One of the earliest iconographic descriptions of Lord Brahma is found in Brhatsamhita, in which he has been described as a four-faced god holding a ritual water-vessel kamandalu in one of his hands (Brahma kamandalukaras’-caturmukhah).
In the last part of the Utpala’s commentary from Kasyapa, Brahma is described as four-faced having a staff (danda), the hide of a black antelope and a ritual water vessel (Brahma caturmukho dandi krsnajinakamandali). The iconographic details of Brahma images have been found in texts like Amsumadbhedagama, Suprabhedagama, Silparatna, Visnupurana and Rupamandana also. His hands are invariably four in number, the attributes in them being Aksamala, Sruk, Sruva and the Vedas etc. In early images, he is invariably shown without a beard.
Although Lord Brahma is assigned with the act of creation and has been taken as the first member of the Brahminical triad, his position has perhaps not been made as primary amongst worshippers as the principal demigods like Surya, Siva, Durga and Ganesa. Therefore, the images of Lord Brahma are found in very few places and are somewhat subsidiary in character.
In most of the Sasasayi Visnu images of the upper Mahanadi valley of Orissa, Brahma is depicted to be seated on a full-blown lotus, the stalk of which issues from the navel of Lord Visnu, sleeping on the body of the serpent Sesa. In the center of the uppermost portion of the back-slab of a Uma-Mahesvara image, at present kept in the vestibule (antarala) of the Indralath brick temple at Ranipur Jharial, the Trimurti of Brahma, Visnu and Siva in a sequence from left to right are carved, sitting on their respective mounts (vahanas) Hamsa, Garuda and Nandi bull.
A detached image of Caturmukha (four-faced) Brahma is found inside the premises of the Ramesvara Group of temples at Baud. It is a four-handed figure of Brahma, standing in the samabhanga posture. In his uplifted proper left and right hands are pustaka and sruk respectively, while in his lower left and right hands are kamandalu and aksamala. A long garland made of mala beads is hanging from his neck up to the knee level. He is wearing a broad band of necklace on his chest and also a yajnopavita around his body. A dhoti-type garment is covering his body portion from the waist to the feet level. Another uttariya-type garment is strongly tied around his waist.
A beautiful conical mukuta fitted with many strings of beads in round and vertical arrangements is adorning his head. The central stripe of the dhoti is decorated with floral motifs and the many-folded dhoti make this garment very beautiful. His fourth face, which is on the backside, is not visible in the image. He is clean-shaven. This image is of the size of around two feet in height and one foot in breadth, and can be dated to circa 10th century A.D. iconographically.
The Vedic aspect of Sarasvati, the goddess of learning and music, is described in texts like Visnudharmottara, Amsumabhedagama, Purvakaranagama and Rupamandana etc. Like Brahma, the image of his consort Sarasvati is even more rarely found in Orissa. An image of Sarasvati is found in a Parsvadevataniche of the Siva temple at Narla in Kalahandi district. As the stone inscription of this temple records the name of the Ganga king Madana Mahadeva, who was ruling in the last part of the 12th century A.D., this image can be dated to that period also.
Although, usually in Siva temples, Parvati’s figure is housed in the northern Parsvadevata niche, here at Narla, where Sarasvati is housed. It is a sculpture of the height of nearly eight inches and breadth of four inches. Goddess Sarasvati is seated in lalitasana on a Visvapadma pedestal. Below her left folded leg, her Vahana, the Swan (Hamsa) is carved. She is two-handed, her right hand being in abhayamudra while in her left hand, she is holding a Vina.
In the two stone panels containing the figure of the Uma-Mahesvara, which were originally fitted to the Dvaralalatavimba of the Kosalesvara temples, both at Patnagarh of Balangir district and Vaidyanath of Sonepur district, a seated lady holding a Vina in her hands is carved inside two pilaster designs. In the both figures of the stone panels of Patnagarh and Vaidyanath, Hamsa (swan), the Vahana (vehicle) of goddess Sarasvati is absent, which might have occurred due to the callousness of the sculptor in depicting her image.
Another minor god (demigod) with whom much importance is attached in the Hindu pantheon is Surya, who was either worshipped as an independent god or in a subsidiary shrine as one of the Panchadevata in a subsidiary shrine of the Panchayatana temple complex. Surya, the visible celestial luminary, was being worshipped in India from very early times. The Vedas refer to him and his various aspects as Savitra, Pusan, Bhaga, Vivasvat, Mitra, Aryaman and Visnu. Surya was the most concrete of the solar deities, and Savitra, ‘the stimulator of everything (Sarvasya Prasavita – Nirukta, 10, 31) denoted his abstract qualities. Mitra was worshipped as an Indo-Iranian god. Aryaman was also an Indo-Iranian deity. Therefore in some Surya images, he is depicted as wearing high boots up to the knee-level like the Iranian gods.
