Parasuramesvara Temple – A Gem of Odishan Architecture


Parasuramesvara Temple is the most distinguished temple among the early monuments of Odisha. It has survived in its full glory and is consisted of a deul (vimana) and jagamohana (mandapa). The temple was thoroughly repaired by PWD in 19031. The fact that all the earliest temples of Odisha have been survived in their full developed form has baffled scholars by not allowing them finding hints to trace the progressive architectural development of temples.

Parasuramesvara Temple

It can be safely assumed that the architectural progression would have started from very rudimentary structures, and moving towards fully developed shrines. V A Smith2  writes, “All authors who treat Indian architecture notice, and are embarrassed by the fact, that each style when it first comes to our knowledge is full-grown and complete. The earliest specimen betray no signs of tentative effort, and in no case is it possible to trace the progressive evolution of a given style from rude beginnings.”

Eastern Side

The temple faces west and is enclosed within a compound wall. Its deul (vimana) is consisted of bada, gandi and mastaka. Bada is consisted of pabhaga (base), jangha and baranda. Pabhaga is consisted of three mouldings, the upper most is decorated with various motifs. Jangha measures twice that of pabhaga, a feature generally seen in the early temples of Odisha. Bada is tri-ratha in plan, with one central niche (raha paga) and two kanika niches (corner niche). Raha niches cut through the pabhaga, another feature of early period temples. This results in total of eleven niches, originally fitted with images carved out of separate stone block. It became very easy for antiquity looters to remove these image from the niches to carry away with, making us bereft of admiring their beauty. At present, only two niches has images, rest all are empty.

Nataraja with urddhva-linga
Empty northern raha-niche

Among the parshva-devatas, only Ganesha and Kartikeya are in situ, on east and south raha niches respectively. Raha niche on north, which is empty at present, would originally be having an image of Parvati similar to other contemporary specimens. Panigrahi suggests the niche had Mahishasuramardini however Donaldson3 explains that though we have Mahishasuramardini in the vajra-mastaka above the niche, however Mahishasuramardini had not been accepted as parshva-devata by the period of this temple therefore it would be wrong to consider Mahishasuramardini image for this niche. The lintel above the niche has a popular scene of capturing wild elephants. Above the image of Mahishasuramardini, an image of ten-armed Nataraja is placed in vajra-mastaka. Vajra-mastaka of the western kanika niche has Durga seated over a lion in the lower medallion and Vishnu seated in padmasana, holding a chakra and shankha, in the upper medallion. Vajra-mastaka of the eastern kanika niche has four-armed Nataraja in urddhva-linga in the lower medallion and Surya seated in padmasana, holding two lotuses, in the upper medallion.

Kartikeya on eastern raha-niche
Shiva’s marriage
Lakulisa with his four disciples

In western raha niche is found Kartikeya. He is seated in lalitasana posture over a throne which legs are in form of jars. He is shown with two hands, one holding Shakti. His hair are arranged in tri-shakha neatly arranged over his head. His mount, peacock, is present below his throne, and is shown fighting with a snake. The lintel above this niche has a scene of Shiva’s marriage attended by Brahma and Surya among other gods. A baffling feature in this marriage scene is the presence of Ganesha. Vajra-mastaka decoration above raha-niche has Lakulisa with his four disciples in lower medallion and Uma-Maheswar in above medallion. Vajra-mastaka on the southern kanika niche has Shiva bust in lower medallion and four-armed Nataraja in upper medallion. Vajra-mastaka of the northern niche has Uma-Maheswar in lower medallion and Shiva in upper medallion.

Ganesha in southern raha-niche
Shiva Bhikshatana with Annapurna giving alms

In southern raha niche is Ganesha seated over a simhasana in ardhaparyanka posture. In between the legs of his throne is placed a basket of fruits over a tripod like structure. Ganesha’s mount mouse is absent as also seen in other early Ganesha images of Odisha. Vajra-mastaka of the western kanika niche has Shiva as Bhikshatana-murti, where Annapurna is shown pouring alms into his bowl, in the lower medallion and four-armed Nataraja in urddhva-linga in the upper medallion. S C Dey identifies the Bhikashatana panel as Shiva drinking poison where he is standing in inclined pose and holding a cup in his hand, while Bhudevi is pouring poison. He identified the female on right side as Parvati and a small child between Bhudevi and Shiva as Kartikeya. The learned scholar’s identification is not correct in this context.

Nataraja in front vajra-mastaka
Ravananugrahamurti in front vajra-mastaka

Where bada is tri-ratha in plan, the gandi is pancha-ratha, which is another feature found in all early period temples. Gandi decoration above the raha niches are consisted of superimposed chaitya medallions (vajra-mastakas), two in Number. Vajra-mastaka decoration in front, on west, has Ravananugrahamurti in lower medallion, and Nataraja in above medallion. At the apex of the medallion is an image of Lakulisa. Above this is an image of Shiva as Mahesamurti. Dopiccha-simha (single head with two bodies) in the upper portion of shikhara (beki) were placed during restoration4.

