Aundha Naganatha – Patalalinga Jyotirlinga

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Aundha Naganatha is a town in the Hingoli district of Maharashtra. The city’s Naganatha temple is considered a jyotirlinga equating to the Nagesh Jyotirlinga mentioned in the Shiva Purana. The twelve Jyotirlingas are enumerated in the Kotirudra-samhita of Shiva Purana. The Purana mentions Nagesh Jyotirlinga as the tenth jyotirlinga situated in Darukavana. It is generally believed that Darukavana refers to modern Dwarka and the present Nageshvara Temple in the city is the original Jyotirlinga. However, it is contested that a forest in the region around Dwarka is never mentioned in any texts. Therefore, Darukavana should be sought after elsewhere. Two main contenders emerge, Western Himalayas region and Aundha Naganatha. If we take Darukavana as another form for Daruvana (forest of Deodar trees), we see that Deodar trees are abundant in the Western Himalayan region. Jageshwar Temple complex in Almora town is a group of temples of varying sizes. It is a local belief that this complex also has a temple dedicated to Nagesh Jyotirlinga. The claim of Aundha Naganatha is based upon the order of enumeration of these Jyotirlingas in the Shiva Purana and a few epigraphical references. The Shiva Purana lists Nagesh Jyotirlinga with the Rameshvaram. Both these sites are located south of the Vindhya mountain range, therefore, Darukavana should be located in the southern region. Another evidence in support of Aundha is that it has been a significant center of Shaiva Siddhantikas since the seventh-eighth century CE. This antiquity suggests the importance of the place among the Shaiva pilgrimages, and having a jyotirlinga is not surprising. However, Almora and Aundha Naganatha fail in their claims comparing the antiquity of the Dwarka town and its importance during the Mahabharata period. Thus, in the general listing of the twelve jyotirlingas, Nageshvara Temple in Dwarka is generally included and the other two are omitted.

Aundha is also identified with Amardaka, a sacred tirtha extolled in various texts and a prominent seat of Shaiva saints during the early medieval period. The first reference to Amardaka in epigraphs was noticed in the tenth century CE Haddala plates of Dharanivaraha of Vadhvan. The plates mention a Shaiva acharya named Shivadevacharya belonging to Amardakasamtana. G Buhler, the editor of the plates, interprets samtana as a spiritual family, and this sect’s line of teachers was called Amardaka.2 Amardakatirtha is mentioned in a tenth-eleventh-century CE inscription from Ranod, Madhya Pradesh. F Kielhorn, who edited the epigraph, does not attempt to identify Amardakatirtha.3 Amardaka is also mentioned in the Rajor inscription from Rajasthan. Keilhorn also edited this epigraph however, he does not identify Amardaka.4 The Senakapat inscription of Sivagupta Balarjuna mentions a Saiva ascetic Sadyahsivacharya hailing from the penance grove entitled Amardaka. M G Dikshit, who edited the record,  concludes that it was impossible to determine the exact location of Amardaka in the present state of insufficient information.5 Mirashi, who worked extensively on the Kalachuri dynasty, says like other places mentioned in these various epigraphs, Amardaka should be sought for in Malwa.6 Since various scholars have tried different identifications, Jain takes Amardaka as Ujjain in Malwa7, Rajaguru contends for Balasore8, Willis for Amrol in Gwalior9, and Swami for Bengal10.

Among the textual sources on Amardaka, Pandey notices that Abhinavagupta’s Tantraloka mentions that Sage Durvasa was responsible for dividing Shaivism into three ontological branches. The story goes that Shiva, taking pity on humans trapped in Kali Yuga, commanded Sage Durvasa to promulgate his doctrine. Sage Durvasa then created three mind-born sons, Traiyambaka, Amardaka, and Srinatha, and they respectively founded the Trik (non-dualistic), Shaiva (dualistic), and matha (dualist-nondualist) schools of Shaiva philosophy.11 This tradition recurs in many tantric works where Durvasa is represented as the founder of the Amarddaka-matha.12  Davis says Aghorashiva, a twelfth-century CE guru to the Chola kings, in his Mahotsavavidhi mentions sage Durvasa as the founder of his vamsha and from whom arose the lineage of gurus in that good abode of Amarda. Davis concludes that Aghorasiva was affiliated with the monastic network or lineage from Amarda or Amardaka. However, Davis does not provide any identification for Amardaka, however, he suggests that Amardaka and other similar Shaiva centers should be seen as portable affiliations for Shaiva monks, not as restricted locations.13

