The capital of Chedi or Maha-Kosala kings was at Manipura on river Suktimati as mentioned in Mahabharata. The river is originated at Suktimal mountains hence its name Suktimati. Though this mountain range is among seven main mountains of ancient India however its identification is still not done. Cunningham states that local people say that Manipura is present Ratanpura as Mani and Ratan both means gem. However he did not agree with this local tradition as Ratanpura is not situated at any river. Most ancient inscriptions are found at Sirpur, Rajim and Aarang in Chattisgarh hence these are the places of antiquity. Sirpur is situated at the bank of Mahanadi river which makes it suitable candidate to be identified as Manipura. If this is correct then river Mahanadi should be same as river Suktimati of Mahabharata. Suktimal mountains will be the high range of mountains to the south of Sehoa from where Mahanadi, Pairi and Seonath rivers originate. This mountain might be same as Adisathron of Ptolemy.
The earliest inscriptional reference of Maha-Kosala comes from the Allahabad Pillar Inscription which mentions that the Gupta king Samudragupta (325-375 CE) defeated King Mahendra of Kosala which lies in Dakshinapatha. As many as six different dynasties witnessed their rise and fall in Maha-Kosala. The earliest dynasty is known from its copper-plate charters found at Bilaspur, Raipur and Raigarh. No name for the dynasty is mentioned and also they did not mention any date in a known era in their grants. As their capital was at Sarabhapura so the dynasty is known as Sarabhapuriya. V V Mirashi suggests that Sarabharaja, founder of this dynasty, was probably the same person who is referred as the maternal-grandfather of Goparaja who is mentioned in Bhanugupta’s Eran pillar inscription of the Gupta Year 191 (510 CE). But D C Sircar however suggests that Sarabharaja flourished from 461 to 480 CE and his son Narendra from 480 to 495 CE. As some of their charters are found at Sirpur so it might be their second capital. Genealogy after Sarabharaja is Narendra, Prasanna, Jayaraja, Pravarasena Sudevaraja and Vyaghraraja. Sarabhapura is not satisfactorily identified. D C Sircar who edited their grants did not identify this city however many other scholars have taken that Sarabhapura was near Sirpur only. Their inscriptions are only in their regnal years hence their exact dates cannot be satisfactorily determined. However it is assumed that they started their rule in later part of fifth century CE.
The next dynasty is known from a single copper-plate grant which was discovered at Arang near Raipur. It was issued by a king named Bhimasena II however no name of his dynasty is mentioned. However he is described as Rajarshitulya-Kula to claim high dignity. The grant is dated in Gupta Year 282 (601 CE) and issued from Suvarnnanadi (present Son river). Usage of the Gupta Era suggests that either the present king was a subordinate of the Gupta emperor or his ancestors were paying obeisance to the Gupta emperors. Bhimasena II was the sixth descendent of the founder Sura. If we take 20 years for each king then Sura would be ruling in 510 CE, and was contemporary of the Gupta king Bhanugupta. The genealogy of Bhimasena II is as follows: Sura, Dayita, Vibhisana, Bhimasena I, Dayitavarman II and Bhimasena II.
Panduvamsis conquered Dakshina-kosala and ousted Sarabhapuriyas or Bhimasena II. Two houses of theirs were ruling over this area. One of them is known from a single charter issued by a king named Bharatabala who was ruling over Mekhala (Amarkantak). The charter is issued in his second regnal year and mentions donation on the bank of river Son. Nothing is known about his successors and it may be assumed that he or his successors were ousted by the Sarabhapuriyas who raised in power again.
Another Panduvamsi family was ruling over Sirpur. Udayana was the first king of this dynasty. He was succeeded by Indrabala. Nanna I succeeded him and he in turn was succeeded by Mahasiva Tivaradeva. He was the most successful king of this dynasty. He extended his kingdom to Utkala, Kosala and other nearby states. He was succeeded by his son Mahanannaraja or Nanna II. His uncle, Chandragupta, succeeded him. His son, Harshagupta, was married to Vasata, the daughter of Suryavarman of Magadha. His son from Vasata, Mahasivagupta alias Balarjuna, ascended the throne after Harshagupta. Mahasivagupta was a powerful king and enjoyed a very long rule as his Lodhia charter was issued in his fifty-seventh regnal year. Mahasivagupta ruled from Sirpur but whether his ancestors ruled from same place is not certain. Balarjuna’s younger brother, Ranakesari, was in constant struggle with the Sarabhapuriyas.
