Pawaya – Glamour of the Ancient Padmavati

Pawaya – Glamour of the Ancient Padmavati

Introduction – Pawaya is a small village in Gwalior district of Madhya Pradesh, situated at the west bank of Sindh river. Though reduced to a small hamlet now, this town had a glorious past. During the third-fourth century CE, Pawaya as Padmavati was ruled by the Naga kings. Pawaya’s identification with the ancient Padmavati is accepted by most scholars.

Before we move to describe the monuments and sculptures of Pawaya, we will revisit the journey of its identification with Padmavati. Padmavati finds its mention in various early texts. It is mentioned in Vishnu Purana among the cities being ruled by the Naga kings. I have two different readings from Vishnu Purana, probably coming from two different manuscripts. The first reading is from a translation published by Geeta Press1, and it goes:

उत्साद्याखिलक्षत्रजातिं नव नागाः पद्मावत्यां नाम पुर्यामनुगङ्गाप्रयागं गयायाञ्च मागधा गुप्ताच्श्र भोक्ष्यन्ति | (4||63)
“annihilating the Kshatriyas, Nagas will rule over Padmavati while Guptas of Magadh will rule over Ganga region of Prayag and Gaya”

The second reading is from Cunningham2 who quoted Wilson, and the translation goes:

“The nine Nagas will reign in Padmavati, Kantipuri and Mathura, and the Guptas of Magadha along the Ganga to Prayaga.”

This reading, Cunningham quoted, matches with the one quoted by Garde3. As Garde provides the original text, I am reproducing it here:

नव नागाः पद्मावत्यां कान्तिपुर्या मथुरायाम
“The nine Nagas will reign in Padmavati, Kantipuri and Mathura”

Vayu Puarana, also has reference of Padmavati. Due to various manuscripts available, here also I have two different readings coming from Vayu Purana. The first reading is from Cunningham2 who quoted Wilson and the translation goes:

“The nine Naga kings will possess the city of Champavati, and the seven Nagas will possess city of Mathura. Princes of the Gupta race will possess all these countries, the banks of Ganges to Prayaga and Saketa and Magadha”

The very same reading as of Cunningham is found in a translation published by Hindi Sahitya Sammelan4, and the text goes:

नवनाकास्तु भोक्ष्यन्ति पुरीं चम्पावतीं नृपा । मथुरां च पुरीं रम्यां नागा भोक्ष्यन्ति सप्त वै । (९ ॥ ३८२-३८३)

However, the text quoted by Garde3 reads Padmavati instead of Champavati. Trivedi5 also goes with reading Padmavati explaining that though some text of Vayu Purana read Champavati for Padmavati however that is incorrect. The text goes:

नव नागास्तु भोक्ष्यन्ति पुरीं पद्मावती नृपा
मथुरान्च पुरीं रम्यां नागा भोक्ष्यन्ति सप्त वै
“The nine Nagas will reign over Padmavati and the seven Nagas will reign over Mathura.

Malatimadhavam (मालतीमाधवं), a Sanskrit play composed by Bhavabhuti during eight century CE, provides vivid description of Padmavati and its environs. The scene of the play is set in the city of Padmavati. The drama unfolds a story of love and marriage between Malati and Madhav. Malati was the daughter of a minister Bhurivasu, employed in the court of the king of Padmavati. Madhav was the son of minister Devarat, employed in the court of the king of Vidharbha. Devarat and Bhurivasu studied under the same teacher, and became good friends.

In this play, at various instanced we find mention of Padmavati and its environs. During a dialogue between Kamandiki and Avalokita where the former tells about the agreement between Devarat and Bhurivasu about the marriage of their son and daughter. She tells that Devarat sent his son, Madhava, from Kundinpur to Padmavati, to study metaphysics. The text goes:

तदिदानीं विदर्भराजस्य मंत्रिणा सता देवरातेन माधवं पुत्र मान्वीक्षिकीश्रवणाय कुण्डिनपुरादिमां पद्मावतीं प्रहिण्वता सुविहितं 6

