Pali – The Mystery of the Banas

Pali is the tehsil headquarter in Korba district of Chhattisgarh, it is situated around 50 km from Bilaspur on NH-130. In its golden days, Pali would have been an important place  as it has been mentioned in the Kalachuri inscriptions as a prized conquered territory. Bilhari Inscription1 mentions Mugdhatunga wrestled Pali from the lord of Kosala. Benares plates of Karna2 attributes this feat to Prasiddhadhvala. Prasiddhadhvala and Mugdhatunga were titles of the Kalachuri king Shankargana II (890-910 CE), son of Kokalla I (850-890 CE). The lord of Kosala, mentioned in these epigraphs, would have been the Bana king Vikramaditya I Jayameru, son of Malladeva, who also caused a Shiva temple to be constructed at Pali. Benares plates of Karna mentions Prasiddhadhavala conquered Pali thinking in his family there would be born men precious on account of their greatness in this world. This suggests that he put Pali as a vice-royalty under one of his brother.

V V Mirashi3 opines that the Banas would have wrestled Pali from the Somavamshis. Banas were traditionally associated with the Pallavas. Their northern adventure would have happened during the northern campaign of the Pallava king Nandivarman II Pallavamalla (731-795 CE). The Banas might have pursued further in the north to establish their rule around Bilaspur, and Pali as their capital. The Bana adventure was very short-lived as soon they were overthrown by the rising Kalachuri power.

Mahadeva temple after conservation

Mahadeva Temple – This east facing temple is constructed over a 3 feet high platform. It is situated next to a water-tank, on periphery of which many temples were once adorned4. The temple has a garbha-grha, antarala and an octagonal mandapa (hall). The mandapa has not survived fully and it has been renovated many times. Its octagonal shape is achieved by cutting off the corners of a square. This is probably the only temple in Chhattisgarh with an octagonal mandapa suggesting its experimental nature.

Exterior wall in 1873 by J D Beglar | British Library


Deul is composed of vedi-bandha, jangha and baranda. It is sapta-ratha in plan. Vedi-bandha has five mouldings. Jangha is divided into two storeys, separated by a bandhana of a single moulding. Niches are provided on all the offsets, one niche in each storey. Niches on bhadra have Kartikeya and Shiva-Andhakantaka in the south, Surya and Nataraja in the west and Chamunda and Nataraja in the north. Niches on other rathas are supported over bhara-vahakas. Lower niches on karna ratha have dikpalas. Niches on prati-karna and parti-ratha have dancers and damsels. Recess area is filled with amorous couples in the upper storey and hybrid vyala-like animals in the lower storey. The couples are shown in various explicit poses, big and prominent, Niches on antarala walls have Durga in the south and Saraswati and Harihara in the north.

West facade
Surya in Bodh Gaya relief | Wikimedia Commons
Helios, early 4th century BCE, Athena’s temple, Ilion | Wikimedia Commons
Surya in Bhaja Cave |

Surya is shown standing over a chariot driven by four horses. Chariot driven by four horses is usually referred as quadriga. There are many early Indian art representations of Surya riding over a chariot driven by four horses. Many scholars have drawn similarities between the Surya cult in India with that of Persia as in Avesta and Early Greece. Mihr Yasht of Khorda Avesta5 mentions Mithra (i.e. Surya) riding a chariot driven by four steads of white color. In Greek mythology, Helios, the Sun god, is shown riding a chariot driven by four horses. In all the Indian texts, describing Surya’s iconography, Surya is said to be riding a chariot driven by seven horses6.  In India, we have four early representation of Surya riding a quadriga. The earliest might be the Surya in Bodh Gaya relief dated 1st-2nd BCE. Quadriga in this image may suggest Hellenistic influence however presence of Usha and Pratyusha carrying bow is very much indigenous to India. Second representation is from the Bhaja cave, dated 1st CE. Here Surya is shown riding a chariot trampling over a demon. He is accompanied with two females, who may be identified with Usha and Pratyusha however they do not confirm to their iconographical forms. Third representation is from the Ananta-gumpha in Khandagiri cave complex at Bhubaneswar, where Surya is shown riding a chariot accompanied with two females however the latter do not confirm to the iconographic forms of Usha and Pratyusha. Fourth and the last is an image found at Lala Bhagat pillar found near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. In this representation, Surya is shown riding a quadriga with a single female, who may be identified as his wife. We do have some more Surya images with quadriga during the Kushan period, however after that period all Surya images were carved with seven horses chariot. It would be very interesting to understand why the sculptors in Pali have carved Surya with four-horse chariot, deviating from the norm of seven horses.

