dated back further
than the eighth century. There is historical evidence that
the last temple to be built the Black Pagoda, or the
Temple of the Sun at Konarak was built by Narasimha-
Deva I in approximately A.D. 1250. It is, therefore, possi-
ble to establish a time lapse of about five hundred years.
In order to place the intervening temples in any sort of
chronological order, it is necessary to infer from stylistic
comparisons sufficient evidence to warrant such placement.
The factors which may be taken into consideration in
establishing such a succession can be checked against
trends in other contemporary schools. To find that a
similar evolution has occurred in other areas is partial
verification for the dating of the temples in the Orissan
development. Often the factors which determine the plac-
ing of a particular temple in the general scheme are very
subtle; however, some of the changes, such as the addition
of the bhog-mandir and the nat-mandir to the late temples
and the general increase in temple size, are obvious. The
recognition of these differences is further supported by a
comparison of the less noticeable elements, such as the
general shape of the deul, the evolution in roof construc-
tion of the jagamohan, an increase in the use of plastic
decoration, the use of freestanding sculpture to supple-
ment bas-relief carving, and the greater delicacy of the
carving itself.
One cannot say that there was any fundamental change

as TURE.

in the basic concept this remained as eternal as the 35
Hindu religion. And this basic concept is that which
united Hindu art. Just as the various regional interpre-
tations established different forms in the art of regional
schools, so it is a change in interpretation within the
Orissan school and not a change in basic concept -
which enables one to place the medieval temples in a
chronological order.


The first period of medieval Hindu temples and sculp-
tures at Bhubaneswar can be said to include the years
A.D. 750-900. Of the seven temples at Bhubaneswar which
a have been assigned to this early medieval phase, Parasura-
S mesvara, the oldest, is thought to be the most important
L because of the stylistic influence it exerted upon subse-
quent construction. During this early medieval phase, the
E "primitive character is obvious in the architectural treat-
ment, and there are also discernible forms and elements
derived from a number of sources, showing wide contacts
and various influences. But it is in the plastic decoration
Sof their exteriors that this unsophisticated nature is most
o in evidence, and it is illustrated in both the subject matter
and its method of representation. For in these carved pat-
terns there are the artist's memories of previous experi-
FICURE 2. ences, mysterious insertions and fragmentary statements,
introduced sometimes irrationally and without full knowl-
edge of their meaning, while some of the motifs are frankly
of Buddhist extraction."'
The Parasuramesvara Temple was probably constructed
about A.D. 750. It is immediately recognizable as being
of another period from later temples by virtue of the
distinctly different roof of the jagamohan (see Figure 2).
In later temples, the roof assumes a pyramidal form; but
in the Parasuramesvara, the jagamohan is topped by a
sloping roof constructed of slabs of stone with a clerestory
in the center which opens to six windows on the west
and twelve on the north and south (see Plate I). This was
probably a direct adaptation from the ancient Dolmen-
type flat-roofed shrines. The Parasuramesvara Temple is a

small structure, embodying only the two principal ele-
ments of a medieval temple: the deul, or tower, and the
jagamohan, or assembly hall the entire length of the
two structures is only forty-eight feet. The deul is forty-
four feet high and is definitely rudimentary when
compared with later stylistic developments. It is massively
thickset and heavy-shouldered and is topped by an im-
mensely wide amla, or coping stone.
The deul and the jagamohan are inexpertly joined, and
variations in the character of the sculpture seem to indi-
cate that they were built at two different times. The naive
character of the jagamohan sculpture compared to that on
36 the deul leads to the conclusion that the jagamohan was



the first to be constructed. The building techniques used
indicated, again, the early origin of this temple, for the
masonry consists of stones of comparatively large size
which are not joined by mortar but are kept in position
through a system of interlocking flanges. Stability and
equilibrium are maintained by the sheer weight of the
One characteristic of Orissan architecture which dif-
ferentiates it from that of the contemporary Dravidian
style in the south is that favoring an absolutely undecorated
interior for the temple. This is immediately apparent at
Parasuramesvara, and it serves to form a pleasant con-
trast to the profusely sculptured exterior.
The chaitya-window unit, repeated throughout the sculp-
ture on the exterior, was derived directly from earlier
Buddhist temples, caves, and monasteries. The shape of
the chaitya-window roughly that of a horseshoe with
the open end down was carried over into the early
Hindu temples as a design element and rarely served as
a functional window (see Plate II). "In the Parasurames-
vara we meet with the chaitya-windows on the body of the
vimana [base or plinth] and the sikhara [deul] which are
slightly stylized in form; but on facades of the jagamohan
there are quite a number of chaitya-window motifs carved
in very low relief of the pure early Gupta style with large
medallions, with a round or with a long rectangular pro-
jection towards the top, proving that the structure cannot
be very far removed from the Imperial Gupta period ....


It is only by the grossness of the figures in the medallions
and the absurdly low relief of the chaitya-windows that
we can be sure of the fact that this class of carving is much
later than the Gupta period proper. This is the last use of
the pure Gupta form of the chaitya-window in Orissa."2
Compared to that of later medieval Orissan sculpture,
the sculpture on the exterior of the Parasuramesvara
Temple is characterized by lowness of relief. Particularly
is this true on the jagamohan. Ornamental panels used
for decoration alone were generally executed in extremely
shallow carving. Vinelike tendrils change subtly into
twisting decorative motifs, and offsetting these linear
movements are medallions of boldly but crudely executed
grotesque mythological animals (see Plate III). The very
slight depth of the ornamental panels produces a quality
of quiet but ceaseless movement. Contrasted to these are
panels of sculpture representing scenes from the Hindu
epics and panels portraying gods as dancers. These nar-
rative scenes were executed by an assured hand, perhaps
without the refinement of later medieval sculptors, but
with a vigorous feeling for the subject. There is an irresist-
ibly sensuous movement which carries the eye through
the entire composition, and already there are suggestions
of the eroticism that was to mark later decorative develop-
ments (see Plates IV and V).
The dancers represented in the sculptures are either
male or in some cases bisexual (see Plate IV) and assume
the formal positions of the classical dance extant from very
early times. But even the sunken narrative panels are cut
in relatively low relief, and the figures have a closer
affinity with the background surface than does later medi-
eval sculpture. Actually, no portion of any figure is free-
standing, and such parts as seem to be so are, in fact,
completely and solidly joined to the panel immediately
behind them.
Thus, while the Parasuramesvara was crude compared
to later medieval temples, it retained many elements of
the Gupta tradition. Structurally, it followed the ancient
Dolmen tradition of flat roofs; but it was, all things con-
sidered, a bold step forward in medieval development. The
building of the Parasuramesvara Temple initiated a new
tradition which was to influence all subsequent Bhubanes-
38 war architecture.



the torana are decorated with sculpture in the same 41
manner as is the temple proper and serve to set the temple
apart from neighboring buildings. The Muktesvara is one
of a group of several closely placed temples and shrines.
Directly behind the temple proper is a sacred tank, or
pond, with stone steps leading to the water (see Plate
VIII). A second low wall, outside the first, further sepa-
rates the Muktesvara and its tank from the other temples;
and a third wall (built in recent times) surrounds the
entire group of associated buildings.
The jagamohan of the Muktesvara represents the proto-
type of a style which was to become common throughout
the later examples of medieval architecture in Orissa. The
jagamohan was constructed on a rectangular plan rather
than on a square as was done formerly; it introduced, for
the first time, the use of the pyramidal roof form (see
Figure 3). In this temple, the roof is divided into twelve
steps, the lower of which are evenly spaced to form a
straight incline while the last four are irregularly stepped
to produce the semblance of a curve. The construction of
the roof tends to give a snub-nosed effect to the entire
structure. Evidently this innovation in roof design was an
attempt to alter the basically pyramidal roof with a curvi-
linear line repeating that of the deul (see Plate VI). This


