Gyaraspur – A Heritage of Excellence

Gyaraspur is a village of great historical importance situated in the Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh. As per a legend, the village was established by the gods and it was so-called because of the vow of gyaras or 11th day was observed. King Rukangada of Vidisha was a staunch devotee of Vishnu and used to observe a strict ekadashi-vrata, a fast on the eleventh day of the month. No one in his household including infants and cattle used to take food on that day. Once his son-in-law, Sobhana, visited his palace on ekadashi. He was tired from his journey however was not offered food as the king and the family were observing the fast. As a result, he died however, he obtained more than full recompense in the next world. Two or three years later a brahmana came to pass Gyaraspur and took a halt. He witnessed a strange phenomenon in the night. Vishnu’s angels descended down, swept the place, and set up a court (darbar). After some time Sobhana descended and took his seat to hold the court. As he used to hold his court every night, the place started being known as Sobhanapuri. But it became more celebrated by the name of Gyaraspur because gyaras was the day that led to his elevation.1

Locals attribute the foundation of the village to the Gond chief Man who ruled from Gada Madhala near Jabalpur. The chief was suffering from leprosy and came to the village hearing the fame of Gyaraspur. He was cured by drinking local waters. He excavated three tanks, one in the southwest known as Madagan, and two in the northeast, the larger one known as Man-sarovar.2 medieval period, in Madhya Pradesh. This comes under Vidisha district and is 35 km away from Vidisha. The name is derived from a fair which is held at the eleventh month of the Hindu calendar, gyaras means joy at the eleventh. Gyaraspur is famous for a shalabhanjika, kept now at Gujari Mahal Museum Gwalior, statue which is considered as a matchless oriental beauty by many historians and experts. She is also called as Indian Venus or Gyaraspur Lady.

Monuments – There are many monuments of importance belonging to the 9th-10th centuries CE.

Athkhamba

Athkhamba – The local appellation is because of the group of eight pillars standing over a platform.   These eight pillars are the only remains now left of a large east-facing temple. The front four pillars are that of the mandapa (hall), two of the antarala (vestibule) and the last two are pilasters of the garbha-grha (sanctum). The pillars of the mandapa are embellished with the ghata-pallava motifs and the abacus above has the arrangement to support bhara-vahakas (wight bearers), the latter is missing now. The lintel above the pillars, both from inside and outside, has been decorated with musicians, dancers, and amorous couples.

Antarala doorway

The antarala doorway is decorated with an exquisite makara-torana forming a garland in the front with three drooping lotus pendants. , this shrine has only eight pillars left surviving. The makaras, from the mouth of which emerges this torana, are placed over the abacus portion of the pillars. Over the makaras are placed bhara-vahakas supporting the lintel block above. The lintel is decorated with images of musicians, dancers, and amorous couples.  In the central niche on the front of the lintel is a scene of Shivalinga worship suggesting the Shaiva association of the temple.

Garbha-grha doorway

The garbha-grha doorway is built with five bands. Dvarapalas with female companions are present at the door jambs. The latala-bimba of the lintel has an image of Shiva shown with four arms. On the terminals are present Brahma and Vishnu.  In the recess are the images of dancing Asta-matrikas accompanied by Ganesha and Virabhadra at the end. The image of Chamunda is given special attention as she is shown standing over a preta but dancing and carved with eight hands holding different attributes while the rest of the matrakas are shown with four hands. The posture of Ganesha is of great interest as he is shown dancing with his back turned towards the group, his one leg placed over the ground and another on his rat mount, and his head turned backward gazing at the matrkas.  On the doorway panels, the three panels in the south depict the story of Shiva’s marriage with Parvati or the kalyana-sundara episode while the three panels in the north have images of Shiva with Parvati.

