Arang – The Town of Mayuradhwaja

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Arang is a tehsil town in the Raipur district of Chhattisgarh. Legends associate the town with king Mayuradhwaja and it is believed that it was here Krishna tested the faith of the king. A legend told by Cunningham goes, “Krishna, disguised as Brahman, appeared before Mura-dhwaja, and asked that he would bestow on him one-half of his body. The pious Raja at once granted his request, and, just as he was about to be sawn in two from head to foot, Krishna observed a tear in one of his eyes, and began to upbraid him, because the tear showed that he regretted having consented to the sacrifice. But the Raja readily replied that the tear only showed the grief that half of his body which the Brahmana had not asked for. Krishna was so much pleased with the reply that he immediately revealed himself, and conferred his blessing on the devout Raja. It is said that the use of saws was prohibited from this time throughout Chattisgarh, and that the place where the sacrifice was demanded was named Arang, after the ara or “saw” (sic).”1 However, it should be noted that there are other towns and villages in India, i.e. Mathurapur Mor village in Uttar Pradesh, claiming association with Mayuradhvaja.

The story of Mayuradhwaja is not found in the Mahabharata of Vyasa but in the Jaimini Bharata, of which only Ashvamedhika Parva is available.2 It tells Tamradhwaja, son of Mayuradhwaja, was protecting the ashvamedha horse of his father, the latter was ruling from the city of Ratnanagar. The ashvamedha horse of Yudhishthira approached near the horse of Mayuradhwaja and thus was captured by Tamradhwaja. A fight ensued, Tamradhwaja left for his city taking both the horses after defeating Arjuna and Krisha. Mayuradhwaja when came to know his son’s feat, he became furious that his son left Arjuna and Krishna unconscious on the battlefield committing a grave sin. After regaining consciousness, Arjuna and Krishna started for the city of Mayuradhwaja. Krishna met the king in a disguise of a brahmana. The Brahmana asked the king to rescue his son, the latter was captured by a lion and the lion had asked for half the body of king Mayuradhwaja in return for the son. The king agreed and asked his queen Kudmudvati and his son Tamradhwaja to cut his body half. While cutting the head, a tear rolled down from the king’s eyes and this made the Brahmana reject the donation as no donation could be accepted if given with grief.  The king explained to Brahmana that the tear fell as one-half of his body was being utilized but the other half was being wasted. Hearing this, the Brahmana took his real form as Krishna and blessed the king. In a few recensions of the Jamini Bharata text, the name Shikhadhwaja appears instead of Mayuradhwaja.3 Another variation of the legend mentions Krishna came as a Brahmana and Arjuna as a lion. The lion requested half the body of the son of king Mayuradhwaja which the latter agreed to without any grief. A. L. Srivastava4 says that the legend appears believable as the use of ara (saw) was prohibited in Chhattisgarh for a long time.5

Beglar6, who was the first modern explorer visiting the town in 1873-74, mentions numerous foundations of brick buildings to the north and north-east of the town. These sites were converted into brick quarries and Beglar tells he did not remember a single building in the town that had not been built utilizing the quarried material. He also tells that the quarries were far from being exhausted and he saw several diggings going on during his visit. However, he also tells nothing much of significance has come up from these diggings, i.e. no coin prior to the Maratha period had been discovered.

The antiquity of the town can be taken back to the 4th-5th century CE on the basis of a Brahmi inscription found in the town. Mention of a mountain named Bhrngara in the inscription led Pt Lochan Prasad Pandey Sarma7 to suggest that Bhrngara might be the ancient name of Arang however this does not find much support in the modern scholar community. A copper-plate charter of an unknown dynasty generally referred to as Rajarshitulyakula or Sura dynasty, was found in Arang. This is the only charter known of this dynasty. The charter is dated to the Gupta era, however, the reading is much debated, as per the two readings, it may correspond to either 501 or to 601 CE. As six generations are enumerated in the charter, this suggests that the dynasty ruled during the fifth-sixth century CE. Two charters of the Sarabhapuriya dynasty are also found from here that ruled after or contemporary to the Rajarshitulyakula. Arang would have been a large and prosperous town in its heydays. However, when the capital of the Sarabhapuriyas shifted to Sirpur, Arang would have lost its position and patronage.  After the Sarabhapuriays, Arang would have been with the Panduvamshis and consequently, with the different dynasties that ruled over the Chhattisgarh region. Arang is also said to have been the dwelling place of Lorik and Chandeni whose lover story forms one of the most popular love songs in Chhattisgarh.8