42 snub-nosed effect is peculiar to the Muktesvara. In later
medieval temples, the finial is enlarged to a proportion
similar to that of the deul while the angle of the roof
remains rigidly pyramidal.
The chaitya-window motif is used repeatedly in the
Muktesvara Temple (see Plate IX). It is a stylized version
of the original shape and is used for decorative purposes
only. Comparatively speaking, the decorative art of the
jagamohan is higher in standard of excellence than that
of the deul; but together, the sculptures of the two struc-
tures represent an advance in technique over early medi-
eval carving. "Here perhaps for the first time we find
human figures, used as decorative motifs placed in alto-
relievo against the walls of the jagamohan. until this
time they were either placed in sunken panels or in medal-
lions or niches or chaitya-windows."3
The sculpture of the Muktesvara (see Plates X, XI, XII,
and XIII) as compared to that of the Parasuramesvara
(see Plates II, III, IV, and V) shows a definite advance
in craftsmanship and an evolution of sculptural concept.
The sculptor had become more certain of his material,
and his work assumed a crispness and clarity which was
absent in Parasuramesvara. The figure sculptures, when
removed from the confining boundaries of framed panels,
became more natural and revealed far less crude distor-
tion. Even the figures which were still retained within the
enclosed panel units became more lifelike in proportion
and demonstrated a more thorough understanding of
human anatomy.
The sculpture of the Muktesvara, except for three free-
standing lions on the jagamohan, may all be classified as
relief. It is executed in greater depth than that of the
Parasuramesvara, but the figures still remain firmly at-
tached to the surface of the background stone. The deepest
undercutting is found in the dancing figures which orna-
ment the lower ribs of the deul (see Plates XI, XII, and
XIII). These are usually female dancers in classic poses
executed with a sensuous grace which achieves a rhythm
and movement through sensitive exaggeration of bodily
The deul of the Muktesvara may seem to be slightly
squat and heavy when compared to the same structures
of the late medieval temples. However, it introduces a

step in the tendency toward elongation which may be
traced from the early medieval phase through to the
Jagannath Temple of the last of the middle medieval
period. The chaitya-window motif is the principal element
in the ornamental design of the deul, and there is an
interesting repeat of the serrated amla motif in the vertical
ribbing at the corners of the tower.
The Muktesvara was the first temple at Bhubaneswar
to use human incidents as subject matter for the bas-relief
decoration. Formerly, only the activities of the gods had
been depicted; but the sculptors of the Muktesvara brought
the temple closer to the lives of the people and raised the
human being to divine stature by representing both the
gods and the worshippers in their temple decorations. It
is mainly ascetics who are portrayed, and the narrative





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The Lingaraja Temple at Bhubaneswar, as the second
largest temple in Orissa, is second only to the Jagannath
Temple at Puri. Of all the temples thus far considered,
the Lingaraja alone is in use today. The others stand
empty and deserted and are of little interest to the Hindu
pilgrim. However, because the Lingaraja is in active use,
none but Hindus are permitted to enter the temple en-
closure, and a Christian observer must be content with a
glimpse of the towers rising high above the encircling
walls. The Lingaraja is considered by many Indian schol-
ars to be the finest example of medieval architecture in
Bhubaneswar; there is a greater number of publications
on this temple than on any other in the area. Although a
Christian writer can contribute little through personal
observation and must rely heavily upon published data,
a discussion of the temple is essential to a complete cover-
age of the Bhubaneswar stylistic development.
The Lingaraja Temple was built about A.D. 1000 and
48 "occupies the centre of a large quadrangular enclosure

measuring 520 feet by 465 feet, contained within a high
and solid wall, on the inner face of which is a platform,
so that on occasion it could be patrolled and defended.
Within the enclosure many subsidiary 'chapels' and
shrines have been grouped around the main temple, con-
tributions by ardent devotees as acts of merit. The pres-
ence of this great central building in the midst of
numerous smaller replicas cannot fail to recall the practice
of the Buddhists in congregating their votive chaityas
around the large central stupa."
The Lingaraja represents the fully developed Orissan
temple plan consisting of the four major temple parts:
the deul, or tower; the jagamohan, or Assembly Hall; the
nat-mandir, or Dancing Hall; and the bhog-mandir, or
Hall of Offerings (see Figure 4). The first two units were
built about A.D. 1000, and the last two were added about
two hundred years later. The height of the deul is 180
feet, and the height of the jagamohan is 100 feet. In his
book, Indian Architecture, Percy Brown thus describes the
"Undoubtedly the most impressive feature of this
temple is the great tower of the sri mandir [deul] as it
dominates not only the entire composition, but the whole
town of Bhubaneswar with its height and volume. At its
base it measures 58 feet wide, although owing to its pro-
jecting faces or pagas, it is not square in plan, as the
sides are indented by regular chases. In its elevational
aspect for approximately one-third of its height the sides
are vertical .... At the height of about 50 feet the contours
of the structure, up to this point vertical, begin to incline
inwards, speeding up into a pronounced parabolic curve
to produce the 'shoulder' at 125 feet from the ground.
Above the curves of the shoulder rises the neck the
whole being crowned by a vase-shaped finial (kalasa)
bearing the trisula or trident of Siva. All the middle sec-
tion of the tower is richly textured by means of horizontal
mouldings, which, carried in lines across the recessed
chases produce a suitable background for a
vertical line of miniature deuls, small-scale replicas of
the tower itself."'
The deul of the usual Bhubaneswar temple is con-
structed of stone except for the inner cavity of the small
garbhagriha cell, or shrine room. For the last few cen-


tries, this has been considered to be true of the Lingaraja
Temple and the only interior cavity was thought to be
that of the nineteen-foot square cell. But Dr. Banerji
"Up to 1924 the priests kept the interiors .
covered with dirty wooden ceilings. Fortunately the Lin-
garaja Temple required repairs very urgently and the
author was deputed to advise in these repairs.
At my request, the wooden ceilings were removed and the
principles of the construction stood revealed. The
interior of the vimana [deul] was found to be a tall cham-
ber with a flat roof composed of heavy slabs laid length-
wise. Over this was another chamber, access to which was
obtained by a steep staircase built through the thickness
of the sides of the sikhara [deul]. The upper chamber
was found to be lighted by a window. A number of men,
whose duty it is to ascend the sikhara on certain occasions,
in order to place lamps on the top of the amalaka [or
amla], state that they can see another window of another
chamber over this one, but it is not known at the present
day whether there is any method of ingress into it. It is,
therefore, certain that the sikhara of the Lingaraja is a
hollow pyramid and that its interior consists of a number
of superimposed chambers gradually decreasing in size."'
A reference to the complete Lingaraja Temple plan
(see Figure 4) will indicate the general structure of the
deul. Figure 4 is derived from a diagram in Indian Archi-
tecture by Percy Brown which shows the garbhagriha as
a single vertically elongated chamber. Accurate informa-
tion for a division of this space into a series of chambers
as described by Dr. Banerji is not available at this time.
There is an indication, even at this comparatively ad-
vanced stage in the medieval development, of a subcon-
scious memory which reaches back to the Buddhist cave
temples that were carved from solid live rock. In these cave
temples, it was unnecessary to develop the mechanical
principles of the arch, vault, dome, or weight-bearing col-
umn, since the inherent strength of the rock obviated such
functional considerations. As has been mentioned in another
chapter, the Hindus had developed, with one exception,
none of these building devices by the medieval period,
and the stability of their temples depended upon the verti-
50 cal thrust of sheer weight. In many respects, the medieval

