The Orissan Architecture and its Unity

Niaranjan Patnaik and Chakrapani Pradhan

[This article is reproduced from a book The Oriya Movement authored by two Bachelor of Arts, Niranjan Patnaik and Chakrapani Pradhan, and was published in the year 1919. Niranjan Patnaik (24th Nov.1896-15th Aug.1943) was hardly twenty-three and Chakrapani Pradhan (1885-1921) thirty-four. These two youths were exercised over the distribution of the population speaking their language, that is Oriya, across regions under the control of different administrations, which they called ‘state of administrative dismemberment’. They wanted to produce a document where they could provide clinching evidences as justifications for the demand that all the Oriya speaking tracts must be put under one administration. This book came out of that effort. In their words, “We have sought not merely to catalogue the evils resulting from the present state of dismemberment and given arguments for union, but have emphasized also on what larger grounds of national well being the community deserves a distinct status.” In the article produced here the authors highlight uniqueness of Orissan architecture, visible in the architectural remains in Oriya speaking territories despite being under different administrations, as one of the justifications for the demand of union of Oriya speaking territories.- Editor ]

Orissa has been all along known as the Punya Bhumi of India; and the Oriyas feel that the sacredness and sanctity attaching to their country has been defiled by the administrative vivisection, which it has suffered at the hands of the British conquerors. In spite of the disintegrating forces which have been at work as a result of this dismemberment, a living and fundamental sense of unity has yet been fostered by all the hallowed spots and shrines scattered through the length and breadth of the country. As distinct from other parts of Bharatvarsha the land of the Oriyas presents the spectacle of a marked religious entity. The author of the article on "Orissa" in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Vol. XVll., p. 845 waxes eloquent on this aspect of the country in the following strain: "The whole of Orissa is holy ground. On the southern bank of the Baitarani shrine rises after shrine in honour of Shiva, the All Destroyer. On leaving the stream the pilgrim enters Jajpur, literally the city of sacrifice, the Head Quarters of the region of pilgrimage sacred to the wife of the All Destroyer. There is not a fiscal division in Orissa without its community of cenobites, scarcely a village without consecrated lands, and not a single ancient family that has not devoted its best acres to the gods. Every town is filled with temples, and every hamlet has its shrine. The national reverence of the Hindus for holy places has been for ages concentrated on Puri sacred to Vishnu under his title of Jagannath, the Lord of the World". Col. Kittoe in one of his writings (J.A.S.B.(Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal)) also says, "The province of Orissa boasts of more ancient temples, sacred spots and relics than any other in Hindustan‘ and though many of its more noted antiquities are well known to us, yet there is reason to believe that some (perhaps even more worthy of notice) remain hidden". Mr. M.M. Ganguly in his Orissa and Her Remains also says: "Puri has a pan-Indian influence; people from all parts of India resort to this place to worship the deity and to die perchance, being ‘lulled to their last sleep by the roar of the eternal ocean’. Puri is considered by some to be the most sacred place in India, even more sacred than Benares". Mr. R. Ronald in his Wonders of Architecture also says regarding Puri that, "it stands in the midst of a sacred country, and in this sacred town is situated the famous temple ot Juggemaut the very sight of which is said to bring a blessing upon the head of the spectator, to cure diseases and ensure paradise to those that remain upon its sacred soil….. In those ceremonies, (those relating to the Car Festival) the proud Brahmins mingle humbly with the lower classes whom they consider impure, so great is the Majesty of Juggemaut that all are equal before Him, and all social distinctions disappear in presence of his Immensity".

The sanctity with which people regard the Utkal Desa is also evident from the manner in which it is divided into kshetras or religious divisions in the Kapila Samhita. For, there, Orissa consists of the four Kshetras, Viraja Kshetra or Jajpur, Ekamra Kshetra or Bhuvaneswar; Sri Kshetra otherwise known as Purushottam Kshetra or Puri, and Arka Kshetra or Konarak. It is these holy places that the hearts of the Oriya people long after in whatever clime or country they may for the moment be situated.

This religious instinct of the people found the most suitable and ready expression in the domain of architecture, an architecture pre-eminently of a devotional character.’ The genius of the people expressed itself not in the Memorial form of architecture as in the Taj Mahal, not in the Civil as in the modern state buildings, not in the Military as in the Fort of Delhi, not in the Domestic as in the Government House at Calcutta or the palaces of the princes or the nobility, but remarkably in the Devotional type Of architecture - that is, the first of the five types of architecture as classified by Mr. Ruskin [See Seven lamps of Architecture]. It is on this account that all the monarchs of Orissa and the people whom they ruled were renowned builders of temples where was enshrined that sublime spirit of dedication to the Supreme Being, which is their national characteristic.

