Tālā Icon : A Comprehensive Attempt of Its
RAHUL KUMAR SINGH
I. The site and its vicinity
The features of the icon under discussion are unmatched, they have neither resemblance with any other sculpture, nor have satisfactory reference in the texts. The unusualness of the icon would be the justified cause that various legends and other unacademic sounding fables are incorporated in this paper. The details of the description appear in the key paper by Dr. Nigam, hence require no further mention, as that paper supplies adequate data.
Beside, constantly being present, when the major work at Tālā on Devarānī-Jethānī temple was being done, during the period 1986 to 1988, at the site; I personally had a privilege to have a village to village survey of the area in the year 1993. Around 100 villages of the area were surveyed as a part of my official duty, so I had an opportunity to gather information not generally revealed, about the temple-site and surroundings. A few of these pieces of information could prove an aid in the identification of the icon.
Though the well-known archaeological site of Malhar is not far from Tālā, yet an almost unnoticed site in village Matiārī is located near the confluence of Sivanāth and Arpā rivers. Spatially and temporally the gap is only 25 kms. and a couple of centuries, respectively. It seems to be of 8th Cent. A.D. as is revealed by its sculptural remains. Even after construction of a modern temple on the mound, its antiquity is quite evident. In the same direction about 5 kms. from Tālā, in the village Udantāl, there are brick remains, rubble mound, but for want of antiquities and absence of clear ideas of structure, its period could not be determined. Besides this, after exploiting all the opportunities and approaching the site from all directions except few minor and stray antiquities, only two more ancient sites could be located, but of later period i.e. of 12th and 13th Cent. A.D. They are within 10 kms. viz. Kirarī Gorhi and Dhūmanāth temple, Sargaon. Both are protected monuments of the State Govt.
The actual revenue-village, in which this site of Tālā is located, is Ameri kāpa. Ameri is common village name in this area. To distinguish this Ameri from others, Kāpa is suffixed. The adjoining village is Amerī akbari. Amerī is derived from Amerā- a tree with sour fruits. (Spondius mangifera) and suffix kāpa- means, hamlet; Akbari- means the area reserved for local malaguzar (of recent past) for his agricultural uses or otherwise.
This place lies on the left bank of Maniārī at a reasonable height, like many other religious places, there is a belief, that during floods, the river used to touch only the feet of the deity and recede, that is why the temple is never flooded. While the fact is, that when water level increases in the river, it spreads on the right bank, which is relatively low. Right at the temple site, Basantī nullah, meets Maniarī to the North of the Deorani temple. At around 2 kms. South-East of the temple, Maniārī terminates into Sivanāth river.
The temple site is located away from the village habitation, but it had not been in isolation from human presence. The shepherds, with their herds, farmers with their agricultural activities and commutation through the river bank, had been very common since then. The site was important to the local people, because of their belief in the village deity Siddha-Bāwā, who is existent now in the form of a Siva-linga, in a small modern shrine, lying to the west of the Jethānī temple. The general trend that prevails in this area, is that of faith in divinity, like Baram, Bhairo, Aghorī, Muria, Biratiā, Munī and the like Bāwās. The concept of Bawas, as explained by village priests suggests, ascetic personality, incorporating divine elements. Alongwith the concepts of Siddha-Bāwā, people were aware about the mounds, they use to address the present Jethānī temple as Deur and the Devrānī temple as Devrānī-Jethānī.
According to local residents the farm land infront of the present Devrānī temple was originally a pond, which existed recently upto fifties and actually gave the site, its name Tālā. Even today the nearby farms are known as Talakhar, i.e. farms with pond. Possibly the site of temples has been raised by the digging of the land nearby. The depressions created as a consequence of digging might have turned into big tank subsequently. To the west of the monuments lies the rocky left bank of the river. On which the signs of excavations are apparent, presumably the stone for construction of the temple came from here. Pond to the East, river to the West, nullah to the North and Jethānī temple to the south being the constrains and limitations, must have played a crucial role in selection of the site for the Devrānī temple.
Tālā is synonymous to tal or talāb i.e. Tank. But in this area there is no trend of using tāl independently for a name of village, area or tank itself; rather tāl is used as a suffix to village name like in neighbouring village Udantal. In the plains of Chhattisgarh, ponds are abundant. In ancient places of this district like Malhar and Ratanpur the number of ponds is quoted in a legendary manner as-chhah agar chhah korī meaning 6+ (6 x 20) = 126 ponds. Contrary to the feature, in the area of Tālā, there is a lesser number of ponds.