Hindu temple can be considered as closely related to
earlier caves carved of live rock essentially they are
a bulky man-made pile of stone superficially carved and
tunneled out like the primitive cave temples. The paucity
of architectural devices is mitigated somewhat by the use
of corbelling to span large spaces. The corbel arch or
vault is a recognized and legitimate structural element
and its use may be discovered in many places throughout
the world, usually as a prelude to the discovery of the
principle of the true arch. The corbel was sufficient for
the medieval temple builders of Orissa, however, for in
addition to the space to be spanned by corbelling they
also had in the massive weight of the temple structure
the necessary buttressing pressure needed to prevent the
collapse of the corbel. Columns are not used in exactly
the same sense that they are in the Western world. Instead,
they become massive pilasters which serve to break the
corbelling into smaller units of span. They are large
weighty structural supports and assume, in each instance,
a size and shape peculiar to a particular usage in cross-
section square, rectangular, L-shaped, or otherwise. Since
the concept differs from that of other architectural orders,
no one treatment or style exists which may be called
strictly Orissan. Thus, it is improper to consider these
structural forms columns in the exact sense of the word.
It is from the presiding deity of the Lingaraja Temple
that the city of Bhubaneswar derives its name. This deity
is Tribhuvanesvara, "Lord of the Three Worlds," and his
title is generally shortened to Bhubaneswar. "He is repre-
sented in the sanctuary by a rectangular block of granite
8 feet in diameter, and rising 9 feet above the floor,
which is bathed daily with water, milk, and bhang. There
are three differently shaded portions, representing respec-
tively Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheswar (Siva). There are
twenty-two dhupas, or ceremonies, daily, consisting in
washing the teeth of the divinity, moving a lamp in front,
dressing, feeding, etc."8
According to Indian authorities who have been admitted
to the temple, the sculptured decoration is not unlike
that of the Muktesvara Temple but represents, perhaps,
a slight refinement of form. It retains a richly exuberant
effect and undoubtedly is an expression of the luxurious-
ness prevailing in the medieval social environment.



The largest medieval Hindu temple in Orissa is the
Temple of Jagannath at Puri. This temple is in active
use at the present time and, as in the case of the Lingaraja
at Bhubaneswar, none but those of the Hindu religion
are permitted inside the temple compound. The Jagan-
nath Temple is situated in the center of the seacoast
town of Puri and, fortunately, there are several buildings
adjacent to it which give the non-Hindu observer an
opportunity to look over the walls and into the compound
52 (see Plates XIV and XV).


The principal deity of the temple is Jagannath (which
is another designation for Krishna, worshipped as
Vishnu). There are actually three images in the temple:
Jagannath; his brother, Balbhadra; and his sister, Sub-
hadra. "According to Babu Brij Kishore Ghose's History
of Puri, the images are 'bulky hideous wooden busts,
fashioned in a curious resemblance of the human head,
resting on a sort of pedestal. They are painted white,
black and yellow respectively; their faces are exceedingly
large and their bodies are decorated with a dress of dif-
ferent coloured cloth.' Jagannath and Balbhadra have
'arms projecting horizontally forward from the ears,'
but the sister is 'entirely devoid of even that approxima-
tion of the human form.' A large diamond glitters in
the head of the Jagannath."'
The dying Ranjit Singh of the Punjab bequeathed the
Koh-i-nur diamond to Jagannath, but his heir did not
honor the bequest. The temple is one of the richest in
India, since great numbers of pilgrims bring offerings of
money, gold, silver, and jewels. This temple is most sacred
for a great number of Hindus and draws tremendous
crowds each year. During the great festival of Jagannath,
which is held yearly, the population of Puri is increased
by as much as a hundred thousand. The temple personnel
consists of more than six thousand male adults who act
as priests, wardens of the temple, and pilgrim guides
who roam the country to escort the devout to the temple.
This figure also includes the guides within the temple
compound and the members of an extensive monastic
establishment. The personal attendants of the gods are
divided into thirty-six orders and ninety-seven classes.
There are separate classes of servants who put Jagannath
to bed, dress and bathe him, and dance and sing for his
During the month of June each year, the gods are
taken to the Garden House at another temple on the out-
skirts of Puri. This is the occasion for the procession, or
rathjatra, which inaugurates the month-long festival that
brings countless thousands to the city. "The car (rath)
of Jagannath is forty-five feet high and thirty-five feet
square, and is supported on sixteen wheels of seven-foot
diameter and [has carved figures of] prancing horses
in front; those of the brother and sister are smaller.'" 0


These cars are dismantled at the end of each festival,
and the fragments are sold as religious relics to the pil-
grims. The wheels and the wooden horses are kept from
year to year but are replaced after every seventh festival.
Before the procession each year, the cars are freshly
decorated with erotic paintings in bright colors and are
festooned with garlands of flowers.
The streets of Puri are very narrow with the exception
of that which connects the Jagannath Temple with the
Garden House. This street is one hundred yards wide
and permits a clear passage for the procession. The cars
are drawn by the pilgrims themselves, and literally thou-
sands bind themselves to the long ropes by which they
drag the unwieldy vehicles.
Since the doctrine preached by the Jagannath priests
is that "before the God all castes are equal," the sect
has become tremendously popular throughout India. Dur-
ing the festival of the cars, the religious zeal of the devout
pilgrims sometimes assumes an ungovernable frenzy. In
the past, many pilgrims have thrown themselves beneath
the wheels of the Jagannath car, there to be crushed
into a pathway of sacrificial flesh. (Jagannath has been
added to the English vocabulary as the word "juggernaut,"
a vehicle of destruction.) However, the last few years
have seen precautions taken against these orgiastic demon-
strations, and the government is legislating the custom
out of existence.
The city of Puri is of great antiquity and has long been
venerated throughout India. It is thought by many to be
"the Dantpura where the sacred relic of Buddha's tooth
was preserved until is was finally transferred to Ceylon.""x
The Emperor Choda Ganga, in the year 1080, erected
a commemorative column on the ground now occupied
by the Jagannath Temple, and it is probable that he
selected this location because of the fact that it was already
considered as a sacred site. Much of the present structure
was built at the beginning of the twelfth century. The
temple follows the same plan as that of the Lingaraja at
Bhubaneswar and consists of the four principal parts of
the fully developed medieval style: the deul, the jagamo-
han, the nat-mandir, and the bhog-mandir. The first two
portions are supposed to have been built by Choda Ganga
54 and the last two by Narasimha-Deva (1238-1264).


