A Classical Icon from Tālā
Tālā is the most recently known archaeological site of Dakṣiṇa Kosala, yet is most important and famous for its masterly art and architectural heritage in the history of Indian art. Tālā is the name of the site which is situated on the left bank of Maniyārī river, a tributary of Śivanāth, near village Amerikāṁpā in Bilaspur district. By road Tālā is only 28 kms. from Bilaspur, the district headquarters and 6 kms. from Dagori railway station on Howrah-Bombay line. Part of the land where Tālā and its neighbouring villages situated, is full of natural beauty which is enhanced by a profusion of wild trees and shrubs, cultivated lands and water courses of Maniyārī river. The people of the related villages generally belong to Kewat (Fisherman), Telī (Oil-merchant) and Yādav (Milkman) castes, a conglomeration of semi-warrior merchant and cultivator classes of society. Most of them are cultivators and partly engaged in local stone quarries as quarry-men.
The site of Tālā is known for two temple remains namely- Devarānī and Jethānī, meaning younger and elder co-sisters. Actually in the Ardha maņdapa of Devrānī temple, two female deities are depicted on the North and South walls. The local people identify and call them, Deorānī and Jethānī. These female deities are represented as Nadī-Mātŗkās (minor river goddesses) and here they are shown without their vehicle, but the depiction of the waves and lotus motifs are sufficient evidence for their identification. The best example of the two river goddesses in this region is depicted in Siddheśvara temple, Palārī (Raipur district). It is suggested that these two river-goddesses can be identified as Nadī-mātŗkā and Saramātŗkā.
The temple remains of Tālā are very close to the bank of Maniyārī. The habitational part of that time also is located on its left bank and now used for agriculture purpose. Maniyārī is a modern Hindi name. In Sanskrit it seems to be Maņihāravalī, which means a series of Jewel-necklaces. It is supposed that the necklaces of Satī (consort of Śiva) fell on the ground and took the shape of a river. Maniyārī flows to the west of the site of Tālā towards south. Śivanāth flows to the south of the site from west to east. It is a task before us to conclude the reason of Jethānī temple facing south and also the therio-anthropomorphic deity tentatively named as Rudra Śiva. The tortoise shaped raised land (Kūrmapŗștha bhūmī), culture of the primitive people, the south flow river and its junction glorify the site and its nature, the art centre and devotional rituals of Śaiva tantra respectively. The site of Tālā is supported with nature and in favour of the activities of tantra and yoga.
The first chapter of clearance work at Tālā1
The temple remains of Tālā- Devarānī and Jethānī temples were declared protected by the Deptt. of Archaeology, Government of Madhya Pradesh in 1984. In the year 1977-78 the Department of Archaeology and Museums, conducted debris clearance work at Devarānī temple, under supervision of Shri A.K. Risbud, Registering Officer, Arch. & Museums, Bilaspur. In this session the work was executed in the front portion of the temple which exposed the Candrașilā, flight of stairs, dwarf door keepers in original position and a number of mutilated sculptures with other architectural fragments. Some representative examples of sculptures, which were revealed from the debris are- Śiva, Surya, four armed broken deity, pedestal part, human figure, Gaņa and architectural part. These materials are displayed at the site and some better sculptures are transferred to the District Archaeological Museum, Bilaspur for display.
The second chapter of clearance work at Tālā2
In the Year 1985-86 the clearance work was conducted on the mound of totally dilapidated Jețhānī temple by Registering Officer, Archaeology & Museums, Bilaspur, who successfully unearthed the ruined temple with its remains. The Jețhānī temple was built on uncommon ground plan with three entrance gateways. The main entrance is towards south and two others are on east and west directions. The ground plan is based on Ardhamaņdapa, Maņdapa and Garbhagŗha. The Ardhamaņdapa and Maņdapa are supported by massive decorated pillars. The large sized sculptures were erected in the inner wall of Mandapa, Ardhamaņdapa and around the pillars with great skill. The river goddesses are installed at the entrance of garbhagŗha but unfortunately only their vehicle were revealed in original position, some rare remaining sculptures of Jethānī temple have not yet been identified, because of their unorthodox signification. One of them is unique in Indian art and narrate the story based on Dhana-Yakşinī (Yakșinī of wealth). In this sculpture a gigantic male deity is upholding the small size Yakşinī, up in his hands and pressing her body. The Yakṣinī is vomiting a bulk of coins. The fall of coins is depicted in the shape of date stem very artistically. On the lower part of aforesaid sculpture two human figures are shown holding a big opened bag in which the coins are being collected. The other sculpture is related with an ox and an ugly Yaksa is traced out on the stone beam of this temple again associated with the same story.
