Rajarani Temple

Rajarani Temple is an 11th-century Hindu temple located in Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, India. The temple is believed to have been known originally as Indreswara. It is locally known as a “love temple” because of the erotic carvings of women and couples in the temple. Rajarani Temple is built in the pancharatha style on a raised platform with two structures: a central shrine called the vimana (sanctum) with a bada (curvilinear spire) over its roof rising to a height of 18 m (59 ft), and a viewing hall called jagamohana with a pyramidal roof. The temple was constructed of dull red and yellow sandstone locally called “Rajarani”. There are no images inside the sanctum, and hence it is not associated with a specific sect of Hinduism but broadly classified as Saivite based on the niches.

Set amidst the well maintained gardens, the 11th century Rajarani Temple is famous for its sculpted figures and the successive tiers of projections rising to form its 18 m tower. The accentuating miniature replicas of itself decorate the spire, reminiscent of the temples of Khajuraho. It has a square sanctuary and its interior and exterior surfaces are so recessed that it appears circular. The ornamental deul stands diagonal to the severely plain jagamohana.

The highlight of the temple is the fine sculptures of dikpalas or guardians of the eight directions carved around the shrine. Dressed in diaphanous drapery they stand on lotuses, with their mounts below. Starting from East we encounter successively-Indra (lord of the East) holding a thunderbolt and an elephant goad, with the elephant below; the potbellied and beared Agni (southeast), god of fire, with the ram; Yama (South) holding a staff and a noose, with his vehicle the buffalo; Nirriti (southwest), the god of misery, holds a severed head and a sword above a prostrate figure; Varuna (West) holding a noose in his left hand, his vehicle is makara or the crocodile; Vayu (northwest) holding a banner and his vehicle is deer; Kubera (North) placed above seven jars of gems, he has a horse and Isana (northeast) shown with an erect phallus by the side of an emaciated figure. Of these the Agni and the Varuna are particularly impressive.

The historian M. M. Ganguly examined the Khuraprista (upper plinth), which is carved like a lotus with its petals, and described the temple as possibly dedicated to Vishnu. The names of most Shiva temples in Bhubaneswar end with “Iswara” like Parasurameswara, Brahmesvara and Mitresvara. But Rajarani Temple bears a peculiar name and contains no images of any deity inside the sanctum. There are certain features of the temple which indicates a Saivite origin such as the presence of Saiva doorkeepers: Prachanda and Chanda, Dvarapla  with jatamukha, and a garland of skulls reaching up to and a snake. K. C. Panigrahi believes that, based on the Ekamra Purana, the temple was originally called Indrevara and that it was positioned to the east of Siddheswara Temple. The image of Lakulisha, the founder of the Pasupatha sect of Saivisim, in a seated posture with yogamuthra along with his disciples, is found in the lintel of the jagamohana. Images of eight bearded ascetics are arranged on both sides of the images of Lakulisha. There are three panels on the facade of the main temple showing images of Shiva dancing with his consort Parvathi in the company of attendants playing musical instruments. A carving depicting the marriage of Shiva and Parvathi is on the western side  below the central niche. The presence of Naga and Nagini at the entrance led to a local belief that it is the king (Raja) and queen (Rani) who are associated with the temple, leading to the name Rajarani, but this belief is not accepted by historians.

The Department of Tourism of the Government of Odisha organises a Rajarani music festival at the temple every year from January 18 to 20. The temple focuses on classical music, and all three styles of classical music – Hindustani, Carnatic and Odissi – are given equal importance. Musicians from different parts of the country perform during the three-day festival. The festival was started in 2003 with the help of the Bhubaneswar Music Circle (BMC).

The Square sanctum in the temple is typical of the later temples built at Puri and Bhubaneswar while the gateway guarded by two pillars draped in snakes is plain to the extent that it appeares to be incomplete as against the ornate deul of the Rajarani Temple that also marks the advent of colossal spires. One can also know about the evolution of Kalinga School of Architecture of simply marvel at the sculptures vertically elongated as compared to the prior horizontal depictions.

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