Barsur – The Capital City of the Chhindaka-Nagas

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Barsur (बारसूर) is a tehsil (तहसील) town in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. Before the formation of the Dantewada district, the town was part of the Bastar district. Local legends associate the city with the demon Banasura, the son of Bali. Banasura had a daughter named Usha who got enamored with Anirudha, the grandson of Krishna. Chitralekha, a friend of Usha and the daughter of Kumbhanda, minister of Banasura, helped her friend by abducting Anirudha and bringing him to the palace of Banasura. This led to a war between Krishna and Banasura, ending with the defeat of the latter however he was spared by Krishna at the request of Shiva as Banasura was an ardent devotee of Shiva. The legend also mentions Usha and Chitralekhas as the ardent devotee of Ganesha, however the same is not attested by any Puranas or other texts.

Barsur, earlier known as Barasuru, was the capital city of the Chhindaka-Naga (छिंदक नाग) dynasty that ruled during the tenth-thirteenth century CE. The dynasty belonged to the Kasyapa gotra and had a crest of a tiger with a cub. Their kings were titled the “lord of Bhogavati”, Bhogavati is one of the seven mythological sub-terraranan cities of the Nagas. The Chhindaka-Nagas supposedly belonged to the same stock as the Sindas of Karnataka, the latter claimed their name to be derived from the river Sindhu (Indus). Chhindaka appears as another derivation for the Sindhu river. The earliest Chhindaka-Naga inscription is the fragmentary Errakot inscription dated Saka 945 corresponding to 1023 CE and mentions king Nripatibhusana.1 During his Ganga expedition, the Chola king Rajendra Chola I (971–1044 CE) seized Sakkarakkottam aka Chakrakota aka Chakrakuta or modern Bastar sometime between 1019-20. There are two possibilities here, either the Chhindaka-Nagas were ruling over Barsur when Aditya Chola marched into the region or they came to Baster after Rajendra Chola’s Ganga expedition. The Chhindaka-Nagas owed allegiance to different dynasties at different times during their reign. The names of the Chhindaka-Naga kings such as Dharavarsha and Kanhara suggest that they owned allegiance to the Rashtrakutas while names such as Someshvara suggest that they also owned allegiance to the Western Chalukya king Someshvara I Ahavamalla (1042-1068 CE). Their Telugu inscriptions and legends over coins attest to their southern origins.2

It is suggested that Aditya Chola installed Naga king Dharavarsha as his regent over Barsur. The Nander inscription mentions the general Nagavarma of the Western Chalukya king Someshvara I defeated Kalakuta Dharavarsha sometime after 1047 CE. It may be surmised that the Western Chalukyas installed Jagadekabhushana over Barasur and Dharavarsha became a feudatory under Jagadekabhushana. After the death of Jagadekabhushana, sometime during 1060 CE, Madhurantaka ascend the throne at Barsur with the help of the Cholas however he was soon displaced by Someshvara I, the son of Dharavarsha.3 This episode suggests that the Cholas were still engaged in the politics of the region and tried to extend their sway. An interesting epigraph, the Rajapura plates of Madhurantaka4, speaks about human sacrifices and supplying victims for the same. Someshvara I (1069-1108 CE) ruled for a good thirty years and he was the most accomplished and successful ruler of the family. Goddess Manikyadevi aka Danteshwari aka Vindhyavasini was the tutelary deity of the Chhindaka-Nagas.

When the Chhindaka-Nagas were consolidating their power in Bastar, the Telugu-Chodas followed the Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI (1076-1126 CE) during his eastern campaign and settled in Bastar. They belonged to the Kasyapa gotra and claimed descent from the Suryavamshi Chola family of the Karikala house that ruled from Orayuru (Uraiyur). Their kings were sometimes referred to as Kaveri-natha or “the lords of the Kaveri”. Telugu-Choda chief Yasoraja I, son of Callama, carved out a new kingdom and accepted the suzerainty of the Chhindaka-Nagas. He was followed by his son Someshvara, and the latter was followed by his brother Chandraditya. Chandraditya ruled from his capital Ammagama and was a feudatory of the Chhindaka Naga king Dharavarsha Jagadekabhushana. He built a Shiva temple, Chandraditya-nandana-vana, and a tank, Chandraditya-samudra, at Barsur in 1060 CE.