There are a few inscriptions found at the monument. An inscription engraved on a pillar makes obeisance to Krishesvara and dates to samvat 1039, corresponding to 982 CE. Krishnesvara might be the god to whom the temple was dedicated. The construction of the temple may be placed in the first half of the ninth century CE. The monument underwent major conservation work in 1932-33 by the then Archaeological Department of the Gwalior State.3

Photograph of the Bajramath Temple taken by Joseph David Beglar between 1871 and 1872 | British Library
Bajra Matha

Bajra Matha – This east-facing temple is consisted of three side-by-side shrines all connected to the same mandapa (hall) in the front. It is one of the rare Surya temples with triple shrine formula. It is built over a high platform. The mandapa is supported on fourteen pillars, two additional pillars are work of later restoration. The main entrance is provided in the east while balconies are provided in the north and the south. Shikhara (superstructure) of the central shrine only has survived. The surviving pillars are left largely plain rectangular with very few decorations.

Photograph of the sculpture on the doors and pillars of the Bajramath Temple taken by Joseph David Beglar between 1871 and 1872 | British Library
Central Shrine doorway

The central shrine is dedicated to Surya and is built in pancha-ratha style. The garbha-grha doorway has sapta-sakhas (seven bands). At the bottom of the door-jambs are present Ganga and Yamuna with their female attendants and dvarapalas (door guardians). The fourth sakha from inside has four panels on each side, each panel depicting a standing Surya. The lalata-bimba has an image of Surya seated over a chariot driven by seven horses. On either side of the lalata-bimba is a motif of kirti-mukha sandwiched between a lion and elephant. The lintel above the doorway has three niches, each having an image of Surya standing with his retinue. As the doorway has a total of twelve images of Surya, Birdi proposes an interesting argument that this comprises the representation of dvadasha-Aditya (twelve Adityas).4 Inside the garbha-grha is an image of Jain Tirthankara Neminath, a later addition.

Southern shrine

The doorway of the southern shrine is composed of six shakhas (bands). At the bottom of the door-jambs are Ganga and Yamuna over their respective mounts. The fourth shakha from inside has panels, four on each side. These panels have images of Shiva. Shiva also occupies the prominent lalata-bimba position. The lintel above has three niches, all housing images of Shiva. Similar to the doorway of the central shrine, this doorway also has twelve representations of Shiva. Birdi5 suggests that this may correspond to twelve depositions of Rudra as found in Matsya, Vayu, and Vishnu Puranas. However, this argument does not appear strong enough as Rudras are generally eleven and when represented they are all shown with similar characteristics.

Northern Shrine

The doorway of the northern shrine is composed of six shakhas (bands). At the bottom of the door-jambs are Ganga and Yamuna over their respective mounts. The fourth shakha from inside has panels, four on each side. These panels have images of Vishnu standing under the hood of Shesha. Vishnu also occupies the prominent lalata-bimba position where he is shown seated under the hood of Shesha. Though the image is much mutilated, however, it appears that he was shown seated over his mount Garuda. Earlier scholars have identified the image as that of Balarama6, the confusion probably arose due to the presence of serpent hood.  The lintel above has three niches, all housing images of Vishnu standing under the serpent hood. Shiva. Similar to the doorway of the central and the southern shrine, this doorway also has twelve representations of Vishnu. Birdi7 suggests that this may correspond to twelve Keshava representations as attested in the Kashi-khanda of Skanda Purana.

Shiva-Tirurantaka
Surya
Varaha

On the external walls of the temple are distributed various images across the niches and recess portions. The southern lateral wall belonging to the Shiva shrine has Surya in its bhadra-niche while Chamunda and another matraka are placed in the pratiratha-niche. Yama and Agni take their position on the karna-niches. The bhadra-niche (central) of the west wall of the central shrine is occupied by Shiva-Nataraja flanked by Varahi and Vishnu on his left and Ardha-narishvara on his right. The icon of Varahi is interesting as she is holding a fish and a buffalo is depicted as her mount, both representing tantra influence. Above the Nataraja, on the rathika-niche is an image of Yoga-Narayana.  The back wall of the Vishnu shrine has Surya in the bhadra-niche with Kaumari in a niche to his left. Above Surya, in the rathika-niche is Shiva-Tripurantaka. The back wall of the Shiva shrine has a decorative motif adorning the bhadra-niche. Above rathika-niche has Varaha accompanied by Nataraja and Balarama on the side niches.

