Glimpses of Kalinga Temple Architecture

India is a holy land where there are so many temple towns. But, only a few of those towns would have temples in their original forms. And many of those few towns are located in Odisha. Yes, Odisha has hundreds of such ancient temples that have retained their originality. The stars in the sky could be counted, but not the temples of this region.

The temples of Odisha are not merely religious sites; they are architectural marvels, magnificent monuments, and the center for interesting iconography. Hence, the region has the capability to attract all sorts of people, such as devotees, tourists, art lovers, heritage enthusiasts and historians.

Odisha, rightly called the land of temples, has monuments dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 16th century CE. The Hindu Temple architecture can be broadly classified into three styles namely Nagara, Vesara and Dravida. The style of temple architecture followed here is called as Kalinga. It is a sub school developed under the Nagara style. The thousand years of continuous temple building activity has ensured that the Kalinga style has a lot of unique features that cannot be found anywhere else.

Parasuramesvara Temple

The Odisha temples have three orders: Rekha, Pidha and Khakhara. The sanctum and the surmounting curvilinear spire are called the Deul. It is of the Rekha style. The frontal mandapa is called the Jagamohana. It is of the Pidha style. The Pidha style is similar to a pyramidal shape, with the tiers sitting one upon the other. A fully developed layout of Odisha temple consists of two more parts, Nata mandira, and Bhoga mandira.

Initial Period - Parasuramesvara Temple

The Ashokan edicts and the elephant statue at Dhauli belong to the 3rd century BCE. The caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri, which are the works of Kharavela, the most powerful emperor of Odisha, belong to the 1st century BCE. After this, we do not have evidence of any monuments for the next 400 years or so. We currently have the temples only from the 6th century CE.

Scholars have categorized the temple-building activities from the 6th century CE to the 9th century CE as the Initial Period. Most temples in this period were built by the Shailodbhavas and the Bhaumakaras.

Parasuramesvara Temple

Parasuramesvara Temple in Bhubaneswar is the best-preserved specimen of the initial period of Odisha temples. This temple is so beautiful that people might laugh at you if you claim to have visited Odisha without visiting this.

Parasuramesvara Temple

It was built by the Shailodbhavas in the first half of the 7th century CE. The most striking feature of the structure is the Jagmohana. It does not have the usually stepped pyramid roof like the other temples of Odisha. Instead, it is rectangular, with the terraced roof supported by rows of pillars. This style of early Kalinga architecture is unique as it is not found in any other surviving temple. Only in the later period, the Jagmohanas started having Pidha-type roofs.

Parasuramesvara Temple

The segment on the outer surface of the structure is called Ratha. The vimanas/sanctums of the initial period temples had either single or three projections; hence they are called Eka Ratha and Tri Rathas, respectively. Parasuramesvara Temple, one of the oldest temples, follows this style. It is a Tri Ratha temple.

Parasuramesvara Temple

You can observe that most of the temples in this region have a Navagraha panel on the lintel over the entrance. This temple, too, has a Navagraha panel. However, this being an initial period temple, it has only eight planets instead of nine.

Parasuramesvara Temple

This is believed to be one of the very first temples to have Sapta Matrikas. Like the other Odisha temples, the interior walls are plain, but the outer and upper parts are entirely and intricately carved without leaving even an inch. The well-carved Saptamatrikas flanked by Ganesha and Bhadra are found on the exterior walls.

Parasuramesvara Temple

The beautiful Ravana Anugraha Murti on the front façade, Lakulisa, the attractive Kartikeya seated on a peacock as the niche image, the dancing Ardhanareeswara, the divine wedding of Shiva and Uma, plenty of female figures, animal figures, semi-divine figures, the decorative motifs, amour couples and a lot more adorn the walls of the temple.

The Shatrughanesvar group of temples, Mohini Temple, and Swarnajalesvar Temple in Bhubaneswar are other good examples of the same period monuments.