During the fourteenth century CE, in 1324 CE, Annamadeva, the brother of Prataparudra II of the Kakatiya dynasty, established the state of Bastar under the tutelage of the goddess Danteshwari. However, there are divergent opinions on the royal lineage of the Bastar rulers. Taking reference to Pratapacharitam, it is claimed that Annamadeva was the brother of the Kakatiya house and left Warangal after installing the son of Prataparudra II, Veerabhadra, over the throne. He moved north and established his dynasty in Bastar in 1424 CE. However, Prataparudra II died in 1323 CE and a gap of 99 years between the two brothers is very improbable. In the folk songs of Bastar, the kings of the Bastar royal house are referred to as Chalaki (Chalukya) kings suggesting their Chalukya lineage.5 Generally, the Kakatiya claim is much in vogue relying upon Pratapacharitam. Different branches of the dynasty ruled over the kingdom and it became a princely state during the British occupation. The last ruler, Pravir Chandra Bhanja Deo, was a tribal sympathizer and activist who gained a cult status and was worshipped as the god of the tribals. He gained immense popularity and support however he was assassinated in police action in 1966. His charisma is still alive and his photographs can be found in most houses in the districts of Bastar and Dantewada.

Monuments: Barsur is generally called the city of temples and legends claim more than 147 temples in the town with as many tanks and lakes.6 Though we do not have extant temples matching that number, however, this small town still has many extant temples.

Chandraditya Temple

Chandraditya Temple – This is probably the earliest dated temple in the town. It was constructed in 1060 CE by the Telugu-Choda king Chandratiya and named Chandradityeshvara. The king also excavated a tank nearby, named Chandraditya-samudra, which may be identified with the modern Budha Talab located next to the temple. The temple faces east and built in pancharatha style (five offsets each wall) and its jangha portion is divided into three sections. Niches for images are provided in all the sections on all the rathas (offset). The iconographic program of the temple is very disoriented and one of the reasons might be that many panels would have been relocated during conservation activities.

Kartikeya
Surya
Parvati with Ganesha on standard
Hanuman
Kalki riding over a horse and a parasol above him
Shiva-Ekapada

All the bhadra niches except one are now empty. The one containing the image has a sculpture of Narasimha. The top-tier of the karna niches are occupied by Vasus, having a head of a bull. The lowest tier of the karna has ashta-dikpalas, Indra facing east, Agni and Yama over the south wall, Vayu, Varuna and Nrrtti on the west wall and Ishana, Kubera over the north wall. Niches on the anuratha projection have mostly amorous couples in various postures or celestial damsels. Recess portions are adorned with gaja-shardula with rider motifs, warriors, mithuna couples, and damsels. The iconographic program over the temple walls includes in the south – Shiva, Varahi, Narasimha, Shiva-Ekapada, in the west –  Kartikeya, Ganesha, Shiva, Kalki, Chamunda , Ambika, Hanuman, and in the north – Parvati, Bhairavi, Vishnu, Surya, Chamunda. The kapili portion between the mandapa and garbha-grha follows the three-tier style of the jangha of the garbha-grha. All the niches of kapili are vacant as well as the recess portion except for a few images of apsaras. As some of the images here are explicit and may be considered obscene, it is told that King Mahipal Deo and his queen Padma Kumari were offended at the indecency of the figures and caused them to be defaced.7

Harihara on lalata-bimba

The mandapa appears a modern reconstruction utilizing old material. It is supported by four central pillars. K P Verma8 mentions total of twelve pillars, 3 pillars each in 4 lines, however that is not the case in the present structure. A Nandi is installed inside the mandapa facing the garbha-grha. The garbha-grha doorway is composed of three shakhas bereft of decoration. The doorway lintel has an image of Harihara on its lalata-bimba. The shikhara over the garbha-grha and mandapa has long fallen and have been replaced with a flat roof. From the remains, it is clear that the shikhara was of latina style of the Nagara order. The original amalaka crowing the shikhara is placed a little distance away from the temple.

Inscriptions:

  1. Barsur Telugu inscription of Jagadekabhusana9 –  The inscription refers itself to the reign of the Maharaja Jagadekabhushana of the Chhindaka-Naga family and records that his feudatory chief, Maharaja Chandraditya, lord of Ammagama, excavated a tank at his capital town of Barasuru. The tank was named Chandraditya-samudra and he also constructed a Shiva temple, Chandradityeshvara, at the banks of that tank. For the maintenance of the temple, Maharaja Chandraditya granted the village of Govardhanandu that he purchased from king Daravarsha. King Dharavarsha appears to be the same Jagadekabhushana. The record is dated in the Saka year 983, corresponding to 1060 CE. Chandraditya claims descent from the Karikala family of Kaveri with the capital at Orayuru. He belonged to the Kasyapa-gotra and Chola race and had a lion as his crest.
Mama Bhanja Temple

