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Friday, January 30, 2009

Deogarh in Uttar Pradesh

We were to catch a train at Lalitpur which is located on the trunk route between Chennai and Delhi closer to Jhansi junction in the state of Uttar Pradesh (India). However, we learnt that the train was running some six hours behind schedule and therefore was not likely to arrive before 8.00 PM. We were at Lalitpur before noon and were upset for we had to wait for such a long time before we could start moving. Meanwhile, our driver who drove us this far, to see us off, suggested a visit to Deogarh to spend the time as he knew about my obsessions. We were really thrilled at the idea of making use of this time gap fruitfully and drove away to this cherished destination. It was at a mere distance of 33 km's south of Laitpur at the western end of the Lalitpur Hills.
Once on the top of the hill, ruined temple structures seemed waiting for us. In fact there is an insignificant medieval fort built by a ruler named Kirtiverma somewhere in the 12th century and therefore named as Kirtigiri. In one of the inscriptions it is also referred to as Luachhgiri but presently it is known as Deogarh only. Standing temples could have been there much before the fort came into being. We came across a ruined structure of a Varaha temple. Only the platform exists. The idol seems to have been stolen away. Devgarh was a great centre of Jainism from 8th to the 17th century and there were supposed to have been some 40 temples around, out of which 31 still exist. The temple of Jain Tirthankara Shantinath is of unique importance with splendid carvings. Within the temple campus are panels depicting scenes from Jain mythology, Tirthankara images, Manasthamba votive pillars, Ayagpatta votive tablets, Sarvatobhadra Jain images visible from all sides and Sahasrakuta pillars carved with a thousand motifs of Jain monks. Among other important structures at Deogarh are the rock cut caves, Siddha-ki-Gufa, Rajghati and the Naharghati.
The river Betva flows majestically winding its way through a deep gorge on the right. From the top of the hill, it offers an excitingly beautiful, out of this world panorama. We were just spell bound looking down. The only other spot we could think of which could match this wondrous beauty was encountered at Satdhara near Sanchi. Steps have been carved out leading to the waters of the river. Number of cells have been cut out of the rock to the left as we climb down. These small cells were once inhabited by the Jain monks who used to meditate there enjoying the natural beauty surrounding it. Many of the cells have inscriptions on the walls in a script datable to around 8th/9th century AD.
After climbing up, we rested a while, had a re-look at the surroundings which were full of wilderness with growth of vegetation all around. Clearly, there were no attempts to keep the place tidy. We then drove back. Within a few kilometers of drive we came across a standing temple at the left with which we seemed to have been acquainted but never knew that well this is here. A small interruption has become inevitable.
In India when we started providing a shelter to our Gods with various manifestations, we thought they will be safe in caves like Barabar,Ajanta and Ellora. In the plains, we continued to worship them keeping under sacred trees. Then there was an awakening. We provided for a roof for them by constructing a square flat roofed structure called temples. Thereafter, we got worried about the devotees visiting such shrines and for them a small porch (Mandapa) got added. The earliest living examples of such temples are found at Tigawa near Jabalpur and Sanchi. In the evolutionary process of Indian temple architecture, the next thing was to provide a cap for the flat roofed structure known as Shikhara. The earliest example of this type of Panchayatan style temple is in Devgarh which is datable to around 470 AD. The one at which we stopped.

This temple dedicated to lord Vishnu is known as Dashavatara temple made of red sand stone. Some of the sculptures are of black and gray granite as well. Built over a high elavated platform, the door jamb is adorned with sculptures of the river godess Ganga on the one side and Yamuna on the other. Entry into the sanctum sanctorum was, however, blocked. We had to remain contended going round and having a look on the other three sides. There were panels showing the salvation of Gajendra (Gajendra Moksha), Penance of Nar and Narayan, and Vishnu depicted resting over the mythical serpant called Sheshanag. Lord Kartikeya riding his vehicle, the Peacock, lord Indra on his Elephant Airavata, Lord Brahma over the lotus and lord Shiva and his consort Parvathi on the Bull (Nandi) are depicted above the reclining figure of Vishnu. Under the same panel, it is perhaps for the first time in the Indian temple iconography that we find the team of Pandavas together with their wife Draupadi appearing below the reclining Vishnu. However, we do have such examples of Pandavas appearing in temples dedicated to lord Shiva from the 7th century onwards. (This is however, contested. They have now been identifed as four Ayudha Purushas with Madhu and Kaitabha, the demons at the left)
By the time we were back at Lalitpur, it was around 6.00 PM only and therefore we went to a joint near the clock tower of the town famous for their hot mangodas (Pakodas) and returned to the station after a fill. The waiting for the train continued.
Photo credits except first two: Vaticanus

