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Durga, Vaital Deul, Bhubaneswar

State Museum, Bhubaneswar

The Orissa State Museum was started in 1932 as a collection of archeological treasures at Ravenshaw College in Cuttack by the historians. This initial collection of sculptures, terracotta, numismatics, copper plates and specimens of fine arts was organized and classified over the next few years till 1947-48 when the museum was shifted to the new state capital of Bhubaneshwar. Later, in 1957, the collection was expanded and moved to a new building. Since then the collection has grown to include epigraphs,armoury objects,lithic and bronze age tools,natural history and anthropological specimens,palmleaf manuscripts,traditional art objects, mining and geological treasures,folk and tribal musical instruments and a variety of handicrafts. Branch museums were established at places like Kiching, Baripada, Balasore, Salipur, Dhenkanal, Berhampur, Puri, Jeypore, Belkhandi and Khariar.

Buddha and Bodhisattvas

The first sculpture hall has Buddhist and Jain images, arranged chronologically. Among the first group of 7th century Buddhist images, the most impressive is an eight-handed Tara seated in padmasana. The arch on its prabhavali is flanked by the Dhyani Buddhas interspersed with flying dieties. Below the lotus pedestal is a double frieze of sculpture. The lower tier shows stupa worship, the upper has lotus circles with humans and animals. A very popular diety, Tara was worshipped in many forms, including ones in which she is the shakti of a Bodhisattva. Her primary function is to help us cross safely from birth to death. Another striking piece, more for its scale than intricacy, is an immense sandstone Buddha seated in the bhumisparsha mudra.

There are several images of Manjushri, the earliest worshipped Bodhisattvas. He is the Bodhisattva of wisdom and confers upon the worshipper memory, intelligence and eloquence. The diety is shown here with strands of flowing hair, seated on a padmasana. The prabhavali has flying dieties at the top while the lotus pedestal has gajasimhas on either side of the base. In one unusual sculpture, the right hand of the diety, carved fully in the round and holding a lotus stalk, rests on the pedestal behind his folded right leg and out of direct view. Vajrapani, another Bodhisattva who is often equated with Indra is rarer in this collection. He is shown standing on a lotus. He holds a lotus stalk in the right hand and wears a well-modeled jatamukuta headdress. His left hand rests on the forehead of a four-armed supplicant.

An unusual image is marked Amoghasiddhi, who is the last of the five Dhyani Buddhas. Amoghasiddhi represents the philosophical concept of sanskara, literally, composition and refinement in reference to the soul. This seated Buddha image has a large serpent hood with the coils sculpted below. The base panel has a dharma-chakra flanked by deer and lions. The most remarkable piece in this collection is a seated Padmapani image flanked by attendants. The image is placed within a deep niche. Its prabhavali is filled with unusually dense foliage with humans, birds and monkeys are placed in various positions among the leaves. Above it is a panel of the five Dhyani Buddhas.


Rishabhanatha images are most common in the Jain sculpture. He is show standing on a lotus pedestal, flanked by fly-whisk bearers at the base. The images are covered by projecting chhatris. Above the chauri-bearers are vertical rows of the ashtagrahas. Pairs of flying dieties flank the top of the image. The base panel has a framed bull (risabha) by which this Jina is identified. The bull is flanked by lions and rows of supplicants.

Parshvanatha images show the Jina standing on a lotus pedestal. A serpent hood identifying this Jina, shelters the image with a mass of serpent coils sculpted in relief behind it. The image is flanked by fly-whisk bearers. Images of heads emerge to play the drums at the top above the flying musicians. The base panel has lions and seated dieties with serpent hoods.

A group of images in the middle of the hall include a granite Chandranatha. This Jina is seated and is characterized by a large halo on the prabhavali. The base panel has Soma, the moon-god, flanked by lions. The image itself is flanked by flying celestials with elephants above. Also in this group is a standing Parshvanatha flanked by double tiers of standing Jinas.

Vishnu and Avataras

The next hall has Vaishnavite sculpture. Immediately to the left of the entrance is a remarkable 7th century Kaliya Mardan panel. Krishna is shown trampling the tail of a hooded Naga and admonishing him with raised finger. The Naga and two hooded Naginis in anjalimudra are sculpted in a row at the other end of the panel. Wavy lines of water surround the Nagas above and below. To the left of Krishna is a fruit tree with a wide trunk, beside which is an image of Balarama. The entire composition is remarkably well-preserved and exhibits an exceptional vitality and movement.