Mama Bhanja Temple – This temple was built in the eleventh century CE during the Chhindaka Naga reign. The local traditions associate the construction of the temple with a Ganga prince.10 The legend goes that the nephew of the ruling king was very cunning and he started constructing a temple by getting temple architects from Utkal country. The king got jealous and this resulted in a fight between the king and his nephew. The king killed the nephew and got a stone carved in shape of his head to be installed in the temple with the image of the king.11 The temple faces east and is built in pancharatha style (five offsets in each wall). The temple consists a garbha-grha, and an antarala. The vertical elevation is composed of adhisthana (base), jangha (wall), varandika, and shikhara (tower) topped with an amalaka. The jangha is divided into two sections separated by a lotus-scroll pattika (band). Niches are provided on the karna (corner) and bhadra-rathas (center) however all niches are vacant at present. The garbha-grha is rectangular and its doorway is composed of three shakhas (bands) and an image of a two-armed seated Ganesha is found on the lalata-bimba. Inside the garbha-grha are placed an image of Ganesha and an image of Narasimha.12

The shikhara is also of pancharatha design and follows the latina pattern of the Nagara order consisting of eleven bhumis (stories). The temple has a unique feature of a window provided in the east side the shikhara. Above the griva (neck) are installed four statues, one each in the ordinal direction. The statue is of yogi wearing a large turban and holding trishula, the statue on the north-east is missing. The roof over the antarala is a pyramidal-style roof. The presence of Ganesha over the lalata-bimba suggests that the temple was either dedicated to Ganesa or Shiva. There are various local legends behind the temple. One tells that the king called for the best architects to construct a temple within a single day. Two architects, who were uncle (mama) and nephew (bhanja) in relation, came forward and carries out the feat. Thus the temple was named Mama-Bhanja temple. Another legend mentions that it started as a competition between mama and bhanja for the award of the royal contract. After completion of this temple, mama cut the head of his bhanja and put it on the top of the temple. The mama got the reward of a contract as a royal architect and the temple was thus named Mama-Bhanja temple. The temple may be taken coeval to the Chandraditya temple, and may be dated to the second half of the 11th century CE.13

Battisa Temple

Battisa Temple – This impressive east-facing temple has two rectangular garbha-grha, on the same axis, connected to a common 32-pillared mandapa. The mandapa has four rows of eight pillars, forming five aisles. The pillars on the periphery of the mandapa are raised over half-walls, a feature generally found in the southern Indian temples. Three entrances are provided into the mandapa, one from the west, one from the south, and the third from the north. The shikhara over the garbha-grha and mandapa has not survived. From the remains of the shikhara, Verma14 has suggested that the shikhara was built the Dravida order of pyramidal roof style. A Shivalinga is present inside both the garbha-grha and in the mandapa are placed two Nandi images each facing the respective garbha-grha. The garbha-grha doorways are very simple and devoid of any decoration except an image of Ganesha on their lalata-bimba. The temple was constructed in 1109 CE by Ganga-Mahadevi, the chief queen of the Chhindaka Naga king Someshvara, and named the temples Vira-Someshvara and Gangadhareshvara after her husband and herself.

Inscriptions:

  1. Barsur inscription of Ganga-Mahadevi15 – written in Telugu characters, Telugu language except for the titles of the kings being in Sanskrit- The inscription is now in the Nagpur Museum. It records that Ganga-Mahadevi, the chief queen of Someshvaradeva gave a village named Keramaruka or Keramarka to two temples of Shiva, both of which she had built, first named Vira-Someshvara after he husband and another Gangadhareshvara after herself, in the Saka year 1130 corresponding to 1208 CE. The king is said to be a descendent of the race of Naga, lord of Bhogavati, having the crest of a tiger with its calf, and belongs to the Kasyapa-gotra. The king was an ardent devotee of Shiva and goddess Manikyadevi. The first editor of the inscription, H Krishna Sastri mentions that the date mentioned in the inscription does not match the mentioned day (Sunday in this case). Hira Lal, who edited the inscription later, mentions that the Saka year in the inscription appears incorrect as it should be Saka 1030, corresponding to 1109 CE, as another inscription where king Someshvaradeva is mentioned is dated in Saka 1033, and in this case the date and day mentioned in the inscription matches.
Paidamma Mata Temple

Paidamma Mata Temple – Contemporary to the Mama-Bhanja temple, Paidamma temple is dedicated to a goddess. The temple is consisted of a garbha-grha, antarala, and a mandapa. It is built over a raised jagati (platform). The jangha is divided into two sections separated by a plain pattika (band). The mandapa is supported by four central pillars. Two latticed windows are provided on its lateral walls to admit light. The plain garbha-grha doorway has seated Ganesha on its lalata-bimba. Inside the garbha-grha is placed an image of Mahishasuramardini executed in black stone. The shikhara above the varandika has collapsed and so has the southern wall of the garbha-grha.16

