A note on lost Śaiva centers: consideration of examples from Magadha and Vaṅga

To be read in conjunction with this handout: Harihara in the Indosphere

One of the poorly understood but immensely important facets of Hindu history is the role of the saiddhāntika Śaiva-s in the cultural unification of the Indosphere within the subcontinent and beyond. For the white indologists within the Abrahamosphere this is a topic which necessarily needs to be alternately downplayed or obfuscated under their negationist routine of “religion in South Asia”. The only somewhat exceptional case I could name in this regard in Alexis Sanderson. On the other hand the recent Hindu workers within India have in most part chosen the path of ignorance, which characterizes many of they endeavors starting with the morbid fascination of the “out of India theory” for beginning of their own religion and Indo-European languages.

Over the years we have been gathering evidence for the existence of a vast network of shrines the driving forces behind which was the spread of the saiddhāntika Śaiva teachers and mantravādin-s throughout the subcontinent. In many cases the rulers of major dynasties received tāntrika-dīkśa from them. In some cases major rulers, like Bhojadeva Paramāra, were themselves scholars of the tradition. To the lay Hindus this network was primarily visible in the form of the shrines they erected. While they saw the shrines through the lens of the purāṇa-s there was an underlying tāntrika tradition that was only known to the dīkṣita-s. This saiddhāntika tradition while undoubtedly sectarian was nevertheless sympathetic to the older Indo-Aryan Vaidika tradition and emphasized the preservation of the Śruti and its rituals. On the other hand the smārta-s, who were primarily aligned with the old Indo-Aryan Vaidika tradition had a similar symbiotic association with the tāntrika-s particularly of these Śaiva traditions, even though some of the ācārya-s on both sides might have had major objections to the philosophy and praxis of the other. Thus, while competing internally these systems, along with the developing vaiṣṇava tāntrika tradition of the pāñcarātra formed the core of the medieval expression of the Hindu religion which interacted with a periphery of more heterodox systems falling under the rubric of the jaina and bauddha mata-s.

This system eventually met a cataclysmic end, particularly to the north of peninsular India, with the coming of wave after wave of Meccan demons. As a result we are left with little surviving physical evidence of the grandeur of the old saiddhāntika system in the north. The evidence needs to be gathered from relatively obscure archaeological and iconographic records, and what we learn is a staggering loss of old Hindu civilizational centers. While our collection is large, putting the examples out in a digested form does not seem easy to us. Hence, what is presented here is just a small note on some specific sites, which may seem whimsical, but we just need to do this remind ourselves of the bigger picture that we have in our minds.

Just as a flavor of the losses we could cite the case of the famous Golagī maṭha: This famous Śaiva center is mentioned in multiple saiddhāntika texts, such as inscriptions from the Kākatīya kingdom in the Andhra country, texts in Nepal and inscriptions associated with Pāla rulers of Bengal and Coḻa-s of the Tamil country. For instance, the Malkapuram inscription in the Andhra country mentions how both Paramāra and Coḻa monarchs obtained mantra dīkṣa from Golagī ācārya-s. Thus, the saiddhāntika teachers of the Golagī maṭha had a widespread distribution across the subcontinent and played a major role in the establishment of new towns and temples throughout the subcontinent. However, the location of this all important Golagī maṭha had been largely erased from the Hindu consciousness. In 1931 RD Banerji the famous archaeologist who discovered the Indus Valley Civilization uncovered vast ruins of a Śaiva-kṣetra at Gurgi near Rewa. Subsequently, an obscure Andhran scholar Sarojini Devi and later Sanderson correctly identified this Gurgi to be the ruins of the famed Golagī.

A parallel case is that of Āmardaka-tīrtha which was once one of the holiest of Śaiva-kṣetra-s which find mention in the texts of both the saiddhāntika and bhairava streams. This site was largely erased from the Hindu mind. It was eventually identified by Vasudev Mirashi as being the Aundha Nagnath temple in Maharashtra. Only the basal level of this splendid, gigantic seven-level temple survives, the rest of it having been detonated by Awrangzeb in course of the 26 year jihad. Sadly the modern Hindu restoration is such an eyesore that it totally devalues the sanctity of the site while illustrating how the traditional knowledge for building such structures has been destroyed by the Mohammedans.

