Bhoram Dev – The Adivasi Deity

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Chhapri (छापरी) is a village situated in the Kabirdham (old Kawardha) district of Chhattisgarh. The town is famous for its Bhoram Dev temple and therefore is fondly referred to as Bhoram Dev khsetra (भोरम देव क्षेत्र) rather than the name of the village. The whole area is developed into a prime tourist place in the district. R Jenkins1 was the first modern explorer to visit this region and his accounts were published in 1825. In this account, not much attention was given to the Bhoram Dev temple except for a few inscriptions. Cunningham2 visited the site in 1881-82. He mentions the temple was quoted as proof of the antiquity of the Gond rule in Chhattisgarh on the basis of a date in its inscription. However, that was not true as the date was read incorrectly. He also tells that the temple was believed to be dedicated to a Gond deity however that was also not correct as the temple was dedicated to Vishnu. Cunningham tells the Shivalinga inside the temple was a later installation and the sculpture of Laksmi-Narayana over Garuda, then placed under a tree in the temple complex, was the main image originally installed inside the garbha-grha. By the early twentieth century CE, the Kabirdham region still remained little explored as the gazetteer of the Central Provinces Feudatory States3 mentions Bhoram Dev temple as the only site of archaeological interest in the state of Kawardha.

In 1925, Dhanu Lal Srivastava wrote Ashtaraj-Ambhoj (अष्टराज अंभोज), however, he did not improve much from the earlier accounts. Apart from a few stray references and brief accounts about the site, a long gap prevailed before we find भोरमदेव मंदिर प्रदर्शिका, authored by Gajendra Kumar Chandrarol in 1984. Soon after came the first authoritative account of the temple, its legends, and descriptions of its environs in भोरमदेव by Sita Ram Sharma, written in 1989. Bhoram Dev temple and kshetra is among the most important tourist and pilgrimage site in Chhattisgarh and is generally included in all the accounts of the state and region in the relevant context. The region was under the rule of the Phaninagavamshi (फणिनागवंशी) dynasty between the ninth and fourteenth century CE. They would have ruled under the Kaalchuris as their overlords. Their inscriptions are found in this village as well as a few nearby villages suggesting that they did not rule over a very vast region. The inscription at Marwa Mahal enumerates twenty-five kings of this dynasty covering the rule of around 500+ years. A few coins belonging to different Phaninagavamshi kings are unearth during the excavations at Pachrahi.4

Monuments: In this article, we are not covering Chhapri village per se but the Bhoram Dev Kshetra, the latter includes a few other villages apart from Chhapri. There are three monuments of interest, all located in different villages, situated not far from each other, and all are part of the Bhoram Dev Kshetra.

Bhoram Dev Temple Complex
Bhoram Dev Temple

Bhoram Dev Temple – There are many theories behind the etymology of the name of the temple. One theory states the temple is dedicated to a Gond deity and thus named Bhoram Dev. However, this does not appear true as the local communities of Baigas, Gonds, and Ahirs reject any such connection.5 Another legend mentions the temple was named after the Gond king Bhoram Dev and the statue of the king is placed inside the garbha-grha. However, this also does not fit with the historical facts as we do not find any Gond king named Bhoram Dev in epigraphs and coins. Also, the existing inscriptions in the temple proves that the temple was constructed by the Phaninaga kings. Another theory is that that Shiva is also known as Bhoram in the regional language and worshiped by the Gond community, thus the temple was named after this name.6 This argument may have some merit however, this needs further investigations. At the moment, no firm conclusions can be drawn about the etymology behind the temple name.

ardha-mandapa
Shikhara

The temple faces east and is composed of a square mandapa followed by an antarala connecting to a garbha-grha. The mandapa is supported on four central pillars and is provided with three entrances, one each in the east, north, and south. Each entrance is provided with an ardha-mandapa (porch). A flight of stairs of six steps is provided to ascend the ardha-mandapa to reach the floor height of the mandapa. The mandapa and ardha-mandapas are constructed over a jagati (platform). The jagati is composed of five tiers, the uppermost tier is decorated with elephant-lion motifs. The ardha-mandapa is supported on four half-pillars, two on either side, raised over half-walls. An inscription reading “Makardhwaja 700” is engraved on the right side of the northern doorway. On the left of the same doorway is an inscription of 18 lines, dated 1608 Vikarama samvat. The shikhara above the garbha-grha is in bhumija style with uru-shrngas (mini-shikhara) on all the rathas except the bhadra. The sukanasi above the antarala has a large gavaksha without any imagery on it. The shikharas over the mandapa and ardha-mandapa have not survived and they now have flat roofs. The temple measures 60 feet east-west in length, 40 feet south-north in breadth, and 100 feet in height.

