The Rock Art of Odisha dates back to as early as the prehistoric period. The earliest reported are the rock shelters of Vikramkhol in Jharsuguda district. The cells attracted men to live there, who decorated these rock shelters with paintings and engravings in various geometrical forms and figures of human and animals.
Most of these sites are found in the hills of Sundergarh, Jharsuguda, Sambalpur and Kalahandi. The rock edicts at Dhauli, Jaugad and the archeological treasures found at excavation sites of Sisupalgarh testify to the earliest highly developed sculptural art of Orissa covering a period of about 2000 years.
The forepart of an element, hewn out of solid rock at Dhauli represents the earliest sculpture in Odisha. With the rise of Kharavela (Chedi dynasty) in the first century BC caves were ordered to cut in the solid rocks for the use of Jain ascetics. The caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri decorated with highly artistic large panels depicting a vivid picture of the contemporary society find special mention in the rock cut architecture of India.
Figures of Jain tirthankars and Sasanadevas with their emblems have been found in caves in Puri, Keonjhar, Balasore and Koraput districts. The caves consist of one or more cells and a few of them are fronted by pillared verandahs.
The Buddhist sculptural art developed with Emperor Ashoka from 261 BC to about 12th Century AD. With the transforming of Mahayana form of Buddhism to Vajrayan, the creative genius of the artists once again attained its peak as reflected by Buddhist sculptures of Lalitgiri, Udayagiri and Ratnagiri.
Sculptures representing Boddhisatva and Avalokiteswara in different forms along with Buddha images, stupas and monasteries were the main constituent of the early medieval Odishan sculptural art.
However, the art found its supreme expression represented by the sculptures pertaining to various sects of Hinduism in Orissa, the Saivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism (represented by Durga and her different forms). The Sailodbhava, the Bhaumakaras, the Somavansis and the illustrious Gangas are particularly known for temple building. The sculptures and superb carvings on the temples at Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark are the finest examples of the Odisha’s glorious past.
Look out for the sculptures of nayika and mithuna figures, yakshas and yakhis (the male and female deities associated with ancient fertility cults), heavenly musicians, human poses and expressions, elephants, horses and soldiers and those depicting day to day themes, like hunting, dancing, games and family life. After the fall of the Gangas, sculpture in Odisha vanished as an art form.