Vaital Deul – Glory of Sakta Tradition


Vaital temple is the earliest and most interesting sakta shrine in Orissa. This enigmatic temple is situated in the same compound of the Sisireswara Temple. Both the temples follow and share same architectural styles, however, based on the advanced and more stylistic imagery of Vaital Deul, it has been dated slightly later than the Sisireswara. Donaldson1, and many others, have assigned this temple to the last quarter of eighth century CE.

Vaital Temple

There are many theories about the origin of the name “Vaital”. M M Ganguly2 mentions that Vaital is derived from Vaita, probably a contraction of the Sanskrit word Vahitra which means a sea-going vessel or ship. The external appearance of the mastaka of Vaital Deul is similar to the hull of a ship reversed. Ganguly also proposes another theory that the word is derived from Vaita, a variety of pumpkin much relished by people of Orissa. However, the most accepted theory was proposed by K C Panigrahi3 and accepted widely. Panigrahi proposes that the name Vaital is derived from vetala (spirit), invoked by the kapalikas and tantriks to attain siddhis. As the temple has been associated with the kapalika practices, this theory bears more weight than others.

Sakta and Kapalika connection with the shrine is also supported in a medieval text. Chapter XXVII of Svarnnadri-mahodaya mentions that “the venerable goddess Chamunda garlanded with skulls exists at a spot on the west not far from the tank (i.e. Vindusarovara)” and that “she is of terrific form and is known as Kapalini”. Panigraphi4 suggests that the shrine referred in the text is the Vaital deul. That human sacrifice was a practice for kapalikas is also attested from a reference in Yoshodharakavya of Vadiraja Suri, in which the presiding deity Chamunda was offered a human sacrifice5.

Rekha-order shrines at the corners of jagamohana

The temple is attached with a jagamohana (hall) which was constructed together with the deul as a cohesive unit. The jagamohana is oblong in plan. Its decorative program is left incomplete with rough sketches on the walls. A unique feature of it is its four rekha-order shrines embedded into its four corners. They do not serve any purpose apart from aesthetics. Jagamohana with its four corner temples may reflect the panchayatana design, however the latter has all the temples functional. Another unusual feature is that its narrow entrance door on the eastern side has no room left for dvarpalas. Donaldson6 suggests that, probably, the naga which is now housed inside was originally planned to be placed at the entrance serving dvarpalas. Inside the jagamohana are placed five loose sculptures, Ganesha, Narasimha, Parvati, Mahishasuramardini and Naga.

South side of deul reflecting tri-ratha style

Deul is rectangular in plan and its bada is erected on a low platform. Pabhaga mouldings are four in number, similar to Sisireswara. As the construction is on a rectangular plan, the longer sides of it on the west, for the first time, gets five projections of similar sizes. As it has no dominating raha-paga, thus we cannot truly put it in pancha-ratha category, however it set the stage for the future pancha-ratha temples. The shorter sides, on the north and south, are in regular tri-ratha pattern.


Raha-niche (central niche) on the south has an image of Parvati standing in tribhanga-mudra. The corresponding niche on the north has an image of eight-armed Mahishasuramardini. The central recess on the west side has Ardhanareeswara in tribhanga-mudra. Kanika-niches, on all sides, have alasya-kanyas (damsels). About the female icons on the western wall Donaldson writes, “The western façade in particular is one of the greatest testimonies to the sanctification and apotheosis of Woman created by the Indian sculptor”. Presence of female icons is overwhelming that on all major niches, the only examples of male figures are those in company of woman, either as lover in mithuna images or as consorts of goddess.


The recesses between the bada and gandi has some interesting images apart from regular mithuna, damsels, kapalikas and some bacchanalian themes. An interesting image among these is of Shiva in combined aspect of Bhikshatanamurti and Kankalamurti. The khakhara shikhara rises to two stories, continuing the tri-ratha plan of lateral sides and pancha-ratha of front and back sides. The north and south sides are dominated with vajra-mastakas over the raha-paga. It is composed with two chaitya-medallions, lower in rectangular shape while the upper in circular. Rectangular medallion is left empty, upper on south has an image of Lakulisa while on north has an image of Harihara. Lakulisa is shown in dharma-pravarttana-mudra and accompanied with his four disciples.

Bhikshatana + Kankala-murti


Vajra-mastaka in front

The longer pancha-ratha side on the west does not have any vajra-masatka, however the front side has a large vajra-mastaka as it is treated in tri-ratha style. The vajra-mastaka on the front has two medallions. Upper circular medallion has an twelve-armed image of Shiva as Nataraja. The lower rectangular medallion has an image of Surya riding over his chariot driven by seven horses. He is accompanied with Usha and Pratyusha, on either sides, shown shooting arrows. Aruna, the charioteer of Surya, is shown seated holding the reins.


