In sharp contrast with the plain unadorned interior of the
temples, their outside is embellished with profuse sculptured reliefs at
various grades, bringing into focus the achievements of the artists and
the trends of art in different ages. The reliefs may be broadly classified
(i) Hieratic deities, including 'dikpalas', with their characteristic iconographical features in conformity with the canonical prescription, which itself was not static through all ages.
(ii) Human beings in domestic scenes, acrobatic feats and solemn ritualistic worship, relaxing in music and revelry, listening to a teacher, on a pilgrimage, fighting the enemy, in amorous dalliance, attending on the superiors and on a procession, and above all the Alasa-Kanyas 'indolent damsels', with an abandon of emotions and without any serious work but in an ecstatic joy of living and vaunting their voluptuous beauty in a wide variety of postures and suggestive flexions.
(iii) Birds, beats, aquatic animals and composite and mythological figures the last including 'Nagas' and graceful 'Naga-Patnis'.
(iv) Endless patterns woven out of floral, plant, geometrical and architectural motifs.
Earlier Temple Figurines
The figures on the early temples, like the Parasuramesvara , Svarnajalesvara and Satrughnesvara group, are characterized by a homely feeling, restraint, stately repose, modesty and naivety, with a distinct predilection for story-telling, as exemplified in the marriage and marriage-procession of Shiva, Rama killing the golden deer, combat between Shiva, Rama killing the golden deer, combat between Shiva, Rama killing the golden deer, combat between Shiva, as a 'kirata', and Arjuna, Shiva receiving alms from his consort Annapurna, Ravana trying to uproot Mount Kailasa - all pervaded by an atmosphere of domesticity.
The reliefs are no doubt flattened, relatively speaking, but the soft lines and curves, bringing into relief the plumpness of limbs, present the appearance of soft rounded plasticity. The figures of divinities further have an appeal in their serene expression, detached elegance and quiet poise and are to a large extent free from the trammels of formularizations of the cult-images.
Advancements In Techniques
In the continuous line of evolution from these reliefs are the carvings and sculptures on the Vaital, Sisiresvara and Markandeyesvara temples, showing an advance in technique, depth of relief and considerable maturity in plastic sensitivity and naturalness; the reliefs are rounder and more delicate. The dignified self-composed figures of the deities with the expression of absorption are mellowed with warmth of spiritual grace and are elegant and refined.
The mastery over technique is equally evident in the treatment of other decorative motifs. Though done in low relief, these have attained a clear and sharp definition not, however, at the sacrifice of grace and beauty. Artistically, these three temples form one cognate group and are in all likelihood the products of the same school.
Aesthetic & Stylish Art
With the Rajarani , Brahmesvara and Lingaraja temples , where one meets with a great profusion of delicately-modelled urban females in various flexible and captivating poses and luxurious moods, art becomes sensuous and sophisticated, yet the appeal is immediate and overwhelming. The slim and supple figures, high in relief, emerge out of the body of the temple, the body itself often elegantly embellished with floral, vegetal and geometric motifs, and have amplitude of free movement.
Rich in the warmth of human emotions the slender and vivacious 'kanyas', conscious of their beauty and with exquisite and seductive charm, and often with an ineffable smile, are shown in various roles like fondling a child, playing on musical instruments, making her toilet, holding branches of trees or flowers, standing by the side of a door, amorous in the company of her beloved and in other actions of similar nature.
Downfall Of Creativity
The later temples, like the Ananta - Vasudeva, Sari Deul and Yamesvara, are characterized by an over ornamentation and lack of originality, the still later ones degenerating ultimately into crude forms with unimaginative decorations. The creative impulse had practically died down when the latest temples on the bank of the Papanasini tank were built.