Bagh – Mysterious World of Paintings

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    Chapter 1: Introduction & Past Scholarship
    Chapter 2: Bagh Caves
    Chapter 3: Paintings
    Chapter 4: Dating and Epigraphs


    Chapter 4 – Dating and Epigraphs

    R C Mazumdar1 was the first scholar to edit the copper-plate grants of the kings of Valkha. The two grants, of Maharaja Swamidasa dated year 67 and of Maharaja Bhulunda dated year 107, edited by Majumdar were handed over to him by Professor D R Bhandarkar who in turn obtained those from a brahmana in Indore State. The exact finding place of these plates is not known. Each of these grants is engraved on a single plate, and none carry any kind of seal or a provision for a ring hole. Both are dated without mention of any era. The grants are written in the Sanskrit language and the characters belong to the southern class of the alphabet. Mazumdar opines the characters resemble approximately the Sanchi stone inscription of the Gupta king Chandragupta II, and thus he takes the dates in the Gupta era. Mazumdar tells the first word of the grants, Valkha, offers great difficulty and he takes it as the place from where these grants were issued, however, he does not offer any identification. R R Haldar2 edited another grant of Maharaja Subandhu that was issued from Mahishmati and dated in the year 167 without mention of any era. Haldar takes this year in the Gupta era and dates the grant to 486 CE. He also mentions the letters on the plate more or less resemble the copper-plate grant of Maharaja Pravarasena II of the Vakataka family. Another copper-plate grant of Maharaja Subandhu was unearthed from the debris of Cave No 2 at Bagh. Due to a missing piece, the date part of the grant was lost. This grant was also issued from Mahishmati. Based on the paleography studies, Garde3 assigns the Bagh grant of Subandhu to the fifth-sixth century CE.

    Mirashi4 rejects the dating of the above grants to the Gupta era and instead proposes the dates were in the Kalachuri Era. His main arguments were that there was no evidence of the spread of the Gupta era to northern Maharashtra where the two plates, edited by Mazumdar, were probably found. Taking the Gupta Era, the year 67 of the grant will fall in 386 CE, however, the rule of the Guptas in Malwa can only be established after 388 CE as till then the Malwa region was under the Western Kshatrapas.5 Mirashi claims if Dasarna and Malwa regions were not under the Guptas during the second half of the fifth century CE, then the Anupa region, where Bagh and Mahishmati are situated, that lies further to the west of the above two could not be under the Guptas. The earliest Gupta-era inscription from the Malwa region is the Udayagiri cave inscription of the year 82 and therefore an inscription dated in the year 67 and that too of a feudatory Gupta king appears very improbable. Mirashi identifies Valkha with Vaghli (modern Bahal), about 19 km north by east of Chalisgaon in the Jalgaon District, Maharashtra.

    In 1982, a hoard of twenty-eight copper-plate inscriptions was discovered on the outskirts of the Bagh village in the vicinity of the Baghesvari Temple. These grants were issued by different kings, Bhulunda, Swamidasa, Rudradasa, Bhattaraka, and Nagabhatta, all probably belonging to the same family. These grants were edited by S P Tewari and K V Ramesh.6 All these grants were dated in some years with no era specified. The years vary from 47 to 134. Tewari and Ramesh assign the years mentioned in these grants to the Gupta Era. They identify Valkha with Balkhad, a village about 30 km from Maheshwar, the ancient Mahishmati. However, they also assert that during some unknown time political importance shifted from Valkha to Bagh and the latter got its name from Valkha. The village of Balkhad is about 90 km from Bagh. Verma7 identifies Valkha with Bagh and she is probably right as the discovered hoard near the Bagh village indicates the same.