History of Sirpur – We have already seen few dynasties who ruled over Sirpur, probably as subordinates of the Imperial Guptas. But we cannot be very certain on this point as they did not mention their overlords, if they had any. Local tradition mentions Savaripura as the original name of Sirpur because here only Savari, a female mendicant of Ramayana, offered fruit to Lord Rama. As per Ramayana, Savari was residing on the bank of Pampa river to the west of Rishyamukha mountain. However there is no mention of any fruit offering by her to Rama in Ramayana hence it might be a later addition. If we accept this local tradition then Mahanadi should be same as Pampa and hills on east would be Rishyamukha. Cunningham however is reluctant in identifying Mahanadi as Pampa as he feels that identification with Suktimati is more appropriate.
Sripura or Sripur was the old name of this town as evident from many grants and inscriptions. Some traditions translate this Sripura into ‘the town of wealth’ as Sri is known as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, in Indian pantheon. Its architecture value was noticed by Dr Beglar when he visited this town in 1872. Lakshmana Temple and Surang were excavated during that time, After independence, Dr M G Dixit further carried our excavation on behalf of the University of Sagar during 1953 to 1955. During his exhibition were discovered Anandaprabhu Buddha Vihara and Swastika Vihara among other small temples. Shri A K Sharma and his assistant Mr Prabhat are doing excavations at present on behalf of Chattisgarh government. I was fortunate enough to get their acquaintance during my trip.
Epigraphs – General epigraphs discovered at Sirpur.
- Sudevaraja copper-plate charter – Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXI – Mentions a donation of a village, whose name is lost, to a brahmana of the Prasara gotra and the Taittiriya sakha. The donation was first made by the illustrious Nanna who cannot be identified. Seal of the plate bears the name of Maharaja Sudevaraja. The charter is dated in the seventh regnal year of the king.
Monuments – There are many monuments of interest at this small town. We will discuss few of these in detail as I was not able to cover all of them in my trip.
|Gandhesvara Temple Entrance|
Gandhesvara Temple – This Shiva temple is a later construction over the original place of an ancient temple. Cunningham mentions that the priests also did not try to enforce its antiquity when he visited the temple. The temple is without a platform and situated on the bank of river Mahanadi. Hence it was always in danger during floods and had suffered losses. This is a live temple and many pilgrims come here for worship. There is nothing of interest related to architecture but there are many loose images inside this temple. Many inscriptions are also found in this temple however none of those are foundation inscription.
|Buddha under a tree inside the temple|
Inside the temple, there is an image of Buddha under a tree which local people identify with an image of a king. Among the loose sculptures, Chamunda, Mahishasuramardini, Nataraja, Uma-Mahesvara, Trimurti group, Navagraha group are important. But layers of whitewash has hidden most of the features of these statues.
- Stone built into plinth of temple – Indian Antiquary Vol XVII – This inscription specifically mentions the name Gandharvesvara and records the arrangement of the puja to the god by one Jejuraka, a subject of prince Sivagupta.
- Stone built into plinth of temple – Indian Antiquary Vol XVII – This inscription is engraved on lower part of above long slab and is written in 17 lines. It records similar arrangements as above and further says that Nagadeva and Kesava were assigned certain funds for providing garlands of flowers for worship of Shiva. It gives genealogical list as follows: Sivagupta alias Balarjuna, the son of Harshagupta, the son of Chandragupta, the son of Nanna, the son of Indrabala, the son of Udayana.
- Stone on top of plinth of temple – Indian Antiquary Vol XVII – This incomplete inscription mentions the name of composer as Sumangala, the son of Taradatta and of the mason Rishigupta.
- Slab built into floor at entrance of temple – Indian Antiquary Vol XVII – The inscription praises Shiva and mentions name of Balarjuna (Sivagupta). This inscription also mentions arrangement of flowers.
- Pillar inscription – Descriptive List of Inscriptions in The Central Provinces and Berar – written in Sanskrit using early Nagari script – mentions Shivagupta who obtained the title of Balarjuna by his skills in the use of arrows. Sripuri (Sripura) is also mentioned in the inscription. Srimangala seems to be name of the composer.
- Pillar inscription – Descriptive List of Inscriptions in The Central Provinces and Berar – written in Sanskrit using early Nagari script – its a very long record of 54 lines but in very bad condition. It appears to be a donative record granting a village. A mention of Balarjuna is found in one line.
- Buddha image inscription – Descriptive List of Inscriptions in The Central Provinces and Berar – undated, dated to eighth-ninth century CE on paleographic studies – it runs, ‘The Tathagata explained the cause of those matters which spring from a cause and the mode of its destruction. This was what the great ascetic taught’.
- Sirpur river gateway inscription – Descriptive List of Inscriptions in The Central Provinces and Berar – On the top of retaining wall outside the river gate-way of this temple there is a slab with an inscription in Sanskrit. It mentions a name of a prince, Devanandi. The engrave was Gonna, who seems to be the same Gonna as mentioned in Lakshmana temple inscription.
