Sunday, August 30, 1998
Shiva at his magnificent best
INDIAN mythology is replete with all kinds of fantastic stories and legends. This is what in part that makes our culture so rich and varied. However, there exist some examples of our heritage that cannot be explained on the basis of any myth or legend. One such example is the sculpture unearthed at Tala. This 10 feet tall statue is one of its kind. This unique statue does not have any parallel in any of our ancient stories. And there is considerable controversy regarding the identity of the statue.
It is intriguing that today this statue lies neglected and forgotten. Perhaps, a little history about the statue will provide us with some clue about its identity.
Today Chattisgarh has become famous because of its impending status of statehood. What is not known is that Chattisgarh also has a rich cultural heritage. There are several places in Chattisgarh that have their own distinct historical significance. In the Bilaspur district of Chattisgarh this is exemplified by the Mahamaya temple at Ratanpur, Malhar, Shivdi Narain and the above mentioned Tala. The first information about Tala was provided by J.D. Wangler, an associate of Major General Cunningham in 1878. It was listed under Raipur in section seven of the Archaeological Survey of India. Tala (also known as Ameri Kapa) is a village situated on the banks of the Maniyari. It is at a distance of 24 km from Bilaspur on the Bilaspur-Raipur highway. The village proper is located on the Bhojpur-Dagauri road. Tala is famous for its two temples called Devrani and Jethani. The temples are so christened because though being adjacent to each other, one is somewhat larger and so the villagers came to address it as Jethani or the elder sister-in-law. And naturally the smaller came to be known as Devrani or the younger sister-in-law. The naming of the temples thus, is unique in itself.
Detailed information about the temples was first given by the well-known professor of archaeology, Dr Vishnu Singh Thakur. Later, several national and international research students and writers did research work and published articles on the same. Notable among these are Donald M. Steadnagar of the University of Texas, Joana Martyard Williams, a French academician and Dr Ramnath Mishra. The Department of Ancient History Archaeology and Culture, Sagar University, has also done considerable work here. In 1984 the MP government declared the Devrani and Jethani temples as protected monuments. Subsequently Dr Pramod Chandra, the then honorary adviser in the Department of Culture of MP government, and a professor at Harvard University, who is also an expert on South Asian art, testified to the excellence of artistry exhibited in the temples.
Later, the Archaeology Department of Bilaspur under the supervision and direction of its officers Rahul Singh and G.L. Raikawar worked to clean the temple area. They unearthed large portions of the temple that had become embedded in rubble.
Today the Jethani temple is in ruins and only the exquisitely sculpted idols of the temple remain. The Devrani temple, however, stands erect and tall as an example of the rich religious traditions of our country. The profusely sculpted temple done in dull red stone presents a majestic contrast to the bleak and arid surroundings. The steps leading to the temple are flanked on both the sides by beautifully carved Yaksh sculptures. The doorway leading inside the shrine is decorated by means of five intricately patterned rectangular borders. These borders contain minutely detailed engravings of delicate creepers, leaves, flowers, and Mithuna figures. The doorway gives way to the outer chamber which in turn leads into the inner chamber. The presence of assorted Shaiva Gana idols and other sculptures associated with Shiva indicate that the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The doors of the inner chamber are artistically delineated with flowering creepers. Directly above the door in the centre is the aesthetically carved sculpture of Shiva and Parvati being guarded by sentries on either sides. On the right side is the picturesque depiction Shiva and Parvati sharing a tender moment. Parvati is seated upon Shivas thigh and is gazing at Him with an expression of love and devotion. They are being attended upon by Shaiva Gana and various women servants. Another engraving is that of a beautifully adorned lion-head. Near this is the tastefully designed carving of Shiva and Parvati playing chaupad while Nandi looks on in benign approval. There are several other sculptures as well which are broken in parts. One of them seems to possess a trunk which is possibly that of Lord Ganesha. Another idol appearing to be that of Lord Kuber is portrayed seated upon an alligator and a fish. There are some sculptures of male figures that sport long hair twisted and coiled above their head. Beneath this is a carving of a lion-head. Assorted idols of, and related to Lord Kamadeva, are also present. A partly broken engraving is that of an aura-endowed Lord Surya alongwith the Ashwini twins. The eight-armed Goddess Durga seated upon a lion has also been sculpted in loving detail. Several carvings of apsaras and Shaiva Gana add further charm to the place.
The inner chamber leads into the sanctum-sanctorum. The central idol that should have been here is missing. However, all the remaining sculptures and idols point to the strong possibility of here having been a Shiva-Linga of exquisite beauty. On the four corners of the temple are the intricately carved heads of crocodiles. Dr Ramgopal Sharma, HOD of history in CMD College, Bilaspur, and member, MP Historical Society; gave considerable information about the temple and the associated sculptures. He said that the artistry exhibited here is one of the finest seen anywhere and is highly evolved.
Moving beneath are the shoulders fashioned out of a pair of animal heads, that seem a cross between an elephant and a crocodile. From the open mouth of these animals (the teeth of which are clearly visible), arise the arms proper of the idol. They are decorated by a pair of bracelets. The fingers of the hands are in the likeness of individual snake-heads. The chest contains a pair of medium-sized pleasant human faces in place of the breasts. The faces are clearly sculpted with wide round eyes and a pair of moustache each. The ears are rather large and are adorned with large earrings somewhat like jhumkas.
There is considerable dispute regarding the identity of this particular idol. It is widely believed that the idol is that of Lord Shiva in his rudra (angry) form. Local people refer to it as Rudra Shiva. Dr Ramgopal Sharma is also of the same opinion. This is borne out by the fact that the Devrani temple has been proved to be dedicated to Lord Shiva. The idol too is decorated with snake motifs, like the coiled snake-like jata, the snake-headed fingers and the open-hooded nag alongside it.
However, it is rather strange that the so-called custodians of our culture have not bothered to organise an in-depth study regarding the actual identity of this unique idol. There is no doubt about the fact that this sculpture is one of its kind in the whole world. It is even more mystifying that no mention of one like it has been made in any of our numerous mythological stories. We have the 10-headed Ravana, the four-faced Brahma, the eight-handed Durga, and the like. But Shiva made out of crocodiles, peacocks, tortoise, chameleon, crab, fish, snake, five human faces and two lion faces? This was probably beyond the wildest imagination of even the most prolific of our ancient sage- story-tellers. Such a complex form has never been given to any Rakshasa either.
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