Ganesh Temple

Twin Ganesha Temple – Inside the complex are remains of various temples mostly having a provision of a Shivalinga in their garbha-grha. The two statues of Ganesha are now housed in a modern shed. One image is 8 feet high and 17 feet in girth. Ganesha is shown with four arms, carrying a vessel containing modak and akshamala (rosary). He is wearing a yajnopavita. He has two teeth however one tooth is slightly broken therefore it is not clear if the original idea was to carve Ganesha as eka-danti (single tooth) image. The smaller image is 5.5 feet in height. Ganesha here is carrying a parasu (axe) and has only one tooth. His mount rat is shown below his feet. These images were found while clearing the debris from the compound and are considered amongst the tallest Ganesha statues in India, the other two being in Hampi (Karnataka). These images are generally taken belonging to the 12th century CE period.18

Inscriptions:

  1. Barsur Nagari inscriptions17 – There are three slabs, one of which contains names of some goddesses such as Mahishasuramardini, and another is a fragment that mentions (Ka)nnaradeva. A third on the statue of a warrior with the date Saka 1242 (1320 CE), has two illegible names ending in deva.

1 Sharma R S (ed.). A Comprehensive History of India Vol. Four, Part One.  People’s Publishing House. New Delhi. p. 690
2 Sharma R S (ed.). A Comprehensive History of India Vol. Four, Part One.  People’s Publishing House. New Delhi. p. 689
3 Sharma R S (ed.). A Comprehensive History of India Vol. Four, Part One.  People’s Publishing House. New Delhi. p. 691
4 Epigraphia Indica vol. IX. p 174
5 बस्तर – विवेकदत्त, retrieved on 19 June 2022
6 Jha, Vivek Dutta (1980). The Archaeology of Bastar Region, an unpublished Ph.D. thesis submitted to the University of Sagar. p. 182
7 Brett, E A de (1909). Central Provinces Gazetteer – Chhattisgarh Feudatory States. The Times Press. p. 39
8 कामता प्रसाद वर्मा (2002). बस्तर क्षेत्र के स्थापत्य का अध्ययन (५वीं शती ई. से १२वीं शती ई. तक), शोध-प्रबंध पं. रविशंकर शुक्ल विश्वविद्यालय, रायपुर में पी-एच. डी. उपाधि के लिए प्रस्तुत. p. 100
9 Hira Lal, Rai Bahadur (1916). Inscriptions in the Central Provinces and Berar. Government Printing. Nagpur. pp. 144-45
10 Jha, Vivek Dutta (1980). The Archaeology of Bastar Region, an unpublished Ph.D. thesis submitted to the University of Sagar. p 183
11 कामता प्रसाद वर्मा (2002). बस्तर क्षेत्र के स्थापत्य का अध्ययन (५वीं शती ई. से १२वीं शती ई. तक), शोध-प्रबंध पं. रविशंकर शुक्ल विश्वविद्यालय, रायपुर में पी-एच. डी. उपाधि के लिए प्रस्तुत. p. 118
12 Indian Archaeology – A Review, 1987-88. p. 166
13 कामता प्रसाद वर्मा (2002). बस्तर क्षेत्र के स्थापत्य का अध्ययन (५वीं शती ई. से १२वीं शती ई. तक), शोध-प्रबंध पं. रविशंकर शुक्ल विश्वविद्यालय, रायपुर में पी-एच. डी. उपाधि के लिए प्रस्तुत. p. 124
14 कामता प्रसाद वर्मा (2002). बस्तर क्षेत्र के स्थापत्य का अध्ययन (५वीं शती ई. से १२वीं शती ई. तक), शोध-प्रबंध पं. रविशंकर शुक्ल विश्वविद्यालय, रायपुर में पी-एच. डी. उपाधि के लिए प्रस्तुत. p. 129
15 Epigraphia Indica vol. III. pp. 314-318/Epigraphia Indica vol. IX. pp. 162-163
16 Indian Archaeology – A Review, 1987-88. p 167
17 Hira Lal, Rai Bahadur (1916). Inscriptions in the Central Provinces and Berar. Government Printing. Nagpur.p. 157
18 कामता प्रसाद वर्मा (2002). बस्तर क्षेत्र के स्थापत्य का अध्ययन (५वीं शती ई. से १२वीं शती ई. तक), शोध-प्रबंध पं. रविशंकर शुक्ल विश्वविद्यालय, रायपुर में पी-एच. डी. उपाधि के लिए प्रस्तुत. p. 134

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.