Brahmeswara Temple – Start of Devadasi Tradition


    Brahmeswara Temple is a very important monument for two reasons. First, it carries a dated foundation inscription which helps putting the Odishan temple chronology in correct order. And second, it is built in a panchayatana style, the first of its kind in Bhubaneswar. On the origin of this this temple, Ekamra Purana tells that Shiva, after an elaborate exposition of the merits of Bhubaneswara as his chosen seat and secret retreat on earth, advised Brahma to erect a temple at a distance of 1130 fathoms to the north-east of the Lingaraja. Vishvakarma built the temple in compliance with Brahma’s instructions1.

    Unlike to the earlier temples like Rajarani and Gauri, Brahmesvara is not built over a pitha (platform) however it is able to attain a considerable height of about 60 feet. The deul (temple) consists of a bada and a jagamohana. Its bada is built in pancha-ratha style and composed of pabhaga, jangha and baranda. Pabhaga is built with five mouldings which are rather plain except decorated vertical bars introduced at regular intervals. Jangha is divided into two equal parts separated by a bandhana.


    Kanika (corner projections) and anartha pagas (intermediate projections), on the lower storey of the jangha, have niches topped with khakhara-mundi and a bho-type vajra-mastaka. The niches on kanika-paga have dikpalas while niches on anartha-paga house various aspects of Shiva.The upper storey has niches topped with pidha-mundi but without a vajra-mastaka. These niches contain female figures, i.e. alasa-kanyas or nayikas. Anuraha recess, between kanika and anartha, has virala (slender motif of a lion standing on its hind legs above an elephant) motif on lower storey and sala-bhanjika images on upper storey.



    Raha-paga is not made with two storeys but has a single niche occupying the whole space. Niches on raha-pagas are flanked with two decorated pilasters. The capitals of these pilasters have niches housing secular images. The lintel above these pilasters have a large rectangular niche containing siksha-dana (guru-disciple) motifs. These siksha-dana scenes can also be interpreted with royal themes as suggested by Donaldson2. A small niche, below the siksha-dana motif, houses Sarasvati on the west and Ganesha at other places. Raha-niches are empty suggesting that the parshva-devata images were carved using separate stones and fitted later. However, images in kanika and anartha niches are in situ suggesting that these were carved using stones forming part of the structure.


    Baranda is considerably high, consisting of three mouldings. This results in a clear and prominent separation between bada and gandi (tower). The gandi follows the pancha-ratha plan as that of the bada resulting in a harmonious appearance. Anga-shikharas are put on the first bhumi (level) of gandi, above kanika and anartha pagas. Raha-paga has a large anga-shikhara which constitutes a part of raha-niche. Thus the baranda part of raha-niche is treated differently and is replaced by a decorated small niche housing parshva-devatas, Kartikeya, Parvati and Ganesha. Ganesha is shown in dancing mudra, one of the earliest such specimen in Bhubaneswar. Above the raha-paga anga-shikhara is a bho-type vajra-mastaka. A udyata lion is placed above it.


    Jagamohana is entered through a large door-frame which has Gaja-Lakshmi at its lalata-bimba. Lintel is decorated with nava-grha, each housed inside a pidha niche. Jagamohana follows the bada in pancha-ratha style. Its pabhaga, built with five mouldings, is left largely non-decorated. Niches are provided on all the pagas. Niches on kanika have dikpalas and anartha have various Shiva aspects. Only six of the dikpalas have survived. Windows are provided on raha-pagas of south and north. Similar to Rajarani, the windows are fitted with five balusters, which are decorated with nagi on the central bar and rests having sala-bhanjikas or alasa-kanyas. Upper part of the window frame has a large niche, which has a royal scene on the south and a dancing theme on the north. Panigrahi3 identifies the dancing lady in the niche with Kolavati, the builder of the temple.

    King in his court

    Ceiling of the jagamohana is decorated however not comparable with that of the Muktesvara. The top course is in form of a lotus, placed inverted with naga figures at the corners. The lowest slab has various friezes depicting army processions, animals, linga-worship, cavalry etc.

    Four subsidiary shrines are added at the four corners of the compound. These temples are in similar style as that of the main temple. The images and decoration are much eroded on all these temples.


    The inscription, which is produced below, mentions that Kolavati, mother of the Somavamshi king Uddyota Kesari, donated few women to the lord. This is the first inscriptional reference of Devadasi tradition in Bhubaneswar temples. Devadasi were maidens devoted to the worship and entertainment of the presiding deity. Among the entertainment activities, dance and music were the foremost. Presence of many reliefs depicting dances and musicians on this temple also attest the popularity of this tradition. For the first time among Bhubaneswar temples, we find prominence given to reliefs depicting dance and musical activities and these were placed at prominent locations. Though the reliefs depicting dance and musicians were found in earlier temples but those were mostly makes. At Brahmeswara, female musicians were given importance for the first time.


    This inscription is dated to the eighteenth regnal year of the king which corresponds to 1058 CE which may be taken as the completion date of the temple as well.



    Inscription – An inscribed slab initially attached to the temple was removed to Calcutta in 19th century, subsequently to be lost forever. James Prinsep was the first to edit this record and his reduced facsimile is the only surviving proof of this slab. Prinsep published it in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal vol VII, no 78, June 1838, pp 557-562. The inscription is dated to the later half of the eleventh century CE based upon the alphabets used. The below text is reproduced from Prinsep’s article.