The sanctum doorway has female dvarpalas. They are standing with one leg crossed and holding fly-whisk, very similar to the famous Ratnagiri doorway. This has led few scholars to suggest Buddhist influence coming from the artist-guild employed earlier on Ratnagiri monastery. The sanctum is extremely dark, appropriate for Kapalik rituals. This sanctum differ from others in the manner that it has various images installed around its internal sides. There are fifteen niches in total. Starting from eastern side, we find ashta-matrikas preceded by Virabhadra and followed by Ganesha. Usually the matrikas are shown in the group of seven, but here we find a group of eight matrikas. Keeping aside the regular seven matrikas, the eighth matrika may be identified with Shivaduti as proposed by Panigrahi. She is said to be a benevolent aspect of Chamunda. She is shown seated in lalitasana, holding a trident, lotus in her two hands.


Varahi is shown seated in ardhaparyanka-mudra holding a fish. Donaldson7 mentions that fish is a special attribute which is only found on Orissan Varahi images. In all the Brahmanical texts, fish is nowhere mentioned as an attribute associated with Varahi iconography. However, in Orissa, it is a standard cognizance, always shown with Varahi even if she is shown with two hands. Varahi Tantra, an unedited Sanskrit test in Oriya script, mentions five different forms of Varahi. Matsya-Varahi is on form among these five. She is said to carry pot and a fish. Fish is also mentioned as a cognizance of Varahi in the Dharmadhatuvagisvara-mandala of the Buddhist text Nispannayogavali.

Orissan motif

In the center of the back wall is placed Chamunda, shown seated in ardhaparyanka-mudra. It is larger than other images suggesting she is the presiding deity of the shrine. She is shown with eight hands with finger of her one hand in her mouth in carccika-mudra. To the left of Ganesha are images of five gods. Bhairava is shown with urdhvalinga, in skeleton body with offerings of human heads around him. Donaldson8 identifies him as Atiriktanga Bhairava. Panigrahi refers this Bhairava image as the most hideous and terrific form that human imagination ever conceive. Next to him is an unidentified deity seated in ardhaparyanka mode holding a lotus and a vase. As he has a pouch which could be a money-bag, Donaldson9 prefers to identify him with Kubera. Next comes Varaha holding a kuthara (axe) and kapala. Inclusion of Varaha holding a kapala is an interesting feature of this temple and kapalika rituals. Next to Varaha is another male deity seated in padmasana under a serpent-hood. Panigrahi10 identifies him as Amoghasiddhi, suggesting Buddhist influence but Donaldson goes with a naga king. The last niche has a six-armed Shiva as Gajasamharamurti, where Shiva is shown with sunken belly and killing Gajasura with a knife.

Gaja-kranta motif

Donaldson mentions that the images to the left of Ganesha are specifically quite terrifying and suggests tantric nature of the shrine. Human sacrifices were part of the rituals are further supported by frequent representation of the same in the sanctum images and remains of a yupa (sacrificial pillar) in front of the jagamohana.

Next – Mahamaya Temple

1 Donaldson, T E (1985). Hindu Temple Art of Orissa. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9789004071742. p 95
2 Ganguly, M M (1912). Orissa and her Remains. Thacker Spink & Co. Kolkata. p 134
3 Panigrahi, K C (1961). Archaeological Remains at Bhubaneswar. Kitab Mahal. Cuttack. p 233
4 Panigrahi, K C (1961). Archaeological Remains at Bhubaneswar. Kitab Mahal. Cuttack. p 234
5 Dora, Jayanti (2002). Iconography: With Special Reference to the Iconography of “Shakta” Deities of “Vaital” Temple, Bhubaneswar published in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 63. pp. 1224-1232
6 Donaldson, T E (1985). Hindu Temple Art of Orissa. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9789004071742. p 99
7 Donaldson, T E (1995). Orissan Images of Vārāhī, Oḍḍiyāna Mārīcī, and Related Sow-Faced Goddesses published in Artibus Asiae, Vol. 55, No. 1/2. pp. 155-182
8 Donaldson, T E (2002). Tantra and Sakta Art of Orissa, vol I. D K Printworld. New Delhi.  p 109
9 Donaldson, T E (1985). Hindu Temple Art of Orissa. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9789004071742. p 101
10 Panigrahi, K C (1961). Archaeological Remains at Bhubaneswar. Kitab Mahal. Cuttack. p 80