Northern lateral wall
Kartikeya in the left

On the northern lateral wall belonging to the Vishnu shrine, Surya takes the central position on the bhadra-niche. The pratiratha-niche is occupied by Brahmani and Kartikeya. The rathika-niche above the bhadra has an image of Ganesha.  The identification of Kartikeya is made based upon the mount which appears very similar to a peacock. Kartikeya is shown with three heads and eight arms. As all the arms are broken therefore his identification cannot be done with certainty.

Mala-devi Temple

Photograph of the entrance porch to the Mala De Jain Temple taken by Joseph David Belgar in c. 1871-72 | British Library
Photograph of a close view of the top of the shikara of the Mala De Jain Temple taken by David J. Belgar in c. 1871-72 | British Library
Mala Devi Temple – Perched on a slope of a hill and built against its northern ridge, this partly structural and partly rock-cut temple provides a picturesque view of the Gyaraspur green fields. The temple may not be termed rock-cut in its strict sense as there was no specific excavation done for the temple. The natural cavern of the hill was utilized as the garbha-grha and the rest of the temple was built around it. The temple was referred to as Mala De Temple in the reports of Alexander Cunningham8 and the Gwalior Archaeological Department9. It started later known as Mala Devi temple however there is not enough information on who this Mala Devi is and how the temple got this name. The temple faces east and consists of an ardha-mandapa, mandapa, antrala, and a garbha-grha. This is a sandhara temple having a circumambulatory path around the garbha-grha. The shikhara (superstructure) is in pancha-ratha style. The temple is dedicated to Jain Tirthankaras and the earlier theory that it was originally a Hindu temple later attributed to Jain is incorrect. It would be very probable that the cave on the hill was originally revered by the Jains and with its growing popularity a temple was constructed in its front keeping the original cavern as its garbha-grha. Meister mentions in one interview that a hermit made his shelter in this cavern and later it was converted into a temple.10 He explains that the way the natural crevice of the hill was amalgamated into the temple suggests that the spot was sanctified as used by a particularly revered saint.11

Southern wall
Chakreshvarai with Ambika and a Jina
Yakshi Purusadatta with her elephant mount12
Consort of Revanta with her horse mount12

The western and the eastern side of the temple is partly composed of the hill and partly of structural blocks. The east and south sides are completely structural in design. Looking at the southern side of the temple we get a complete design of the temple. Three projecting balconies or windows are provided on the southern side. Various Jain deities are housed in the niches on all sides. On the niche between the two windows over the mandapa on the southern side is found eight-armed Yakshi Chakreshvari seated over Garuda and holding chakra and other attributes. In the niche on her left is a Jina and in the niche on her right is Yakshi Ambika carrying a child. Krishna Deva has described various images of the outer walls of the temple.12 Some of the images are inscribed and provide names like Tarapati, Vahnishika, Hima, etc.13 On the southern side are found Yaksha Dharanendra and Yakshi Padmavati, both standing under a serpent hood. In the west is found another image of Yakshi Padmavati. On the northern side are found standing Kubera, Rohini, Kandarpa, consort of Revanta, and various other yakshis.

Main entrance to the temple
Ganga over makara
Yamuna over kachchapa
Lakulisa | Teli Ka Mandir, Gwalior

The ardha-mandapa is supported on four pillars. The doorway is composed of five shakhas (bands). On the base of the door-jambs are Ganga and Yamuna accompanied by dvarapalas and attendants. Yakshi Chakreshvari is present on the lalata-bimba. She is eight-armed and riding over Garuda. The mandapa inside is supported on four central pillars. Garbha-grha doorway is also composed of five shakhas and resembles very much the ardha-mandapa doorway. Ganga and Yamuna are present at the base of door jambs. A lotus emerges behind the goddesses and over it are shown five figures. The central figure on the lotus above Yamuna is two-armed, seated in vyakhana-mudra and there appears a lakuta (rod) resting over his shoulders. Around him are shown four figures, two on either side. The two figures on his right are in anjali-mudra while the two on his left are not in anjali-mudra but appear to move away from him. R D Trivedi identifies the central figure with that as Lakulisa and the four people around him as his disciples, Kaurushya, Garga, Mitra, and Kushika.14 However the posture of the two disciples on the left of the central figures does not go well with the Lakulisa identification. A very similar design is present over the lotus behind Ganga. Here the central figure does not seem to hold a lakuta. In fact, the lakuta of the image over Yamuna is also not very clear as the image is broken at that point. Trivedi draws a comparison with the design present on Teli Ka Mandir in Gwalior, however, in the latter, Lakulisa is shown with two disciples and his lakuta is very clearly visible. Therefore, identification of the central figure as Lakulisa in the case of Mala Devi Temple needs further research keeping in the context that the temple was dedicated to a Jain Tirthankara. The image at lalata-bimba is much defaced however from what remains it is clear that it would be an image of Chakreshvari as evident from her mount Garuda. Vidyadevi and Saraswati at the terminals of the door lintel.