Kanole brought to attention the identity of Amardaka with Audnha Naganatha based upon references in Amardakasthalamahatmya, Naganathasthalaka, Riddhipuramahatmya of Krushnamuni Dimbha and Nanditatamahatmya.14 Kolte equates Amvadhe (आवंढे) and Amardaka with Aundha Naganatha.15 Feldhaus says Amvadhe or Amardaka is featured in the list of twelve jyotirlingas provided by Krsnamuni and she also equates the place with Aundha Naganatha. She interprets the verse, “amvadhe naganatha amardaka tapovana” referring to a single place, Amardaka.16 Ajay Mitra Shastri, who worked extensively on the epigraphs of the Dakshina Kosala region, says that Amardaka was a prominent center of the Shaiva Siddhanta school to which the Mattamayura clan belonged. Shastri first agreed with Mirashi about locating Amardaka within Malwa, however, he later changed his opinion after the Ranjana stone inscription mahamandaleshvara Amanadeva and the Ardhapur stone inscription of the Ratta chief Battala. After the latter two inscriptions, Shastri identifies Amardaka with Aundha Naganatha.17 This identification is now generally accepted.  Sanderson says Amardaka was the mother institution to which all subsequent Saiddhantika branch lineages traced their authority.18 By the seventeenth century, Amardaka started featuring in twelve jyotirlinga lists.19 Kanole says it was the capital seat of the Ratta rulers and a famous pilgrim center known to be one of the seats of twelve jyotirlingas. King Ratta Ballala took the title of Amardakapuradhishvara (lord of Amardakapura).20 Various scholars who have worked on the temples of the Maharashtra region have agreed to take Aundha Naganatha as a jyotirlinga. Among them are P R Deo21, Jamkhedkar22, Deglurkar23, and Kumud Kanitkar24.

While the town has a rich and vivid cultural history, its political history does not go before the medieval period. Though it was an important pilgrimage center of considerable antiquity, however, their political emergence only began in the twelfth century CE when it was made the capital town of the Ratta chiefs of Ardhapur as evidenced by a few epigraphs of the twelfth century CE.25 The Ratta chiefs would be under the Rashtrakutas earlier and later under the Yadavas of Devagiri (or Seunas).

Cousens was the first scholar to report on the antiquities of Aundha in 1900.26 After the formation of the archaeological department under Nizam’s government, Yazdani enhanced the description of the temple with a few added details.27 The temple has been featured in various later studies centered around the temple architecture and style of Maharashtra and adjoining regions. Deglurkar28 covers the temple in his 1971 Ph.D. thesis and Prabhakar Deo29 in his thesis of 1973.

Aundha Naganatha Temple

Naganatha Temple – Deglurkar says it is the largest temple in the erstwhile Marathawada region and can rightly be called “Devalaya-chakravati” (the very emperor among temples). The temple faces west and stands in the middle of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by walls. The courtyard measures 89 m by 58 m and has four entrances.30 The main entrance is from the north. A step well is attached to the courtyard in its southeastern corner. The temple stands over a 5.5-foot-high jagati (platform). It consists of a garbhagrha, antarala, and a mandapa attached with two ardha-mandapas on its lateral sides and a mukha-mandapa in the front. The vimana follows a pancha-ratha (five offsets) pattern.

pitha and adhishthana moldings
From bottom to above – kirtimukha frieze, gajathara, ashvatharam, and narathara friezes

The jagati (base) is composed of multiple moldings. The lowest molding is upana which has a wave-like pattern. Above it is a kumuda molding followed by a kani molding. Next rises four bands one above the other. These bands are exquisitely decorated with various friezes similar to the Hoysala temples down south in Karnataka. The lowest band has kirtimukha motifs carved all around. The next band is called gajathara and is decorated with images of elephants in various postures. The next band, known as ashvathara, is decorated with images of horse riders. The last and fourth band, known as narathara, consists of images of human figures in various postures. Among these human figures are found warriors, some scenes from Krishna’s life, yogis, and some secular themes, etc.