West facade of the temple
Bhadra niches in the south
Bhadra niches in the north

The temple vimana has sapta-ratha pattern. Unlike the mandapa and ardha-mandapa, the vimana is not constructed over a jagati but starts from the ground above. Due to this arrangement, the garbha-grha floor is below the mandapa and a flight of five steps is provided to descend from the antarala to the garbha-grha. The vimana has usual components such as adhisthana, jangha, varandika, shikhara, etc. The adhishthana (vedi-bandha) has five tiers. The jangha is divided into three tiers, each tier carrying niches on every ratha. Large images adorn these niches, resulting in a very charming and grand appearance of the temple. The bhadra niches, from top to down, in the south have Lakulisa (?), Shiva-Gajantaka, and Bhairava, in the west have Vamana, Surya, and Ganesha, and in the north, these niches have Narasimha, Harihara, and Chamunda.

South kapili niches
North kapili niches

The kapili-niches in the north have Hanuman and other two unidentified deities. Mahishasura-mardini is present in the bottom kapili-niches in the north, the middle niche is empty, and the top niche has a goddess. Among other deities are present various Vishnu incarnations such as Rama, Balarama, Buddha, Parashurama, Krishna, Vamana, and ashta-dikpalas comprising Indra, Agni, Yama, Nrrtti, Vayu, Varuna, Kubera, and Ishana. The rest of the niches have sculptures of apsaras, damsels, warriors, and amorous couples. The presence of amorous couples and explicit sexual imagery lead the general public to draw parallels with the temples in Khajuraho and the Konark Sun temple. However, it should be taken into account that this sexual imagery does not dominate the overall theme of the decoration and constitute roughly 20%-30% of the overall images adorning the temple walls. Manwani mentions it is common to find such erotic images in most Shaivite temples of Chhattisgarh and the predominance of the Mattamyura branch of the Pashupata cult in the area during the 11th-12th century CE can hardly be denied.7

Erotic imagery

Garbha-grha doorway has five shakhas (bands). Inside the garbha-grha is a Shivalinga and four sculptures resting over the walls. One sculpture depicts a devotee couple, the male is seated in padmasana-mudra and the lady is shown on his right. An umbrella over the male suggests his royal status. Another sculpture is of a sage seated in padmasana-mudra. An umbrella over his head suggests that his royal association either as a royal priest or a guru. Dancing Ganesha is the third sculpture in the garbha-grha. The fourth and last sculpture is that of a naga with five hoods.

Left doorjamb of the eastern entrance
Right doorjamb of the eastern entrance

The temple is dedicated to Shiva as evident from the dvarapalas on the doorjambs, and an inscription where it is referred to as Shivalaya. Cunningham thought it to be dedicated to Vishnu however, that is not correct. The temple may be placed in the eleventh century CE based upon an inscription found on the base of a statue inside the temple. The inscription refers to the reign of king Gopal Dev, who would be the same as the Phaninagvamshi king Gopal Dev mentioned in the Marwa Mahal inscription. An argument for king Bhuvanpal, who ruled after Gopal Dev in second succession, as the founder of the temple is forwarded on the basis of an inscription engraved on the ardha-mandapa of the temple. The inscription, dated in 1551 CE, mentions the temple as the temple of Bhuvanpal. An argument is made that this Bhuvanpal later got corrupted to Bhoram and Bhoram Dev. Though it is tempting to accept, however that means the image with the inscription of Gopal Dev is earlier than the temple and therefore may not belong to this temple but to an older temple. The only older temple in the complex is the brick temple, however the image does not appear to belong to that temple as the latter does not have any decoration and imagery. Therefore, we should take this later period inscription of 1551 CE with caution as there are instances where with time the names of the temples and their association had changed.

Inscriptions:

  1. Inscription on the pedestal of a statue8 – Nagari characters of eleventh century CE – Sanskrit language – There are four records in total. The first gives a name, Jogi Kanho, and describes him as proficient in all arts and as a human incarnation of Rama. The statue probably represents this person. The second record gives the name of the king Lakshmanadeva and his queen Singhurani, son Raja, and daughters Sudha, Padma, Sila, and Vata. The third record provides a date as samvat 840 during the reign of the king Gopaladeva, and the fourth record gives the name of mason Sadhu, the son of Dhangu, who made this image of Uma-Mahesvara. No era of the date is provided, however, it is generally taken as the Kalachuri era, equivalent to 1088-89 CE.
  2. Inscription on the doorway of ardha-mandapa – reads “Makaradhwaja 700”
  3. Inscription on the doorway of ardha-mandapa9 – The inscription mentions Mandopati broke the kalasa of the temple of Bhuvanpal and took it to Ratanpur as a victory trophy. The inscription is dated in samvat 1608, corresponding to 1551 CE.