Madhav and his friend, Makarand, met Malati in a fare outside the city. Being enamored by Malati, Madhav decided to enter into the city with his friend. Before entering into the city, Madhav suggests his friend to have a bath at the confluence of the rivers Sindhu and Varada. In another manuscript of the play, the name of two rivers are said to be Para and Sindhu. The two different texts are provided below:

वरदासिन्धुसंभेदमवगाह्य नगरीमेव प्रविशावः | 7
पारासिन्धुसंभेदमवगाह्य नगरीमेव प्रविशावः | 8

An elaborate description of Padmavati city and its environs is found when Saudamini arrives at Padmavati. She extolls the beauty of the city being situated at the confluence of rivers, Sindhu and Para, and adorned with high rising palaces, temples, city-gates and various multi-story buildings. She continues her narration describing river Lavana. She also mentions a waterfall on river Sindhu. She compares the forest area and its trees with the same kind of forest areas found at the south and adorned with Godavari river. She further mentions about a Shiva temple, the god known as Suvarnabindu, situated at the confluence of Madhumati and Sindhu rivers.

पद्मावती  विमलवारीविशालसिन्धु
पारा सरित्परिकरच्छलतो  बिभतिम

“This city of Padmavati bears under the guise of its environment of the large rivers Sindhu and Para of limpid water the fallen parts of the sky torn by the towers of lofty mansions, temples and city-gates that collided with it”9

अपि च सैषा विभाति लवणा वलितोमि पङ्क्ति-
“Here flows the river Lavana of lovely waves”9

स एष भगवत्या सिन्धोदार्रितरसालस्तटप्रपातः

अयं च मधुमती सिन्धु संभेद पावनो भगवान्भवानीपतिरपौरुषेयप्रतिष्ठ सुवर्णबिन्दुरित्याख्यायते10
“Here is the holy god Shiva called Suvarnabindu, not installed by any human being, who sanctifies the confluence of the river Madhumati and Sindhu”9

H H Wilson was the first one to suggest an identification of the ancient Padmavati. He first identified it with Ujjain however later he suggests it to be looked somewhere in Aurangabad or Berar11.  Further later, he identifies it with Bhagalpur12. In 1864-65, Alexander Cunningham2 visited Narwar, a town situated at the bank of Sindh river. Cunningham did not fail to recognize the importance of the town and immediately drew parallels to the references of the town in Malatimadhavam. He tells that Malatimadhavam mentions four rivers flowing near the town of Padmavati, these were, Sindhu, Para, Lavana, and Madhumati. Cunningham identifies these four rivers with Sindh, Parbati , Nun, and Mohwar,  all flowing in the near vicinity of Narwar. Therefore he corroborated that Narwar should be identified with the ancient city of Padmavati.

It was Garde3 who suggested the identification of ancient Padmavati with Pawaya. He agrees with the identification of the four rivers, mentioned in Malatimadhavam, with Cunningham however he disagrees with him on Narwar and suggests a new identification with Pawaya. He tells that the location of Pawaya, situated at the west bank of Sindhu and located not very far from Nawar, is appropriate, as per the description provided in Malatimadavam, to be identified with Padmavati. He tells that the memory of the ancient name of the town has survived as Padam-Pawaya, known among the locals.

There should be no doubts on this identification as Pawaya yielded the largest number of the Naga coins including those of Vrisha, Bhima, Skanda, Vasu, Brihaspati, Vibhu, Ravi, Bhava, Prabhakara, Deva, Vyaghra and Ganapati13. Therefore Pawaya would have served as a capital of the Naga kings and thus produced so many coins from their era. The architectural ruins also directs towards this identification. Garde carried out excavations at the site in 1925, 1934, 1940 and 1941. The Manibhadra Yaksha image found at Pawaya, took the antiquity of the town back to the start of the Christian era thus establishing its remoteness in ancient times.

Kundinpur, the ancient capital of Vidharbha, has been identified with Kaundanyapur, situated at the banks of Wardha river in Amaravati district of Maharashtra. Distance between Kaundanyapur and Pawaya is about 720 km. This seems to be a good distance to be covered in the ancient times. When Bhavabhuti wrote that Madhav travelled from Kundinpur to Padmavati, he would be aware of the distance between these two towns. If both the present identifications of these ancient cities are taken as correct, does the distance of 720 km poses a problem?