As the complete temple now stands, the four parts
are aligned east and west and measure 310 feet long by
80 feet wide; the top of the deul reaches 200 feet. The
fact that the temple stands on a slight rise gives it a
commanding position above the town of Puri and the
flat countryside of the area. This lends further credence
to the theory that it once was a sacred Buddhist site,
since the Buddhists invaribly selected just such places
for their temples.
"But except for its impressive proportions, the archi-
tectural effect of this temple is disappointing, as in its
treatment it is merely an arid replica of its predecessor
at Bhubaneswar [the Lingaraja Temple]. Much of its
inferiority is, however, due to certain renovations which


56 became necessary a century or more ago, when the original
stone masonry decayed, owing probably to centuries of
action by the sea air. Unfortunately these restorations
appear to have been effected by means of solid applications
of cement, which have made its close appearance heavy
and lifeless, a mere hulk of what it was when first con-
ceived. [It is this layer of cement and subsequent cover-
ings of whitewash which have caused the Temple of Jagan-
nath to be known as the White Pagoda in contrast to
Konarak, which is called the Black Pagoda.] Yet in
spite of its cement overlay, the tower still retains its im-
posing mass from which it is possible to see that Orissan
architecture continued to be a moving and living art.
This is shown by the improved shape noticeable in its
contours. Two of the halls of the temple [the nat-
mandir and the bhog-mandir] were added at a later date,


and the ornamentation which so profusely adorns these 57
structures is stiff and stylized, clearly implying a period
when the style had begun to decline."12
There are various elements in the design of the Jagan-
nath which imply influences from several sources. The
building is enclosed by three walls known as the "Three
Garlands," referring undoubtedly to the Hindu custom
of placing three wreaths of flowers around the necks of
divinities or persons of high position. The inner two walls
are placed very close to one another with only space
enough for a walk-way between them. These walls enclose
a rectangular area of 440 by 350 feet. The Jagannath
Temple occupies the central position in this large com-
pound, and surrounding it are thirty or forty edifices of
various sizes and shapes, each a shrine or chapel. This
is similar to the distribution found at the Lingaraja
Temple and may be considered as further evidence of
Buddhist influence. The third, or outer wall, is twenty-
five feet high and encloses an area 665 by 640 feet. In the
center of each of the four sides of the wall is an enormous
gate with a pyramidal roof which resembles that of the
jagamohan. The outer wall was added several centuries
after the construction of the temple was completed and
was not a new idea in Orissan architecture but one which
had been long in use. However, the placement and size
of the gates suggest a strong influence of the gopuram
style of gateway which was finding wide usage in the
contemporary southern medieval style (see Plate XVI).


IMMEMOWWRW:. I -"" ^'--. a -, ..*'.tcr1 Flf^ Am --HMM
.^^ '. ....... PE"
............. r '.

Several portions of the complete temple complex did
not belong originally to the Jagannath but were brought
there from the Temple of the Sun at Konarak after its
collapse. Chief among these is the Hall of Offerings, or
bhog-mandir, of Konarak which was brought to Puri and
assembled in the temple compound by the Mahrattas
during the sixteenth century. In front of the east gate,
there is a freestanding pillar which was alsobrought from
Konarak (see Plate XVII). The height of the pillar is
thirty-five feet from the roughly cut st~ base to the
top of the small sculptured eagle which surmounts it.
The Jagannath Temple is the last Orissan temple which
can be considered as part of the middle phase of the
medieval development. Though it represents a solidifica-
tion of old ideas, it contributed nothing to the progress
toward the final medieval temple form. However, if the
Jagannath is not so important architecturally as other
temples discussed herein, the fact that it has maintained
a position of pre-eminence among the temples of India -
and hence in the Orissan group makes its inclusion


The late phase of Orissan temple evolution is consid-
ered to have begun about A.D. 1100 after the construction
of the Jagannath Temple at Puri and to have ended in
1250 with the Temple of the Sun at Konarak. The temples
in this group represent the culmination of the Orissan
temple style and are thought by many to be the finest
in the entire history of Indian temple construction.
An outstanding example of this late phase is the
Rajarani Temple built probably about A.D. 1200. A
comparison of the Rajarani Temple with those of earlier
phases immediately shows an important difference in the
construction of the deul (see Figure 5). The deul of the
Rajarani Temple built probably about A.D. 1200. A
manner as the traditional types preceding it, but instead
of having flat sides ornamented with vertical ribbing
58 (as found in the Parasuramesvara, Muktesvara, and Jagan-





the black pagoda


The last temple to be built by the Orissans during the
medieval period was the Temple of the Sun at Konarak
- the Black Pagoda. This single temple represents a
final refinement of the Orissan temple form, the ultimate
aesthetic adaptation to the Orissan interpretation of the
Hindu rituals and texts.
Politically, Orissa was consolidated from a weak coali-
tion of petty states into a powerful kingdom by Choda
Ganga during his long reign of more than seventy years,
from A.D. 1076 to 1148. He retained Bhubaneswar as
his capital, and his kingdom extended from the Ganges
in the north to the Godavari River in the south. Many



64 of the temples of Orissa are attributed to this emperor,
chief among them being the Temple of Jagannath, at
Puri, as we have seen. By 1200 most of India had been
swept by the victorious Muslims of the west, but Orissa
was to maintain its sovereignty for an additional several
hundred years. Most famous among the successors of
Choda Ganga was the Emperor Narasimha-Deva I, who
reigned from 1238 to 1264 and who was successful for
a time in driving the Muslims from the borders of Orissa.
It was Narasimha-Deva who built the Black Pagoda at
Konarak. As planned by the Emperor's architects, the
outer wall of the temple touched the surf of the Bay of
Bengal, and the first rays of the rising sun were caught
on the tip of the tower, there to remain as the sun moved


across the skies. During the last seven centuries, the shore 65
line has receded, and the sea is now some two miles dis-
tant. Today the Black Pagoda is a deserted ruin, a great
pyramidal mound of masonry rising above the sand dunes
and visible as a prominent landmark for many miles at
sea (see Plate XXI). Silent, desolate, its walls echo to no
sound but the distant roar of the sea; and yet, one day
each year the Black Pagoda is the scene of wild festivity
as once again the throb of human activity pulses among
the ruins. The following morning all is deserted again,
and the sand and the wind reclaim it for another year.
It is not the sculpture alone at Konarak which raises
it above the other achievements of the Orissan architect.
Above the details of refinement there is a grand plan by
the architect; no longer do parts fit together in an intri-
cate jumble, for there is a unity achieved by a reasoning
mind systematically coordinating what often had been
discordant elements. Konarak was conceived by the Oris-
san designers as a monumental rath, or wheeled cart, to
be pulled across the sky by the seven horses of Surya, the
Sun God. The base, or platform, upon which the deul
and jagamohan rested was a raised stone terrace represent-
ing the bed of the cart. On each side of the terrace were
six elaborately carved stone wheels, twelve feet in diam-
eter (see Plates XX and XXII). In front of the terrace
was a wide flight of steps flanked by seven wildly plung-
ing horses straining at their harnesses as if to move the
tremendous weight of the cart. Placed on this carefully
wrought platform was the temple proper, consisting of
a deul and a jagamohan. The sides of the jagamohan are
100 feet in breadth and the total structure is 100 feet
high. Although the deul has collapsed, it has been ascer-
tained from measurements of the remaining lower portion
that it once reached the great height of 225 feet. The
deul was joined on its eastern side to the jagamohan; on
each of the other three sides of its base were attached
subsidiary shrines with broad outer staircases leading to
recesses which held life-sized and exquisitely carved chlo-
rite statues of Surya, the Sun God (see Plate XXIII).
Directly in front of the main stairway, which was
flanked by the seven horses of Surya, was located the nat-
mandir, or Dancing Hall. This was not joined directly to
the jagamohan, as was the case in the Lingaraja and Jagan-