    Gleamings from these grants are very interesting in understanding the political, religious, and cultural developments of the Bagh and Mahishmati regions. The first important note is that these grants are perhaps the oldest copper-plate grants in Northern India. All these grants consist of only one sheet engraved on one side, without any provision of a seal or ring. The grants are bereft of any eulogy, genealogy, etc., and this shows that these grants represent an early phase of copper-plate epigraphs that later developed into heavy, multi-plates, multi-lingual grants comprising long eulogies and messages. The nature of all these grants is donative, mentioning donations to various Brahmanas and gods. No relationship is provided among the various kings of these grants and we need to rely on the years to form a genealogy. Bhulunda appears as the first ruler of the stock and his grants were issued between years 47 and 59. The name Bhulunda is non-Sanskritic, while the other kings have Sanskritized names such as Swamidasa, Rudradasa, etc., suggesting his tribal or aboriginal roots. When the region developed into a political unit, Bhulunda raised himself as a king. The donative grants issued from him suggest the spread and settlement of Brahmanas and the establishment of temples. When a donation was made to a brahmana or a group of Brahmanas, the donated land was categorized as agrahara or brahmadeya. When the donation was in the context of a god or a temple then it was categorized as devagrahara. The donation to a god or a temple was for the performance of temple rituals such as bali, charu, and satra rites and for provisions such as perfume, incense, and garlands. Bhulunda refers to himself as a devotee to Narayana and in his honor, he installed a temple at Valkha-adhishthana, the capital city. The other gods in his grants were Bappa Pisachadeva, matrkas (Bhagavati/mahamatrinam), and Mahasenadeva. Deity Bappa Pisachadeva appears to be a tribal deity and interestingly his temple was constructed by Bhojika Bhatta Bandhula. It is indeed interesting to see a lady as the sponsor of a temple and the king making grants at her behest to a tribal god. The grants mention the temple of Bappa Pisachadeva as devagrahara suggesting that it was raised in status at par with other temples dedicated to the regular Hindu gods, Narayana, matrakas, and Mahasena. An interesting fact in Bhulunda’s grants was the presence of Pashupatas in service of a temple dedicated to Narayana. Interestingly, the grants of the later rulers were all donations to Brahmanas but none to a god or temple. It appears that all the required temples and settlements were already completed during the rule of Bhulunda and the later rulers only maintained these institutions through donations to Brahmanas.

    All the rulers except Subandhu have used the term “meditating at the feet of Paramabhattaraka” and Paramabhattaraka is generally taken for the Gupta rulers. This suggests that the early kings before Subandhu were feudatory rulers under the Guptas however this feudatory nature came to an end with Subandhu. A question that requires an answer is whether the region was under the Guptas during the period of king Bhulunda and other early kings or not. Bhulunda was contemporary to the Gupta king Samudragupta (335-375 CE) and the Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudragupta mentions his conquests including that of forests and tribal regions. However, Valkha does not appear in his list of conquered regions. Udaigiri, Eran, Tumain, and other Gupta principalities located in the north of Bagh suggest that the region north of Bagh was well under the Gupta domain from the time of Samudragupta. The region south of Bagh was the domain of the Vakatakas. Thus, Bagh was a buffer zone between two important monarchical polities of the fourth and fifth centuries CE. The Western Kshatrapas (Satraps) pose a serious problem in assigning the region around Bagh to the Guptas. They ruled over the Malwa region till they were finally defeated by Chandragupta II (375-415 CE). Though it was Chandragupta II who delivered the final blow to them, however, their power was on the decline since the second century CE after their defeat at the hands of Satavahanas and later by the Abhiras. The last great ruler of this line was Rudrasimha II and his rule ended in 348 CE. It may be very possible that after the death of Rudrasimha II, Bagh asserted their allegiance to the Guptas and made their tribal chief their new king-leader. Ghosh8 tells in the Valkha grants we see an attempt to introduce terminologies related to the administration of land used by two dynasties, the Guptas, and the Vakatakas. In fact, several administrative terms have a distinct connection with the terminologies found in the Vakataka records. In the choice of language for the grants, they followed the Gupta traditions, thereby indicating a north-Indian orientation. He opines the Valkha state was truly a combination of a typical early state and an early state judged to be transitional. 

