Since time immemorial, temples in India have been built with a variety of materials: mud, timber, brick and stone. The choice largely depended upon the availability of raw material. The antiquity of brick goes back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. The earliest remains of brick temples are of the Mauryan period from the sites of Bairat (Rajasthan) and Vidisha (MP). Brick temples belonging to the Gupta period are few: Pawaya (MP), Ahichchhatra (UP), and Bhitargaon (UP), scattered around a large territory. Chhattisgarh presents a distinctive opportunity for the study of brick temples with its numerous extant monuments built between 6th and 12th century CE within a limited geographical area.
The excavated remains at the villages of Garh Dhanora and Bhongapal in Kondagaon district are the earliest brick structures in Chhattisgarh, dated to around 5th-6th century CE. Remains of more than 20 temples have been excavated at Garh Dhanora. Excavations at Bhongapal have revealed remains of an apsidal Buddhist chaitya, a temple for Sapta-matrikas and a few temples for Shiva. A variety of architectural styles have been revealed from these remains. Temples were built with plain walls, in tri-ratha (three projections) and pancha-ratha plans. Many were constructed over a square garbhagriha (sanctum) and a few were attached with an anatarala (vestibule) and mandapa (pillared hall). Bricks were widely used for flooring, walls and superstructure while stone was primarily used for sculptures.
The definitive phase of brick structures started with the group of monuments at Sirpur, sometime during the first quarter of the 7th century CE. Being the capital city of the Sharabhapuriya and Panduvamshi dynasties, Sirpur received considerable royal patronage, which reflects in its rich heritage. The temples were usually built over a stone platform and constructed wholly in brick except for doorways and pillars. The Lakshmana temple is the most impressive monument at the site. It is built over a high stone platform and consists of a garbhagriha, an antarala and a 16-pillared mandapa. It is highly embellished with a variety of floral designs and animal motifs over its walls, and scenes of Krishna-lila and Vishnu avataras on its doorway panels. This temple was built by queen Vasata, mother of Mahasivagupta Balarjuna, in commemoration of her husband’s death and was dedicated to Vishnu.
The Rama temple in Sirpur represents the earliest experimentation in stellar plans. Its garbhagriha is square inside, with an oblique semi-star pratikarna (intermediate projections), on the outside. Another important brick temple is the Baleshvara complex. This sprawling complex consists of two central shrines, both with stellar garbhagrihas, and three subsidiary structures. Large life-size figures of River Goddesses Ganga and Yamuna adorn the antarala doorway. Construction of the complex was started by King Mahasivagupta Balarjuna and extensions made by his two queens, Amaradevi and Ammadevi. A mathika (monastery) and a tapovana (yajna-garden) were also added to the complex. Not just the temples but various Buddhist viharas were also constructed in brick in Sirpur.
Kharod, a village in Janjgir-Champa district, has two important brick temples. Andal Deul follows the Rama temple in stellar plan with large figures of River Goddesses adorning its garbhagriha entrance. It is dated to mid-7th century CE. The Shabarinarayana temple is also built over a semi stellar plan and has sapta-ratha projection with an oblique pratikarna and pratiratha. This temple is generally placed in the first quarter of 8th century CE.
The Siddheshvara temple at Palari, in Balodabazar district, shows further advancements in stellar plans. The temple has three oblique projections between its central and corner projections. An image of Lakulisa over its lintel suggests affinities to the Lakulisa cult, a popular religious movement in adjacent Odisha during the same period. The temple is dated to 7th century CE.
The Rajiv Lochan temple at Rajim is another landmark in the brick temple legacy of Chhattisgarh. This important religious town is situated at the junction of Pairi and Mahanadi rivers. Built around the first quarter of 8th century CE, it is constructed on a panchayatana (quincunx) plan. The shikhara (tower) of the temple is not in Rekha (curvilinear) style but closely resembles the Dravida style of temple architecture.
The Chitavari temple at Dhobni village in Raipur district is dated to early 8th century CE and shows further advancements over its predecessors. This temple is constructed in stone, except its superstructure (shikhara) that is in brick. It is built on a stellar plan with an oblique central projection.
The Keshava Narayana temple at Shivrinarayan in Janjgir-Champa district was carefully excavated in 2011 by the ASI, revealing its elevation and plan that can be dated to 9th century CE. The temple is built on a stellar plan with two oblique projections between its central and corner projections. Turturia has some brick temple ruins and a small brick-built tank dated to 9th century CE. The Kenwatin temple and a few other remains at Pujaripali are dateable to the 11th-12th century CE.
The history of entwined faith and grandeur, with artistic expression spread over 600 glorious years, is reflected in these brick temples of Chhattisgarh. With more than 50 brick structures, Chhattisgarh has a rich heritage, very distinctive and singular in India.
Founder of Puratattva, a documentation of heritage site