nath temples, but was separated from it by a distance of
some thirty feet. The nat-mandir was square in plan, had
a pyramidal roof, and was situated upon a high plinth.
The tall pillar which rises in front of the Jagannath
Temple was originally part of the Konarak temple and
was located between the Dancing Hall and the jagamohan
(see Plate XVII).
Around these three main portions of the temple were
placed a number of accessory buildings, such as a refectory,
supplementary shrines, and separate groups of freestand-
ing sculptures. These were all enclosed within a courtyard
of 865 by 540 feet, bounded by a high wall with gateways
in three of its sides. However, in spite of the fact that
there were a number of buildings within the compound
of the Black Pagoda, the placement of these various ele-
ments was so planned by the original architects that they
fit together harmoniously into a well-conceived master
arrangement. Never, at Konarak, was there the unsightly
jumble of buildings and shrines characteristic of the
hodge-podge additions to the Lingaraja and Jagannath
At the present time, the only portion of the temple
which remains in a fairly good state of preservation is
the jagamohan (see Plate XXI). Even this has been
ravaged by centuries of erosion in the salt air and by
repeated acts of vandalism. All that is left of the Dancing
Hall is the high plinth and some of the upright walls and
pilasters. The roof has been missing for many hundreds
of years.
The ruined deul has been the subject of much conjec-
ture. It has been thought to have reached the height of
225 feet when completed, but there is considerable evi-
dence that the deul collapsed before it was carried to
completion. Because the entire structure was, for all
practical purposes, solid stone, the weight of the deul
must have been tremendous as it began to approach its
planned height. Undoubtedly, the soft sand foundation
shifted before the final ponderous stones were placed in
position a shifting which caused a partial collapse of
the structure and consequent abandonment of the project.
There are immense carved blocks of stone lying about
the base of the deul which are not only unfractured but
66 completely unscarred. If they had fallen from any con-


siderable height, these stones would show some damage;
unblemished, they indicate that the work must have ceased
before they were placed into position in the temple. The
architects of the Black Pagoda conceived a masterful plan
but did not have the mechanical means for its execution.
The scale was too enormous; their knowledge of archi-
tectural devices too limited. Despite their failure, however,
one can still see from the ruins that the Black Pagoda
was the supreme achievement of the Orissan temple
From what remains of the deul, it is possible to ascer-
tain that it was originally composed of solid stone with


68 little use of free space in the interior. The only compart-
ment within the deul was the sacred cell. This now stands
exposed to full view as a square chamber twenty-five feet
on each side. The figure of Surya, which is presumed to
have been placed upon the altar, has disappeared, but
the base of green chlorite remains to testify to the ex-
quisite workmanship of the temple craftsmen.
"In its damaged condition, this temple recalls the torso
of some famous classical statue, shorn of its limbs, battered
and broken, lying half buried in the sand, but still iden-
tifiable as a noble work of art."' This faded glory is
discovered in the one portion of the temple which is still
remarkably well preserved, the jagamohan, which is, of
itself, sufficiently meritorious to rank among the finest


structures in India. It is this beautiful jagamohan which
is today referred to as the Black Pagoda.
Although at first glance the jagamohan appears to be
intricate in design, when reduced to its essentials it resolves
itself into a comparatively simple plan consisting of two
main elements a bada, or cubical lower portion, and
a pida, or pyramidal roof. The bada, though fundamen-
tally square in plan, is recessed in steps from the center of
each wall to the outside corners; thus, the wall surfaces,
basically flat, consist of a series of stepped panels. The
roof, or pida, follows the outline of the walls which sup-
port it; and its outline is, for this reason, interrupted by
a series of projections and angles (see Plate XXI). The pro-
portions of the jagamohan are extremely simple. The
width of the bada is equal to the total height of the struc-
ture. The lower edge of the roof is one-half the total
height, making the height of each the bada and the
pida one-half of their width. The other dimensions of
the jagamohan are similarly uncomplicated.
The pida, or pyramidal roof, of the jagamohan resem-
bles in concept and design those of the earlier Orissan
temples, but it marks a definite improvement over pre-
vious structures. The Konarak craftsmen elongated, en-
larged, and elaborated the traditional design with notable
success. The roof is composed of three tiers which dimin-
ish in size as they ascend. The lower tiers consist of six
steps each, and the highest tier, which has five steps,
likewise diminishes in size from bottom to top. This
treatment lends boldly horizontal lines to the pida and
produces a striking effect which strengthens the parallel
lines of the terraced base. The stepped tiers are capped by
a tremendous amla, which again repeats the horizontal
movement of the design.
Between every two tiers of the roof, there is a wide
space forming an open stage which encircles the pida.
On these platforms are a number of freestanding sculp-
tures of more than life size, each figure representing a
musician playing one of the classical instruments (see
Plates XXIV and XXV). This was an innovation on the
part of the Hindu architects and is the only example
extant in Orissa of the use of freestanding figure sculp-
ture on the temple itself. Heretofore, one occasionally
found mythological lion-gargoyles employed as freestand-


ing temple decoration. The Konarak figures represent a
healthy break from the confining bas-relief traditions of
the past. At present there are several colossal groups of
sculpture scattered about the temple courtyard. These
depict elephants, war horses (see Plate XXVI), and lions,
which originally occupied places on the approaches to the
temple. Archeologists moved them to their present posi-
tions early in this century.
The entire conception of the temple was executed by
the architects of Konarak so that every element involved,
whether large or small, was perfect in itself. In addition,
all elements were in complete harmony with one another
and combined architecturally to agree with the whole.
Thus, the master plan attained a skillful uniformity of
surpassing beauty.
The Orissan architect has never been noted for the
success with which he solved his structural problems. As
has been mentioned, the arch and vault, when used, were
of the corbel type and depended upon a massive weight
above to maintain the necessary stability. There is, how-
ever, one important innovation in the construction of the
jagamohan of the Black Pagoda where the architect did
not rely upon the corbel principle alone, but solved his
problem with greater ingenuity. Due to the massive size
of the jagamohan, "this system [the corbel alone] was not,
however, sufficient in itself, and stone lintels were intro-
duced carried on four solid piers. But even this arrange-
ment was not considered adequate support for such an
immense superstructure, and, accordingly, a very ingenious
plan was devised to supplement it. Each laterite [the stone
of which Konarak was built] lintel was reinforced by a
number of wrought iron beams, while many others, like
girders, were disposed about the ceiling, the whole form-
ing an iron grid, or framework of great strength. Some of
the metal beams are as much as thirty-five feet in length
and over seven inches thick, one fragment measuring
eleven inches in section. These beams were not cast but
obviously forged, and the larger ones were evidently
produced by welding together a number of 'blooms' of
wrought iron by means of a hammer. In no other part of
India was such a process employed."2
Because the greater part of the deul has crumbled away,
70 the basic building methods of the temple architects have