The adhishthana is composed of multiple moldings. The first molding forming its base is upana. The next is a large kumbha molding carrying niches at its face. These niches have a canopy above and house images of various deities. Above it is a kalasa molding topped by kapota molding. A manchika molding separates the adhishthana from the jangha. The jangha is divided into two horizontal tiers. These two tiers have niches on all offsets and recesses. These niches are adorned with images of various deities, ascetics, and apsaras. The jangha is topped by a cornice that marks the start of shikhara (tower). The original shikhara was lost and it was later reconstructed in brick and mortar by Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore in the 18th century CE.31

Imagery between the west and north ardha-mandapas
Ravana shaking Kailasa
Shiva & Parvati, and a gana doing mischief with Nandi and lion
Mahavishnu with Madhava on the left and Hayagriva on the right
Amardaka Bhairava
Natesha
Chamunda
Andhakantaka
Tantrik Ganesha carrying a nara-munda
Kartikeya
Bhairava
Shiva-Gajantaka
Sadashiva

Some interesting and unique images of the jangha provide insights into the iconographic theme of the temple. The standing image of Sadashiva in the south is unique in its representation. Shiva is shown with four heads, two on the sides and one on the top of the main head. He has eight arms and carries akshamala (rosary), vajra (thunderbolt), trishula (trident), khatvanga (staff with skull-top), utpala (lily flower), bijapuraka (citron fruit), and kapala (skull). The other two hands are in vyakhana and varada mudras. Another interesting image is of Bhairava in the south. The god is shown standing and with twenty arms. Many of the attributes held in his hands are not identifiable, the few identifiable are vajra, parashu (axe), damaru (drum), kapala, sankha (conch), pasa (noose), ankusha (goad), dhanush (bow), and bijapuraka. He stands over a dead body or preta and his dog is missing in the sculpture. This icon is generally identified as Amaraddaka-Bhairava, Amarddaka is another name for Bhairava.32

Image over the south bhadra niche
Image over the east bhadra niche
Image over the north bhadra niche

Kanitkar opines that the name Naganatha, ending with natha, suggests an association with the Natha sect. She says images of yogis in various postures and mudras are found over the horizontal projections at different levels of the temple’s elevation. A small image of Yogi Matsyendranath riding over a fish is also found over the narathara frieze of the pitha. The large figures inserted in the bhadra niches of the lower tier of the jangha show persons seated in padmasana with hands joined in anjali-mudra. Deglukar suggests that these images were a later period work and Kanitkar also agrees with him.33 It appears indeed the case, as the size of the images is larger than usual, the female attendants on either side are not coherently aligned, and cavities between the image and the back wall of the garbhagrha suggest that these images were inserted later. Kanitkar says this insertion was probably done to safeguard the original images from iconoclasts. Later in the article, we will discuss some provisions made to protect the original linga in the garbhagrha. Therefore, it is quite probable that provisions were made to protect the three holiest images of the bhadra niches.

If these images are not of Shiva, then who do they represent? These human figures are generally identified with siddhas or yogis probably belonging to the Natha sect. Legends tell that Dnyaneshwar recommended Namdev to go to Aundha to meet Visoba Khechar and accept him as his guru.34 There is no doubt that the Natha sect was growing in popularity around the region in about the early thirteenth century, however, there is no strong evidence that the Aundha Naganatha temple has an association with the sect. It is accepted that the large images in the bhadra niches are an afterthought and later installations and were not part of the original design of the temple. The presence of images of yogis and siddhas over the temple walls does not necessarily conclude an association with a particular sect. It may be a case that the temple originally did not have any connection with the Nathas, however, later it became an important center if we agree with the legend stating that Namdev found his guru in this temple. Sarde writes, “It is quite likely that the images on temple could be of various sampradayas of Saiva, like Kapalikas, Pasupatas, Kalamukhas, Dasanamis, Saiva Siddhanti, and Natha-yogis (sic)”.35

ardha-mandapa in the north

Elephant plinth on the entrances
Female riders over elephants on the entrance plinth

The main entrance to the temple is through its mukha-mandapa in the east. The stairs have parapet walls on the sides. The plinth slabs of the parapet walls are decorated with large-sized elephant images with riders on the top. The ceiling is supported by two pillars and two pilasters. The top brackets of these pillars have kichaka or bharvahakas depicted in various forms, i.e. musicians. The ardha-mandapas in the north and the south follow the mukha-mandapa in design and style.