    1. The moon, perfect in his digits, full (born) with Sri from the midst of Kshira Samudra (the sea of milk) when churned by the Mandara mountain whirling with the chief of the serpents used as a rope by Brahma, Upendra, (Vishnu), Maheswara, Indra and Bali; – enlightens the three regions with his swollen beams and nectars !
    2. In his line was born raja Janamejaya, who was of moon-like fame, master of the world, incomparable, destroyer of his enemies, and the owner of Telinga; and who drew to himself the fortune (Lakshmi) of the raja of Udhra who was killed by his kunta ( a weapon) while their antagonists’ elephants were overcome by fatigue fighting with their tusks.
    3. He (Janamejaya) was a celebrated emperor, master of the kingdom of several limbs, of wonderful understanding in power and morals, charitable, most virtuous, a hero, and like raja Yayati an ornament of the earth; and who deprived the lovely wives of his inimical rajas of their pride of lovely tresses; and whose lawful deeds and conduct remained unchangeable from his childhood.
    4. After him his son Dirgharava became raja, who was a great Kalpa tree, the very crown-jewel of princes, modest, of boundless spirit, steadiness, riches, gravity, depth of knowledge, wise in producing prosperity and three sorts of power and success, a hero, and destroyer of his enemies, and who had qualities like that of a Maharatha (a warrior fighting in a car) and whose fame is celebrated.
    5. From his was born the powerful raja named Apavara as the second Parasurama, who suppressed his enemies by his invincible hand as with a thunderbolt, and became great through merits of poets, and whose spirit was warm like the sun in Midday.
    6. When he, the best of rajas, departed unto heaven without issue and all his kingdom was laid waste by various warriors, how long a time passed away in various ways, when the elephant-powered hero (Vivhitravira) was in a different country, (Telinga).
    7. Vichitravira (who was another descendent of Janamejaya, and celebrated everywhere on the earth as a wonderful hearo) , was placed in his place. From him was born his fortunate Abhimanyu, and from him was born Chandihara who was powerful and spirited like him (his father). He was made king by all his ministers.
    8. He reigned impartially , cherishing all his servants, ministers, people, those who sought refuge, kinsmen and desired friends, and made both his kingdoms indisputable; who was the cause of delight of all the earth, and whose lily-like feet were enlightened by the splendor of the head-jewels of many prostrate rajas.
    9. From his arose Udyotaka Kesari, like the sun from the eastern mountain, illumination earth and heaven by his lustre, radiant as the sun and moon beams; who was rich and the crown-jewel of the circle of earth defended by its four oceans; and who was a conqueror of earth, like Mandhata, Prithu, and Bharata.
    10. Who having defeated the whole force of his enemy, the Sinhala, Choda and Gaura (countries) as it were in child-play, and with well-armed warriors and a number of elephants in battles conquered the whole earth, causing numberless rajas to bow down their heads; who was victorious and who made the tortoise oppressed with the weight of the earth sink down by the heavy march of is bright army, containing an akshauhini.
    11. His mother named Kolavati was caused to be erected this cloud-touching temple with four beautiful halls, of four other gods, which is like a tree without branches in interrupting the speed of sun’s car (ray?) like a crown over this earth and the king of fame, of Brahmeswara, who destroys the sins of worshippers, and gives salvation to those who touch (his image) at Ekamra the holy place.
    12. Whom (Siva) the holy Brahma, lord of the three regions, having bathed his emblem, Meru, the golden spot situated in the center of the mountain Lokaloka, the seven oceans and islands, with the water of Ganga is worshipping day and night. This is the very Siva Brahmeswara.
    13. This temple shines above, adorning all the firmaments, like the summit of a mountain, or the evening lamp of the assembly of the youthful goddess; from it all the regions have been lighted up by the lustre f the rays issuing from the golden kalasa (pinnacle) shining on its summit.
    14. By her (Kolavati) were given some beautiful women to him (Siva) who had eyes like that of the fickle khajjama (wagtail) and who were bright like the sparkling and immovable lightings of the sky by the exquisite beauty of their limbs, adorned with gemmy ornaments, of lovely heavy swollen bosoms, piercing through eyes of men, like the beam of their own eye.
    15. Purushottama Bhatta, the best of poets indited this eulogy, which spread the white fame of the rajas of the lunar line; who was learned in the vedas, grammar, political science, poetry, logic, &c. &c. and, like Brahma, of true, pure and humble understanding, and (born) of an innocent family.
    16. So long as the earth with its mountains, forests, and seas, the sun and the moon, which are the two eyes of three regions and the Auttonapadi (the north pole star) which is above the earth, shall endure, so long may this eulogy exists as nectar in the mouth of everyone.
    17. On the 3rd of the light half of Phalguna of the Samvat 18, of the victorious reign of raja Udyotaka Kesari Deva who was most rich, king of kings, a raja of the lunar line and lord of Kalinga.

    Next – Koti-Tirtheswara Group of Temples

    1 Mitra, R L (1875). The Antiquities of Orissa vol II. Indian Studies. Kolkata. p 150
    2 Donaldson, T E (1985). Hindu Temple Art of Orissa. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9789004071742. p 321
    3 Panigrahi, K C (1961). Archaeological Remains in Bhubaneswar. Kitab Mahal. Cuttack. p 118


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