Lakshmana Temple – This ticketed monument is under protection of Archaeological Survey of India. Enclosed within a well maintained compound, this is one of the best brick temple of India. It is the most developed among the temples of the post-Gupta period and retains most of its original appearance. Krishna Deva writes, ’With its developed socle mouldings and its stout but slightly incurved shikhara, this temple marks a transition between the Gupta and the early medieval temples, anticipating several features of the latter’.
It stands on a platform which is 77 feet long, 39 feet broad and 6 feet high. The platform is built in stone however the temple is entirely made in brick, of average size 17”x9”x3”, except its door which is of stone. The temple has a garbha-griha(sanctum), antarala (vestibule) and mandapa (entrance hall). The oblong mandapa is completely in ruins except its pillar bases. Percy Brown suggests that this mandapa would have been a later addition. Remains of a brick wall round this mandapa suggests that the mandapa was covered on side with this wall. Cunningham mentions that parts of these pillars and pilasters were probably used in construction of Ramachandra temple at Rajim which was constructed about 300 years before of our time.
The jagati (platform) of the temple is made of dressed and simple flat stones. Present height of the temple is 45 feet from the platform but it would have been 60 feet high in its full glory, as suggested by Brown. Triangular opening above sanctum door is formed by overlapping bricks which is similar to the Great Temple at BodhGaya. Its breadth is same as of the door, 3 feet 3 inches, and it reached the height of 6 feet 3 inches with 25 courses of bricks.
Sanctum and its tower is quite intact, only upper portion of the shikhara is lost. Sanctum is 22 feet square outside and 9.75 feet square inside. Interior of the sanctum is plain and the inside of the shikhara has the appearance of an encased stepped pyramid with bricks jutting out at regular intervals. S N Mishra writes that the most outstanding feature of this temple is its massive door-frame in stone which adorns the entrance to the sanctum. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu as his avatars are found on door jambs. Cunningham reported a Vishnu statue lying outside the temple which was similar to the statue found at Eran. He suggests that it might be the main statue of the sanctum.
|Shikhara on east side|
Its shikhara is highly decorated with three large chaitya-niches (horse shoe like window) above the door. Bold designs of niches and pilasters are found all over the shikhara. Vertical bands of large chaitya-niches are intersected by horizontal bands of small chaityas. Amalakas are placed at the corners marking the start and end of a storey. Four such shikhara storeys have survived. The shikhara might be composed of seven such storeys. Percy Brown writes, ‘…distribution of its decorative elements, and the character of its construction generally, all of which denote artistic and technical knowledge of no mean order’.
Sanctum doorway has five bands. First, second and fourth bands have flower foliage decoration while fourth band displays loving couples and fifth has various incarnations of Vishnu. Center of the lintel has a large Sesasayi image of Vishnu with his two consorts on either side. The topmost stone slab above door lintel has various Krishna-leelas (scenes from Krishna’s life) depicted. Brown writes that the most noticeable feature is a deeply recessed false window in the center of each side; this is divided into panels by mullions, and each panel contains a carved pattern intended to represent open-work, evidently derived from a wooden lattice.
Inscriptions – The foundation inscription found in the debris of this temple is now in Raipur Museum.
- Sirpur stone inscription in Raipur Museum – Epigraphia Indica Vol XI – dated to eighth or ninth century CE on paleographical grounds – This slab is now in Raipur Museum and is the largest inscription found at Sirpur. The record contains two parts, first part is an eulogy of 23 verses and second part has rules for maintenance of the temple. The inscription begins with invocatory prose for Purushottama. Then few verses are dedicated to Narasimha, the man-lion incarnation of Vishnu. King Mahasivagupta with his mother and two ancestors is mentioned. Chandravamshi (lunar race, Somavamshi etc) king Mahasivagupta was the son of Harshagupta. The name of the father of Harshagupta is not readable. King Mahasivagupta is also known as Balarjuna owing to his proficiency with arms. His younger brother is known as Ranakesari. The inscription further mentions that his mother Vasata was the daughter of Suryavarman, the king of Magadha. After her husband died, she constructed a temple of Hari (Vishnu). The next seven verses praise her acts. The second part of the inscription mentions five villages, Todankana, Madhuvedha, Nalipadra, Kurapadra and Vanapadra, given for the maintenance of the temple. An additional village, Vargullaka, is given specifically to the God to meet expenses for his offerings. The inscription is composed by Chintaturanka Isana and engraved by certain Arya Gonna.
ASI Museum – There is a small museum at the site of Lakshmana Temple. Many images which were excavated here are placed in this museum. One good thing, photography is allowed.
Rama Temple – Opposite to Lakshmana Temple is Rama Temple was also built in brick but it is now in ruins. Not much is left of this temple except the walls of garbha-griha and mandapa. Few broken loose sculptures are placed inside mandapa and garbha-griha. Local guide may tell you that one of those image is of Lord Rama.