For a Hindi Version Click Here

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Rudra Shiva of Tala (Bilaspur)

Around 29 km's South of Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh (India) there are ruins of two temples popularly known as Devrani and Jethani on the banks of the river Maniyari at Tala or Talagaon. Fragmented sculptures lie scattered all around. During the site clearance operations, (although it is named so but factually it was a large scale excavation carried out around the temple ruins) very many huge sculptures, most of them broken, were recovered from under the soil. The complex looked like a grave yard of sculptures. Amongst them one was unique in the sense it defied all attempts to identify it with anything known so far.

sculptures are not made mindlessly. Normally they are supposed to conform to the Shilpa Sastra and the characters are from various mythological beliefs. The one we are talking about, which got christened as Rudra Shiva, does not fit into the framework of known characters. The intricacy of carvings encountered at Tala (Bilaspur) is superb. The ruined structures are massive. Scholars have so far failed to associate them with any of the known art forms viz. Gandhara, Mathura and so on. The period being 6th century AD, one would be tempted to assume that the temple and the art associated with it are derivatives of the Guptan style at its zenith still quite distinctly different. The closest match could be the ruins at Sisdevri of Baloda Bazaar Tahsil in Raipur District of Chhattisgarh.

Devrani Temple Ruins

Although it is very difficult not to talk of very many other features which lend grace to every thing there, we need to confine ourselves to the mystical execution of the so called Rudra Shiva alone for which this post is intended. If one looks at the huge sculpture which is almost 8 feet in height and weighs more than 5 tonnes, it would appear as if it is a massively built demon with emphasis on muscular strength. The sculptor seems to have used every conceivable creature to energize and to form part of its anatomy; serpent seems to have been a favorite. One may even feel as if evolution of life on earth is taken as a theme for this creation. Coming to its various bodily parts, we may perhaps start from top progressively going down.
Jethani Temple Ruins

Two snakes make the head dress. They are tied around like a turban and the hoods crossing each other to give a bow like impression. Two serpent hoods are found above each shoulder. We do not know where the tails rest. The ears are adorned by Peacocks. The nose is made of a descending lizard and so are the eye brows. Eyelashes are either in the pattern of an open mouth of a frog or the mouth of a roaring lion. The upper lip and moustaches are made of two fishes while the lower lips and chin are shaped like a crab. Crocodiles have been depicted as shoulders and both the hands look like coming out of its mouth. Seven human heads are engraved in various parts of the body. Of these a pair of small heads may be seen in either side of the chest. A bigger face forms the abdomen. These three faces have moustaches. Each thigh consists of a pair of heads of which two smiling faces are carved on the front side, while the other two are carved on both sides. Heads of lion are depicted on each knee. The waist band is also designed like a snake and the finger tips on both the arms end with snake heads. The genital organ (Penis) is made of head and neck of a tortoise. Two bell-like testicles are designed as forelimbs of the same animal. A snake is also shown entwining the left leg. Probably the legs are also formed like that of an Elephant but it is not very clear due to the bottom being broken.

At the time of the discovery of this massive idol, it was found lying in a 10 x 4 trench (on the front right of Devrani temple) which was laid out with stone slabs at the bottom. Some mud was poured into it before the sculpture was put down with head downwards and later on filled with soil. There appears to have been a deliberate attempt to bury it under the soil and not due to any accidental fall as otherwise the sculpture could have been found broken. At least the head could not have sustained the fall. Why then this marvelous sculpture was discarded. The only plausible reason seems to be that it was no longer required. Even today we find many construction sites displaying a demon like head to ward off evil eyes. This sculpture too could have been created for a like purpose and when the construction of the temple got completed, this evil catcher was consigned to the grave. A senior archaeologist is of the opinion that there would have been two such sculptures and the second one still remains to be discovered.
According to the Shivapurana (6-9-14):
Rur duhkham duhkha hetum va
tad dravayati yah prubhuh
rudra ityucyate tasmat
Sivah paramakarana
"rur is sorrow or the reason for getting sorrow. The lord who destroys that is called rudrah who is shiva".
Therefore Rudra Shiva could not have been sculptured at Tala in such devilish characteristics.