Mandapa
Ceiling

The mandapa is a square hall measuring 40 feet square. The inside space is arranged around the central square nave with an octagonal platform (rangashala) in its center with aisles on all sides. The mandapa has three entrances, one each on the north, west, and south. The domical ceiling above the rangashala consists of concentric circles with diminishing diameters going up. The other parts of the mandapa ceiling have flat slabs. The mandapa has sixteen pillars, eight arranged around the rangashala, and the rest around the aisles. There are two niches in the mandapa, these are empty at present.

The garbhagrha doorway is built of six shakhas (bands). The first inner shakha has floral decoration, the next has figures of vidyadharas, the next is a stambha-shakha (pillar band), the fourth shakha has devotees, the fifth shakha has figures of vyalas and the sixth shakha is stambha-shakha similar to third one. Sculptural panels are provided on both the stambha-shakhas, these panels have images of various goddesses. The base of the jambs has dvarapala figures, fly-whisk bearers, and the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna. The lalata-bimba has an image of Ganesha.

The garbhagrha is unique as there are two floors, one above the other. The upper floor is at the same level as the mandapa. The lower floor has a Shiva linga in the middle and can be approached through a circular passage at the northern end. The lower floor ceiling is not high and a devotee has to crouch down to have darshana. It is possible that the lower floor was the original level of the garbhagrha and, later it was hidden by the construction of an upper floor to avoid desecration of the original linga in the hands of iconoclasts.

In the absence of any foundation inscription found in the temple, the temple is dated based on its architecture and style. It has been dated between the 11th and 13th centuries CE by various scholars.

Inscriptions – There are two inscriptions found inside the temple. These are written in Kanarese letters and assignable to the 11th-12th century CE. Deglurkar mentions these inscriptions without providing any further details.36