solution of soluble salts, partly derived from the soil and
partly from the sea breeze, have reduced most of the
sculptures to mere skeletons, and the highly ferruginous
sandstone is now in the grips of rapid decay .... The prob-
lem of providing suitable drainage of rain-water at Kona-
rak has still to be tackled, because at present a consider-
able part of the plinth remains submerged under water
during the monsoon."3
The Black Pagoda stands today as a majestic sentinel
raised above the rolling sand. Across the barren dunes
covered with tufts of wind-driven grass one can see from
many miles distant this lonely figure nestled in a solitary
patch of trees. As one nears the temple, his view is ob-
scured by the dunes and trees; but suddenly the temple
stands before one, a mammoth pile of crumbling stone.
The first impression is that of dignity, of power and grace.
The temple transcends its surroundings as does a beautiful
jewel dropped into rubble. The entire structure is en-
circled with an aura of unreality, as if when touched
it would vanish immediately with a slight sound. De-
cayed, deserted, maligned, it somehow sets itself above
the petty reproaches of man and nature. Its bold beauty
demands attention; its theme is purity of line and form;
but its counterpoint is the rhythm of linear tracery, of
texture against texture and of fleeting accents in light and
shadow. The sculptured figures are not figures alone but
finely woven tapestry set against and framed upon the
multisurfaced panels. Moving closer to the temple, one
becomes aware of the supreme craftsmanship of those
ancient builders. Though the stone surfaces are pitted
and eaten away by the corrosive salt-laden air, the sculp-
tures burst with a robust vitality imbued by the master
workers. The tapestry fades into an intricate pattern of
human figures in amorous dalliance, of dancers, half-
human Naga figures, of grotesque animal forms. Inter-
lacing all is a fretwork of freely moving decorative designs.
Each sensuous curve of a courtesan's wrist, each phallic
thrust of a virile line, each gentle twist of a tender vine
each is carved with the certitude of the sculptor's
This is the ultimate of Orissan skill; this is the artist
confident in his mastery over the inert stone. Each tiny
motif is complete within itself, and yet each forms a part


74 of some larger motif which has greater meaning. Each
configuration is part and portion of a larger unit which
is part of a greater unit still. Where can one cease in his
definition of temple sculpture? Should not, then, the
entire temple be considered as sculpture? Surely as one
first sees the Black Pagoda, he is aware not that here
stands a building but that here is that elusive quality
of form which distinguishes those few instances of sculp-
ture certain to live for all time.


the sculpture of the black pagoda

Any temple, regardless of the religion it represents, mani-
fests in its form the part that it plays in the religious life
of the people who built it. The rites and ceremonies of
the Christian religion have established the form of the
Christian church; the Muslim mosques are a materializa-
tion of the concepts of Islam. Thus it is the Hindu religion
which has governed the development of the Hindu temple
style. The functional form of the Hindu temple has been
established through adaptation to religious ritual as in the
Christian and Muslim structures; but, more specifically
than in the Christian and Muslim buildings, this form was
also rigidly established by the canons and codes of the 75

religion itself. This twofold guidance usage and canons
explains some of the paradoxical facts of the Hindu
temple development. The canons are inflexible; they es-
tablish the primary concept of temple structure; they
can never change. The evolution in Hindu temple style,
therefore, must be attributed to changes in the demands
of the ritualistic ceremonies. As these rituals were ex-
panded and complicated, the temples changed to meet the
new requirements.
The Orissans, for instance, felt that the manifestations
of worldly life should be excluded from the temple and
that the ritual should draw one away from mundane ex-
istence. For this reason all temple sculpture in Orissa was
placed on the outside of the buildings; the interiors were
left severely undecorated. In contrast, the south Indian
Dravidians felt that everyday life should be an integral
part of the ritual, and their sculptured ornamentation was
brought into the interior of the temple itself. This does not
represent differences in the concepts of temple construc-
tion in the two localities, but variations in the interpreta-
tion of the ceremonial ritual. Thus it can be seen that,
although the temple structure was fixed by code, the
demands of the ritual actually influenced an evolution
in temple style. It is to Man one must turn in a search
for the way of life represented in the temple and the sculp-
ture of the Black Pagoda.
A changing religious ritual results from an evolution
in the desires and needs of Man. The path which the
Orissan craftsman had to follow was ordained by caste
and by the Silpasastras; the sculptors of Konarak should
have, in theory, followed without deviation the Orissan
tradition in designing their sculpture. Such was not the
case. What, then, are the reasons for the sudden flowering
in the Black Pagoda of a form of sculpture that
makes it unique in the medieval development?
The Hindu temple exemplifies the Eternal Oneness of
God with Man. It is the complete identity of Brahma (the
spirit) with Atman (the self). It represents the god as
Man it is Man. The parts of the temple are as parts
of the human body existing in a physical world. Though
a man may be born similar to his fellow men, it is the
events of his daily life in a social pattern surrounding
76 him which go far toward determining his physical appear-

ance. In like fashion, though a temple may be identical
with the general Hindu medieval type in its basic struc-
tural concept, it is the inward character of the life of
the people responsible for it which determines the quali-
ties of its plastic decorations. This reflection of life itself
is a function of temple sculpture.
During the early phase of the medieval period in Orissa,
the temple sculptors interpreted the "Oneness of Man with
the Spirit" by depicting in their sculpture the forms which
the gods took as men. Siva and Parvati, for example, were
carved in the very human attitudes of devotion between
man and wife (see Plate V). Other gods were created
as dancers to ornament the temple with the sensuous
grace of the classical dance poses. Since the gods were
as men, they were given human attributes, human frailties,
and human passions.
As generations of sculptors reinterpreted the aesthetic
codes, man can be seen to be considered in his own right.
The gods continued to occupy a prominent position in
the sculptured forms, but the figure of the ascetic and
the priest sometimes appeared. The medieval sculptors
copied nature whenever it was required. In the representa-
tion of plants and animals, the artists faithfully recorded
a multitude of minute details with such accuracy that it
is possible to identify each plant in the sculpture and to
detect even the slightest evolution in the physical charac-
teristics of the animals. In divine or semidivine figures,
where the form was only to be imagined, the Hindu sculp-
tors developed their own statements of idealism and
evolved an artistic style peculiar to India. What often
seems to be unnatural idealism to the West exaggerated
physical proportions and strangely sinuous postures -
is metaphysical truth to the Hindu artist. In his concept
of the true qualities of reality, he approaches an animistic
attitude toward the forces of nature at work within com-
mon man; and his art, to most Western eyes, appears more
mundane than spiritual.
In the late phase of Orissan temple sculpture, man was
invested with increasingly greater importance. No longer
were the sculptured subjects confined to the gods, ascet-
ics, and priests. Instead, the daily activities of the common
people were finding a place in temple decoration. Inter-
mixed with figures of the gods were those of courtesans,



dancers, men and women engaged in household duties,
couples in sexual play, ascetics and priests instructing
students all facets of daily existence. There was no
thought that passion was degrading, but rather a recogni-
tion of the close analogy between amorous and religious
ecstasy. The Hindu sculptor accepted life as he saw it and
portrayed all its phenomena with zealous devotion.
There was another factor which exerted a tremendous
influence upon the medieval artists. The Hindu religion
is divided into many sects, each of which exists in close
relationship with the others. It is not uncommon to find
78 two temples side by side, one dedicated to Siva and the