Garbha-grha doorway
Entrance to circumambulatory path

The natural crevice of the hill is fitted into the temple that the former makes the garbha-grha and its ceiling. The central spur pierces through both the outer wall and the wall of the garbha-grha, blocking totally the pradakshina-path but leaving the natural crevice to form the northwest corner of the garbha-grha. Inside the garbha-grha is an image of a Jain Tirthankar. On the north and the south of the garbha-grha doorway are provided entrances for pradkashina-path (circumambulation path). The lintel over the entrances is carved with multiple registers containing niches and mini-shrines. The lintel of the southern entrance has seven Tirthankaras on its lowest register, four Tirthankaras in the middle, and seven Tirthankaras over the top register. River goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, are present over the base of door jambs. The northern entrance is designed in the same fashion however on its lowest lintel register are found images of Sapta-matrakas accompanied by Ganesha and Virabhadra. The middle and top register follows the pattern as that of the southern entrance.

Jina image inside garbha-grha
Jina image inside a niche

Photograph of the base of the Mala De Jain Temple showing sculptures on walls and porches taken by Joseph David Belgar in c. 1871-72 | British Library
As there is no foundation inscription found, the temple is dated to the latter half of the ninth century CE based upon its architectural style and composition as well as the paleography of surviving non-dated label inscriptions. Richard Salomon published a Jain inscription, the stone slab bearing inscription is now housed in the British Museum, with a markedly Brahmanical tone. The stone slab was part of Charles Stuart’s collection and its provenance was Gyaspoor near Bhilsa, the present Gyaraspur. Salomon suggests that the only temple to which this stone slab may belong is the Mala Devi Temple as the temple shows a curious mixture of Jain and Hindu iconographic features. Salomon writes, “it is therefore tempting to speculate whether our inscription could actually have recorded the dedication of the Maladevi temple itself, which thus might have been a Jaina-Brahmanical hybrid from the very beginning (sic.).”15 However, it is evident that except for the representation of the Sapta-matrakas with Ganesha and Virabhadra, the temple has no more Hindu deities. The rest of the images over the outer walls, as well as inner chambers, belong to the Jain pantheon. Therefore, it would not be proper to call the temple Brahmanical-Jain hybrid model. Also, the stone inscription Salomon published does not carry any significant Brahmanical tone. However, this does not change much the speculation of Salomon as we may still say that this Jain stone inscription might have come from the Maladevi temple, the latter being a Jain temple. As Salomon also tells, this speculation can only be confirmed when we check the dimensions of the stone slab and find out where it would have been fitted in the said temple. British Museum also has an image of Sulochana, the Jain yakshi goddess of Tirthankara Padmaprabha, acquired from Charles Stuart, and supposedly belonging to the Mala Devi Temple.
Photograph of the torana or hindola taken by Joseph David Beglar in 1871 or 1872 | British Library

Hindola Torana & Chaukhambha

Hindola Torana & Chaukhamha– This interesting monument is what remains of a large and magnificent temple. The ornamental entrance gateway is known as Hindola Torana by the locals as it is believed to serve as a stand for a swing (hindola). Two horizontal beams are supported over two rectangular pillars. Between these two beams is a makara-torana with two bends. It is issued from the mouth of makaras supported over the brackets of the pillars.  At the base of the pillar shafts, on its four faces, ten incarnations of Vishnu are carved with Matsya and Kurma carved together on one face, Kalki and Buddha together on another, and the rest sides having one incarnation each, Vamana, Varaha, Narasimha, Rama, Parashurama, and Balarama.

