Introduction – Chhattisgarh (छत्तीसगढ़) region is quite rich in places which have been associated to the Ramayana (रामायण) or Mahabharata (महाभारत) period and Sheorinarayana (शिवरीनारायण) is one of the most prominent place among these. This town has been associated with Shabari (शबरी) of the Ramayana period making it an important pilgrimage site among the Hindus. It is also situated at the confluence of three rivers, Mahanadi (महानदी), Jonk (जोंक) and Shivnath (शिवनाथ) which further enhances its pilgrimage character.
Mythological Connection – A local tradition mentions a king named, Shabar (शबर), who was ruling over Dandaka (दंडक) (Dandaka-aranya, forest named Dandaka). He had a daughter named Shabari. The king wanted her to get married however Shabari had other thoughts in her mind. She left home and reached the hermitage of sage Matanga. This hermitage of the sage was situated near Pampa Sarovar (pond). Shabari asked the sage to let her stay in his place and the sage provided her to stay knowing what role she is going to play in future.
Ramayana of Valmiki (वाल्मीकि) mentions Rama’s meeting with Shabari however there is not much mentioned about the origin of Shabari. Ramayana mentions that Sage Matanga (मतंग) at his death-bed told Shabari that she should stay at this place and wait for Rama (राम) and Lakshmana (लक्ष्मण) who will visit this hermitage very soon. He also told her to welcome them and get moksha with their blessings. Shabari took up the responsibility of the hermitage and started waiting for Rama and his brother. She daily used to decorate the main gate with flowers with a hope that Rama will visit her hut soon.
Rama with his brother, Lakshmana, met Kabandh (कबंध) while they were searching for Sita in Dandaka forest. Kabandh told them to go to Pampa Sarovar in west direction. There they will find Matangvan (Matang forest), named after the hermitage of the Sage Matang. Kabandh told them that all the sages have left the place but one Shabari is waiting for them in that hermitage. He also informed that there is a secret heritage on the western bank of the Pampa Sarovar. On the eastern side of Pampa, Rishyamuka mountain is located. There is a big cave on top of that mountain where Sugreeva lives with other monkeys.
Rama and Lakshmana reached Pampa Sarovar and found the hermitage where Shabari was waiting for them. When she saw them, she fell prostrate and embraced their feet. She was very much overwhelmed and again and again bowed her head. She bathed their feet with water and provided them a high seat. Then she brought and offered various bulbs, roots and fruits which he partook again and again. Later Rama requested her to show her hermitage and nearby forest which she accepted cordially. She took them to Sapta-tirtha where water from seven oceans appeared when Sage Matanga was weak enough to visit the oceans. After this Shabari requested Lord Rama that she wants to leave her body. She wants to leave to the place where all other great sages have been residing. Lord Rama accepted her request and granted her desired place. And here the Ramayana stops the episode of Shabari.
You might be wondering why there is no mention about an episode where Shabari is supposed to have offered Ber fruits (scientific name – Ziziphus mauritiana) to Rama after tasting herself. It is assumed that Shabari was of some lower origin and this particular act of her proves that the lord accepts the devotion of a true devotee irrespective of his origin, cast or creed. However Valmiki’s Ramayana does not mention any such event, neither it mentions that Shabari was of a lower origin nor it says that she offered fruits after tasting herself. If Valmiki did not mention this then when this event came into our traditions?
Kalidasa (कालिदास) in his Raghuvamsha (रघुवंश) does mention Kabandh episode however he skips Shabari event and directly goes to Sugreeva’s meeting with Rama. If we accept that Kalidasa lived during the Gupta period, then it can be said that the Shabari episode in question was not in tradition during fourth-fifth century CE. Bhavabhuti (भवभूति), assumed to be lived in the eighth century CE, in his Uttararamacharita (उत्तर-रामचरित ) does not talk about any Shabari episode. Bhoja (भोज), a Paramara (परमार) king of eleventh century CE, talks about Kabandh and Shabari in his composition, Champu-Ramayana (चम्पू-रामायण ) however no mention of Ber offerings by Shabari in his book. There are two Ramayana versions in south, one is Kamba-Ramayana (कंब-रामायण) and another is Thyagaraja-Ramayana. Both these versions also do not talk about this particular Shabari episode.