Garbhagrha doorways is built with four bands and is much restored. Original sil, lintel and left band has been replaced with plain stone blocks. The architrave has eight grhas (planets) shown seated and labelled below. R D Banerji5 was the first to draw attention of scholars to the inscribed grha slab. Though the temple was known to scholars however this lintel inscription remained undetected long due to darkness in the interior of the temple. Banerji dates the inscription to stating that it cannot be earlier than the eighth century CE. Panigrahi6, drawing similarities in the characters with that of copper plat grant of Sailodbhava king Madhavaraja II, dated the inscription to the first or second part of the seventh century CE.

Jagamohana roof in two levels

Jagamohana is a rectangular hall topped with sloping roofs, in two levels, with a clerestory in between. Jagamohana roof is supported by six pillars, two rows of three pillars each. The present pillars are modern replacements of earlier monolithic ones. Jagamohana can be entered through its two doors, one in west and another in south. There are a total of four windows, two on the west, and one each on north and south. The windows on north and south were not originally in the design and inserted later on, as these two are not aligned in symmetry. With its two doors, four windows and a clerestory above, jagamohana gets ample light inside.

Jagamohana entrance

The western side of jagamohana is fitted with an entrance and two windows. The windows consist of two panels, one above other, which are carved with figures of dancers and musicians. Percy Brown7 finds that the two stone grills are of exceptional merit and excelling even the work of the famous Florentine artists Della Robbia’s glazed terracotta reliefs. The main entrance is made of two pilasters, decorated with purna-ghata (vase of plenty) motif at top and bottom. Above the purna-ghata, at bottom, are put dvarpalas. The lintel has Gaja-lakshmi on lalata-bimba being bathed by two elephants. The lintel extends beyond the pilasters, depicting elephant hunting scene on north and linga-worship scene on south.

Dancers & Musicians on window grill

Going north from the western entrance, we find a window panel abutting the entrance door. The windows is divided into two panels, one above the other. Both panels have three dancers & musicians each. Next to this window is a panel showing Ganga with her three attendants. Ganga is carved with wavy lines till her midriff, suggesting her floating in the waters. Her mount, Makara, has not survived in full. S C Dey11 identifies this panel as Parvati’s penance where she is shown standing waist deep in water with lotus in her hand. However, the learned scholars’ identification does not seem correct. Next to Ganga is a Shaiva dvarpala, seated in ardhaparyanka posture, and can be identified with benevolent aspect of Shiva, Mahakala8. The niche next to it is presently replaced with a plain stone block however it would have been housing a dikpala as the case with the niche on the opposite end.

Sapta-matrika panels
Maheshvari and Kaumari
Vaishnavi and Indrani
Varahi and Chamunda

The northern side’s continuity is broken with a window fitted in the middle. The western end of the wall has Saptamatrika group with Virabhadra and Ganesha. The group starts with Virabhadra, seated in ardhaparyanka posture with his bull carved on the pedestal. Next is Brahmani with her three heads and swan at the pedestal. Next is Mahesvari, holding trisula, the mount on her pedestal has no more survived. Then next is Kaumari holding Shakti, and her mount has also not survived. Next is Vaishnavi and Indrani, while latter’s mount, elephant, is carved on the pedestal. The last two of the matrikas are Varahi and Chamunda, with their respective mounts, man and owl, carved on their pedestals. Varahi is shown holding a fish, which became very popular in later period. The last niche is for Ganesha who is seated in ardhaparyanka posture, holding a raddish, kuthara, akshamala and a bowl of sweets. It is an interesting image of Ganesha, as his head is carved more in human form with a fitted proboscis in front.

Eastern end of the northern side
Lakulisa in dharma-chakra-pravartana mudra

The eastern end of the northern side has six niches, each having a deity. Starting from the middle window and moving to east, the first niche has an image of Shiva, seated in ardhaparyanka posture. Next to him is Lakulisa in dharma-chakra-pravartana mudra, holding his lakuta (rod). Lakulisa being shown in dharma-chakra-paravatana mudra has led many scholars to suggest the Buddhist influence on the iconography. Next to Lakulisa is an unidentified image of a deity who is shown bearing a turban over his head and with four arms. Next to it is a niche with an image of Durga. Next to it is shown Chandra holding a vase and rosary. The last in the order is Surya, shown standing in sambhaga posture and holding lotus in his two hands.


The southern side has panels on either side of its entrance. The first niche has Hari-Hara, his right showing Shaiva character and left showing Vaishnava. The next niche has Uma-Maheswar, with their respective mounts, Nandi and lion, shown below the throne. Ganesha is shown in a space between the mounts. The next niche has an interesting image of Ardhanareeswar-Nataraja. He is shown with eight-arms and in uraddha-linga mudra. Above this niche, in its vajra-mastaka, is Kartikeya seated over his peacock mount.

