is essentially a town of Temples and tanks, with the majestic
dominating the landscape for miles around. Though many of the shrines have
long succumbed to the destructive forces of nature, standing ones of
various sizes even now exist literally in hundreds. The overwhelming
sanctity of 'Ekamrakshetra' led the rulers and the ruled, actuated by the
hope of an eternal abode in heaven, to vie with one another in
embellishing the sacred place with temples of all dimensions.
The history of Bhubaneswar and its environs goes back much earlier than the 7th century A.D., which first witnessed the feverish zeal of temple building. It is one of the few places in India, which have the rare distinction of having archaeological remains almost from the dawn of the historical period down to the end of the Hindu rule.
The Ashokan Rock-Edicts
At Dhauli , 8-km, south of Bhubaneswar, one come across one of the earliest inscribed records of India-a set of edicts of the great emperor Ashoka (circa 272-36 B.C.) of the Mauryan dynasty. Incised on a rock with the sculptured forepart of an elephant at the top, it contains eleven out of the well-known set of Fourteen Rock-edicts found on the confines of his empire.
The omission of the Thirteenth Edict here, as also at Jaugada (District Ganjam), both in ancient Kalinga, is obviously deliberate, as that Edict describes pithily the emperor's conquest of Kalinga, involving a great carnage, captivity and misery of the people. This event was the turning-point in the career of Ashoka, who henceforward, gave up his ambition of 'Dig-Vijaya' (military conquest) in favour of 'Dharma-Vijaya' (spiritual conquest).
In place of the Eleventh, Twelfth and thirteenth Edicts, two special Edicts, known as Separate Rock-Edicts, have been introduced: they are conciliatory in tone, meant for the pacification of the newly-conquered people.
The forepart of the elephant, about 1.22 m. high, carved out of live rock, symbolizes Budha, the 'best of elephants', as in this form the great preacher was believed to have entered his mother's body. The animal, the earliest sculpture in Orissa, though lacking in the characteristic Mauryan polish, due apparently to the inferior quality of the rock, is noted for its dynamic naturalism plastic treatment of bulky volume and dignified bearing.
Though the centre of gravity shifted to Bhubaneswar proper in about the 7th century A.D., the neighbourhood of Dhauli was not entirely deserted, as is testified not only by an inscription, recording the construction of a 'Matha' in the reign of the 'Bhauma-Kara' king 'Santikara', in a small cave excavated on the face of a hill to the north-west of Ashoka's edicts, and the ruins of a temple, built also during the Bhauma-Kara period on the top of the same hill, but also by the existence of a few the medieval temples at the foot of the Dhauli hill on the bank of the Daya.
From the Separate Rock-Edicts of Ashoka it appears that Tosali was a viceregal seat during his time. Though excavation in the immediate vicinity of the inscription has failed to yield anything substantial, extensive ruins of a fortified town have been unearthed at Sisupalgarh, 5-km. North-east of Dhauli and 2½-km southeast of Bhubaneswar, on the left side of the Bhubaneswar-Puri road.
Excavation here revealed that the site had been in occupation from the beginning of the 3rd century B. C. To the middle of the 4th century A.D. and that its defences had been erected at the beginning of the second century B. C. The layout of the city, roughly square on plan, protected on all sides by a rampart, each of its sides over a kilometre long and pierced with two elaborate gateways, is suggestive of a well-developed civil and military architecture. The streamlet 'Gangua' (ancient 'Gandhavati'), flowing all around the rampart, served as a natural moat with a perennial supply of water.
Though documentary evidence in favour of the identification of the Maurya headquarters of Tosali with Sisupalgarh is wanting, the possibility of the identification cannot be ruled out in view of the latter containing antiquities that go back to the Maurya age.
Stronger evidence exists for Sisuupalgarh being the site of 'Kalinga-nagara', the capital of the 'Chedi' kings of the Mahameghavahana family (second-first century B.C.), during whose time Kalinga was again an independent kingdom, free from the yoke of Magadha. The Hathi-gumpha inscription in the Udayagiri hill, 10-km northwest of Sisupalgarh of Kharavela (1st century B.C.) of this dynasty, while furnishing details of his eventful career, credits him with the repairs to the gates, walls and houses of the capital devastated by a cyclone.
Now there is no fortified town of the period other than Sisupalgarh in the neighourhood of the Udayagiri hill. Further, the excavation at Sisupalgarh actually revealed a collapse of and subsequent repairs to its western gateway.
Influence Of Jainism
Kharavela was a powerful ruler and launched Kalinga on a career of conquest. He espoused the cause of Jainism , which was the established religion in Kalinga even before the rise of the Mauryas, and brought back a Jain cult-object long taken away by the 'Nandas', the immediate predecessors of the Mauryas. Thus, under the royal patronage of the Chedis the Udayagiri and Khandagiri hills became a strong Jaina centre.
Though Buddhism declined in Bhubaneswar with the growing influence of the Saiva Pasupata sect, Jainism maintained its hold on these two hills even in the days of the Bhuama-Kara and Somavamsi kings as attested by the inscribed records thereon.