Very peculiarly enough the Sthanaka Yoga Narasimha image of Narasinghnath standing in a Samabhanga posture is seen wearing high boots of the Iranian origin like that of Surya. Surya’s connection with Visnu is well-known. But this might be the only Narasimha image in the entire India wearing the high Iranian boots like Surya. It can be called Surya-Narasimha. An exquisitely carved Viranchi Narayana image has been collected from village Salebhata in Balangir district by the Sambalpur University Museum authority, also.
Independent standing Surya images are found in the Durga temple at Manomunda in Baud district, in the Siva temple at Panchgaon in Jharsuguda district, amidst temple ruins at Bhuliasikuan in Nuapada district, and carved in one side of a square-shaped temple pillar presently kept inside the Jagamohana of the Svapnesvara temple at Kamsara-Majhipali in Sonepur district. Another standing Surya image was found during excavation amidst temple ruins at Sauntpur in Balangir district during the State period in 1946, which has subsequently been shifted to the Sambalpur University Museum. The pedestal portion of the broken Surya image are found at Narsinghnath in Bargarh district, Gandharadi in Baud district and Lalei in Sundargarh district.
The only Surya image, seated in padmasana is found as a loose sculpture, and at present kept inside the Jagamohana of the Siva temple at Kapilapur in Jharsuguda district. In the pedestal portion of the standing Surya figures of Manomunda, Kamsara-Majhipali, Sauntpur and Panchgaon, as well as in the broken pedestals seven galloping horses pulling the chariot with Aruna as the charioteer are depicted, whereas in the cases of the Surya images at Bhulia Sikuan and Kapilapur, there are three and four horses on the pedestal respectively.
Surya is also depicted as sitting in padmasana in the first position on all the Navagraha slabs found fitted on the door lintels of many early temples. The image of Surya enshrined in the Durga temple at Manomunda is worshipped as goddess Durga by the local villagers. It is a standing image of Surya (3’x1-½’). In both his raised hands he is holding stalks of lotus and has a kirita mukuta on his head. In both sides above his head are flying a Vidyadhara couple with garland in their hands. On his left and right sides are two standing female figures representing his wives, Rajni and Nikshubha. Seven front-faced horses in the galloping position are depicted on the pedestal. His charioteer Aruna with a whip in his right hand and the reins of the horses in his left hand is seen in between both legs of Surya, on the pedestal.
Manomunda being a village just across the river Tel and situated on the opposite bank of Sonepur, it is presumed that this unique image of Surya might have been taken away by the villagers of Manomunda from Sonepur in the remote past. From the Sonepur copper-plate charter of the mighty Somavamsi King, Mahabhavagupta Janmejaya, which was issued from Arama in his seventeenth regnal year, it is that the King donated Gettaikela village to the illustrious Kamalavana Vanika Sangha, who in turn bestowed the same village on the temples of Lord Kesava (Visnu) and Lord Aditya (Surya) for charity, oblation and offerings as well as for repairing wear and tear in the temples.
Now we get ample evidence of the existence of an early temple of Visnu at Sonepur from the loose sculptures of the Narasimha and Trivikrama incarnations of Visnu, at present kept in the Jagamohana of the Suvarnameru temple. The Surya image of the early temple is not found anywhere at Sonepur. Therefore, the Surya image of Manomunda might be the Surya image which was worshipped as the central deity in the temple of Aditya, of the Sonepur plates of Mahabhavagupta Janmejaya.
Inside the Jagamohana of the Siva temple at Kamsara – Majhipali, the broken base portion of one square-sized pillar is kept to the proper left of the Sanctum doorway. Four figures, namely those of a standing Nayika, Surya, dancing Ganesa and Uma-Mahesvara in Sukhasana are carved in all four sides of this pillar. The Nayika is standing in tribhanga with her right hand raised up and the left hand hanging in the Katyavalambita posture. A Ratikera scroll-work is carved as borders of this figure in all four sides. Surya is seen to be standing in Samabhanga, holding the stems of two full-blown lotuses in both his raised hands. He is seen wearing a Kiritamukuta on his head and Makarakundalas in his ears. In both sides are two profiled female figures seen to be standing near his legs. They can be taken as his wives Rajni and Niskhubha. In the pedestal portion are carved seven horses with the diminutive figure of Aruna, the legless charioteer.