Tower of the Bhand Deul, taken by J D Beglar in 1873-74 | British Library
Mouldings of the tower of the Bhand Deul, taken by J D Beglar in 1873-74 | British Library

Bhand Deul – While deul means “temple”, there are many interpretations for the word bhand (भाण्ड ). The earliest legend behind the name was narrated by Beglar stating the temple was named so because of its indecent panels of nude images on its external facade.9 The district gazetteer of 1909 mentions that the temple was called so due to 3 colossal naked-Jina figures in its sanctum.10 Bhand also means “a vessel” and it is suggested that the circular vessel-like appearance of the temple may be behind this naming.11 Another interpretation is that it was named bhand due to its state of preservation and ruinous condition. Srivastava also points out that it might be called bhan (भाण) because of the depiction of apsaras, amorous couples, and celestial beauties and this bhan changed to bhand in time. Bhan (भाण) literature of the Gupta period is replete with the depiction of women in Ujjain and their romantic lifestyles. The temple was found in a very precarious condition and to avoid the collapse of its shikhara (tower), a portion of the shikhara was secured by iron straps. This arrangement was made to allow the surveyors to use the temple as a survey tower during the British rule.12

Three full-length standing statues of tirthankaras in the Bhand Deul, taken by J D Beglar in 1873-74 | British Library

Beglar13 mentions an interesting legend telling this temple at Arang and a temple at Deobaluda were built at the same time by the same mason under the order of the king who had both the places under his rule. When both temples were finished, a kalash (pot) was to be put on both simultaneously. Mason and his sister agreed to do it at the decided auspicious moment. As per the custom, the two stripped naked and climbed to the top, however, when at the top both saw each other and jumped down into a tank out of shame. They turned into stone and this stone image becomes visible when the water level in the tanks goes down. Beglar did not see as the water level was not below the mark during his visit.

Bhand Deul
Jagati moludings
Jangha with images in its niches

The temple faces east and is composed of a garbha-grha, antarala, and a mandapa, the latter has not survived.  It is constructed over a jagati (platform) and the vimana constitutes all the six major components, vedibandha (adhisthana), jangha, baranda, shikhara, mastaka, and kalasha, reaching a total height of about 25 meters. Jagati has six moldings starting at the bottom is stenciled lotus frieze molding, then elephants followed by horses, frieze consisting of musicians, dancers, and couples, followed by a frieze of rosette pattern, and the final molding is a kapotavali.  The jangha portion is divided into two equal stories, tala-jangha (lower jangha), and upara-jangha (upper jangha) separated by a pattika frieze containing vidyadhara figures. The bhadra (central/main) niche of the upara-jangha has the Jain gods while the corresponding niche on the tala-jangha has their respective sasana-devis. In other niches are present apsaras, and dikpalas while the recess portion is decorated with various vyala-figures.

Iron strap around the shikhara
Niches on jangha and shikhara

The garbha-grha has a stellar plan of six offsets at each side which results in an almost circular appearance of its external facade. Three large Tirthankara images of Shantinatha, Kuntanatha, and Aranatha in black polished stone are enshrined inside the garbha-grha. The ceiling of the garbha-grha is built in concentric circles supported by four large apsara brackets. The shikhara is built with five bhumis (stories). The shikhara has undergone major deterioration leaving only one side with its sculpture decoration and the rest exposed to their core. A large amalaka is placed over the shikhara. Shrngas (miniature shikharas) are placed on all offsets except bhadra. This verticle accentuation of all the sections led Krishna Deva14 to suggest that this temple belongs to bhumija model in the Kalachuri (Dahala) style prevalent in the region.  He dates the temple to the end of the 11th century CE.