The clearance work of Jețhānī temple yielded a large number of rare sculptures and other minor antiquities in which Śālabhañjikā, Ardhanārīśvara, Kārttikeya, torso of female deity, a head of Saivācārya, a lion faced head, Gaurī plaque, silver coin of Prasannamātra, terracotta wheel and other objects are the best examples of art treasure. These objects are preserved in the office of the Registering Officer, Archaeology & Museum, Bilaspur.
The third chapter of clearance work at Tālā3
In the Year 1987-88 a minor clearance work was again conducted in the Devarānī temple by the Registering Officer, Archaeology & Museums, Bilaspur for conservation purpose. During the extension of work on south-east corner (left side of the wall of stairs) this image was exposed which has been given a tentative name “Rudraśiva”. The deity was lying down on its ventral surface which is full of high relief carving. The dorsal surface of the sculpture is plain. The deity was buried under the debris and was covered from all sides. After cleaning the site the deity was made to stand up on 17th January 1988 with the mechanical and manual power. The size of the deity is 254x100 cms. and its weight is about 8 ton. The other important remains—a large size Śiva head, pedestal part with gaņa figure, a human figure and other architectural pieces were exposed on the same spot side by side.
It is surprising that among the remains of Tālā only the deity discussed above is almost intact and comparatively partly mutilated. The missing parts of the deity are as follws :
1. Broken part of Daņda.
2. A Snake near the right leg.
3. Pedestal part.
4. Folded hands of the deities shown on the thigh.
The broken parts- Nāga-hood on right shoulder and Naga-hood near left ieg are chemically joined.
For better preservation of the Icon from weather effect and erosion it was installed and saved in the newly constructed room on the same spot.
A Review on the Original Position of the Deity
The partly ruined Devarānī temple was built on rectangular ground plan and consists of ardhamaņdapa, antarāla and garbhagrha. The door-jamb of the temple is an excellent example of its plastic art depicting mythological and traditional divine deities which are unique examples in the art of Dakșiņa Kosala region. The presentation of therio-morphic and botanical art motifs are uncomparable and unchallengeable in any contemporary art centres.
The Devarānī temple is a partly ruined temple. This stone built shrine is an early type of temple of Dakșiņa Kosala. It is difficult to say about its sikhara and to say whether it was flat roofed or brick built. It is also interesting that the first renovation and extension work was executed in the site during the rule of Somavaṁśī kings of Dakșiņa Kosala at about 9th-10th Cent. A.D. But it does not match with the original plan of the temple. This extra extension of the plan towards north-east of the Devarānī temple was unartistically combined with old structure. This further extension partly covered the original plan of the Devarāni temple and also the installed (displayed) deity. Some part of this renovation was exposed due to its unbalanced character during the clearance work conducted in the year 1987-88. On this occasion a huge size Gaņeśa was unearthed from the north, which is a sufficient evidence in itself that the act of extension took place in the past. Gaņeśa is the guardian and gaņa of north direction of the temple here and was worshipped in good condition eventhough packed with structure and debris.
The original position of the discussed deity is not finally confirmed. Although it was unearthed from adjoining part of the Devarānī temple but there is no sufficient evidence for its proper position. The question is whether the said deity was an original sculpture of Devarānī temple? It is very difficult to say conclusively. All the facts are controversial and challengeable. Here some problems regarding the position of the said deity are discussed
1. The Jețhānī temple is very close to Devarānī temple and when it collapsed the said deity was carried from there to the Devarānī temple.
2. The said deity is a semi-god and characteristically is a guardian of the posted direction of the temple. There is no recess in the elevation of Devarānī temple where it could have stood.
3. The furious appearance of the deity is full of Tāntric impact. The south faced Jethānī temple was built on the discipline of the Tântric rituals. The said deity might have been originally displayed in the Jețhānī temple.
4. Some gigantic weathor-worn court deities (dvārapāla-deities) are located originally in the east entrance of the Jethānī temple. The said deity was posted as a guardian and dvārapāla of the particular direction in the above temple.
5. A big sized lion-head of a gaña was unearthed from the Jețhānī temple. This example proves the variety and gigantic size of the gaņas particularly.
6. The deity is not in the posture of dhyāna, yoga or any particular action. It is in aggressive mood. The hand poses of the two armed deity are not in abhaya or varada mudrā (posture).