The monarchs both of the Kesari and the Ganga dynasties have filled the land with innumerable shrines, standing monuments of their devotion. Ward speaking of Bhubaneswar in his work on the Hindus says that it is “a place on the borders of Orissa containing six thousand temples dedicated to Siva". And Mr. Stirling also says, "lf we are to judge of its extent and populousness during the period that it formed the seat of government of the Kesari Vamsa, from the almost countless multitude of temples which are crowded within the sacred limits of panchkosi, we might pronounce it to have been in the days of its splendour one of the greatest cities which India ever saw"; and he adds that "the temple of Lingaraj at Bhubaneswar is both the finest monument of antiquity which the province contains, and likewise indisputably the most ancient. It took 43 years to build." And the temple of Jagannath, or the White Pagoda as the mariners at sea call it, built at Puri by Anangbhima Deo has cost to the country 50 lakhs of rupees, while " the Black Pagoda at Konarak built by Narsing Deo, another of the Gangavamsa kings, absorbed the revenue of not less than twelve years (see Ain-i-Akbari). Mr. M.M. Ganguly while speaking of the ancient grandeur of Konarak says: "It will be seen that the Prachi river had on its banks flourishing towns and villages containing massive temples; so Konarka by reason of its close proximity to the Prachi and by reason of its being an important Kshetra or sacred place containing the magnificent temple the world has ever seen, might be reasonably supposed to be the site of a big and prosperous town whose name reached far and wide." And Sir Richard Temple speaking in India of 1880 also says: “On the sea-shore of Orissa, stands the Black Pagoda, so called by mariners at sea who regard it as a landmark. It is a noble ruin, although what is now seen is only the vestibule of the great temple itself. There has been doubt felt by some as to whether the structure was ever completed, or after completion, sank from failure of the foundations laid in a sandy soil; it probably was completed. If finished in the same proportions and detail with which it was begun, it must have been one of the most beautiful buildings ever raised by Hindu hands. The ruin inspires sentiments tinged with melancholy standing as it does near the beach with the billowy sands surging round it and within sound of the sea waves.’’

The Orissa monarchs have carried alongside of their conquests and territorial extensions this characteristic instinct to build temples. The clearest indications of the farthest limits of such extensions on all sides are furnished by the remains of the temples built by them. The author of the "Nellore District Gazetteer" mentions that Langula Gajapati, Markat Rudra, Pratap Rudra, and Purushottam Rudra, who had their seat of Government at Cuttack, had exercised their sway over the Nellore and the Cuddapah Subahs and have constructed many pagodas, 360 of which were destroyed by Muslims and but 3 of which still survive in the village of Udayagiri, one of them being at the foot of the Udayagiri durg. The shrine at Simhachal in the Vizagpatam District was like wise built by an Oriya monarch, Langula Narasinha, and is "the most famous, richest, and the best sculptured in the Telugu country." On the north in Midnapore the Oriya influence is distinctly traceable in the majority of the old temples, as might be expected from the fact that the Oriyas held the district for several centuries. The Orissan style of architecture obtains at Garhbeta in the extreme north, at Dantan, Chandrarekhagarh in the south-west, and at Tamluk. Near Dantan there are two fine tanks, which were excavated during the period of Oriya rule. An old mosque at Ganeswar near the Kasiari outpost appears originally to have been a Hindu temple built in the time of Kapileswar Dev (1434-1469 A.D.). The Bidyadhar tank at Dantan is excavated by Bidyadhar minister of Pratap Rudra Deo and Mukund Deo of Orissa. At Egra a Siva temple was constructed by Mukund Deo. The temple of Bargabhima is of the Orissan style of architecture and is modeled after the temple of Puri. Raja Harichandan Mukund Deo was apparently in possession of the country as far north as Tribeni where a broad flight of steps leading down to the Ganges is said to have been constructed under his orders in 1568; and Tribeni on this account is held in high estimation by the people of Orissa [See Midnapur District Gazetteer]. In the Central Provinces a temple at Sihawa is said to have been built by a raja from Jagannath, and it is held by some, on the strength of an inscription on a temple to Lakshmana, that the Sirpur Dynasty is identical with the Soma Vamsa of Cuttack. And at Nagari there are remains of an old fort, and the story goes that this was the first village the Kanker family occupied when they migrated from Puri in Orissa. [See Raipur District Gazetteer by Mr.A.E.Nelson].

It will be readily seen from the above that a clear architectural unity can be noticed throughout Natural Orissa. From one end to another, the country is studded with temples and tabernacles. This is borne out by a remark of the author of the Vizagpatam District Gazetteer that, "while in Ganjam (an Oriya.district) and further north scarcely a village is found in which there is not a temple or a substantial building containing the image of Shiva or Vishnu, in Vizagpatam there is not a village in a hundred where such can be found”. This idea of architectural unity is noticeable in the purity, which is such a distinguishing feature in Orissa architecture. Dr. Rajendra Lal Mitra in his Antiquities of Orissa after examining the extant pieces of Orissan architecture according to the canons laid down in Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture has found that the art has reached perfection, and he has come to the conclusion that it is the purest and the most indigenous. He calls the Orissan temples specially lamps of Memory as in them "the feelings,.... the religion, the habits of life, and the social condition of a by gone age of the Oriya people are reflected". Similarly Mr. Fergusson in his Indian and Eastern Architecture writes: "In Orissa the style is perfectly pure, being unmixed with any other, and thus forms one of the most compact and homogenous architectural groups in India and as such of more than usual interest, and it is consequently in this province that the style can be studied to the greatest advantage". And in another connection, contrasting the design of‘ temples with the southern ones, he says: "They give a unity and purpose to the whole design, so frequently wanting in the south." Mr. Manmohan Ganguly also in his Orissa and Her Remains has likewise proved that the Orissan sub-group of Indo-Aryan style of architecture is purest in its form; and as an apology for choosing Orissa and not Bengal or any other province‘ as the scene of investigations says: "I am inclined to think that Orissa has far more glorious traditions of past history than Bengal may possibly claim, and that she occupied a more prominent place than Bengal in the hierarchy of nations." He further adds, " to a student of architecture it (Orissa) is important by reason of its being the seat of Indo-Aryan style in its purest form; here we do not notice the least vestige of foreign influence. It has maintained its native purity marvelously, being nurtured and reared on the very soil where it grew without any extraneous aid. This is really a marvel in the history of architecture, the like of which we rarely come across".

(Excerpted from The Genius of the People as Reflected in their Art and Literature, in The Oriya Movement by Two Bachelor of Arts: Niranjan Patnaik and Chakrapani Pradhan, 1919, reprinted in 1996, Bharat Bharati, Cuttack)