Baleshvar Mahadev Temple Group – The name of this excavated temple complex is probably put to commemorate the great king Mahasivagupta Balarjuna whose inscriptions are found all over Sirpur. He is also attributed to have built most of the monuments at this site. There are about three-four temples in this complex. All the temples are dedicated to Shiva. All the temples are built upon a jagati, high raise platform, similar to Lakshmana Temple.
The biggest temple of the complex has its sanctum door intact, though it seems that it was redone during the excavation. Ganga and Yamuna are seen on either side of the door. There are lady attendants also seen. No lintel has survived however there is a broken Shiva linga inside the sanctum. Many ruins of pillars and images are strewn around the site.
Surang – I missed this marvelous monument during my visit as I had no information about this at that time. This is a very peculiar structure with two garbha-grihas, one for Shiva and one for Vishnu.
- Senakapat Inscription – Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXI – No date is specified – The stone bearing this inscription was reported to be brought from one of the two Shiva temples on the western side of the village. It records the construction of a Shiva Temple and dedicated to a Shiva ascetic with a part of land. It is composed in the reign of Sivagupta who was a king of Pandava or Chandravamsa (lunar race) dynasty of south Kosala.
|Entrance of Harsha Gupta Vihara|
Ananda Prabhu Vihara – Sirpur is known for its Buddha Viharas as many such building have come into light during recent excavations. The most famous is “Anand Prabhu Vihar” or ‘Anand Prabhu Kuti VIhara’, constructed by Bhikshu Anand Prabhu, a follower of Buddha, during the period of king Mahasivagupta Balarjuna. This vihara was excavated during 1953-55 excavation carried out by M G Dixit. The Vihar had 14 rooms and at the main entrance adored the Dwarapal carved in stone pillars on either side. There is an image of Buddha accompanied with Padampani who is shown carrying a lotus stalk in one hand and his another hand is in abhaya mudra. The Buddha image is six feet tall and he is depicted touching the earth hence called bhumisparsha-mudra.
- Stone inscription – Epigraphia Indica Vol XXXI – dated to seventh-eighth century CE on paleographical grounds – The inscriptions starts with praise of Sugata (Buddha). The object is to record the founding of a village and establishing a feeding house for the followers of the Buddha, during the reign of Mahasivagupta by one Anandaprabha. The poet who composed the inscription is Sumangala, son of Taradatta. The inscription was engraved by Prabhakara. Though M G Dikshit, the editor of the inscription, assigns the record to seventh-eighth century CE however the reign of king Mahasivagupta was suggested to be ninth century CE by Keilhorn.
|Buddha in Harsha Gupta Vihara|
Swastik Vihara – This is another famous Buddhist vihara at Sirpur and it came into light during the excavations of 1953-55 by M G Dixit. It is situated near Ananda Prabhu Vihara. Locally known as Swastik Vihara as it resembles with the swastika symbol in its bird-eye view. There is a statue of Buddha inside the vihara. Buddha is shown with Padamapani who is carrying a chauri (fly-whisk) in one hand and another hand is on his waist.
Rakela Tal – This tank is located about a km from Gandhesvara Temple. There is a ruined fort on its south. Local traditions state that this tank has a paras stone (Philosopher’s Stone). A famous story about the tank goes that in ancient days a shepherd noticed a strange goat joins each day in his herd and left in evening. One evening he followed the goat and found that the goat went into the tank. He was standing wondering when suddenly a stone was thrown to him and a voice said, “This is the reward of your labor”. On seeing this stone, he struck it back to water with his axe shouting what kind of reward it was. But then he found that his axe has turned of gold. He looked for stone but in vain.
Accommodation – Sirpur does not have good options for accommodation, Raipur would be a good place to stay. There are many hotels to suit all budgets in Raipur. Hotel Piccadily used to be the best option few years back however now it has lost its shine, I stayed there however do not recommend this hotel.
- Brown, Percy (1959). Indian Architecture (Buddhist and Hindu Periods). D B Taraporevala. Mumbai.
- Cunningham, Alexander (1872). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa and in the Central Provinces (Vol VII). Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Cunningham, Alexander (1881). Report on Tours in the Central Provinces and Lower Gangetic Doab in 1880-81 (Vol XVII). Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Deva, Krishna (1969). Temples of North India. National Book Trust. New Delhi. ISBN 9788123719702.
- E Hultzsch (1981). Epigraphia Indica Vol XI. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Lal, Hira (1916). Descriptive List of Inscriptions in The Central Provinces and Berar. Government Press. Nagpur.
- Rai, Uday Narayan (2006). Bhartiya Kala (in Hindi). Lokbharati Prakashan. Allahabad. ISBN 8180310973
- Sampath, M D (2001). Epigraphs of Madhya Pradesh. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.