Pawaya Terracotta in Gujari Mahal Museum
Pawaya Terracotta in Gujari Mahal Museum

Terracotta found at Pawaya are considered the most beautiful form the artistic point of view. These are among the best examples of the Naga and Gupta art. As these are mostly remains of images in form of heads of various human figures so the most noticeable features are their hair styles and their expressions. There are many secular forms like animals and birds. All these terracotta are displayed in the Gujari Mahal Museum at Gwalior.

Inscriptions – Not many epigraphs are found at Pawaya except few which are described below.

  1. On pedestal of Manibhadra Image – this image is exhibited in Gwalior museum – the inscription records the installation of this image of Yaksha in the fourth regnal year of Svamin Sivanandi.
  2. On a loose slab found at the northern edge of the village – Inscriptions of Gopaksetra15 – 10 lines, naksh characters, Persian language – mentions construction of the fort, named Iskandarabad, on the orders of the minister Safdar Khan during the reign of Sijandar Lodi
  3. On a brick – Inscriptions of Gopaksetra – Brahmi characters, Sanskrit language – reads (Go)vinda (deva)
  4. On an image – Inscriptions of Gopaksetra – Brahmi characters, Sanskrit language – suggested reading (1) deyadharma, (2) devasya

Monuments– Various artifacts were discovered during excavations carried out by M B Garde. Most of the findings are exhibited in Gwalior museum. The ancient ruins at Pawaya had been quarried for bricks for construction of local structure, the town is left with big pits at various places, thus naming the town as Pol-Pawaya (hollow Pawaya)3.

Gupta Brick Temple

Brick Temple – This is probably the biggest brick temple of the Gupta period. It is a three terraced structure raised upon a high raised plinth. There are ordinary passages built into this plinth which leads a visitor inside onto the first storey of the temple. The first tier above the plinth is built with pilasters all around, all of bricks. Above this tire are two more tiers. There would have been more tiers as the structure looks pyramidal in shape however those have not survived now. Stairs on two sides leads to the second tier.

The original inner temple has been assigned to the second half of the third or the first half of the fourth century CE based upon finding of a Naga king image14. Garde3 mentions that the decorative pilasters and arches on the faces of platform are later than those found in the cave architecture of the second century CE but definitely before the Gupta period of fifth century CE. Later additions were made in fifth century CE as evident from the inscriptions found on bricks. The temple might be dedicated to Vishnu, as believed from an image found during excavation3 though it is not a strong evidence.

Various remarkable pieces of art were discovered at Pawaya and these deserve a mention here.

Manibhadra Yaksha – I do not have an image of this statue as it is housed in Gwalior Archaeological Museum and photography is prohibited there. This image is the prized possession of the museum and an important artifact of Pawaya. Very few such huge Yaksha images are found, other known ones are Parkham Yaksha, Vidhisha or Besnagar Yaksha and Patna Didarganj Yakshi.

This headless image of Manibhadra is shown with two hands, the right hand is much damaged. Manibhadra is a brother of Kubera and therefore he is depicted as a money-lender. He holds a money-bag in his left hand and square coins are seen coming out of the bag17.

Fortunately, this image has an inscription at its pedestal. The inscription reads, that this image was installed by some members of an association in the fourth regnal year of king Sivanandi. Garde assigns the inscription to first or second century CE, Srinivasan18 quoting Mitterwallner states that the Yaksha has been dated to the second century CE.

Surya Capital in Gujari Mahal Museum

Vishnu/Surya Capital – As per J C Harle16 this is an unparalleled piece of art. This Pawaya capital has two figures standing back to back and a wheel in between. There are few theories about the identification of these figures. Stella Kramrisch identifies it as a Bodhisattva, while J C Harle goes for Vishnu or Surya because of the wheel in between and P K Agrawala identifies it with the Chakravartin form of Vishnu. Garde3, who found this capital, identifies it with two images of Surya with a wheel in between.

The only similar capital is the capital of the Eran pillar. However the figures on the Eran capital are of Garuda.