In the same row is a small but intricately carved Varaha. The diety, shown with delicately modeled flaming hair and sheltered by an open lotus, holds up Bhudevi, also on a lotus pedestal, gently with his arm. Below are supplicating Naginis and a trampled Naga, shown completely horizontal, instead of the more common partly horizontal posture.

Of the portrait sculptures, perhaps the most beautiful is a large image of Krishna playing the flute. Unlike most Krishna depictions, this image emphasizes Krishna in a dual role, as an avatar of Vishnu as well as the divine cowherd. While two hands play the flute, two others hold the sankha and chakra, and the dashavataras surround the image. Along the prabhavali are Vamana, Parasurama, Rama and Buddha. Flanking Krishna's torso are images of Narasimha (left) and Kalki (right) both placed on projecting pedestals. The base panel has matsya (right), kurma (centre) and varaha (left), with the space between filled with a procession of cows. Large images of Lakshmi and Saraswati are on each side of Krishna's feet. Garuda is also positioned at Krishna's feet, on the centre-left.

Several Gopinatha images show Krishna as a cowherd and consort of the gopinis. These images have an elaborate and intricately carved canopy of leaves and branches, below which dancers and musicians are positioned along an arch on the prabhavali. Next to Krishna's feet are double tiers of gopinis looking up at him adoringly. The base panel shows a procession of cows, also looking up at the image. Another vibrant narrative panel is of the Vastraharana scene. A large tree at the centre is flanked on each side by triple rows of naked women standing in wavy lines of water that shows fish, ducks, crocodiles and snakes. Above, the tree is composed of stem circles each containing a single image, of Krishna, birds and monkeys.


Saivite sculpture comprises the largest section in the Museum. The Pasupata cult, which reached Bhubaneswar in the 8th century, inspired its greatest architecture and sculpture. Of the more than fifty medieval temples that survive in Bhubaneswar, all are Saivite, except one, the Ananta Vasudeva. The two largest temples in Orissa, the Jagannatha temple at Puri and the Sun Temple at Konark, however, are dedicated not to Siva but to Vishnu and Surya respectively. There is a row of Saivite sculpture along the left wall of the entrance foyer. The most interesting in this group is the first image, a seated Manasa with serpent hood and surrounded by flames. She holds a damaru, trisula, kapala and sarpa.

The main collection in the hall, starts with several 7th century Bhairava images in sandstone. These small, nearly identical, rough-cut images of the flame-haired form of Siva were probably used as subsidiary images on the temple walls. Next to these is an elaborate 7th century Lakulisa panel. Lakulisa, the saint-founder of the Pasupata sect, was born in Gujarat around the 1st century CE and soon became the most important Saiva saint. Early Bhubanesvara temples abound in Lakulisa images, many of which closely resemble earlier images of the Buddha. In this square panel, Lakulisa is seated on a lotus holding a mace. Lotus stalks rise on either side of him, on which are seated dieties holding books. Below the lotus are a row of kneeling figures, flanked by pilasters with kumbha bases and capitals. A panel below this has a row of lions and elephants.

Another group of almost identical 7th century images are of Ganesa portrayed in low relief within a square. Wearing an elaborate jatamukuta, the god is shown holding an akshamala, broken tusk, food-bowl and ankusa. The base panel has kumbhas on the sides, and a bowl with sweets at the centre. Another striking panel is of the Ekapada form of Siva (Ajaikapada Bhairava). The urdhavanga murti holding Siva symbols and trampling a prostrate human, is flanked by dvarpalaks also marked with Siva attributes. Another large sandstone composition shows an eight-handed, urdhavanga image of Nataraja with Ganesa on the left. To the right is a seated image of Parvati, embraced by Siva. This is one of several examples where the Orissan sculptor has been forced to depict a rather elaborate scene is a geometrically defined space. His achievement, given the constraints, is usually remarkable. A Mahishamardhini image on the south raha paga niche of the Vaital Deul is another brilliant example.


This style is continued in a brilliant 9th century Mahishamardhini image from Dharamsala. The diety is shown with 12 hands of which one hand holds down Mahisasura, one hand spears him, while another plunges a dagger in his neck. Mahisa, unusually fierce in this image, strangles the Durga's lion with one hand while with another he plunges a dagger into her thigh. The faces, both of Durga and Mahisasura, are serene and detached and their eyes look away from the violence.

