Pali – The Mystery of the Banas

Introduction – Pali is a town located about 50 km from Bilaspur. To establish the antiquity of Pali, we have to rely on few surviving epigraphs found inside the Shiva temple at the site. History of this town can be tracked from the Bana kings who ruled over this town in late ninth century CE. Not much is known about the town before the rule of the Banas. It may be assumed that it would have been under the rule of the Guptas when majority of the north India was under them. After the Guptas, Pali would have come under the Sarabhapuriyas and then to the Panduvamshis and Somavamshis. Though there is no direct evidence to support these two dynasties ruling over Pali however as both were ruling over a vast region of Dakshina-Kosala so it can be taken that Pali would have been under their rule.

As per an inscription inside the Shiva Temple, it is mentioned that a King named Vikramaditya constructed this temple. R G Bhandarkar suggests that this king Vikramaditya might be the same as the Vikramaditya I of the Bana dynasty who was ruling in the last quarter of the ninth century CE. How Pali came under the Banas and for how much time they ruled over it is not very clear. Banas were originally ruling over Karnataka and Tamilnadu area as a feudatory under the Pallavas hence it is little difficult to understand how they were able to increase their sway to reach till Pali. We will discuss over this in the inscriptions header below.

After the Banas, Pali would have come under the sway of the Haihayas or Kalachuris of Ratanpur when they became the sole owner of Dakshina-Kosala region. Inscriptions of the Kalachuri king Jajalladeva I of the twelfth century CE are found in the Shiva temple.

Monuments – Only one temple of antiquity exist in Pali.


Shiva Temple


Shiva Temple – This interesting Shiva temple is constructed over a raised platform, a feature seen in majority of the temples in Chattisgarh. The temple has a sanctum and a mandapa (hall). The mandapa has not survived fully however it has been renovated many times. It is an octagonal in shape, which is resulted by cutting off the corners of a square. This is probably the only temple in Chattisgarh with an octagonal mandapa. The roof of the mandapa is constructed with concentric circles, reducing in circumference.


South-west view


External walls of the mandapa and the vimana are profusely carved with marvelous sculptures. Two horizontal frieze runs around the mandapa and vimana whose continuity is broken by deeply recessed niches at regular intervals. The frieze over the mandapa has not survived however that of the vimana is almost intact. Dancers in various poses, apsaras and damsels with couples in various moods provide appropriate company to the gods and goddesses who are adorning these walls. It appears that an arrangement of ashta-dikpalas (eight directional guardians) was used in this temple however not all of the eight dikpalas can be found now.



Sanctun door lintel


The sanctum door is built with three panels on each door jamb. River goddesses found their position at the bottom of the door jambs, Ganga on proper right and Yamuna on proper left jamb. Images of various gods related to Shiva family are depicted here. An image of Shiva is found in the center of the lintel, while an image of Brahma and Vishnu are on the either side. Images of Nava-grahas (nine planets) are also found on the door lintel. A modern shiva-lingam is placed inside the sanctum. There are images of many sages involved in various kinds of activities inside the temple. An inscription of an ascetic is also found inside the temple which suggests that the temple was probably meant for some kind of special sect related to Shaivism however I am not sure which one, if any.


Shiva as Tripurantaka








Shiva as Tripurantaka and Kartikeya appear on the niches in the southern wall of the vimana. An image of Surya and Shiva is placed in the niches on the western side. Northern wall niches have an image of Chamunda and Shiva. Couples in various amorous moods are placed in the intervening panels all around the vimana.





Inscriptions – There is few inscriptions found in this temple.

  1. Vikramaditya’s inscription on the sanctum door – undated – The inscription mentions that the temple was built by some Vikramaditya, the son of mahamandaleshvara Malladeva. R G Bhandarkar made an ingenious suggestion that this Vikramaditya could be a Bana king. Gudimallam grant mentions a Bana king Vikaramditya who was the son of Malladeva. The earliest date of his son is Saka 820 (898 CE) which suggests that Vikramaditya would have ruled during 870-895 taking 25 years rule on average. This puts Kosala under the Banas during the late ninth century CE. However how the Banas conquered this country is still a mystery. A very farfetched theory, but probably only one, is proposed by V V Mirashi. He tells that during the rule of Nandivarman Pallavamalla (728- CE), his general Udayachandra won over various regions for him which included regions near Vindhays. Mirashi suggests that Purushavyaghra, defeated by Udayachandra, was probably ruling over Bastar.  The Bana chiefs who were feudatories under the Pallavas might have pushed further north and conquered Pali as well.
  2. Four inscriptions in the mandapa – written in Sanskrit and Nagari alphabets – undated but can be assigned to Kalachuri era 866, 1114 CE – Success! This is the kirti (meritorious works) of the illustrious Jajalladeva
  3. On a window on south – an inscription, probably of a pilgrim, records his name, Makaradhwaja, with numeral 700. This numeral 700 might be a date in some era. If it is indeed a date, then it must be in Kalachuri era in which case the inscription would be dated to 948 CE. This assignment seems ok as the temple was constructed in the last quarter of the ninth century CE. However this numeral does nor refer to date as various similar inscriptions with same name are found in temples at Kelod in Nagpur, Markanda and Churil in Chandrapur, Potenar in Bastar, Boramdeo and Kankali in Kawardha, Dewarbija in Khairagarh, Bilhari in Jabalpur, Amarkantak, Chandrehe and various other places. Everywhere the same appears with numeral 700. The script is also different. Now the same person cannot visit all these far off places in a single year. Hence it appears that Makardhwaja was a religious leader with 700 disciples and his disciples visited various temple and left their signature everywhere.




How to Reach – Pali is situated on NH111, about 50 km from Bilaspur. Bilaspur is the nearest railway-head and Raipur is the nearest airport. Public buses ply from Bilaspur on regular intervals.


  1. Cunningham, Alexander (1872). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa and in the Central Provinces (Vol VII). Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
  2. Lal, Hira (1916). Descriptive List of Inscriptions in The Central Provinces and Berar. Government Press. Nagpur.
  3. Mirashi, V V (1955). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV Part 2. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
  4. Sampath, M D (2001). Epigraphs of Madhya Pradesh. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.