Fan-Palm Capital in Gujari Mahal Museum

Fan-Palm Capital – This unique piece of art would once have been adorning a pillar as its capital. A mortice hole below the shaft supports this view. This palm capital represents the upper part of a palm tree. It has three courses of leaves and fruits hanging down. There is an animal sitting on one leaf, as its head is broken therefore it is hard to identify the animal.

A door lintel from Pawaya in Gujari Mahal Museum

Door Lintel –  A superb piece of art is reflected in form of a door lintel discovered at Pawaya. It has three different sections which narrate the story of the sacrifice of king Bali and Vamana avatar story. The sacrificial hall has three stories, windows on the first and second floor are evident in the panel. The animal to be sacrificed is tied to a pole, opposite to that are seated king Bali with his queens, sacrificial fire separating the king and the animal. Next to this is shown king Bali again, pouring water in the hands of Vamana, a gesture to grant wishes.

The rightmost part of the panel is broken, however Vishnu in his Trivikrama posture is very evident there.Vishnu is shown with eight hands. On the left corner, Chandra is shown on his chariot driven by stags.

The leftmost section of the panel is partially broken. It shows a musical assembly, a woman dancing and others playing various musical instruments, vina, flute, violin, drum and cymbals. The other face of this lintel has a scene of samudra-manthan and god Kartikeya.

How to Reach – Pawaya is located about 20 km from Dabra on Dabra-Bhitarvar road. Dabra is about 30 km from Gwalior on Gwalior-Jhansi route. Approach to Pawaya is very bad as you need to go about 6 km inside on a road where only bike, bicycle or tractors can travel. The monument is called Pahadhiya these days and has a 4th century CE  Gupta brick temple whose platform only is left. Once you cross the 1 KM Bhitarvar milestone on Dabra-Bhitavar road, you need to take a left turn to village Pawaya which is situated near river Mandar. You need to ask a lot from local people to reach this place, better take some local with you if he/she knows the place.

1 Vishnu Purana. Geeta Press. Gorakhpur. ISBN 8129301172. p 300
2 Cunningham, Alexander. Four Reports Made During the Years 1862-63-64-65 (Vol II). Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. pp 307-309
3 Garde, M B (1952). Padmavati. Indian History Congress. Gwalior Session.
4 Vayu Purana. Hindi Sahistya Sammelan. Allahabad. p 861
5 Trivedi, H V (1957). Catalogue of the Coins of the Naga Kings of Padmavati. Department of Archaeology & Museums, Madhya Pradesh. Gwalior. p Introduction, i
6 Shastri, Shesharaja Sharma (2004). Malatimadhava. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series. Varanasi. p 22
7 Shastri, Shesharaja Sharma (2004). Malatimadhava. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series. Varanasi. p 196
8 Garde, 38/Mirashi, V V (1974). Bhavabhuti. Motilal Banarasidass. New Delhi. ISBN 8120811801. p 77
9 Mirashi, V V (1974). Bhavabhuti. Motilal Banarasidass. New Delhi. ISBN 8120811801. p 78
10 Shastri, Shesharaja Sharma (2004). Malatimadhava. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series. Varanasi. pp 378-381
11 Wilson, H H (1871). Select Specimen of the Theatre of the Hindus. Trubner & Co. London. pp 95-96
12 Ayyar, Sulochana (1987). Costumes and Ornaments as Depicted in the Early Sculptures of Gwalior Museum. Mittal Publications. New Delhi. ISBN 8170990025. p 21
13 Trivedi, H V (1957). Catalogue of the Coins of the Naga Kings of Padmavati. Department of Archaeology & Museums, Madhya Pradesh. Gwalior. p Introduction viii
14 Mirashi, V V (1974). Bhavabhuti. Motilal Banarasidass. New Delhi. ISBN 8120811801. p 79
15 Willis, Michael D (1996). Inscriptions of Gopaksetra. British Museum Press. London.
16 Harle, J C (1974). Gupta Sculpture. Munshiram Manoharlal. New Delhi. ISBN 8121506417
17 Bautze, Joachim Karl (1995). Early Indian Terracottas. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9004099247. p 14
18 Srinivasan, Doris (1997). Many Heads, Arms and Eyes: Origin, Meaning and Forms of Multiplicity in Indian Art. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9004107584. p 257