If this is the fate of some of the most famous kṣetra-s of the saiddhāntika-s then what to say of the rest. As an example one could cite the famous Rudramahālaya of Siddhapur, Gujarat, which was built by Siddharāja Jayasiṃha and Kumārapāla. Today the few ruins of it, which were identified by the ASI, are not accessible to Hindus from the fear that the secular fabric of the modern Indian nation might be shredded by Hindu obscurantists. On the other hand as an example of a more obscure shrine we could site the lost Śaiva maṭha near Varanasi from a place today called Mirzapur where the remains of a colossal image of Śiva has been found which might have been at least 5.3 meters when complete. In a similar vein one could mention the lost Śaiva kṣetra of Ghanauli in the Panjab where the ASI has recovered fragments of a shrine including a fragmentary Umāmaheśvara image depicting the Śaiva pantheon.

The specific sites we wish to discuss further here are from Vaṅga and Magadha respectively. A previous investigation into them was by Gouriswar Bhattacharya, whose report provides the background for the ensuing discussion. In the former region the first of these shrines is from Deopara, Rajshahi district in TSB. In 1865 after the English were firmly in control of their greatest conquest, Hindustan, one of their officials, CT Metcalfe, who was posted in East Bengal discovered a dark bluish stone slab with an old Sanskrit inscription at Deopara. The inscription was reported by Kielhorn in Epigraphia Indica, I, 1892, pp. 305-15. ‘Deopara Stone Inscription of Vijayasena’. This inscription decorated with the verses of the poet Umāpatidhara, a courtier of king Vijayasena, against whom Jayadeva rates himself in his Gītagovinda: “vācaḥ pallavayaty umāpatidharaḥ sandarbha-śuddhiṃ girāṃ jānīte jayadeva eva…” [The utterances (poetry) of Umāpatidhara are like buds blooming but Jayadeva alone is acquainted with the purity of lyrical arrangement in songs…]. There Umāpatidhara states that the king Vijayasena (1095-1158 CE) performed the kumbhābhiṣeka of a grand temple known as Pradyumneśvara and had a tank excavated before it.

While no signs of the temple were seen, despite the ravages of Mohammedanism until not long ago there remained in local memory the knowledge about the existence of a dried up tank they called Padumśār. Excavation of the dry bed of this tank in 1919 recovered 129 pieces of stone-work which belonged to this Pradyumneśvara shrine which was built by Vijayasena. Further, the inscription states that the temple with the tank in front of it were huge, and that the inscription was set by the viśvakarman Śūlapāṇi, whose family is known to have produced noted temple artists in this region, i.e. Varendri. The inscription suggests that the image housed in the temple was actually a Hariharamūrti:
lakśmīvallabha-śailajādayitayor advaita-līlāgṛhaṃ
pradyumneśvara[-śavdabda]-lāñcanam adhiṣṭhānaṃ namaskūrmahe ।
yatrā+āliṅgana-bhaṅga-kātaratayā sthitvā+antare kāntayor
devībhyām apy abhinna-tanutā Śilpe ‘ntarayāḥ kṛtaḥ ॥

Words in [] are unclear to me but the verse can be understood as:

We pay obeisance to the temple bearing the designation of Pradyumneśvara,
which houses the husband of Lakśmī and the husband of the daughter of the mountain sporting in their non-duality,
where the from the fear of the breakup of their embraces (with the respective husbands),
the two goddesses have stood between their husbands and have indeed made a division in the icon depicting them with un-separated bodies.

The Sena rulers had their origin in the Karṇāṭa country from a general of the Chālukya-s in course of their victorious northern campaigns under Vikramāṅka. They rose to great power under Vijayasena and his scholarly son Ballālasena. They established a powerful Gangetic fleet to control much of Eastern India with their amphibious forces and an alliance with the Coḻa-Gaṅgā-s. Their inscriptions often bear the characteristic terms such as paramaśaiva/paramamāheśvara, Sadāśiva-mudrā and “Sadāśiva-mudrayā mudrayitvā…” Corresponding to these terms the image of Sadāśiva can be seen on their copper plate inscriptions. One example of such is a beautiful copper plate with the ten-handed image of Sadāśiva marking the rituals performed by Udayākara-deva for the Vijayasena’s queen Vilāsadevī on occasion of a lunar eclipse. These features indicate that the Sena-s were not just any Śaiva-s, but specifically those with saiddhāntika dīkṣa. Moreover, the Hariharamūrti as that installed at Pradyumneśvara is one of the Śiva forms specifically mentioned in the sthāpana-tantra-s of the ūrdhvasrotas. Further, the later work the Ballālacarita records another erstwhile massive Śaiva-kṣetra in Eastern Varendri suggesting that Pradyumneśvara was only one of many Śaiva centers patronized by the Sena-s.