Photograph of the ruins of the ”Charkhambha” Temple taken by Joseph David Beglar between 1871 and 1872 | British Library
The four pillars, at a distance of about 40 feet from the torana, standing over the remains of a plinth forming a square are the remains of the center of a mandapa once adorning the fallen temple. The temple would have been dedicated to Vishnu as evident from the sculptures found in the excavations as well as the decoration over the torana. Based on the remains, the size of the temple would be 150 feet in length east to west and 85 feet in breadth north to south.16Buddhist Stupa – This stupa is largely remodeled and renovated and most of the original material is lost or removed by local treasure hunters. It is built over a large platform that can be approached from the north by a flight of steps. Originally it was adorned with four niches in four cardinal directions, but only that of the east has survived in the restoration. Each niche was having an image of Buddha, all the images had been removed and stored in the ASI storeroom at the site. Two images of Buddha were in dhyana-mudra, one in bhumi-sparsha-mudra, and one was in dharma-chakra-pravartana-mudra. An inscription on the pedestal reads “Ye dharma hetu-prabhavah” in the script of 9th-10th century CE.

Gyaraspur Lady – This exquisite shalabhanjika image is now housed in a secure vault in the Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior. The torso of the statue was collected from the debris of the Hindola Torana complex in 1933. A year later, the head of the statue was also found however both the pieces lay separately in the collection room for some time. It was only a few years later that while checking the collection, by chance the head fitted to the torso infusing life into the statue. However, its real potential was only realized later when Dr. C Sivaramamurti categorized it as an unexcelled piece of medieval art and a great masterpiece of all Indian art. Now, this statue is considered an outstanding piece of Indian art from the early medieval period.


1 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. pp 60-61
2 ibid.
3 Annual Report of the Archaeological Department, Gwalior State for Samvat 1989, Year 1921-22. pp 3-5
4 Birdi, Dev Raj (1991). Gyaraspur – A Heritage of Excellence. Sharada Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 8183520128. P 56
5 ibid. p 58
6 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. p 62
7 Birdi, Dev Raj (1991). Gyaraspur – A Heritage of Excellence. Sharada Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 8183520128. P 57
8 Cunningham, Alexander (1880). Archaeological Survey Report of Tours in Bundelkhand and Malwa in 1874-75 and 1876-77, vol. X. Archaeological Survey of India. Delhi. p 34
9 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. p 62
10 Meister, Michael W & Rykwert, Joseph (1988). Afterword: Adam’s House and Hermits’ Huts: A Conversation published in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics No. 15. pp. 27-33
11 Meister, Michael W (1975). Jaina Temples in Central India published in Aspects of Jaina Art and Architecture.  Gujarat State Committee for the Celebration of 2500th Anniversary of Bhagvan Mahavira Nirvana. Ahmedabad. p 238
12 Deva, Krishna (1968). Mala Devi Temple at Gyaraspur published in Shri Mahavir Jaina Vidyalaya Golden Jubilee Volume part I. Shri Mahavira Jaina Vidyalaya. Mumbai. pp  262-269
13 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. p 63
14 Trivedi, R D (1990). Temples of the Pratihara Period in Central India. Archaeological Survey of India. Delhi. p 161
15 Salomon, Richard (1996). British Museum Stone Inscription of the Tripuri Kalacuri Prince Valleka published in Indo-Iranian Journal Vol. 39, No. 2. pp 133-161
16 Birdi, Dev Raj (1991). Gyaraspur – A Heritage of Excellence. Sharada Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 8183520128. P 67

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5 Comments

  1. Some Svetambara Jains believe that Tirthankara Mallinatha may have been female. I wonder from the name of the temple here is an example of this ?

    1. Some Svetambara Jains believe that Tirthankara Mallinatha may have been female. I wonder from the name, if the temple here reflects that?

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