The history of Bhubaneswar following Kharavela and preceding the rise of the 'Sailodbhavas' in about the seventh century A.D. is extremely obscure. Fortunately, it is not so obscure in the field of archaeology. As already noted, Sisupalgarh continued to be in occupation till the middle of the fourth century A.D. the finds from the site include the Kushana and imitation Kushana coins, clay 'bullae' imitating Roman coins and a unique gold piece having on the obverse a late Kushana motif with legends in characters of the 3rd century A.D. and on the reverse a Roman head with a Roman legend.
Roman contacts of Sisupalgarh are thus unmistakable. To the early centuries of the Christian era also belong a few heavy 'Yaksha' and 'Naga' statues, specimens of which are exhibited in the Orissa State Museum. One life-sized pot-bellied Naga and two 'Nagi' sculptures can be seen under worship in the village of Kapilprasad, 3 ¼-km. South of Bhubaneswar.
Standing against serpent-coils with a five hooded canopy above their heads and decked in heavy ornaments, these freestanding statues, representing folk-divinitiesm, share with other similar figures from different parts of north India crude and primitive characteristics.
Though one cannot definitely assign any temple of Bhubaneswar to the Gupta age, which saw the emergence of the characteristics of India temple-types, as there exists no specimen of the initial formative stage, still faltering due to an insufficient technique, a few architectural fragments and sculptures- the latter mostly hieratic divinities like Uma-Mahesvara, Kartikeya, Ganesa and Parvati- recall the Gupta art-idiom. These pieces can sometimes be seen lying in the compounds of temples and more often re-utilized in later temples. But it is difficult to be certain about their date in view of the persistence, in Orissa, of the Gupta art-idiom even in the post-Gupta period.
Yet, the sporadic finds of these detached sculptures and architectural pieces are inadequate to bridge the gulf of six centuries following the Chedi supremacy. When the pall of obscurity is lifted, the land fell under the spell of Saivism. Its architects had given a distinct turn to the form of the temples as evolved during the Gupta age and were already on the way towards developing the north Indian temple-type known as "Nagara" in the 'Silpa-Sastras' or canonical texts on architecture, along their own lines- investing it with such distinctive peculiarities as ultimately won for it a separate recognition under the name of the Kalinga Order. Henceforward, art and architecture with a few exceptions were at the absolute service of Saiva and Sakta cults till the ingress of Vaishnavism in the 13th century A.D.
Though there may be some truth in the tradition recorded in Sanskrit texts like the Ekamra-Purana that the Gauda king sasanka, a staunch devotee of Siva, sho, according to epigraphical sources, conquered parts of Orissa including Kongoda in the first quarter of the 7th century A.D., built the first quarter of the 7th century A.D., built the first Saiva temple at the site of Tribhuvanesvara, the particular sect which brought about transformation in the religion of the people and gave an impetus to temple-building was the Pasupata sect, of which Lakulisa, a Saiva teacher, was the organizer. The earlier temples of Bhubaneswar teem with the representations of this deified teacher.
By the 5th century A.D. the sect seems to have established itself in the Bhubaneswar region. The religion it had to combat was Buddhism , which seems to have been the prevailing faith at Bhubaneswar when it came to the scene. This accounts for the great resemblance of the figure of Lakulisa with that of Buddha: but for the lakuta (staff) the former would easily be identified with the latter.
The earliest group of the extant temples, of which the Parasuramesvara temple is the best preserved, was most probably built during the rule of the Sailodbhavas who, in the first quarter of the 7th century A.D., were feudatories to the Gauda king Sasanka, but soon after A.D. 619, the date of the Ganjam plates of Sasanka, declared independence under Madhavaraja II.
Though no temple bears any inscription dated in the reign of any of the Bhauma-Kara rulers who followed the Sailodbhavas, it is clear from the extant temples that the temple-building activity continued unabated during their long rule. The Bhauma-Karas were succeeded by the Somavamsis.
The building activity was in full swing also under the Gangas, who brought an end to the rule of the Somavamsis in about the beginning of the 12th twelfth century. One of the inscriptions on a wall of the jagamahana of the Lingaraja temple records the grant by the Ganga king Anantvarman Chodaganga (A.D. 1078-1150) of a village for the maintenance of a lamp in the temple of Krittivasas (original name of Lingaraja) in A.D. 1114-15, presupposing thereby not only the existence of the Lingaraja temple but Chodaganga's conquest of Bhubaneswar before that date.
The impact of Vaishnavism, which rose to prominence during the Ganga supremacy, left its imprint not only on the second temple, the only important Vaishnava temple at Bhubaneswar, but also on the personification of the presiding deity of the Lingaraja temple as the combined manifestation of Hari and Hara. That Saivism had to compromise with Vaishnavism is also apparent in the introduction of a number of Vaishnavaq rites in the worship of Lingaraja. Further, a figure of Garuda found place by the side of the bull on the votive column in front of the bhoga-mandapa of the temple.
The rule of the Suryavamsi Gajapatis, who supplanted the Gangas in the 15th century A.D., is one of retrogression in the sphere of art and architecture at Bhubaneswar. The southern side of the ruined porch leading to the 'Kapali-Matha' by the side of the 'Papanasini tank' has a panel of elephant-riders with an inscribed label mentioning the commander-in-chief of Kapilendra (circa a.D. 1435-70), the founder of the Gajapati dynasty. It is likely that some temples like the Varunesvara on the bank of the Papanasini tank were built during the reign of the Gajapatis. These temples, together with the porch in question, are devoid of any artistic merit.