Carved wonder in ruins

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  • Published 19.03.14

Bhubaneswar, March 18: An ancient monument in the Niali block of Cuttack district holds a treasure trove of history.

However, this centuries-old Sobhaneswar temple has hardly been used to explore the accounts of Odisha’s past. Also, the monument faces several preservation challenges.

The temple, a 12th century heritage site, is located on the left bank of the river Prachi, a tributary of the river Mahanadi, and on the southwest side of the Niali block.

It is situated just 300 meters away from the Niali-Madhava Road. The temple is majestic in its artistic craftsmanship that is not visible at the first look owing to renovations in the past few decades. However, on stepping inside, you get to see detailed carvings on stones that reflect the times and traditions that prevailed 900 years ago.

Historians suggest that the temple was built during Ganga rule, possibly during the closing years of the reign of Anangabhima Deva-II (1190-98).

According to details of the Sobhaneswar temple documented in the archaeological section of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, many portions of the temple have been renovated such as the bada portion (lower roof of the temple). The architectural and sculptural features assign the temple to the 12th century.

“However, an inscription on the eastern wall of the jagamohana (or prayer hall in front of the sanctum sanctorum) records that the temple was built by a Nagavamsi king named Vaidyanatha, most likely a vassal of the Ganga rulers and he possibly renovated, repaired or maintained the temple after the fall of the Ganga rulers,” said historian Sadashiba Pradhan.

Built in ashlar masonry, the temple is a bright example of a Kalingan order monument and is believed to have had a nata mandir or dance hall in the past. The interiors are of made of sandstone while the compound wall is made mostly of laterite. The Vishnu and Shaivaite shrine is a protected monument of state archaeology, yet, local residents feel much needs to be done for the safe conservation of the heritage site.

“Vegetation comes up every now and then on the temple walls, while waterlogging is a bigger concern that is usually noticed during heavy rainfall every monsoon,” said Bharati Pradhan, a visitor to the temple. Indeed, many of the sculptures have lost their finesse to erosion caused by wind and water.

Officials of the state archaeology said that for chemical cleaning of the monument it would take a few years, as the process can be undertaken only after studying the construction material of a monument and preservation work done earlier. However, other issues such as water logging and restoring the defaced statues around the premises to the museum are being done.

“We maintain the temple with chemical cleaning every now and then. But one round of chemical cleaning takes three to four years sometimes. We do conduct regular cleaning of algae, moss and lichens. Since local residents brought to our notice that water logging is a major concern we are currently working on laying stones to make the floor of the temple compound uniform so as to avoid water jam,” said an official. The museum inside the compound of the temple that is a shed for loose sculptures found in the site, would also be renovated soon, he said.