MUKTESWARA TEMPLE

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» East India
» Orissa
Location : Bhubaneswar, Orissa
Dates Back : 950 A.D.
Presiding Deities : Lord Shiva
Architectural Style : Orissan Temple Architecture

Combining Earlier & Later Phases Of Temple Construction
The small and elegant Mukteswara temple is often referred to as the "miniature gem of Orissan architecture". The frequency with which the term 'gem' is employed will be immediately appreciated with the very first glimpse of this delicate, refined little structure.

Mukteswara Temple, OrissaIn addition to its beauty, the Mukteswara is important as a transition point between the early and later phases of the 'Kalinga' School of Temple Architecture. The builder has successfully combined many elements of the old with new designs and conceptions. Many of the innovations took root, and became essential features of all later temples. Because of this, one scholar has described the Mukteswara as "harbinger of the new culture".

Relationship Between Old & New Structures
The relationship with older structures can be immediately seen in the small size of the temple - 35 feet (11m) high at the pinnacle of the tower. At this stage, Orissan builders had not yet attempted the later colossal structures. The latticed windows of the 'Jagmohana' (porch) were probably modelled on those of the 'Parsurameswara' temple, and the octagonal compound wall seems to have been patterned on an earlier structure, which now exists only in fragmentary form.

A 'torana' (arched gateway), which was excavated in a field near Bhubaneswar in fragments, is now in the Orissa State Museum . It would seem that Mukteswara's own stunningly beautiful gateway was strongly based on this earlier example.

The Jagmohana Building
The 'Jagmohana' building has here become a structure in its own right, and has begun to show the later shape of a terraced pyramid, although the internal shape has not yet become a real square. Both buildings are now on platforms, and their component parts have become more fully accentuated.

Over the doorway to the inner sanctum, the ninth planet ('Ketu', identified by the canopied, three hooded snake) has been introduced. On the other hand, haloes, which in earlier temples delineate the human from the divine, have been removed from the cult images. In general, comparing this temple to the earlier 'Parsurameswara', you will notice an overall lightening of effect.

The developing pyramid of the 'Jagmohana' roof as well as stylistic innovations on the exterior of the tower lend a new impression of movement towards the sky, an impression which will become more and more pronounced in succeeding centuries. This is echoed in an increasing sense of elongation in sculptural decoration as well.

Mukteswara Temple, OrissaThere are a number of depictions of skeletal ascetics among the sculptural images, most of them shown in teaching or meditation poses. Some scholars have suggested that this relates to the role of the temple as a center for 'Tantric' initiation. The name 'Mukteswara' ('the Lord who bestows freedom through Yoga') might support this view. Almost all of the sculptures on the temple are wonderful.

Around the windows of the Jagmohana are monkeys engaged in a variety of humorous and lively scenes depicting popular stories from 'Panchatantra' (Indian ancient tales). The image of a mythical lion head with open jaws, flanked by attendants, over an elaborate horseshoe shaped 'Chaitya' arch, found on the southern exterior projecting wall of the tower, is one that is common on Tantric shrines, and that is found on many later Orissan temples. This is the first appearance of the image, and it is also the finest.

The Deities
On the outer face of the compound wall are niches containing a variety of divinities. These include 'Saraswati' - sitting on a lotus with two female attendants by her side, 'Ganesa' - with his attendant mouse and 'Lakulisha' - the 5th century founder of the 'Pashupata' sect of 'tantric Shaivism', who is portrayed sitting cross-legged, with two miniature ascetic figures in the triangular side panels. The fact that these wall niches include Buddhist and Jain images as well as 'Shaivite' (Hindu) ones attests once again to the synthesis which was so much a part of Orissan religious life.

The 'torana' (arched gateway) of the Mukteswara deserves special attention. Its extraordinarily beautiful sculpture includes elaborate scrolls, graceful female figures, monkeys, peacocks, and a wealth of delicate and lovely decorative detail.

On the eastern side of the temple compound is a sacred tank, and in the southwest corner is a well, which is said to cure fertility problems. Several small shrines will be noticed within the compound, many with 'lingam' inside. These were offering shrines depicting utmost faith in God for all purposes during that era.



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