In early fifties a Sadhu arrived in here, stayed and worshipped Siddha-Bāwā and later settled permanently. At that time the entire area was full of thorny and big trees large and venomous snakes and scorpions. Even on both of the monuments there were large tamarind trees, while the poisonous reptiles still inhabit the area. This sādhu Purnānand Dās was a shepherd and a native of Orissa. He is recalled as Jatāi Bāwā by the local people because of his long locks of hair-Jațā. It is he, who started observing religious occasions, worshipping and distributing prasād-Khichadī on the occasion of Māgh Pūrņima. It started as a durinal affair and graduated into a full grown three day fair. This fair used to be held on the Deur mound i.e. Jethani temple now.
II. Discovery of the Icon
The story of finding of this icon dates back to the year 1977-78, when the stairs, entrance and interior of the Deorani temple were cleaned. The unusual iconographic examples that were found or scattered in the premises were arranged, and a pit in the South-East of the out side of the temple was dug, as the site gave a sense of having much more of hidden treasure, this particular icon was only at a few strokes of pike.
On the 9th of February 1985, the Honorary Advisor, Culture Department, of the Govt. of Madhya Pradesh, Dr. Pramod Chandra visited the site. There were instructions to select a site which would be as significant as to be visited by him, as he had only that day in his hand. On returing to the office he advised that the site of Tālā be of top priority amongst all the archaeological sites of Madhya Pradesh where prospects of exploration were maximum.
The work on this part started in the second week of January 1988. On removing a few inches of soil the dorsal side of the icon became visible, which at first seemed to be the floor level, but as the work progressed and the sides were exposed, it appeared to be a huge sculpture having flat back, high relief carving, lying ventral side down. the Deoranī temple is East facing with a flight away of steps. This statue was lying on the South of the steps, with its head from them. The carved ventral side was hidden as the flat dorsal side was up. The statue was lying at right angles to the steps and parallel to the front wall of the temple structure. It is intact to a very great extent even though it was lying on a stone base. Had it been an accidental fall of the carved side of the statue on a rocky surface some major breakage would have been quite obvious; which is not there, rather this is the only intact scuplture obtained from the site. The minor breakage, that is seen is due to the long period of its burial and the fragile quality of the stone. Being stratified stone chipping-off has occured in the sculpture at some places.
The moment of exposure of the back of the statue was much exciting, as this was considered to be the end of the work, while there was much more to do and know. Precautionwise to have a preview of its form, soil was cleaned from all sides. The experienced and careful labourers, which had worked on Jethani temple in the past session were engaged for this task. Besides being skilled in working on carved structure the labourers were also apt in handling massive stones, as there is a stone quarry nearby where they normally work.
The cleaning of the icon proceeded with much of labour, more of care and most of patience. Each moment during this period was full of excitement. Out of which attempts of realizing the icon by mere touch were being made during lunch-breaks and evenings, as this was appearing to be a very unusual creation on stone, beyond, everyones imaginations. So it was more than difficult to be patient, yet work progressed. Special tools out of strong branches of Gum Arabic were made, which had pencil points and broad blades, due to this no scratches appeared on the sculpture. At this stage, when these fine tools were being used, even Dr. Pramod Chandra, who had revisited the site to witness the progress of the work, accompanied the officers,1 in the cleaning of statue lying on his back, using brush as the work needed a careful and delicate hand. Dr. Pramod Chandra left on 15.1.88 suggesting a few hints for careful erection of the statue. On the next day under the guidelines given by him and previous experience of work, the process of erection began. During work on the site, handling of ancient stone artifacts is safely and effectively carried out, with the help of crow-bars and wooden-batons, as leverage tools, but looking at the stone quality and enormity of statue, chain-pulley was used as secondary device. Instead of depending upon chain-pulley alone, thick ropes were tied to another two places, with jute padding to prevent any damage, ropes were pulled manually, so as to maintain control and balance. Old types, gunny bags as cushion and wooden-batons for support were placed under the statue during its erection to avoid any mis-hap. At last the statue was erected on 17th of January 1988 and placed at its present location. The underlying soil was collected and rubbles in it were sorted, keeping in mind that they could be the part of the statue: The restoration of the statue with the corresponding pieces was taken up soon.
