Bhubaneswar

Vaital (Baitala) Deula Temple – Bhubaneswar

The Vaital (Baitala) Deula Temple is located 100m west of Bindhu Sagar in Bhubaneswar old city, and shares the same temple compound as the now much encroached upon Sisiresvara Temple.

The form of this temple is almost unique in Bhubaneswar, the only parallel I had seen in Odisha prior to this being the Varahi (Barahi) Deula Temple in Chaurasi. A rectangular sanctuary is roofed by a tower capped with a vaulted roof, very reminiscent of some temple architecture in south India.

Three sides of the exterior sanctuary wall contain niches with wonderful gracefully posed females and couples.

These carvings are particularly well executed, as good as anything you will see in Bhubaneswar. Upon observing the western exterior of the sanctuary, T.E.Donaldson commented in the 1990s:

The western facade in particular is one of the greatest testimonies to the sanctification and apotheosis of Woman created by the Indian sculptor

In the middle of these panels are the deities; Durga spearing a demon buffalo (north), Parvati (south) and Ardhanarishvara (west). Bands of scrollwork frame each of the deities, with panels of animals and riders above.

The tower is divided into horizontal elements, covered with friezes of miniature figures. The front (east) projection has figures of Surya riding his chariot driven by seven horses, with a dancing Shiva (Nataraja) above, framed decorated arches, makaras and carved monster heads surround these panels.

Although Vaital (Baitala) Deula appears to share the same architectural style to that of its very close neighbour (Sisiresvara), it is widely thought to have been built slightly later. Scholars agree that construction of this temple probably occurred during the last quarter of the 8th century A.D, possibly by the Bhaumakara (Bhauma or Kar) dynasty queen Tribhuvana Mahadevi.

A number of theories exist as to how this temple got its name. Some are of the opinion that Vaital is derived from the word “Vaita”, which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word “Vahitra” which means sea-going vessel or ship.

The appearance of the upper portion of the tower does look similar to the shape of an upturned hull of a ship, but I’m not completely convinced of this theory.

An even more remote theory is that the name is derived from “Vaita”, a variety of pumpkin which is popular and relished by the people of Odisha. I think this is probably even less likely !

The most accepted theory on the origin of the temple name is that Vaital is derived from “vetala” (spirit), invoked by the kapalikas and tantriks to attain siddhis (extraordinary powers of the soul).

As the temple has been associated with kapalika practices (esoteric rituals that allegedly include animal sacrifice), this theory seems overwhelmingly likely.  A medieval text (Svarnnadri-mahodaya) also mentions such practices occurring at a temple a short distance west of Bindhu Sagar, which corresponds to this temple perfectly.

The adjoining rectangular mandapa (jagamohana) is keyed into the sanctuary, and so is contemporary and not a later addition. Miniature shrines are built into the four corners with a double tier of sloping slabs.

Compared to the exterior of the sanctuary, the mandapa is very plain. Sketches still visible on the walls suggests that much of the carving was intended post-construction, and for whatever reason it was never completed.

The temple is dedicated to the goddess Chamunda, who is accompanied by other matrikas along with Ganesha and Virabhadra and a pair of Bhairavas. Unfortunately the temple was locked on my visit.

Without any doubt, Vaital (Baitala) Deula Temple is in the very top tier of temples that I consider a must see if you are spending any serious time exploring Bhubaneswar.

The added bonus is being able to see the neighbouring Sisiresvara Temple at the same time. However, as you will soon read (once I’ve written the blog!), it’s actually impossible now to see all of that temple thanks to some diabolical urban development…


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