    Prior to the discovery of the Bagh hoard of plates, Mulk Raj Anand8 opined it was likely that as Buddhism appealed to the rejects of Hindu society, the Buddhist monks seized upon the layers of rock of the crescent by the stream, for seclusion as well as for contiguity to the local aboriginal population. The appearance of the lithe, supple, ripe-colored aboriginal peoples in the wall paintings shows how the Bhils were involved in the Buddhist ceremonies of dance and music on the full moon nights and at the change of seasons. He is probably right in his remark about the amalgamation of aboriginals with the regular society however whether it was taken up by the Buddhists or Hindus is not certain. Except for the grant discovered in the Bagh cave, no other grant mentions Buddhist society or institution. Therefore, it may be very probable that when the region came under the Guptas, the aboriginals were slowly absorbed into the regular societies and their gods were mingled with the Hindu mainstream gods, as also evident from the grants discussed above. It is very interesting that only the grants of Bhulunda mention existing temples, deities, and construction of new shrines, and all the later grants are of donative records to Brahmanas. This proves that the intermingling of old and new gods was completed during the reign of Bhulunda and once completed the later rulers did not need to pay any heed to it. Instead of granting lands to temples, the later rulers granted lands to Brahmanas and groups of Brahmanas, making them landowners and elevating their status in society. 

    Walter Spink10 is of opinion that the play Dasakumaracharita provides essential clues in understanding the political scene after the death of the Vakataka king Harisena and the turmoil the family faced. He identifies Visruta, a character in the play who was a princely son of a minister of the (Gupta) king of Magadha, with Subandhu. Spink tells that after the fall of the Vakataka viceroy in the Vidarbha region, Subandhu schemed his way into a position of power at Mahishmati, thus he became the protector of whatever was remaining of the power and prestige of the Vakataka house. On dating the caves, Spink states both, Bagh and Ajanta (main phase), were started in about 462 CE11 and the Bagh caves were probably all completed somewhat before 478 CE12.

    Brahma Image from Bagh, now in the Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior

    General Epigraphs

        1. Grant of Bhulunda, year 47 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants five villages on the southern bank of river Narmada to lord Narayana for the performance of bali, charu, and satra. The deed was issued from Valkha and executed in the presence of five artisans (pancha-karuka). The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 367 CE.
        2. Grant of Bhulunda, year 50 – Maharaja Bhulunda grants a few villages to Mulasarmma and Bhuta-bhoajaka for the performance of bali, charu, and satra and for providing sandal paste, incense, and garlands for the mother goddesses (Bhagvati, matrinam) installed at navatataka. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 370 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        3. Grant of Bhulunda, year 50 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village on the farther bank of Narmada to Lord Narayanadeva installed at Valkha-adhishthana (capital) for the performance of bali, charu, and satra. The temple cultivators Pashupatas, Aryya-Chokshas and other temple servants should be permitted to do bali, charu, and satra and provide sandal paste, incense, and garlands. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 370 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        4. Grant of Bhulunda, year 51 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a few plots of land to Lord Narayana for the performance of bali, charu, and satra and for providing sandal paste, incense, and garlands. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 371 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        5. Grant of Bhulunda, year 54 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants half of a village to Boppa-pisachadeva who was installed as Valkha by Bhojika for the performance of bali, charu, and satra and for providing sandal paste, incense, and garlands. The temple servants and Pashupatas were allowed to cultivate the granted land. The grant was to be administered by the devotees of Bhagvat. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 374 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        6. Grant of Bhulunda, year 54 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants Devagrahara and Gavayapanikya at the request of Bhokika-bhatta Bandhula to lord Bappa-pisachadeva installed at Valkha by Bhojika for the performance of bali, charu, and satra and for providing sandal paste, incense, and garlands.  The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 374 CE. The executor was Gomika and the grant was to be administered by the good devotees of Bhagvat (Narayana). The deed was issued from Valkha.
        7. Grant of Bhulunda, year 54 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a plot of land and a house to Jayavardhana, the son of Bhatti-Dama of Harita-sagota, as a Brahmadeya to be enjoyed by sons, grandsons and so on. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 374 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        8. Grant of Bhulunda, year 55 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village as Brahmadeya-kulagrahara, to Brahmana Dakkanna of Bharadvaja-sagota. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 375 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        9. Grant of Bhulunda, year 55 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants three villages to God Mahasenadeva, installed by the king, for the performance of bali, charu, and satra and for providing sandal paste, incense, and garlands. Mantraganacharya, temple servants, and Pashupatas were allowed to enjoy, cultivate and inhabit the three villages. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 375 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        10. Grant of Bhulunda, year 56 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants the village of Pinchchhikanaka to Pashupatacharya Bhagvat Lokodadhi of the temple of mother goddesses (matristhana) for the performance of bali, charu, and satra and for providing sandal paste, incense, and garlands.  The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 376 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        11. Grant of Bhulunda, year 57 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village on the southern bank of river Narmada as Brahmadeya to Aryya-chaturvaidyas belonging to various gotras and charanas. The mentioned date if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 377 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        12. Grant of Bhulunda, year 57 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village at the request of Jaya, the messenger of Bhojika-bhatta Bandhula, to God Bappa-pisachadeva for the performance of bali, charu, and satra and for providing sandal paste, incense, and garlands. Bhagvachchhisht as temple servants and Pashupatas were allowed to enjoy, cultivate and inhabit these villages. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 377 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        13. Grant of Bhulunda, year 59 – Maharaja Bhulunda who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village at the request of Innapada to God Bappa-pisachadeva, situated in the vishaya of Narmmada-parapare, for the performance of bali, charu, and satra and for providing sandal paste, incense, and garlands. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 379 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        14. Grant of Svamidasa, year 63 – Maharaja Svamidasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village on the southern bank of Narmada as Brahmadeyagrahara to Brahmana Shashthidatta of Aupamanya sagotra. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 383 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        15. Grant of Svamidasa, year 63 – Maharaja Svamidasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village on the farther bank of Narmada to Arrya Chaturvvaidyapadas as a Brahmadeya. Arrya Chaturvvaidyapadas were residents of Valkha and belonged to various gotras and charanas. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 383 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        16. Grant of Svamidasa, year 65 – Maharaja Svamidasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a plot of land to the north-west of Vanavasini as brahmadeya to Brahmana Pancha belonging to Vatsa-gotra. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 385 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha. The grant was executed by Varaha Pratihara.
        17. Grant of Svamidasa, year 65 – Maharaja Svamidasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a plot of land as brahmadeya to Matujja belonging to Kasyapa-gotra. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 385 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        18. Grant of Svamidasa, year 66 – Maharaja Svamidasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village lying on the other bank of Domphagarta in navarashtraka located in the farther bank of Narmada as brahmadeya to Aryya Chaturvaidyapadas residing at Valkha. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 386 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        19. Grant of Rudradasa, year 68 – Maharaja Rudradasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a few villages as bharhadeya to Aryya Chaturvaidyapadas residing at Valkha. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 388 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        20. Grant of Rudradasa, year 68 – Maharaja Rudradasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village as brahmadeya to Brahmana Varadeva of Vatsa-gotra. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 388 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        21. Grant of Rudradasa, year 69 – Maharaja Rudradasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village as brahmadeya to Brahmana Dantika of Aupamanyava-sagotra. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 389 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        22. Grant of Rudradasa, year 69 – Maharaja Rudradasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village as brahmadeya to Aryya Chaturvaidyapadas residing at Valkha. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 389 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        23. Grant of Rudradasa, year 70 – Maharaja Rudradasa who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village as brahmadeya to Brahmana Varadatta. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 390 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        24. Grant of Bhattaraka, year 102 – Maharaja Bhattaraka who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a field as brahmadeya to Brahmana Revatisarmma of Vatsya-gotra. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 422 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        25. Grant of Bhattaraka, year 127 – Maharaja Bhattaraka who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village as brahmadeya to Chaturvaidyasamuha of Valkha. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 447 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        26. Grant of Bhattaraka, year 129 – Maharaja Bhattaraka who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village as brahamdeya to Chaurvaidyasamuha of valgu.  The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 449 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        27. Grant of Nagabhatta, year 134 – Maharaja Nagabhatta who meditates at the feet of Paramabhattaraka grants a village at the request of Aryyika-Bhattapada for the growth of her merit and fame to Chaturvaidyapadas of Valkha for bali, charu, and Vaishvadeva offerings. The mentioned date, if taken in the Gupta era, corresponds to 454 CE. The deed was issued from Valkha.
        28. Bagh Cave plates of Subandhu – written in Sanskrit, in the western variety of the South Indian alphabets – date lost – the inscription refers itself to the reign of Maharaja Subandhu who granted a village situated in the pathaka of Dasilakapalli. The grant was made for providing the materials for the worship of Buddha and maintaining an alms-house in the vihara called Kalyana, for repairing the broken and dilapidated portions of the vihara, and for supplying clothing, food, medicines, beds, and seats to the Community of Venerable Monks hailing from all the four directions. The vihara named Kalyana was said to be constructed by some Dattataka. This order was issued from Mahishmati which was evidently the capital of the king.
        29. Brahma image inscription – written in Sanskrit, the script is Nagari – This statue was discovered by M B Garde in Bagh town and now it is housed in the Gwalior Archaeological Museum – dated to Vikrama year 1210 (1154 CE) – The object of the inscription is to install an image of Brahma by Bhabhini, a sister of the Mandalika Yashodhavala, on Thursday, the thirteenth of the bright half of Jyestha in the (Vikarama) year 1210. H V Trivedi suggests that Yashodhvala could be the subordinate ruler under the Chalukya king Kumarapala