1 Shloka 23, Chapter 1, Kotirudra-Samhita, Shiva Purana | English Translation
2 Buhler, G (1883). A Grant of Dharanivaraha of Vadgvan published in the Indian Antiquary, vol. XII. p. 192
3 Epigraphia Indica, vol. I. p. 352
4 pp. 265-266
5 Epigraphia Indica vol. XXXI. pp. 31-36
6 Mirashi, V V (1950). The Saiva Acaryas of the Mattamayura Clan published in the Indian Historical Quarterly, vol. XXVI, No. 1. p. 3
7 Jain, K C (1972). Malwa through the Ages. Motilal Banarasidass. New Delhi. p. 413
8 Rajaguru, Satyanarayan (1966). Inscriptions of Orissa, vol. IV. Orissa State Museum. Bhubaneswar. pp. 349-350
9 Willis, Michael D (1997). Temples of Gopaksetra. The British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114774. p. 51
10 Swamy, B G L (1975). The Golaki School of Saivism in the Tamil country published in the Journal of Indian History, vol. 53, No. 1. pp. 176-177
11 Pandey, K C (1935). Abhinavagupta: An Historical and Philosophical Study, vol. I. Varanasi. p. 72
12 Pathak, V S (1980). History of Saiva Cults in Northern India. Abhinash Prakashan. Allahabad. p. 30
13 Davis, Richard H (1992). Aghorasiva’s Background published in The Journal of Oriental Research Madras, Dr. S S Janaki Felicitation Volume, vols. LVI-LXII. p. 373-376
14 Ritti & Shelke (1968). Inscriptions from Nanded District. Yashwant Mahavidyalaya. Nanded. preface, pp. iv-v.
15 Kolte, V B (1978). Lilacharitra (in Marathi). Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Sanskriti Mandal. Mumbai. p. 807
16 Feldhaus, Anne (1986). Maharashtra as a Holy Land: A Sectarian Tradition published in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 49, No. 3. p. 542
17 Shastri, Ajay Mitra (1995). Inscriptions of the Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somavamsins, part II. Indian Council of Historical Research. New Delhi. ISBN 8120806360. pp. 157-158, footnote 22
18 Sanderson, Alexis (2013). The Impact of Inscriptions on the Interpretation of Early Saiva Literature published in the Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 56, No. 3/4. pp. 235-236
19 Sears, Tamara I (2014). Worldly Gurus and Spiritual Kings: Architecture and Asceticism in Medieval India.  Yale University Press. London. ISBN 9780300198447. p. 62
20 Ritti & Shelke (1968). Inscriptions from Nanded District. Yashwant Mahavidyalaya. Nanded. preface, p. iv
21 Deo, Prabhakar Raghunath (1973). Temples of Marathwada, a Ph. D. thesis submitted to the Marathwada University. p. 163
22 Deglurkar, G B (2019). Temple Architecture and Sculpture of Maharashtra. Aprant. Pune. ISBN 9788194013143. p. 169, footnote 5
23 Deglurkar, G B (2019). Temple Architecture and Sculpture of Maharashtra. Aprant. Pune. ISBN 9788194013143. p. 169, footnote 5
24 Kanitkar, Kumud (2016). Aundha Naganatha Temple Paradigm Shift in Imagery: Jnana Marga to Bhakti Marga published in Temple Architecture and Imagery of South and Southeast Asia. Prasadanidhi: Papers Presented to Professor M.A. Dhaky, eds, Parul Pandya Dhar and Gerd J.R. Mevissen. Aryan Books International. Delhi. ISBN 9788173055508. pp. 189-190, p. 206 note 1
25 Deglurkar, G B (2019). Temple Architecture and Sculpture of Maharashtra. Aprant. Pune. ISBN 9788194013143. p. 173
26 Cousens, Henry (1900). Lists of Antiquarian Remains in the His Highness The Nizams Territories. Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India. Calcutta. p. 21
27 Annual Report of the Archaeological Department of His Exalted Highness the Nizams Dominions, 1917-18. pp. 8-10
28 Deglurkar, G B (1971). Cultural History of Marathawada, a Ph. D. thesis submitted to the University of Poona.
29 Deo, Prabhakar Raghunath (1973). Temples of Marathwada, a Ph. D. thesis submitted to the Marathwada University.
30 Deglurkar, G B (1971). Cultural History of Marathawada, a Ph. D. thesis submitted to the University of Poona. p. 169
31 Kanitkar, Kumud (2016). Aundha Naganatha Temple Paradigm Shift in Imagery: Jnana Marga to Bhakti Marga published in Temple Architecture and Imagery of South and Southeast Asia. Prasadanidhi: Papers Presented to Professor M.A. Dhaky, eds, Parul Pandya Dhar and Gerd J.R. Mevissen. Aryan Books International. Delhi. ISBN 9788173055508. p. 192
32 Rao, T A Gopinatha (1916). Elements of Hindu Iconography, vol. II, part I. The Law Printing House. Chennai. p. 176
33 Kanitkar, Kumud (2016). Aundha Naganatha Temple Paradigm Shift in Imagery: Jnana Marga to Bhakti Marga published in Temple Architecture and Imagery of South and Southeast Asia. Prasadanidhi: Papers Presented to Professor M.A. Dhaky, eds, Parul Pandya Dhar and Gerd J.R. Mevissen. Aryan Books International. Delhi. ISBN 9788173055508. p. 198
34 Kanitkar, Kumud (2016). Aundha Naganatha Temple Paradigm Shift in Imagery: Jnana Marga to Bhakti Marga published in Temple Architecture and Imagery of South and Southeast Asia. Prasadanidhi: Papers Presented to Professor M.A. Dhaky, eds, Parul Pandya Dhar and Gerd J.R. Mevissen. Aryan Books International. Delhi. ISBN 9788173055508. p. 201
35 Sarde, Vijay (2019). Archaeological Investigations of the Natha Sampradaya in Maharashtra, Ph. D. thesis submitted to the Deccan College Post-Graduate & Research Institute, Pune. p. 145
36 Kanitkar, Kumud (2016). Aundha Naganatha Temple Paradigm Shift in Imagery: Jnana Marga to Bhakti Marga published in Temple Architecture and Imagery of South and Southeast Asia. Prasadanidhi: Papers Presented to Professor M.A. Dhaky, eds, Parul Pandya Dhar and Gerd J.R. Mevissen. Aryan Books International. Delhi. ISBN 9788173055508. p. 173, footnote 3

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