Tulsidas (तुलसीदास) in his Ramacharitamanas (रामचरितमानस), mentions Shabari to be of low descent however that low descent is due to her womanhood as per him. But no mention of Ber offerings by Shabari in Ramacharitamanas as well. Hence it can be said that till the sixteenth century CE, Ber offerings by Shabari was not yet seen in any of the Ramayana related texts.
Then when this could have been introduced and why? Shabar is an old aboriginal tribe of Chhattisgarh. This tribe is considered non-Aryan and hence of low origin. There was a time when the concepts of the caste system has resulted into very rigid, crude and wrong practices which created a very significant gap and hatred among high and low origin people. Then arose the necessity to stop these unsocial practices where many social activists appeared upon the scene. I feel that this particular event of Shabari was probably introduced during this period, may be after 17th-18th century CE. However I do not have much information on this but as soon as I am able to get the first reference of this particular event, I will update this article.
Before concluding this point, there is another issue which we should discuss. Is Sheorinarayan same as the Pampa Sarovar region of Ramayana? As per Ramanaya Shabari was waiting at a hermitage which was located near the Pampa Sarovar. Mountain Rishyamuka was on its eastern side which extends till the sarovar. Hampi region in Karnataka also claims to be the old Kishkindha of the Ramayana period. It also claims to have Pampa Sarovar and Rishyamuka mountain in their original names. Sheorinarayan and Hampi is at a good distance apart, I assume more than 1000 km probably. Now whose claim should be accepted?
Historical Antiquity – A local tradition mentions that Shabari asked Rama that her name should be prefixed with his name, Narayan, and the place should be called likewise. Hence it is called Sheorinarayana. Present Sheorinarayan is all absorbed in the Vaishnava characters. All the temples but except one are dedicated to some form of Vishnu. It is stated that Sheorinarayan used to lie on the way to Puri so pilgrims used to halt here, get blessings of the god and move forward to Puri in Odhisa. The earliest epigraph found here belongs to the Kalchuri kings of the twelfth century CE. I am not sure whether the antiquities of the temple can be pushed further back, and if yes, then it can be said that the temples were renovated or reconstructed during the Kalchuri period on the place of the original structure.
General Epigraphs – These are the epigraphs which are not associated to a particular monument.
- Seorinarayan Plates of Ratnadeva II – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV – dated in year 878 of the Kalchuri Era (1127 CE) – Sanskrit language, Nagari characters – The object of the grant is to record the donation by king Ratnadeva II of the village Tineri on the occasion of a lunar eclipse. The donee was Narayanasarman, the son of Tribhuvanapala and the grandson ofSiladitya. The genealogy of Ratnadeva II down to his father Jajalladeva I is mentioned. Defeat of some Bala in the hands of Jajalladeva I is also mentioned.
Monuments – There are many temples at Sheorinarayan however not many have antiquarian character. It may be the case that new temples were constructed at the place of old temples without retaining their ancient characteristics.
Nara-Narayana Temple (नर-नारायण मंदिर) - This is the main temple of Sheorinarayan and as per a local tradition it was constructed by king Shabar. The present structure is very modern and does not reflect any sign of antiquity from outside. However the sanctum and its doorway is of the original structure which may have been constructed during the Kalchuri period. There is an image of Lakshmi-Narayana riding over Garuda on left side when you enter into the temple. Ten incarnations of Vishnu are depicted on the top and bottom of the image. The statue needs proper cleaning as it is much worn out due to continuous usage of vermilion and other similar materials.
The sanctum doorway is very exquisitely carved. Shankha and Chakra ayudha-purushas (anthropomorphic forms of conch and discus attributes of Vishnu) are found on two lateral walls of the mandapa just before the sanctum. Their purpose was to guard the sanctum though their position is little unusual. River goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, have their regular bottom positions on the door jambs. They are accompanied with a pair of dvarpalas. The dvarpalas are shown with four hands carrying gada (clubs). Snakes and serpents are carved all around the jambs. Vishnu is present in the center of the door lintel, on lalat-bimba. Another image of Vishnu riding over Garuda is present above the previous lintel.
- Sheorinarayan Statue Inscription – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV – dated in 898 year of the Kalchuri Era (1146 CE) – Sanskrit language, Nagari characters – This inscription is on the pedestal of a male image who seems to be a warrior. The inscription starts with invocation of Shiva and mentions installation of an image of a warrior named Samgramasimha, the son of Balasima and Amanadevi. The inscription is engraved by one Talapasimha.