Another Surya image of utmost importance is kept near the Jagannath temple of the village Bhulia Sikuan, who is standing in Samabhanga holding two round lotus flowers in both his hands. He has a smiling countenance. A beautiful Mukuta is adorning his head. He is wearing long boots up to his knee-level. Two female figures are standing on both sides of his legs. Four horses instead of seven horses are depicted on the pedestal, which might be denoting four directions; east, west, north and south.
In the central portion of the pedestal is his charioteer, the legless Aruna, who is depicted as front-faced, with both of his hands folded in obeisance. This sculpture is of the height of 30″ and breadth of 18″. The Surya image is of the height of 18″ and breadth of 15″ approximately and depicts the two-handed Sun god standing in Samabhanga posture holding two full-bloomed lotus flowers in both hands. Dandi (Yama) and Pingala (Agni), who are the door-keepers of Surya are sitting in both sides of the pedestal, while his charioteer the legless Aruna is sitting in the centre and seven running horses are carved on the pedestal.
Another important sculpture found here is the fourhanded Surya, sitting in Padmasana and holding two full-bloomed lotus flowers in both of his lower hands while in the upper left and right hands are Cakra and Kaumodaki Gada (a kind of mace) respectively. As per iconography, it is the immage of Aryaman, who is taken as one of the twelve forms of Surya (Adityas).
Besides Surya images, independent images of Astha Dikpalas, the guardians of eight directions like Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirriti, Varuna, Vayu, Kuvera and Isana are found in various temples.
Not a single Indra image has been discovered so far amidst loose sculptures or Parsvadevatas / Avaranadevatas of any of the early temple in situ or ruins. But in temples belonging to the later period images of Indra are found fitted in the Parsvadevata niches. In the southern side, in the truncated Pidhamundi design near the Anuratha portion of the Uparajangha in the vestibale (Antarala) corner of the Nilakanthesvara temple at Papadahandi, there are figures of Indra seated on the elephant and a goddess (most probably Indrani), also seated on the elephant. The Nilakanthesvara temple belongs to the fourteenth century A.D.
Another four-handed Indra image, seated on the back of a profiled figure of his Vahana elephant is housed in a Parsvadevata niche of the Bahari Gopalji temple at Sonepur town. A broken image of Agni, of the height of around fifteen inches and breadth of eight inches, is found in the temple precinct of the Kapilesvaratemple at Charda in the Sonepur district. Flames of fire are carved behind his head. This four-handed image is standing in a Tribhanga posture.
A beautiful image of Varuna has been wrongly identified as Dvarapala by noted art historian Prof. Thomas E. Donaldson. It is a beautiful image, with an exquisitely carved head-gear having a Kirtimukha head in the centre of it. A semi-oval Prabhavali is behind his head. His right leg is broken, while the left one is firmly placed on the ground. He is wearing Haras, Keyuras, Kankanas Katisutra and Yajnopavita etc. His Vahana Makara (crocodile) is carved very distinctly in the proper right side, being depicted as descending to the pedestal. A youthful male, whose head is adorned by a Mukuta is sitting in Lalitasana on a high platform besides the left leg of Varuna on the pedestal. This image of Varuna is having the iconographic features of the sculptures of the Panduvamsi period, i.e. circa 8th century A.D.
In the Dharma section of the Teresingha copper-plate grant of king Tustikara, belonging to the 5th-6th century A.D. gods like Aditya (Surya), Hutasana (Agni) and Sulapani (Siva) have been prayed:
Adityo Hutasana Purogamah
Sulapanisca Bhagavanabhinandati Bhumidam
Similarly in the copper-plate charters of the Bhanjas of Khinjali Mandala and Somavamsis of Suvarnapura-Yayatinagara fame, belonging to the 8th-9th and 9th-11th centuries A.D. respectively, gods like Aditya (Surya), Varuna, Brahma, Soma (Moon), Hutasana (Agni or fire) and Sulapani (Siva), as well as Lord Visnu, have been prayed in the Dharma Section.
Adityo Varuno Visnu Brahma Soma Hutasanah
Sulapanisca Bhagavan Abhinandati Bhumidam
It is proved from the mention of names of minor gods like Surya, Brahma, Candra, Varuna and Agni in the copper-plate charters belonging to the period from 8th to 11th centuries A.D. that their worship was extremely popular among the common populace. Even from the 5th-6th centuries A.D. the worship of Aditya (Sun) and Agni (Fire) gods was prevailing in the upper Mahanadi valley from the ruling period of the Parvatadvaraka dynasty. Solar eclipse was so auspicious that many land grants were given to the Brahmins to earn religious merits of the King’s parents as well as for himself and his family members by the kings of the Somavamsa, who were ruling west Orissa in the 9th-10th centuries A.D. These are the reasons that images of minor gods are found amidst sculptures in the upper Mahanadi valley of Orissa.