Parasuramesvara Temple

Medieval Period - Muktesvara Temple

The temples built between the 9th century CE and the 11th century CE are termed the Medieval Period Temples. They were constructed by the later Bhaumakaras and Somavamshis.

The Muktesvara Temple in Bhubaneswar is the best example of the medieval period structure. It was constructed towards the end of the 10th century by Yayati I, the Somavamshi King. Even if you have not visited any other temple in Odisha except this one, you can still claim that your visit to Odisha is complete. The visit to this site alone gives us a feeling of accomplishment. It is truly the Gem of Odisha Architecture.

Muktesvara Temple

The Vimana is Pancha Ratha, as per the style followed in medieval times. It is one of the very first temples to have this style, which was probably followed in the other temples of this period. The Jagmohana has a Pidha-type roof.

Muktesvara Temple

The ornamental gateway, called Torana, is the most striking feature. It is unique and cannot be found in any other temple. It looks magnificent, with two massive columns and a highly decorated and rounded arch. The carved ceiling of the Jagmohana is another unusual feature of the site.
The natural joining of the sanctums with the Jagmohanas was introduced in the medieval period and can be clearly seen in this temple. Similarly, the pilasters with Naga figures and the male or female riders of Vyalas are seen in large numbers on the exterior walls. They are all newly added features of this period.

The doorway's lintel has Gaja Lakshmi, and the Navagraha panel is found above her. Notably, the Navagraha panels have all nine planets.

Mature Phase - Lingaraja Temple 

The architecture that evolved between the 11th and 13th centuries is considered the Mature Phase. The later Somavamshis and the Gangas were the builders of the monuments in this period.

You might have seen the city of temples or the village of temples. Have you ever seen the temple of temples? Come, explore and fall in love with the magnificent Lingaraja Temple. There are more than 150 temples and shrines located within the complex of Lingaraja. The main temple has the sanctum, Jagmohana, Nata Mandira and Bhoga Mandapa, everything that is required for a mature phase Kalinga temple architecture.

Lingaraja Temple

The Rekha-type Vimana rises up to 180 feet. The Bhoga Mandapa, Nata Mandira, and Jagmohana have pyramidal roofs. All of them are Pancha Ratha on the plan. The front façade of the Jagmohana is decorated with perforated windows. The niche deities (Parsvadevtas) are more prominent and have separate temple-like structures called Nisha shrines.

The exterior walls and the pyramidal roofs are full of architectural designs and sculptures such as Naga and Nagini pilasters, balustrade windows, Vajra Mundi niches, miniature temples called Anga Sikharas, scroll works, erotic images, various deities and humans, and the depiction of several Puranic scenes. The sculptures of the projected lions (Udyota Simha) and the Vahana Stambha are part of the Mature Phase architecture features in this temple.

Puri Jagannatha Temple and the great Sun Temple of Konark are fine examples of the Mature Phase.

The final Phase of the Odisha temple architecture is between the 14th century CE and the 16th century CE. The temples in this period were primarily plain and simple. The artistic features and splendor were definitely missing. Hence, this article omits that period.

Khakhara Type - Baital Temple 

As seen above, most of the temples have Rekha and Pidha structures. It is scarce to find Khakhara order structures. It is altogether a different style that resembles the Gopurams of Dravidian temples. Baital Deula Temple, located on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, is a fine example of this style.
The 8th-century tantric cult temple has a rectangular Vimana with a semi-cylindrical shape roof. It has pilasters instead of projections (Rathas). The Jagmohana is flat-roofed. It has four miniature Rekha shrines at four corners.

The outer walls have icons of different forms of Shakti and Shiva. There are few erotic sculptures and even females (Nayikas) in different postures. Some of the most striking sculptures of the temple include Surya with his two consorts seated on the chariot driven by Aruna, ten armed Nataraja, eight armed Mahisasuramardini and Durga.


Not only the list of temples but even the architectural features and the technical terms of Kalinga temple architecture are infinite. In this article, we just saw some critical aspects and notable temples.

Happy travelling. 


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