6th-7th Century Post-Gupta-era Shiva Temple Discovered in Odisha: INTACH

The ruins of an ancient temple that may date back to the 6th-7th century Common Era (C.E.) have been discovered by a survey team of the Odisha chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage in Puri district. It could be one of the earliest temples of the post-Gupta period, the heritage organisation said in a press release.

A four-member survey team of the INTACH documented the ancient site at Biropurusottampur in Pipili area, around 40 km north of Puri city. The team found the structure while conducting a detailed survey of the Ratnachira valley and its monuments, the press release quoting project coordinator Anil Dhir said.

Like the Prachi river, the mythical Ratnachira is in its death throes. Legend has it that Lord Rama had drawn the river to quench Sitas thirst, using her pearl ring to chart its course, the INTACH said. The ancient river, which now runs dry for most of the year, has many myths and legends with flourishing heritage on both sides of its short stretch.

The 1,400-year-old temple, which is by the side of another middle-era Gateswar temple, is known as the Swapneswar Mahadev, the press release said. According to team member Deepak Nayak, it is in all probability an early stone temple. The region was a part of the south Toshali area of the ancient Kalinga kingdom and finds mention in copper plate inscriptions of the post-Gupta period.

The Kanasa plates of Loka Vigraha and Olasingh plates of Bhanuvardhana, issued in the 6th/7th century CE, throw light on worshiping of Maninagesvar (Shiva) and Naga Cult of the south Toshali region. Taking into account the material and style of this temple, it is evident that it was built at least 1,300-1,400 years ago, and is among the oldest intact temples in the region, the press release said.

Project Coordinator Anil Dhir said the temples ancient construction style is similar to the temples seen in the Mahendragiri hill ranges of southern Odisha. The square stone Khandolite stones blocks have no binding or cementing. They are placed one over the other in symmetry to constitute the temple wall and roof. No evidence of iron clamps has been found, Dhir said.

The neatly-chiselled blocks denote an era when Kalingan traditional temple architectural style was in its infancy. The temple is devoid of any external embellishments on both the inner and outer walls, the project coordinator said. This ancient monument is in a very precarious state and on the verge of collapse. The growth of thick vegetation on the top and the sides has caused severe damages to the ancient structure, the INTACH press release said.

The thick roots have split the stone blocks and wide cracks have developed. The rear wall is dangerously leaning backward. The ‘garbhagruha’ (sanctum sanctorum) gets flooded because of the leaks on the roof. The entire temple may crumble anytime if proper measures are not taken immediately, it added.

According to Dhir, the Ratnachira valley is a treasure house of many archaeological wonders, most of them being obscure and unknown as they have not been documented. A detailed survey is being undertaken by the team and many temples have been recorded, some of them in total ruins.

Nayak said there was no information on whether the State Archaeology or the Archaeological Survey of India had made proper surveys of the area. The Swapneswar temple has hitherto not been listed or documented.

The INTACH said it is committed to document and record all such ancient neglected monuments of the state and shall give the details to the agencies concerned, urging them to take proper conservation and preservation measures.

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