In these different aspects, regarding the position of the said deity, the problems can not be solved untill the rest covered part of the Devarānī temple in north direction is again excavated properly. This is my presumption that next left counter part of the mysterious deity may be revealed incidentally in future, just as it happened in past.
Iconographical Description of the Deity
The said deity is a unique specimen of therio-anthropomorphic Śaiva cult god. But there is no evidence in any iconographical text in relation to the discussed deity which could be applied accordingly, by the sculptor also. The purāņas describe the various incarnations and forms of Śiva but say nothing new which could solve the problem of identity of this recently discovered classical Icon. In this way the deity is interpreted mostly as a Śaiva cult icon.
This ugra (terrific) form of unparalleled deity is associated with Śiva in the literary aspects of Mahābhārata, where Śiva is described in multi-species and some time interfused manner. The icon is shown in sthānaka (standing) pose. It has two arms and holding a small but stout Daņda in its right hand (now broken and not conserved). The deity is nude with erect phallus which indicates him as a Mahāyogī. The deity wears simple ornaments such as graiveyaka, vakṣabandha, katibandha and kaṁkaņa which take those shapes by the coils of the parikara (attendants) nāga. Other human heads have also been sculpted on the body of the deity wearing ghanţā (bell) and oyster-shaped ear ornaments. A turban of nāga are vertically arranged over the head. The chameleon, peacock, frog, fish, crab, crocodile, snakes, tortoise, leech, elephant, lion, Yakşa, Rākṣasa, Gandharva, Vidyādhara and symbols of different Deva-Yonis (spécies) are depicted as organs and serve the purpose of the divinity. The club feet with pedestal part unfortunately has crumbled. The composition of the body of the deity with creatures is presented separately. (See Appendix).
The proper identification of the deity can not be solved by mere arguments as each argument, contradicts the fact because its iconographical appearance and symbols are general and they can be associated with the form of Siva also. Therefore the identification of the deity can be presumed by some literary source, particularly according to the Mahābhārata- Śiva has been conceived as the lord of all created beings and is often described as 'Pasupati' and Bhūtánātha. The various aspects and attributes related to the said deity are described very comprehensively in the Mahābhārata specially and they are carefully analysed to achieve the aim.
The polymorphic and polynominal praises of Śiva are being compared with the character of the discussed deity accordingly. A few selected slokas of the Mahābhārata (Anušāsana parva, chapter-14) are being considered for this purpose. Here such relevant slokas are quoted for examples.
1. As a water creature-
Kirāta sabarāņāṁ ca jalajānāma nekaśaḥ. 141.
He assumes the forms of Kirata and Savaras and of all aquatic animals.
2. As a tortoise and a fish-
Kūrmormatsyastathā sarkha pravālāñkura bhūşanah. 142.
He assumes the forms of tortoise and fishes and conchs. He it is that assumes the forms of those coral sprouts that are used as ornaments by men.
3. As a lion and a bird-
Vyāghrasimha mrgānāṁ ca taraksvíkşapatatriņām. 144.
He assumes the forms of tiger and lions and deer, of wolves and bears and birds.
4. As a peacock and a chameleon-
Haṁsa kāka mayūrāņaṁ Kļkalāsasakasārasāṁ. Rūpaņi ca balākānāṁ grdhracakrāṁgayorapi. 145.
He it is that assumes the forms of swans and crows and peacocks, of chameleons and lizards and storks. He it is that assumes the forms of cranes and vultures and chakravakas.
5. As an elephant-
Gorūpam ca mahādevo hastyasvoştrakharākſtiḥ. 146.
Mahadeva, it is that assumes the forms of kine and elephants and horses and camels and asses.
6. As a bird-
Aņdajānāṁ ca divyānāṁ vapurdhārayate bhavaḥ. 147.
It is Bhava who assumes the forms of diverse kinds of birds of beautiful plumage.
7. As poly-faced and poly-headed-
Şaņmukho vai bahumukhastrinetro bahusīrşakaḥ, 148.
He some time becomes six-faced and some time becomes multifaced. He some times assumes forms having three eyes and forms having many heads.
8. With many waists and faces-
Aneka katipādasca anekodara vaktradhrk. 149.
He some times assumes forms having many waist, many legs and forms having innumerable stomachs and faces.
9. With Nāga-mekhalā (Snake waist band)-
Bhūdharo nāga mauñjī ca nāgakuņdalakuņdalī. 155.
He is that assumes the forms of Sesha who sustains the world on his head. He has snakes for his belt and his ears are adorned with ear rings made of snakes.
10. With Urdhvalinga (Penis erectus)-
Urdhvakeso mahāśeso nagnā vikſtalocanaḥ. 161.