Keshava-Narayana Temple (केशव-नारायण मंदिर) – This temple is situated just opposite to Nara-Narayana temple. The temple retains its original structure somewhat however its roof has no more survived. Ganga and Yamuna are present on the door jambs at the bottom. They are accompanied with four dvarpalas, two on either sides. These four dvarpalas are probably representation of the four weapons/attributes of Vishnu as evident from the articles they are holding. An interesting feature is seen on the lalat-bimba where an image of Vishvakarma is present. Usually Vishvakarma is not found on the door lintel as such. Above this image, there is an image of Shiva on an upper slab.
Various images of Vishnu are adorning the door bands. If you notice, you will find that these Vishnu images differ in the arrangement of the attributes in his hands. As Vishnu holds four attributes in his hands, hence it results in twenty-four forms by changing the arrangement of these attributes. There is an image of Kesava-Narayana inside the sanctum. Various Vishnu incarnations are depicted around the central image of this statue. There is a lady shown near the feet of Vishnu, which as per local tradition is Shabari. However it must be Lakshmi who is usually shown with Vishnu near his feet.
Chandrachudha Temple (चन्द्रचूढ़ मंदिर) – This is the only Shiva temple at Sheorinarayan and it is located near Nara-Narayana temple. This is probably the oldest temple at the site as evident from an inscription found in this temple. However the temple is renovated to an extent that it does not reflect any antiquity of the bygone era.
- Sheorinarayan Stone Inscription of Jajalladeva II – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV – dated in year 919 of the Kalchuri Era (1167 CE) – Sanskrit language, Nagari characters – The inscription is in the Chandrachudeshvar Temple however is much damaged. The inscription gives genealogical list of the Kalchuri kings down to Jajalladeva II. The object of the inscription is to record the donation of the village Chincheli by Amanadeva, a descendent of a collateral branch of the Kalchuri dynasty and the erection of a Durga temple in front of the shrine by Vikkanadeva, who was an uncle of Amanadeva. The inscription mentions Moon as the mythical progenitor of the Kalchuri dynasty, next comes Kokalla I and his eighteen sons. Then comes Kalingaraja, Ratnaraja I, Prithvideva I. Then is mentioned a victory over Chodaganga in the neighborhood of Sheorinarayan however the name of the victorious prince is lost, but from other records it is clear that the prince was Ratnadeva II. His son was Prithvideva II, and the latter’s son Jajalladeva II are mentioned. The inscription provides an important information about a collateral branch of the Kalchuris. Sarvadeva was a younger brother of Prithvideva I who got Sonthiva as a patrimonial share. Sarvadeva constructed a Shiva temple and a tank at Sonthiva. The name of his son is lost however it seems it was Amanadeva I. He begot Rajadeva and the latter got four sons, Tejalladeva, Ulhanadeva, Gopaladeva and Vikannadeva. Rajadeva constructed a Shiva temple with a tank at Patharia. There is a mention defeat of a Chedi king however in whose hands is not very clear. Also mentioned is death of a prince in this war and his three queens gone Sati with him. Mirashi suggests that The Chedi king would be Jayasimhadeva of Tripuri and the prince who died in this war would be Ulhanadeva. However no names are legible.Ulhanadeva begot Amanadeva II. He was loved by Jajalladeva as his own son.
Jagannath Temple (जगन्नाथ मंदिर) – This temple was constructed in 1927 on the similar plan as that of the Jagannath Temple of Puri. There is a unique tree near this temple whose leaves are in form of a ‘dona’ (bowl made of banyan leaves. It is assumed that this is only specimen of this tree on the earth. I did not see this tree so can’t comment much on this.
How to Reach – Sheorinarayan is NH200, about 64 km from Bilaspur and 154 km from Raipur. Bilaspur is the nearest railway station and Raipur is the nearest airport. Public buses ply from Bilaspur on regular intervals.
- Cunningham, Alexander (1872). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa and in the Central Provinces (Vol VII). Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Lal, Hira (1916). Descriptive List of Inscriptions in The Central Provinces and Berar. Government Press. Nagpur.
- Mirashi, V V (1955). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Simhadeba, J P (1987). Cultural Profile of South Kosala. Gian Publishing House. New Delhi. ISBN:8121200954