Along one wall are four, large chlorite Matrika sculptures from Dharmasala, all shown seated in alasamudra. The images are very well-preserved and the sculpture is inspired. The most spectacular image is of Chamunda. The sculpting of the flaming hair, the emaciated face and torso, including detailed veins, is exceptional. Wearing a skull-garland and holding a severed head and a skull-bowl, the diety sits on a prostrate figure whose feet are being nibbled on by mice.

In a separate section is a collection of images of subsidiary dieties that are found in both Vishnu and Siva temples. An intact group of chlorite images depicting Ganesa and the Ashtadikpalas are placed at the centre of the hall. These were found buried near the Rajarani temple and are in almost perfect condition, showing the exceptional level of precision in modeling and detail. Other images are of Ganga and Yamuna, mandira-charinis, shalabhanjikas, gajasimhas, and yakshas. A seated Kubera image is shown with pots containing jewels and riches in the base panel and flanking the prabhavali.

Patachitra and Bronze

The museum's collection of Patachitra paintings is housed in a room in the Manuscripts and Paintings section. The walls of this small room are filled with many large and intricate paintings. Most of the paintings have an elaborate portrait image of a deity at the centre while a series of square panels surrounding it narrate the story (lila) of the deity. These include paintings of Narasimha, Mahisamardhini, a six-headed Ganesa, Krishna and Radha (with Dashavatara panels), Ravananugraha, Mathura Vijaya, and the Gita with Bhagavat-Purana stories.

A creation of this school is the image of the Nabagunjana, a mythical composite-creature. It has the tail of a serpent, the head of a peacock, the hump of a bull and its legs are of an elephant, a cow, and a leopard. The fourth limb is a human hand holding the sudarshana chakra, signifying that the Nabagunjana is an incarnation of Vishnu. At the base of the painting, Rama and Lakshmana are shown praying to the figure. The Patachitra painters relished, and excelled at, the high degree of ornamentation and complex synthesis required for such composite images. Other paintings on similar lines are the Kandarpa-Hasti and the Kandarpa-Ratha. These are images of an elephant and a temple-chariot, respectively, but composed entirely of human figures.

The other major theme in Patachitra is the Jagannatha. One painting, the first in the gallery, shows Balaram, Subhadra, and Jagannatha at the centre, with images of the Temple at Puri surrounding it. A second painting has panels showing the different forms (vesha) of Jagannatha, such as the Naga-vesha and Bali-Vamana-vesha.

The bronze collection includes several small, early-era bronze pieces from Banapur representing a wide range of dieties from the Buddhist pantheon. Surrounding this are several large unmarked pieces of a later date. An unusual image is of Balarama and Krishna standing with hands on each others shoulders and holding birds.

Recent Art

A rarely-visited room at one end of the museum houses more recent artwork. The most remarkable pieces here are two large soapstone images, of Parvati and Satyanarayana, both very intricately carved. Some of the subtle movement, grace, and sensuousness of the ancient art is missing in this recent work, but the level of detail is unmatched. In her four hands Parvati holds the lotus-stalk, sarpa, ankusa, and aksamala. The base panel has triple rows of lotuses with stalks and foliage. On either side of Parvati are attendants in two tiers holding lotuses and pots. The prabhavali is particularly elaborate. It is surmounted by a kirtimukha and is flanked by flying dieties. A panel of lotus-circles containing images of animals is on the face of the prabhavali arch, while above it along the edge are small figures of dancing musicians, carved in the round. The space between the arch and the central image is filled with square lattice-work.

Inside another glass-case is a copy of a Konarak chariot-wheel. The wheel spokes have dashavatara images with Kalki at the axle-centre. The rim has lotus-stalk circles containing images of animals. Panels above and below the wheel have elephant processions. Behind the wheel are the double tiers of projections of the temple wall. These have images of nagas, shalabhanjikas, gajasimhas, mithunas, and ganas. Another panel above the entire composition has a procession of horses and palanquins.

Among the woodwork in this room are two painted wooden palanquin doors. Each panel of the doors have a narrative episode from Krishna's life painted in the abstract, angular style of the Patachitra. An arched wooden frame surrounding these panels is painted with a procession of horses and cows.

Kolkata, 2005

Photos and Text © Amit Guha