VAITAL TEMPLE

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» Orissa
Location : Bhubaneswar, Orissa
Dates Back : 800 A.D.
Architectural Style : Orissan Temple Architecture
Presiding Deity : Chamunda Devi

The Parsurameswara and Mukteswara temples represent clear steps in the development of the major Kalinga style of Orissan temple architecture. The Vaital Temple represents an entirely different line. It belongs to the "Khakhara" order (a subdivision of the Kalinga school of architecture), which was used for shrines devoted to tantric cults.

Vaital Duel Temple, OrissaThe 'deul' (tower) of the temple is the most striking difference. It is rectangular in shape, positioned at a right angle to the 'Jagmohana' (porch). The roof vault is derived from earlier freestanding buildings made of wood and thatch. The horseshoe-shape of the 'Chaitya' arch became an enduring motif, turning up not only in actual structures, such as the Vaital Temple, but frequently in sculptural decoration.

On the Vaital Temple, the outer surface of the vault is absolutely plain, in contrast with the heavy sculptural embellishment of every other existing Orissan temple tower. The shape of the more common Temple form has not been ignored, however; it has been carefully inserted, in miniature form, on the four corners of the Vaital Temple's 'Jagmohana' (porch).

A Proficient Sculptural Embellishment
A brief look at the Vaital Temple will show an extremely accomplished style of sculptural decoration. A slightly closer look will reveal some of the darker facets of the sculpture's content, and the temple's nature. The Tantric worship, which combined elements from certain sects of both Buddhism and Hinduism, is centered on the worship of 'Shakti', the female life force.

It developed elaborate rituals involving magic spells, secret rituals and sacrificial offerings. The interior of the Vaital Temple's inner sanctum is almost completely dark, in keeping with the esoteric rites believed to have been performed there.

The Deities
The temple deity of 'Chamunda' (tantric form of the Hindu goddess Durga) is dimly visible behind her grille, portrayed with a garland of skulls around her neck, seated on a corpse, flanked by an owl and a jackal. Her emaciated body, sunken eyes, and shrunken belly are quite remarkable, and even the usually staid and unflappable Archaeological Survey of India, in their guide to Bhubaneswar , cannot help but remarking that she displays the 'most terrible aspect conceivable'.

The 15 niches, which adorn the interior wall around her, are also filled with a series of singularly strange images. In front of the entrance to the sanctum is a 'four faced' 'linga' adorned with unusual carvings. Next to it is a post, to which sacrificial offerings were tied. The entire atmosphere is, in the words of one specialist, disquieting.

On the outer, eastern face of the tower, there is an extremely fine image of the sun god, Surya, with a sensitive and beautiful face. He is flanked by 'Usha' and 'Pratyusha', twin sisters of the dawn, while 'Aruna' drives his chariot.

A Reflection
The first erotic sculptures known in Orissan art are found here, in a sunken transitional panel on the super-structure. It has been suggested that these images, which are a sort of catalogue of positions, had real relevance to the tantric rituals of this particular temple. Once presented here, they acquired the force of convention and temple builders in later centuries may have accepted them as a standard part of the temple decoration repertoire.



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