Lingaraja Temple – Climax of the Kalinga Architecture

Lingaraja Temple has been dominating the landscape of Bhubaneswar since its construction in the eleventh century CE. This magnificent temple rises to the height of about 180 feet belittling everything around it. It represents the quintessential form of the Kalinga architecture in its purity and maturity. It is situated in a large compound, measuring 520 feet by 465 feet, which also houses about hundred other small and medium-size temples.

Lingaraja Temple by Henry Dixon in 1865 | British Library

Traditions attribute construction of the temple to Chandra (Candra) or Shashanka (Sasanka). Chapter thirteen of the Ekamra-Purana1 narrates a conversation between Shiva and Brahma where the latter expresses his desire to build a temple for the former, and, Shiva replies as below:
“With the coming of the Kali age, Chandra will go to the earth and having become the lord of men, he will worship lingam.”
“He, who is of good determination, will cause a beautiful, white, and purifying stone temple to be erected and a great worship performed.”
“He, who is famous, well-known and engaged in the daily worship of Siva, will establish this lingam of Tribhubaneswar in accordance with my command.”
“O Brahman, you know me to be this stone lingam that can neither be seen nor touched.”
“Sasanka with his heart attached to Siva, will be infinitely intelligent and will worship with diligence all the lingams that exists on the earth.”

Chaper fifty of the Ekamra-Purana mentions that when Rama visited Ekamra-kshetra, and he desired to construct a temple for Shiva then Vashishtha addressed him as below:
“O king, the past tradition is that Sasanka will cause it to be done.”
“So, O best of the kings, construct a temple elsewhere.”

Chapter fourteen of the Svarnadri-Mahodaya mentions that Brahma expresses his desire to build a temple for Shiva, the latter directs him to build it at the site now represented by the Brahmeswar temple, but reserves the desired site as the temple on the same will not be done by him but by Chandra in the Kali age. Ekamra-Chandrika mentions that Shiva advised Bhima not to build a temple here, in Kali age Chandra will do it. Chapter sixteen of the Kapila-Samhita says that Lord Tribhubaneswar denied the request of Himavat to construct a temple, and told, “Why you asked for a thing which was not possible to the gods such as Brahma, Vishnu, Indra, Yama and Varuna! The temple is impossible to be constructed, in the Kali age, Chandra will do it.”

Shikhara of Lingaraja Temple by Poorno Chander Mukherji in 1892 | British Library

K C Panigrahi identifies Chandra with the Guada king Shashanka and suggests that because of the strong tradition of Shashanka building the Lingaraja temple, it may be very probable that he built the original temple at the present site during 7th century CE. However, Panigrahi also mentions that he was not able to assign any of the other older temples of Bhubaneswar to Shashanka. In light of this and missing supporting evidences, it seems difficult to credit Shashanka for the Lingaraja temple.

Madala-Panji credits the construction of the temple to king Lalatendu Kesari in Saka year 588, corresponding 666 CE2. It tells that the temple was started by Yayati Kesari, continued by Ananta Kesari and finally consecrated by Lalatendu Kesari. Kesari dynasty of Madala-Panji should be the same as the Somavamshi dynasty of Odisha which ruled between 9th to 12th century CE. In this dynasty, only one ruler bore the title Kesari, Uddyotakesari (1040-1065 CE) also known as Mahabhavagupta IV. His father was Mahasivagupta III Yayati II (1025-1040 CE). K C Panigrahi suggests that Ananta-Kesari and Lalatendu-Kesari were the name of the same ruler Uddyotakesari.

K N Mahapatra3 is of opinion that Mahasivagupta I Yayati I (922-955 CE) laid the foundation of the temple which was later continued by his successors. The most probable theory would be that the foundation was laid by Yayati II and consecration happened by his son Uddyotakesari. Inscriptions of Uddyotakesari are found at Khandagiri caves suggesting his rule and involvement in architectural activities in and around Bhubaneswar region.

Anonymous watercolor in 1820 | British Library

Ligaraja temple represents the epoch of the Odishan temple architecture as it contains all the essential elements in very matured phase. The temple is consisted of a deul (garbha-grha), jagamohana (mandapa), nata-mandira (dance hall) and bhoga-mandira (hall of offering). Deul and jagamohana were constructed together, while other halls were later additions.

Deul faces east and is consisted of a bada, gandi and mastaka. Bada is constructed in pancha-ratha plan and is made of pabhaga, two-storey jangha separated by a madya-bandaha and baranda. Pabhaga is of regular five mouldings, madhya-bandhana has three mouldings and baranda has ten mouldings.