Mahadeva Temple in 1873 by J D Beglar | British Library

Shikhara of the temple has survived partially, the present structure is its restored version. In the picture taken by J D Beglar in 1873, only five bhumis of the shikhara were evident, the external decoration of the part above till amalaka was all missing. It appears that the temple would have at least 9 or 10 bhumis in its original form. Sapta-ratha plan of the below bada continues over the shikhara. Shikhara is decorated with geometric designs, floral motifs however it is bereft of divine images usually put on bhadra. On its bhadra is provided a niche supported on a bhara-vahaka. Inside the niche is a large diamond shape design. Baranda moulding has a frieze of sporting geese.

Mandapa Ceiling in 1873 by J D Beglar | British Library

Mandapa is octagonal in shape, and was probably repaired twice, once during the Kalachuri rule of Jajalladeva and again during the Maratha rule7. As the whole temple stands over the same platform, there is doubt of mandapa would have been a later addition. The roof of the mandapa is constructed with seven concentric circles, each one reducing in its circumference moving up. With its external embellishment gone, this now gives a domical shape on the outside. The lintel of the antarala was originally supported on two side pilasters. Two additional thin pillars were added in between, probably during the repairs in the reign of Jajalladeva, to strengthen the support. The sanctum door jambs have river goddesses at the bottom, Ganga on proper right and Yamuna on proper left. Shiva is present on lalata-bimba, accompanied by nava-grhas with Brahma and Vishnu on terminals. 


Antarala has two niches on each of its wall. In the upper niches, on each side, is shown Shiva with Parvati. In the lower niches are shown ascetics in standing posture. Inside the mandapa are various relief sculptures showing ascetics and royal personnel. Among these sculptures are shown a king seated on a throne, worshiping Shivalinga, an acharya teaching his disciples, ascetics in penance etc. Adhikari suggests that there may be some interrelation between these sculptures and the real life of king Jajalladeva. Shaivacharya Rudrasena was the religious preceptor of the king. These sculptures may portray the life incidences of King Jajalladeva and his guru. These may be sculpted to showcase the king’s pious life and to glorify Shaivism to his subjects. However, there are not enough supporting evidences in her argument.

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. The king is identified with the Bana king Vikramaditya I (870-895 CE)8.
  2. Four inscriptions in the mandapa – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol IV part II, pp 418-419 – written in Sanskrit and Nagari alphabets – undated – these four inscriptions were discovered by D R Bhandarkar in 1904, these are incised on a wall, a door-way and a pilaster of the mandapa. The inscriptions read, ‘these are the kirtis of the illustrious Jajalladeva’. These inscriptions can be assigned to the Kalachuri king Jajalladeva I (1090-1120 CE)
  3. On a window on south – the inscription reads, ‘Sri Magardhwaja Jogi 700’, appears to be of some pilgrim record. Cunningham suggests this numeral 700 might be reflecting some year in an era. However, as various similar inscriptions with same name are found in temples at different places, 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 inscriptions read the same phrase. A single person cannot visit so many distant places at the same time and in short span. Therefor, suggestion from Hira Lal makes much sense that it is work of disciples of guru Magardhwaj who at one time had 700 disciples roaming across India and carving the same phrase everywhere. A manuscript copy of the Haihaya Ratanpur kings, owing allegiance to Shaiva sect, recorded the existence of Matha of Magardhwaja with 700 disciples, dated 1114 CE9.

1 Epigraphia Indica vol I, pp 251-270/Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV Part 1, pp 204-224
2 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV Part 1
3 Mirashi, V V (1939). An Ancient Dynasty of Maha-Kosala published in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress vol 3. Pp 319-327
4 Beglar, J D (1874). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa and in the Central Provinces vol VII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
6 Srivastava, V C (1972). Sun-Worship in Ancient India. Indological Publications. Allahabad. p 296.
7 Adhikari, Swati Mandal (2012). Temple of Pali published in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress vol. 73. pp 1242-1249.
8 Mirashi, V V (1955). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV Part 2. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p cxvi
9 Jha, Bishwambhar (2007). Epigraphic Evidence for Early Mithila publiched in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress Vol. 67 (2006-2007), pp. 1015-1019