Inscriptions:

  1. Brahmi inscription in the Raipur Museum15 – written in Brahmi southern script of about 5th century CE – the inscription reads, “Bhrngara parvvato baliyoga vidhi tapako” – B C Jain (Jain, Balchandra (1961).  पुरातत्त्व उपविभाग में संगृहीत वस्तुओ का सूचीपत्र भाग ६ -no 2 of  उत्कीर्ण लेख (in Hindi). Mahant Ghasidas Smarak Sangrhahalaya. Raipur.) has translated it, “Brhngarparv mein chalyoga (भृंगारपर्व में चलयोग)”
  2. Arang plates of Bhimasena16 – written in the Northern class of alphabets, language Sanskrit – dated in the Gupta era 282, corresponding to 601 CE – The object of the grant was to record a donation of a village named Vatapallika in the district of Donda by king Bhimasena to two brahmins Harisvamin and Bappasvamin, both of the Bharadwaja-gotra and student of Rigveda. The charter was issued from Suvarnanadi. The genealogy of Bhimasena is given to six generations, Bhimasena (II), son of Dayitavarman, son of Bhimasena (I), son of Vibhishana, son of Dayita (I), and son of Sura. No mention of any dynasty is made however they were said to be from a family celebrated like that of royal ascetics (rajarshitulyakula).
  3. Arang plates of Maha Jayaraja17 – written in the box-headed variety of Central Indian alphabet, language Sanskrit – dated in the fifth regnal year of the Sarabhapuriya king Maha-Jayaraja – the grant was issued from Sarabhapura. It records an order from the king to the house-holders residing at Pamva situated in Purvarashtra, to the effect that he had given away the village of Pamva to Brahmadevsvamin belonging to the Vajasaneya sakha and the Kaundinya gotra for the religious merits of his parents and his own.
  4. Arang plates of Sudevaraja18 – written in the box-headed variety of Central Indian alphabet, language Sanskrit – dated in the seventh regnal year of the Sarabhapuriya king Sudevaraja, corresponding to the latter half of the sixth century CE – The grant was issued Sarabhapura by king Sudevaraja. The king confirmed the grant of a village Sivalingaka in the Tosadda-bhukti.
  5. Arang stone inscription of Bhavadeva Ranakesarin and Nannaraja19 – There is a good controversy behind the provenance of this inscription. The stone bearing the inscription was first published by Dr. Stevenson mentioning Bhandak as its provenance. However, the Nagpur Museum where the stone was deposited mentions it to be connected with Ratanpur in the Bilaspur district. Keilhorn who later published it mentioned it to be from Ratanpur. Hira Lal and D R Bhandarkar however kept the original provenance as Bhandak refuting Ratanpur as its provenance. It was V V Mirashi and Y K Deshpande who first pointed out that the inscription came from Arang and not from Bhandak or Ratanpur. The same view was rejected by M G Dikshit and D C Sircar however A M Shastri accepts that evidence for Arang is far stronger than Bhandak or Ratanpur – Early Nagari script, language Sanskrit – dated middle of 7th century CE – The inscription opens with siddham symbol and salutation to Buddha who is later referred as Jina and Tayin. Then comes a reference to a king named Suryaghosha as an independent ruler. He was in great grief after his son died after falling from the top of his palace. He built a magnificent temple of the Buddha after realizing the ephemeral nature of life. After a long time, there flourished another king named Udayana in the Pandava family. His fourth son was Bhavadeva and he is eulogized in fifteen lines in the inscription. He was also known as Ranakesarin, Apriyavaisika, and Chintadurga. The temple of Buddha was repaired by a Brahman, name lost, a favorite of the king. Later comes a reference to king Nannaraja, probably styled as adhiraja and he is reported to have gained victories on the battlefield.
  6. Arang plates of the Haihaya king Amarasimhadeva20 – this is a sanad given by Raja Amarasingha to Thakur Nandu and Ghasiraya, ancestors of Anjori Lodhi, exempting their family from payment of taxes in respect of ordinary marriages, widow marriages, desertion by a wife and property deceased persons in the family. It is dated 1735 CE.
  7. Arang stone inscription of Mahamayi Temple21 – the inscription is much damaged. It begins with an invocation to Vishnu, and the name Ranakesari appears in its 13th line. This Ranakesari might be the brother of the Panduvamshi king Mahasivagupta.