The Māgh Pūrnimā fair of 1988, fell soon after finding of this icon, that year the gathering in the fair was a record 50,000 plus, pilgrims kept visiting the site, even after dissolution of the fair, one day a middle aged lady, visited the site, she had a familial look at the icon and suddenly started reciting a prayer loudly in local dialect-Chhattisgarhi. In Chhattisgarh extempore odes are composed for praising the God and for lullabyes in which prevailing conditions are interwoven, they are then sung with a typical rythm. This prayer also was an extempore creation which expressed-You have come to rescue us from our misery. Then she described the form including all the creatures of its structural detail. She further added we are happy to receive you and we bow before you and welcome you.
III. Identification of the Icon
Immediately, after the icon was erected and positioned, it was tentatively named "Rūdra Siva". Any conclusive identification of the icon has not comeforth in the decade, although attempts of identification are continuously going on from media like news papers, periodicals, to academics like seminars/paper writings on Śaivism, Dakșina Kosala, iconography and contemporary art. It has been widely discussed sculpture all through. Possibilities of finding connection of the icon with Tantra, Navagrahas, the twelve zodiac signs, Dasāvatārs, Viśvarūpa, Pasupatī, Astamūrti, Yakșa and Gaņa also have been explored. On the basis of morphology it has been compared with sculpture of Māndhal, statue of Lung Man caves of China, warrior in Celtic painting, and the Buddhist paintings of Nepal.
Whatever, attempts have been made uptill now to identify the icon are thoughtful and logical, yet none of them give due consideration to the regional source material. The regional source material may not lead to any decisive inference but it does indicate significant and obvious correlation with Soma-Siddhanta.
Before, discussing the Soma-Siddhanta, I would like to emphasize on two points. Firstly, interrelation between the creator and creatures, their unity and diversity with reference to Saiva philosophy.2 Various parts and organs of this icon are composed of different creatures. The body form emerges with the support of filling lines, after the placement of these creatures. Thus it seems to me that the icon is akin to the philosophy refered to above. Secondly not only the icon under consideration, but few other statues viz. Gaņeśa, Meșamukh gana, (both are at present stationed at the North of staircase of Deorani temple) were covered by an additional structure of a later period. It is fascinating that a huge figure of an ascetic was also explored lying down on its ventral in front of the door way of Deorani temple. This was used as a step uptill the clearance work.3 It therefore seems that all the happenings were deliberately conducted by the followers of another ideology, which might have been in conflict with the religious sect refered to above. The later sect had occupied this centre. This type of conflict was common in the days of yore.
A little is known about the Soma-Siddhanta. As no text of this sect is available so far. This sect has been casually cited in various literary works, which also include the Tantras. In short, the Soma-Siddhanta is a part of Lakulisa-Pasupata sect of Śaivism, and is established prior to 2nd Cent. A.D. by one Soma-Śarmā. The position of the sect is too much complicated within Śaivism. It has been either connected with the Āgamika school or with the Tāntric sect. The Soma-sect was often considered as an unorthodox sect, therefore severest warnings were imposed on them (alongwith Laguda, Pasupata and Kāvya). In this connection it is worth while to note that Āgamic and Tāntric Śaivism were the two ends and the Soma-school was intermediary.4
The Soma-tradition in Dakșiņa Kosala region is refered to, in the Junwani (Malhar) copper plates of Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna.5 This inscription mentions the ſaiva-Soma tradition, Aşțamūrti Śiva (Eight forms) Rudrah satsasty-anugrahaka (sixty-six incarnations). Lakuliśanath and Somasarma. This inscription records the donation to an Ācharya of Soma-tradition named Bhimasoma, who was a disciple of Tejasoma, and grand pupil of Rudrasoma. Thus Junwani copper plate is one of the earliest epigraphic records which contains not only the Soma-Siddhanta and its Acharyas, but also registers the establishment of Soma-school in Dakșiņa Kosala region.