other to Vishnu. The complex Hindu pantheon lends en-
couragement to these divisions; and, although an individ-
ual may profess homage to one particular god, he may
also worship and invoke the aid of many others. For
this reason, various cults have developed within the same
religious group. Though most of the temples in Orissa
are dedicated to either Siva or Vishnu, the coexistence
of another cult, Tantrism, explains much of the erotic
sculpture which is found in the temple decoration.
Tantrism has been called the "Vehicle of the Magic
Formulas," and although it evolved from Hinduism and
Buddhism, it should most properly be considered a sepa-
rate sect. Through the centuries, Tantrism has been
damned as depraved sensualism, and yet its phenomenal
growth in time has affected both Hinduism and Buddhism.
The word "Tantrism" has been shunned by writers and
historians. The Victorian era chose to ignore its existence.
But as a factor in the religion and art of India it must
necessarily be given proper consideration.
Among the principal Hindu religious texts are the
Tantras. Whereas certain other texts deal with abstract
philosophical concepts, the Tantras deal with the more
practical methods and rituals whereby the devotee may
realize and attain for himself these deeper truths. The
Tantras take the form of a dialogue between Siva and his
female counterpart, Kali. Through this dialogue are re-
vealed the various doctrines and observances which are to
be practiced by his worshippers. These formulas are
sacred and secret and are not to be revealed to the uniniti-
ated. As with other Vedic texts, the Tantras were passed
orally from Shavite priest to Shavite priest and were not
put into written form until about two thousand years ago.
The Tantras are, in effect, the codification of religious
practices which reach back into the dim beginnings of
religion in India, for Hinduism, throughout the period
of its formation and growth, has shown a remarkable
facility for the assimilation of divergent beliefs and prac-
tices. It is not surprising, therefore, to find traces of
animism, black magic, and magical formulas in the Tan-
tras. Since Buddhism evolved out of the Hindu form,
there is also extensive evidence of Tantric parallels in
Buddhist history. Tantras, whether Hindu or Buddhist,
have one concern to indicate and explain the ritual of


secret rites which would reveal the more abstruse
Through the passage of time, those Hindus and Bud-
dhists who explicitly practiced the dicta of the Tantras
evolved a subsect known as Tantrism. In spite of the
fact that Tantrism, as it was enmeshed in both Hinduism
and Buddhism, was practically indistinguishable one from
the other, it is best for the sake of clarity to consider it
in its separate Hindu and Buddhist aspects.
Buddhism began with Sidhartha Gautama, son of a
king of the Hindu warrior caste, who led a movement of
protest against the increasing formalism of Hinduism in
the sixth century B.C. Rejecting many of the aspects of
Hinduism, Gautama as the Buddha found a way for the
attainment of Nirvana, or Enlightenment, through a Mid-
dle Way and the Knowledge of the Four Truths. Monks
and disciples were taught merely to follow the teaching
of the Buddha and seek Nirvana. Although it was not
a primary purpose, it was possible for a disciple to attain
Buddhahood by following the Buddha's teaching.
As Buddhism itself became formalized during the sev-
eral centuries which preceded the Christian era, there
arose new doctrines which did not contradict the older
ideas, but which placed considerable stress on the possi-
bility that every individual was potentially a Buddha,
that is, a Bodhisattva. In actual practice, the objective
was not to shape every man into the form of the Budda,
but to make the ordinary man seek his personal salvation
by invoking the aid of the Buddha and certain great
Bodhisattvas. Through a ritual of worship and devotion,
those who repeated the name of their favorite Bodhisattva
were saved from hell and assured rebirth in heaven. These
ideas were by no means the teachings of the Buddha him-
self; rather they were concepts which later found accept-
ance by a people steeped for centuries in Hinduism.
This broader aspect of Buddhism, known as Mahayana
Buddhism, includes many precepts originally Hindu, such
as the use of magic, magic formulas, and sexual symbolism.
The common people reveled in the mystic paraphernalia
of religion, and for their sake certain rites were introduced
in Buddhism. Among these were the Mantras, the use of
verbal formulas as incantations to induce the magic of
80 sound; the Mudras, the employment of gestures as sym-


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bolic magic; and the Mandalas, the making of mystic
circles. Through the proper use of these Mantras, Mudras,
and Mandalas, the common man was provided a vehicle
which would carry him to his Buddhist goal, the realiza-
tion of the ultimate truth.
The Mantras, or verbal magical formulas, are especially
tied closely to Mahayana Buddhism. Composed of mystic
syllables which have the power to sustain the religious
intention, the Mantras often have no literal meaning; in
fact, it is considered that their real significance lies in
their very meaninglessness. In this respect they are similar
to some of the Hindu Tantras. Just as the Mantras contain
the potent magic of sound, the Mudras, or magical gestures,
contain the powerful stimulus of touch. These, together
with the magical superstition of Mandala, describing
the mystic circle, opened the doors of Buddhism to all
the traditional beliefs in magic, charms, and sorceries.
From these evolved the elaborate Buddhist Tantric
There are two principal schools of Tantrism, the right-
handed and the left-handed. Both of these schools owe a
great deal to Mahayana Buddhism the right-handed
school placing emphasis on the theurgical aspects, and
the left-handed school emphasizing magical erotic rites.
Both schools place the goddess Vajra in a position of
prime importance and maintain that all beings can realize
Vajra through appropriate meditations and rites. It is
to the left-handed school, however, that most of the erotic
aspects of medieval sculpture can be traced.
Nirvana, as conceived by the Tantric Buddhists, is an
immersion of the self and the not-self in the all-pervading
Oneness of bliss. In practice, Tantric rites transform sex
pleasure into a realization of infinite bliss in which the
self and the world around are lost in an all-pervading
Oneness. Fundamentally, the most important stress in
Tantrism is placed on the body as the medium whereby
Nirvana can be realized. The Tantrics believe that the
human body is the abode of all truths, the embodiment
of the truth of the whole universe.
In Tantric worship, the three traditional bodies of the
Buddha are preserved, but the true nature of Buddha-
hood is found in his fourth body, the "body of bliss." It
82 is this body which eternally embraces his female counter-


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part in sexual union. Tantrics worship the female sexual
organ in the form of Vajra, the divine female sorceress,
and believe that Buddhahood abides in the female repro-
ductive organ. The fifth stage of bliss to which the Tan-
trics aspire is the achievement of physical union with the
goddess Vajra. They believe that the nature of Vajra is
imminent in all beings and that it can be activated through
appropriate meditation and rites. In order for a follower
to rouse this divine nature, he must perform the ceremony
of sexual union with a woman who, to him, is the embodi-
ment of the goddess Vajra.
Organized Tantric worship was conducted by the temple
priests and an extensive retinue of priestesses or temple
prostitutes. The priests in the right-handed school served
merely to summon the deities to whom worship and prayers
were offered. In the left-handed school, however, they
served more as sorcerers who conducted the erotic rites
of worship, at times indulging in both white and black
magic. In the left-handed school the deities summoned
by the priests took the very human form of priestesses or
ascetic goddesses who became for the purpose of the
rites the embodiment of the goddess Vajra. Little is
known of the erotic practices which must have been an
integral part of the worship, but extensive use of all forms
of sexual intercourse are clearly indicated. If the acts
depicted by the Tantric sculpture provide accurate infor-
mation, practices considered today to be both obscene
and criminal were imbedded in the religious worship and
were considered to be true heroic behavior fulfillment
of the most perfect virtues. The Tantric texts declare that
"everything is pure to a pure man and lust is to be crushed
by lust. Do strenuously that which is condemned by fools,
unite with your chosen deity, intent upon the purification
of thought. Women stirred with the pure poisonous fire
of love, provide their lovers, ascetics of pure mind, with
all the fruits of love. Enjoy all the pleasures of love with-
out fear. Do not fear; you do not sin."'
Hinduism is divided into two principal sects those
who worship the god Vishnu and those who worship
Siva. Siva is most often venerated in the form of his
lingam, or phallic symbol. The lingam, or phallus, can
be traced back to primitive stone symbols of the neolithic
84 period. During the Harappa-Mohenjodaro period, the