Kanika-paga niches of lower jangha have images of dikpalas. Anartha-paga niches of lower jangha have different scenes, secular as well as religious. Kanika and anartha niches of upper jangha have various deities; Shiva , Parvati, Kartikeya, Ardhnareeswara, Ganesha, Kaumari, Bhairava, Brahma, Lakulisa and Kama. Niches in the east have Surya and Lakulisa however these are now hidden by jagamohana. Recesses on the lower jangha are filled with composite animals (gaja-simha) while that of upper jangha have alasa-kanyas. Raha has nisa-shrines (porch) in front on all three sides. These porches are later addition. Regular parshva-devatas are found at raha-niches, Ganesha in the south, Kartikeya in the west and Parvati in the north. Niches below baranda, on all four sides, have various aspects of Shiva, Andhakantaka in the south, Nataraja in the west, Chamunda in the north and Lakulisa in the east.

Gandi follows the pancha-ratha plan of the bada. Kanika has ten bhumis differentiated by bhumi-amalakas. Four miniature shrines are placed on anartha-paga, one above the other in diminishing size. The base of the raha is decorated with bho-type vajra-mastaka which houses parshva-devata images, Ganesha in the south, Kartikeya in the west and Parvati in the north. Above the vajra-mastaka is placed a udyata-lion. Mastaka above the gandi is consisted of beki, amalaka, khapuri, kalasa and ayudha. Amalaka over the beki is supported by four figures in center and dopiccha-simhas at the corners. The four center figures are all aspects of Shiva. The one on the east may be representation of Surya-Shiva, as suggested by Donaldson4. He also suggests that placing four aspects of Shiva in each direction represents chaturmukha-linga. Ayudha on the top has emblems of Vishnu as well as of Shiva, suggesting the Hari-Hara aspect of Lingaraja. The interior of the shikhara is made up of superimposed chambers with flat roofs, reachable via stairs carved within the depth of the walls. This designs ensures the proper support for high rising tower above.

General view of Lingaraja Temple by William Henry Cornish in 1892 | British Library

Jagamohana follows the pancha-ratha pattern of deul and is connected to the latter without any sandhi-sthala. Its bada is made of pabhaga, jangha and baranda. Pabhaga has five regular mouldings, jangha is divided into two storeys separated by a madhya-bandhana of seven mouldings. Niches on various pagas have cult images and other divinities. Kanika-paga niches do not have dikpalas. Raha-paga has balustrated windows in north and south, the latter is now converted into a doorway due to addition of nata-mandira. Northern window has six balustrades decorated with alasa-kanyas. Lintel above southern window has Parvati-parinyaya scene while northern window has a shiksha-dana motif.

Gandi rises above the bada in two tiers, bottom tier has nine pidhas and upper tier has seven. Fourth pidha from below on the bottom tier has niches housing various images. M M Ganguly5 identifies the scenes on the southern side with that of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Mastaka above the gandi is consisted of beki, ghanta, another beki, amla, khapuri and kalasa. The eastern doorway is highly decorated. It has three shakhas (bands), Ganga and Yamuna are present at the base of door-jambs, Lakshmi is on the center of the lintel. Inside the jagamohana are placed four pillars in the center, dividing the hall into a nave and two aisles.

Lingaraja Temple lithograph by James Fergusson and Thomas Dibdin in 1847 | Columbia University

The present nata-mandira is connected to the jagamohana through its eastern doorway. However, usually a nata-mandira is constructed detached to the original temple as witnessed at other places in Odisha. It appears that what is now called bhoga-mandira was originally a nata-mandira and was constructed little away from the temple however in the same axial alignment. At some later time, it was converted into bhoga-mandira due to its closeness to the kitchen. A new hall was constructed at the place between the jagamohana and then nata-mandira, and this new hall became the now nata-mandira.

The present nata-mandira is constructed over a pitha (platform). This pitha has a pabhaga of three mouldings, jangha with niches and baranda of three mouldings. Over this pitha rises nata-mandira consisting of pabhaga, two-storeyed jangha separated by a Madhya-bandhana of five mouldings and baranda of ten mouldings. Niches over jangha are empty now. Three doors are provided on the south and north.

The present bhoga-mandira also stands on a pitha. It is built in pancha-ratha style and consists of pabhaga of three mouldings, two storeyed jangha separated by a Madhya-bandhana of three mouldings and baranda of seven mouldings. Lower jangha has two niches alternating between three rectangular panels, all separated by naga-nagi pillars. Alasa-kanyas adorn the rectangular panels, while dikpalas are placed inside niches. Upper jangha follows same style as that of lower jangha, instead of alasa-kanyas its rectangular panels are adorned with amorous couples. The entrance is provided on the east, with two windows on either side. Windows are also provided on south and north walls. All windows have balusters, ones in the south and north have plain balusters.

Gandi is built in two tiers, lower has four and upper has three pidhas. Mastaka has beki, ghanta, another beki, amla, khapuri and kalasa. Inside the hall are four pillars in the center, dividing it into two aisles and one nave. In the east, outside of bhoga-mandira, stands a monolithic pillar or vahana-stambha supporting an image of Nandi and Garuda.