1 Cunningham, Alexander (1884). Report of a Tour in the Central Provinces and Lower Gangetic Doab in 1881-82, vol. XVII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p. 74
2 Shrijaiminiyashwamedhaparva. Geeta Press. Gorakhpur. pp. 271-99
3 Das and Sahu (2010). Aswamedha Episode and Jaimini Bharata in the Tradition of Mahabharata: Bengali, Assamese and Oriya Version published in the Orissa Review. p. 76
4 Srivastava, A L (2013). Opening speech in a state-level seminar organized on 24-25 September 2013 and published in Arang Parikshetra ka Itihas evam Puratattva (in Hindi).
5 Nelson, A E (ed.) (1909). Central Provinces District Gazetteer – Raipur District vol. A: Descriptive. British India Press. Byculla. p. 257
6 Beglar, J D (1878). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa, 1871-72; and in the Central Provinces, 1873-74, vol. VII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. pp. 159-165
7 Sarma, Pt. Locan Prasad Pandey (1948). A Short Brahmi Inscription from Arang published in Kosala Kaumudi. Ravishankar University. pp. 8-12
8 Nelson, A E (ed.) (1909). Central Provinces District Gazetteer – Raipur District vol. A: Descriptive. British India Press. Byculla. p. 259
9 Beglar, J D (1878). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa, 1871-72; and in the Central Provinces, 1873-74, vol. VII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p. 160
10 Nelson, A E (ed.) (1909). Central Provinces District Gazetteer – Raipur District vol. A: Descriptive. British India Press. Byculla. p. 258
11 Srivastava, A L (2013). Opening speech in a state-level seminar organized on 24-25 September 2013 and published in Arang Parikshetra ka Itihas evam Puratattva (in Hindi).
2 Beglar, J D (1878). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa, 1871-72; and in the Central Provinces, 1873-74, vol. VII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 161
13 Beglar, J D (1878). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa, 1871-72; and in the Central Provinces, 1873-74, vol. VII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p 162
14 Deva Krishna (1975). Bhumija Temples published in the Studies of Indian Temple Architecture (ed. Pramod Chandra). American Institute of Indian Studies. New Delhi. p. 110-11
15 Sarma, Pt. Locan Prasad Pandey (1948). A Short Brahmi Inscription from Arang published in Kosala Kaumudi. Ravishankar University. pp. 8-12
16 Epigraphia Indica vol. IX. pp. 342-345
17 Shastri, Ajay Mitra (1995). Inscriptions of the Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somavamsins, part II. Motilal Banarsidass. New Delhi.  ISBN 8120806360. pp. 20-23
18 Shastri, Ajay Mitra (1995). Inscriptions of the Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somavamsins, part II. Motilal Banarsidass. New Delhi.  ISBN 8120806360. pp. 39-42
19 Shastri, Ajay Mitra (1995). Inscriptions of the Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somavamsins, part II. Motilal Banarsidass. New Delhi.  ISBN 8120806360. pp. 95-101
20 Hira Lal, Rai Bahadur (1916). Inscriptions in the Central Provinces and Berar. Government Printing. Nagpur. p. 100
21 Hira Lal, Rai Bahadur (1916). Inscriptions in the Central Provinces and Berar. Government Printing. Nagpur. p. 101

Acknowledgment: Some of the photos above are in CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain from the collection released by Tapesh Yadav Foundation for Indian Heritage.