lingam occurred side by side with the symbol of a Mother-
Goddess. In the development of Hinduism, the lingam
came to denote the male creative energy of Siva and is
considered to be the fixed, immovable, fundamental form,
all other representations being movable, festival, or cere-
monial forms. The lingam is often the only iconographic
figure to be placed in the inner cell (garbhagriha) of a
temple dedicated to Siva, and the symbol appears through-
out the art, literature, and the religious shrines of India.
The lingam, symbol of male creative energy, is often
found in combination with the basic symbol of female
creative energy, the yoni, or female reproductive organ.
In image form the yoni becomes the base and the lingam
rises from its center. This symbolizes the creative union
that procreates and sustains the life of the universe -
the Father and Mother of the World, opposites united in
productive harmony, the eternal Oneness of the duality.
The extent to which the lingam permeates the worship
of Siva may be illustrated by the religious myth which
pertains to the origin of the lingam. Vishnu and Brahma
were arguing in timeless void as to which was the pro-
genitor of the Universe. Presently they perceived, rising
from the infinite ocean, a towering lingam crowned with
flames. As it rapidly grew into infinite space, they en-
deavored to ascertain its summit and its base, but they
discovered neither. "Presently the side of the prodigious
phallus burst open, and in the niche-like aperture the
lord of the lingam stood revealed, Siva, the force supreme
of the Universe. While Brahma and Vishnu bowed before
him in adoration, he solemnly proclaimed himself to
be the origin of them both. Indeed, he announced him-
self as a Super-Siva; the triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and
Siva, Creator, Maintainer, and Destroyer, he at once con-
tained and bodied forth. Though emanating from the
lingam, they nevertheless abode permanently within it."2
The origin of the lingam has been used repeatedly as
subject matter by Hindu sculptors and a common form
of lingam representation shows Siva revealing himself
in a niche in the side of the lingam. Thus the worship of
Siva in the form of his lingam permeated and sustained
a large segment of Hinduism, and the lingam stood as the
symbol of life the divine energy of the absolute trans-
lated into procreative realization of the Self.



In the Hindu Tantras are found rites relative to the
worship of Siva and his Shakti in all of their many forms.
The numerous manifestations of Siva and his Shakti
fostered subjects whose rites, though varied, were based
primarily on this concept of Siva-Shakti, the lingam-yoni
antagonistic principles united to form a whole. Trans-
lated to the level of the common man, it attempted to
represent not the physical aspects of eroticism, but God
as man, man as God, united infinitely as Siva and Shakti
in Supreme Bliss.
During the medieval period there occurred a tremen-
dous resurgence of Hinduism. Mahayana Buddhism, by
assuming many aspects of Hinduism, opened the door
for its absorption back into the Hindu fold; and by the
end of the medieval period, most traces of active Bud-
dhism had been erased from India. The Tantric aspects,
however, found ready acceptance in Hindu beliefs and,
when combined with the familiar Siva lingam worship,
produced an active Tantric cult which spread throughout
India. There is no evidence that it became at any time
a major sect of the Hindu religion, but its influence can
be seen frequently in the sculpture of widely separated
areas of medieval India. In Orissa, examples of erotic
sculpture can be found on almost every temple, the in-
86 cidence increasing as we approach the latter part of the

medieval period. However, in recent years, a stringent
morality has pervaded India, and some contemporary
Indians are shocked by many of the sculptures of their
forefathers. Tantrism, if it still exists as a factor in the
Hindu religion, does so under the cover of secrecy.
The close correlation between religious and sexual
fervor has been recognized throughout most of the history
of Indian art, as the many examples attest. Yet in no
period was this emphasized to the extent found during
the medieval period. The reflowering of Hinduism with
its enhanced Tantric traits during the medieval period
produced flagrant sensualism which pales any similar
movement in Western art -although the presence of
sexual symbolism in Western art is more prevalent than
is generally believed.
The Temple of the Sun at Konarak has been criticized
more than any other temple in India; the pages of history
are rent with the indignation of writers who found in
the Black Pagoda moral standards which differed from
their own. However, the discerning critic must attempt to
understand the erotic sculpture in its proper context
without permitting the graphically rendered subject matter
to obscure his appreciation of its artistic value. One im-
mediately apprehends the physical nature of the incidents
portrayed in the carvings; one must look beyond the
obvious and attempt to discover the deeper religious and
aesthetic significance intended.
Why has so much vehemence been directed toward the
Black Pagoda? The reason may be found in the sculpture
which depicts couples in every form of erotic play. These
figures from only a few inches in height to much larger
than life size represent the maithuna, or sexual inter-
course, positions assumed by the gods and their female
counterparts. Other figures depict what are today consid-
ered to be both heterosexual and homosexual perversions.
There are illustrations of human-animal intercourse, and
of complicated groups of people entwined in sexual diver-
sions. The sculpture of the Black Pagoda has no parallel
in any other known building. It is unfortunate that so
few examples of this sculpture may be reproduced in
publication, for the wonderful feeling of fluid form, the
surety of stone translated into sensuous vigor and grace,
was never surpassed by the more conventional sculpture.


As such, the beauty of the sculpture transcends the nature
of the acts depicted. The physical connotations of the
carvings may be easily grasped; their spiritual nature
lies in the aesthetic impact of their form (see Plates
Some scholars of Indian history attribute the erotic
sculpture of the Black Pagoda to an attempt to illustrate
the sexual acts described in the Hindu text, the Kama
Sutra. Called the Aphorisms of Love, the Kama Sutra
was compiled by the Hindu sage Vatsyayana in the early
centuries of the Christian era. The material was evidently
taken from a number of older sources and was but one
of at least a hundred such texts in existence at that time.
Just as other Hindu texts sometimes deal with very mun-
dane matters, the Kama Sutra deals with the methods of
love; and as the principal religious text on love, it pre-
sumably had considerable effect on the Hindu social
Vatsyayana held that in order for a man to live a har-
monious life, he must strive for a balance between dharma,
the proper religious propensities, artha, acquisition of
worldly possessions, and kama, the enjoyment of appro-
priate objects by the senses. In his twelve hundred and
fifty slokas, or verses, Vatsyayana considers the sixty-four
arts of love, the kinds and positions of sexual intercourse,
how to acquire a wife, how to acquire the wives of others,
how to attract a courtesan, and how to attract others to
Many of the positions of sexual intercourse as described
in the Kama Sutra may be identified among the sculptures
of the Black Pagoda; however, there are numerous ex-
amples which cannot be correlated. The Kama Sutra was
undoubtedly known to and used by the sculptors of the
Black Pagoda in executing their temple decoration, but it
cannot be considered as the only source of inspiration.
The plastic decorations of the temple reflected the
various aspects of the life of the people. God and man
were treated with equal sympathy, and the images of the
flesh and the spirit were inseparable. "A true aesthetic
monism does not distinguish form from matter, nor
motive from action."" Thus, to the Hindu, the sculpture
represented the Ultimate Reality of Life. Since sexual
88 forces were held to be religious by the Upanishads -


Upon entering the temple gate, the devout Hindu pro-
ceeded to the bhog-mandir where he left an oblation for
the gods, or he had the priests prepare some sacrifice in
their honor. Thus did he indicate his desire to appear
before his god and become One with him. The bhog-mandir
was lighted with many openings, and the noisy confusion of
the outside world easily penetrated the building. On the
inner walls there was a moderate amount of nonrepre-
sentational sculpture.
After making his offering to the god, the religious
devotee moved to the nat-mandir. Here he found the
dancing girls, temple entertainers who sang classical bal-
lads telling of the mighty deeds of the gods. They played
sacred music and performed the traditional dances which




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