        1 Epigraphia Indica, vol. XXV. pp. 286-291
        2 Epigraphia Indica, vol. XIX. pp. 261-263
        3 Annual Report of the Archaeological Department Gwalior State for Samvat 1985, Year 1928-29. p. 15
        4 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol. IV – Inscriptions of the Kalachuri-Chedi Era, Part I. pp. 5-21
        5 Mirashi, V V (1944). An Ancient Dynasty of Khandesh published in Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. XXV, part IV. pp. 159-168
        6 Tewari & Ramesh (1990). A Copper-plate Hoard of the Gupta Period from Bagh, Madhya Pradesh. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. pp. iv-xi
        7 Verma, Archana (2007). Cultural and Visual Flux at Early Historical Bagh in central India. Archaeopress. Oxford. ISBN 9781407301518. p. 23
        8 Ghosh, Suchandra (2015). A Hoard of Copper Plates: Patronage and the Early Valkha State published in Studies in History, vol. 31, part I. SAGE Publications. p. 18
        9 Anand, Mulk Raj (1972). Rhythm of Dance and Music in the Bagh Caves published in Marg – A Magazine of the Arts, Volume XXV, Number 3. pp. 1-6
        10 Spink, Walter (1977). Bāgh: A Study published in Archives of Asian Art Vol. 30. pp. 53-84
        11 Spink, Walter M. (2017). Ajanta: History and Development Volume 7, Bagh, Dandin, Cells and cell Doorways. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9789004321922. p. 31
        12 Spink, Walter M. (2017). Ajanta: History and Development Volume 7, Bagh, Dandin, Cells and cell Doorways. Brill. Leiden. ISBN 9789004321922. p. 18

      1. 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.