The Junwani copper plate is issued by Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna, a heir of Vaişņava Paņdu family turned Śaiva. He used the epithet Param-Māheśvara, and he renamed his family only as “Somavamas.6' This change in the name of dynasty must have had a special significance. In this connection I would like to refer to Sirpur stone inscription7, in which Nannarāja has been remembered for “filling the earth with the temples of Śiva”. The father of Nannarāja II Tivaradeva was famous for being a follower of Vaişņavism and he has used the Garuda symbol as his royal emblem. In spite of this fact it is fascinating that he is mentioned as 'Mahāśiva' Tivaradeva. All the examples cited above are sufficient8 enough to prove the influence of Śaivism prior to Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna in the Vaisnava Pandu family.
The area of Dakşiņa Kosala and adjoining region of Mekala was ruled by the Pandavas of Mekala during the 6th Cent. A.D. Bamhani and Malhar copper plate inscriptions of Surabala mention the name of family as Somavamsa too. The inscription discovered from Malhar refers to Jayeśvar Bhattāraka (Temple of Śiva) and sangamagrām. The name Jayesvar obviously seems to be the name of the God worshipped by Jayabala,10 the first progenitor of the Paņdava family of Mekala. In this connection the Deorānī temple can be assigned coeval with Jayabala11 and an established centre of Saiva-Soma school. Śūrabala, the great grand son of Jayabala made donation to the temple.
From the available evidences it can be asserted that the Soma-tradition was at the stage of culmination during the reign of Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna and after whom it went under oblivion as some other cult overtook it. The Soma-Śaiva tradition in Dakşiņa-Kosala can be traced-back at least from the reign of Jayabala and it becomes evident that Soma-Śaiva school was significant in this region, which was considered to be an unorthodox and extreme sect. The unusual features of Tālā seems to be an expression of the same. The icon under consideration is formed in accordance with prescription of Soma-Saiva cult.
*To introduce the site of Tālā, the contributor has discussed the part I & II of this paper in detail, as asked by me. -L.S. Nigam.
1. The entire work was conducted by Sri G.L. Raikwar and the author. Sri K.K. Chakravarty, I.A.S. was present at the site during the work of session 1987-88.
2. Please refer the relevant chapter of R.G. Bhandarkar's Vaisnavism, Saivism and other minor religious systems, 1929.
3. In this connection, it is notable that Jethani temple consist of south faced main entrance, which has an unorthodox indication.
4. The Soma-Saiva Siddhanta has been discussed by V.S. Pathak in his monograph entitled History of Saiva cults in Northern India from Inscriptions (700 A.D. to 1200 A.D.), 1980. B. Bhattacharya's, Saivism and the Phallic World, 1975; may also be consulted.
5. G.L. Raikwar and Rahul Kumar Singh, Mahasivagupta Balarjuna Ka 57ve varsh ka Junawani (Malhar) Tamaralekh [In Hindi], Puratan 1994, Vol. 9, pp. 146-47. It is an interesting coincidence that this inscription was came to light, immediately the next day after the Tālā icon was erected.
6. We are having references in which the dynasty was described as sasikula, sasivamsa, sitansu-vamasa, chandranvaya, sasadharanvaya, see A.M. Shastri's Inscriptions of Sarabhapuriyas, Pānduvamsins and Somavaṁsis, 1995 (hence after referred to as ISPS) Part-I, pp. 132-33.
7. Ibid., part II no. III:XIII.
8. In this connection Sirpur hoard of 9 sets of copper plates and Malhar (Bäsin diprā) stone inscription are noteworthy in which other Saivacharyas are mentioned. The text of these inscription was supplied by the author himself to Dr. A.M. Shastri, who has incorporated the material in his book ISPS, Pt. II as ADDENDA.
9. Ibid., No. II:I and II:II.
10. Jayeśvara is one of the names of God Śiva and there was a ruler named Jayarāja amongst the Sarabhapuriya dynasty. This and other similar co-relations are used as chronological frame. No independent proposition is intended.
11. Though K.D. Bajpai has identified Sangamgrām with Tālā and one of the temple as Jayesvar Bhattāraka, but he has not given any firm evidence in support of his views in ABORI (Diamond Jubilee Volume 1977-78), pp. 433-37.
** The author is thankful to Mr. & Mrs. Joglekar (Vivek and Shubhda) for their cooperation and intellectual participation rendered by them in each stage of drafting the paper.
शोधादि संदर्भों के लिए मूल ग्रंथ से मिलान अपेक्षित होगा।