His hair is long and stands erect. He is perfectly naked, for he has the horizon for his garments. He is endowed with terrible eyes.
11. With furious eyes-
Vikrtakso visālākṣo digvāsāḥ sarvavāsakah. 162.
He is possessed of eyes that are large and terrible. He has empty space for his covering and he it is that covers all things.
12. With many number of head-
Ekavaktro dvivaktrasca trivaktro-anekavaktraḥ. 165.
He has one mouth, he has two mouths, he has three mouths, and he has many mouths.
This challenging icon of Tālā is a riddle for iconographists. Regarding the proper identification of the discussed deity, the above quoted slokas of the Mahābhārata help us only on theoretical aspects but not in practical (practise). The iconographic and iconometric canons are also necessary for comparison between theory and practise. Here I would like to refer to a peculiar Vişņu image of Malhar specially, which is earlier and unique for its iconographical features. This yakșa type icon in skilfully exercised with the canons of the iconographical texts.
In the art history of Dakșiņa Kosala from very beginning a different school of art and sect flourished. An existence of another school of art, parrallel to Gupta art is traced in this region particularly in Malhār and Tālā. Unfortunately there are no corresponding iconographic texts of that period which support the stylistic iconography and architecture of Tālā. Therefore it has been suggested that the demonstration of the discussed deity was based on the Saiva-cult, tantra, ritual and doctrine of the yoga simultaneously. Sculptors were aware of the iconographic texts and were also bounded with the discipline and they could not ignore the tradition, but applied their own imagination supported by mythology and basic story.
Again I would like to point out that the other characteristic of the deity is that the two Mahā-Nāgas (large snakes) are flanked over its shoulders as a decorative motif and also functioning as a pārsva-rākasaka (body guard). The two other Mahā-Nāgas are shown near the legs in unnatural action. They lower down their heads and lift up the neck towards the face of the deity for obeisance. This interesting depiction of Nāgas is being compared with the particular exercise of yogāsana known as a sarvāngāsana.
Among the art treasure of Tālā the scholars pay attention only to the said deity. There are other various important unidentified therio-anthropomorphic and other minor icons located on the site and waiting for the discovery of their roles in Indian art. Regarding the mysterious aspects of Tālā including art and architecture, there must be some corresponding text relating to the present and outdated discipline which was the root and which is still unknown. The paradoxical artistic beauty of the sculpture produces mesmeric effect on ones senses and one becomes enraptured and transfixed by the complicated details and they cast a kind of magical and hypnotic spell on the observer. Hence the Indologists should try to search out the discussed imaginary demonstration on the basis of the classical texts, folk rituals and belief. So as to enable us to meet the challenge.
1. Puratan, Vol. 1, No. 1 year 1984, pp. 58-61 & 111.
2. A departmental report of office of the Registering Officer, Arch. & Museums, Bilaspur–A Completition Report of Debris clearance work of Jethani temple Tala Year 1985-1986, (Unpublished); Indian Archaeology-1985-86, A Review, p. 48.
3. A departmental report of the office of the Registering Officer, Arch.& Museums, Bilaspur-A Completition Report of Debris clearance and conservation work of Devarani temple Tala Year 1987-88 (Unpublished)
4. A small variety of the fish which is similar to upper lip in a form and size is described as a ytosî (Proșthī) means a upper lip. The upper lip and a moustache of the deity is formed with the Prosthi (प्रोष्ठी).
(a) प्रोष्ठी तु शफरी द्वयोः।
-अमरकोषः, प्रथम काण्डम् वारिवर्ग: 10, श्लोक 18.
(b) सहस्त्रदंष्ट्रः पाठीनः प्रोष्ठी च श्फरी स्मृता।।
-हलायुध कोषः तृतीयं पातालकाण्डम्, श्लोक 658.
5. Yaksa, Raksasa, Gandharva and Vidyadhara are generally treated as a Deva Yoni.
(a) यक्ष राक्षस गन्धर्व सिद्ध किन्नर गुह्यकाः विद्याधराप्सरो भूत पिशाचा देवयोनयः।।
-हलायुधकोशः प्रथमकाण्डम्, श्लोक 87.
(b) विद्याधरोप्सरो-यक्ष-रक्ष्यो-गन्धर्व-किंनराः। पिशाचो गुह्यकः सिद्धो भूतो मी देवयोनयः।।
-अमरकोषः, प्रथमकाण्डम् स्वर्गवर्गः।
शोधादि संदर्भों के लिए मूल ग्रंथ से मिलान अपेक्षित होगा।