A Śiva going by the name Pradyumneśvara was worshiped in the eastern reaches of the Vaṅga country from at least the late Gupta age for we encounter a temple housing a deity with that name in the grant of the second last Gupta king, Vainyagupta written by the kāyastha Naradatta in 507 CE. This temple was apparently located close to Gunaighar where the inscription was found and is described as having attached fields; adjacent to it was a bauddha vihāra. It was also apparently located on close to a channel mentioned in the inscription, which was the means of communication with the port of Pradamara. The inscription clearly states that Vainyagupta was a Śaiva though in the manner typical of most Hindu rulers he generously endowed various religious establishments. Thus, this inscription establishes beyond doubt that there was a comparable temple of even greater antiquity from Eastern Vaṅga. Evidently, this temple of Pradyumneśvara, the adjacent vihāra and the channel were all also destroyed by the Mohammedans without any known traces.

Attempting to trace the Harihara shrines Gouriswar Bhattacharya uncovered evidence for a 1.83 meter tall, damaged Harihara image from Maharava, a very obscure hamlet in the modern Nawada district of Magadha. It was housed at the Nawada Museum at the time when he examined it. This image is iconographically striking: The typical Harihara’s from the Pāla-Sena realms are flanked one either side the astra-puruṣa-s of the triśūla and the Sudarśana-cakra. However, in this Maharava image is flanked on the left (right of image) by the deities Mahākāla (larger) and Nandikeśvara (smaller) and on the right (left of image) by Sarasvatī and Lakṣmī who are shown as the consorts of Viṣṇu in Pāla-Sena iconography. The key point that sets this image apart is the presence of Mahākāla and Nandin, which suggests its saiddhāntika affinities rather than being an ordinary Harihara. Moreover, in this hamlet of Nawada several architectural fragments have been located of likely Hindu and Bauddha provenance. This suggests that there were proximal saiddhāntika Śaiva and bauddha shrines in the now obscure Maharava region. Thus, it represents yet another example of a Śaiva (and bauddha) shrine completely erased from Hindu memory and the remaining hamlet a poor reminder of a once active temple town.

Late in the reign of Lakṣmaṇasena, Māliq Ghāzi Ikhtiyār al-Din Bakhtiyār Khalji savaged the Sena kingdom. The savage destruction of Nalanda at his hands is only to well-known. Lakṣmaṇasena retreated to the East and the fight against the Moslems continued under three further Sena rulers Viśvarūpasena, Keśavasena and Madhusena. However, they steadily kept losing ground as the Mohammedan pressure from Delhi was unrelenting. By the mid 1200s they were eventually displaced by their sāmanta-s, the deva kings, who represented the last pockets of Hindu struggle in the Vaṅga country before being overwhelmed by the Delhi Sultanate. Some Sena-s dispersed to Himachal Pradesh and Nepal where they ruled small principalities and continued their Śaiva traditions. However, with the fall of the old Śivācārya network their saiddhāntika tradition dwindled and became extinct or highly diluted (Nepal). However, in Nepal the last blaze of the Sena-s was seen in the form of Hariharasena (1631-1672). He defeated the forces of the Awrangzeb’s Nawab Fidai Khan and liberated the territory centered around Makawanpur including 22 districts of modern Nepal. Upon this act he took on the title Hindupati and appears to have patronized a Śaiva shrine at Hetauda in addition to the Rūpanārāyaṇa shrine.

The above examples of lost saiddhāntika shrines are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of Hindu tradition in the East that was destroyed in the aftermath of Bakhtiyār Khalji. The story one is not told is that the brilliant center of Hindu knowledge centered in Varendri, representing the efflorescence of the saiddhāntika-s was extinguished in course of this struggle. This center was at the heart of a network that stretched all the way to the southern tip of the subcontinent. The illustrious saiddhāntika tāntrika Aghoraśiva-deśika from Chidambaram in the Tamil country counted in his preceptorial network Dhyānaśiva-deśika who was the preceptor of the Sena rulers and Śrīkaṇṭha-śiva the scholar from Varendri who was known as the Vaṅga-vṛṣbha. As we know from the works of Aghoraśiva that the saiddhāntika-s supported not just the study of Śaiva doctrine but practically all branches of Hindu knowledge. Thus, with their fall due to the Mohammedan onslaught many branches of knowledge simply became extinct. As an example we could mention the techniques used by the viśvakarman-s in Vaṅga for casting metal as well as techniques used to produce gilt and blue-green pigmented stone images. So much so that the latter type of images are commonly no longer considered of Indian origin but seen as being of Tibetan provenance.

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