Lingaraja Temple by Martin Hurlimann in 1928 | Columbia University

There are more than thirty inscriptions in and around different temples within the Lingaraja compound. The earliest inscription6 is dated 1115 CE (Saka 1036) and belongs to the thirty-seventh regnal year of the Eastern Ganga king Anantavarman Chodaganga (1077-1150 CE). The inscription mentions donation of a perpetual lamp for lord Sri-Krttivasa-bhattaraka. Krttivasa means one clad in elephant hide. When Shiva killed Gajasura demon, he wore its hide as his garment. Ekamra Purana mentions story of two demons, Krtti and Vasa, sons of demon king Drimila. They were given boon that they could not be killed by a male human being. Once Parvati came to live in Ekamra-kshetra in disguise of a gopalini. Krtti and Vasa were enamoured and tried to get her. Parvati asked Shiva on how to tackle the situation, and the latter told her these she would kill these two demons as those cannot be killed by a male human being. Gopalini later crushed the demons into the ground. Shiva Purana uttara khanda also mentions story of Krtti and Vasa. First reference of Lord Bhubaneswar or Tribhubaneswar in inscriptions appears in a twelfth century CE inscription of Viracoda7 and the lord is referred as Tribhubanidhi. Another inscription, dated to mid-fifteenth century CE, belonging to the Gajapati king Purushottama Deva, refers lord as Bhubaneswara-linga.

Another interesting inscription8 is from the reign of the Eastern Ganga king Raghava Deva (1156-1170 CE). The inscription mentions a grant of a perpetual lamp in favor of Krttivasa by a lady named Medamadevi. To cover the expenses of this perpetual lamp, she purchased a land from a sresthin of Dasapura. Dasapura is modern Mandsaur situated in Madhya Pradesh. This suggests merchants from different distant parts of India being settled in old Kalinga and prospering in their business.

An another interesting inscription9 is of the reign of the Gajapati king Kapilendra Deva (1434-1466 CE). In this inscription, the king issues a warning to all his vassal kings to keep good conduct and avoid evil path. In case of non-adherence of the same, their property will be confiscated and vassal will be vanished. This inscription is of very much importance as Kapilendra Deva established the Gajapati dynasty in Odisha through a military coup against the last Eastern Ganga king, Bhanu Deva IV. To affirm his status and rule, he must have engraved this specific inscription warning all his vassals to keep their allegiance to him.

During the Eastern Gangas and Gajapati period, though Lingaraja retained its cult status however it soon started being overshadowed by the grown popularity of Jagannatha. Very soon Jagannatha attained the statehood deity status d, however the Ganga and Gajapati kings also provided the necessary endowments towards Lingaraja. During the same period, Lingaraja started absorbing the Hari-Hara aspect, a dual identity representing Shiava and Vaishnava character. Vrsha-stambha erected in front of bhoga-mandira is surmounted by Nandi and Garuda representing the Hari-Hara aspect of the enshrined deity. The Ganga kings, while remodeling the temple, replaced the original trishula surmounting the deul tower with a hybrid ayudha containing a discus and a trishula, again representing Hari-Hara aspect the deity. The linga enshrined in deul has a natural line running vertically and therefore is invoked as Hari-Hara. Various Vaishnavite shrines were setup within the compound during the same period. Festivals specific to Vaishnavite tradition, i.e. Ashokastami, started being celebrated at Lingaraja. In its ratha-yatra, lord Lingaraja takes Lakshmi with him but not Parvati. With all these changes, Lingaraja soon lost its original character and embraced the now popular dual identity.

1 Panigrahi, K C (1961). Archaeological Remains in Bhubaneswar. Kitab Mahal. Cuttack. pp 30-31
2 Behera, K S (2008). Lingaraja Temple of Bhubaneswar: Art and Cultural Legacy. Aryan Books INternational. New Delhi. ISBN 9788173053405. p 36
3 Behera, K S (2008). Lingaraja Temple of Bhubaneswar: Art and Cultural Legacy. Aryan Books INternational. New Delhi. ISBN 9788173053405. p 33
4 Donaldson, T E (1985). Hindu Temple Art of Orissa. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9789004071742. p 332
5 Ganguly, M M (1912). Orissa and her Remains. Thacker Spink & Co. Kolkata. p 355
6 Epigraphia Indica vol XXX. pp 29-32
7 Rajaguru, S N (1960). Inscriptions of Orissa vol III part I. Orissa Sahitya Academy. Bhubaneswar. p 67
8Epigraphia Indica vol XXX. p 159
9 No 21 in the appendix of inscriptions in Behera, K S (2008). Lingaraja Temple of Bhubaneswar: Art and Cultural Legacy. Aryan Books INternational. New Delhi. ISBN 9788173053405.