Entrance on the south is supported on two pilasters. Much of the decoration on the pilasters has no more survived. The pilasters have purna-ghata (vase of plenty) decoration at its top and bottom. Dvarpalas are present at the door-jambs and above it rises two bands. Dvarpala on eastern end is Nandi bearing thin beard and showing his fangs. The other dvarapala has suffered much damage and is beyond proper identification, he may be representing Mahakala. The outer band has amorous couples while the inner band has scroll decoration. Among the amorous couples, an interesting image is of a woman removing her garments which became a popular motif on Odisha temples. The lintel has Ganesha on lalata-bimba accompanied with his devotees offering various items.

Dikpala group

The western end of the southern side has six niches with a window in middle. These six niches have images of dikpalas. The first image is of Indra who is shown seated over a throne and his mount, Airavata, is absent. The next image is of Yama seated over his buffalo mount and holding a danda (rod). The next image is of Varuna who is shown holding his pasa (noose) with hamsa as his mount. Next is the window, and next to it is an image of Vayu. The niche next has an image of Kubera. The last niche is now has a plain stone block, however Panigrahi mentions it to have an image of Agni.


The northern side of the western wall has three niches. The first niche is continuation of dikpala group and it houses an image of Nrrtti (Panigrahi). The corresponding niche on the opposite end has a plain stone block now however it would have an image of Isana originally, thus completing the dikpala group. The niche next has a Shaiva guardian seated in ardhaparyanka posture and holding a lotus and a trisula. He has mustache and a beard which led Donaldson8 to identify him as Nandi. The next niche houses river-goddesses Yamuna who is accompanied with her three attendants.

The connection of jagamohana with the deul does not have a proper joining as it hides many features and images of deul. This suggests that the jagamohana is a later addition. Debala Mitra9 is of opinion that jagamohana is a later addition while Percy Brown10 is of opinion that the jagamohana is earlier than the present deul structure. Brown relies on the folk-like characters of the minor motifs on jagamohana assignig it earlier than the deul. His impression is that these two structures were built at different time, the deul being a later addition probably replacing an earlier shrine.

Panigrahi points to a fact, evident in all early period temples, that their jagamohanas are joined irregularly with deul. He argues that if this irregular join is found in all the temples, is it ok to say that jagamohana is a later addition? He explains that this irregular joining is due to the method of construction. These early temples were constructed bottom to top, and a ramp built up filling with sand as the temple rises. This type of ramp construction hid the parts already constructed and thus the joining of jagamohana became irregular. The one argument against this theory is that the temple architects would have created a model and plan prior to its construction therefore of a temple is made prior to its construction therefore it cannot have an irregular joining between two elements if constructed at the same time.

An inscription on the south doorway of jagamohana gives the old name of the temple as Parasesvara, perhaps a mistake for Parasaresvara, derived from Parasara, a distinguished teacher of the Lakulisa-pasupata sect12.

Mitra13 mentions about Parasuramashtami Yatra which is celebrated on the 8th day of the waxing moon in the month of Ashada (June/July). On this day, the movables image of Lord Lingaraja, Chandrashekhara, is taken to the Parasuramesvara temple where he is entertained with flowers, insence, music and dance.

Next – Early Bhauma-Kara Temples

1 Panigrahi, K C (1961). Archaeological Remains at Bhubaneswar. Kitab Mahal, Cuttack. p 54
2 Smith V A (1911). A History of Fine Art in India and Ceylon. Clarendon Press. Oxford. p 23
3 Donaldson, T E (1985). Hindu Temple Art of Orissa. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9789004071742. p 59
4 Mitra, Debala (1966). Bhubaneswar. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 26
5 Panigrahi, K C (1961). Archaeological Remains at Bhubaneswar. Kitab Mahal, Cuttack. p 26
6 Panigrahi, K C (1961). Archaeological Remains at Bhubaneswar. Kitab Mahal, Cuttack. p 28
7 Brown, Percy (1959). Indian Architecture (Buddhist and Hindu Periods). D B Taraporevala Sons. Mumbai. p 103
8 Donaldson, T E (1985). Hindu Temple Art of Orissa. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9789004071742. p 56
9 Mitra, Debala (1988). Encyclopedia of Indian Temple Architecture vol 2 part 1. American Institute of Indian Studies. New Delhi. ISBN 0691040532. p 256
10 Brown, Percy (1959). Indian Architecture (Buddhist and Hindu Periods). D B Taraporevala Sons. Mumbai. p 103
11 De, S C (1955). The Parasuramesvara Temple of Bhubaneswar published in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress vol. 18, pp. 107-114
12 Mitra, Debala (1988). Encyclopedia of Indian Temple Architecture vol 2 part 1. American Institute of Indian Studies. New Delhi. ISBN 0691040532. p 256
13 Mitra, R L (1875). The Antiquities of Orissa vol II. Indian Studies. Kolkata. p 136