Brick Temple

Brick Temple – This brick temple is situated immediately to the north of the Bhoram Dev temple. The temple is built in brick except for its doorframe and pillars. It faces west and consists of a garbha-grha and a mandapa, the latter was supported on six pillars and six pilasters. Inside the mandapa is placed a Nandi facing the garbha-grha. The lalata-bimba on the garbha-grha doorway has an image of Ganesha. The external façade of the temple is left plain and the upper half of its shikhara has not survived. The garbha-grha follows a semi-stellate pancha-ratha plan with one oblique projection between its bhadra and karna. The temple is generally assigned to the 9th-10th century CE.10

Marwa Mahal
Garbha-grha doorway

Dulha Dev (दूल्हा देव्)/Marwa Mahal (मड़वा महल) – This temple is located about half a kilometer to the south of the Bhoram Dev temple. The temple faces west and consists of a mandapa, antarala, and a garbha-grha. The mandapa is rectangular in plan and is supported on sixteen pillars. The garbha-grha is square in plan. The garbha-grha doorway consists of six shakhas (bands) and has Ganesha on its lalata-bimba. On the jambs are Shaiva dvarapalas accompanied by the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, both shown holding a vase, and their respective mounts are shown beside, followed by a lady holding a chamar (fan), and a naga in anjali-mudra (folded hands). The Shaiva dvarapalas are shown with four hands, resembling Shiva themselves, one is holding a trishula and another a khatvanga. The mandapa was probably used for marriage ceremonies and that might be the reason behind the etymology of Dulha-dev or Marwa, the name with which the locals refer to the temple. Cunningham suggests that marwa is a corrupt form of mandapa, the latter was used by the locals for different festivities and thus became a common term to indicate the temple.

Erotic imagery

The jangha above the adhishthana has two tiers separated by a broad pattika. These two tiers are decorated with images, most erotic and explicit sexual imagery. The arrangements of sculptures over the jangha are disturbed during renovations and many original sculptures are missing.11 An inscription slab, broken into two pieces, was found attached to the temple and it has been moved to the Mahant Ghasidas Memorial Museum, Raipur in the 1980s. The inscription is dated to 1406 Vikarama samvata, equivalent to 1349 CE. The inscription mentions the genealogy of the Phaninagavamshi dynasty. The inscription mentions the temple was constructed in 1349 CE by the Phaninagavamshi king Ramachandra. Jha12 does not agree that this inscription refers to this temple and, based upon the architectural and sculptural studies, suggests that the temple may be assigned to the 16th century CE.

Inscriptions:

  • Marwa Mahal stone inscription13 -This inscription is now housed in the Mahant Ghasidas Memorial Museum, Raipur. The inscription explains the origins of the Phaninagavamshi dynasty. Once upon a time there was a rishi named Jatukarna. He had two sons and one daughter named Mithila. Once a naga got enamored of Mithila and the latter got pregnant. The two sons were confused and started thinking that the other had done incest with the sister. This resulted in a great fight that ended with the naga confessing to his deeds. The naga told that the son born of Mithila will be a king. Ahiraj, the son of Mithila, thus started the Phaninagavamshi dynasty. After his came twenty-five kings, in order, Ahiraj, Rajalla, Dharanidhar, Mahimdev, Sarvanandan alias Shaktichandra, Gopaldev, Naldev, Bhuvanpal, Kirtipal, Jayatrapal, Mahipal, Vishampal, Janhu, Janpal alias Vijanpal, Yashoraj, Kanandadev alias Vallabh, Lakshmiverma, Khadgadev, Bhuvanaikamalla, Arjun, Bheem, Bhoj, Lakshman, Ramachandra and Arjun. The inscription tells King Ramachandra got married to a Haihaya princess Ambikadevi. King Ramachandra constructed a Shiva temple.

Cherki Mahal (छेरकी महल) – Cherki means “shepherd” in the regional language and it is said that this temple was built by a shepherd as the shepherd communicate used to take their herds here to graze. The temple faces east and built over a jagati (platform). It consists of a garbha-grha, antarala and probably an ardha-mandapa, the latter has not survived. The temple is plain externally and devoid of any imagery. The shikhara is plain Nagara latina style, eleven bhumis (stories) have survived and the upper part of the shikhara is missing. The garbha-grha doorway has three shakhas (bands) and has Gaja-Lakshmi on its lalata-bimba. Ganesha and Shiva-Ardhnareeshwara are present on the lintel terminals. The door jambs have Shaiva dvarapalas and river goddesses at the bottom. Inside the garbha-grha are a shivalinga and a statue of Ganesha on its north wall. No inscription has been found therefore its construction and dynastic affiliation are a subject of conjecture. Its vicinity to the Bhoram Dev and Marwa Mahal temples suggests that this temple was also constructed by the Phaninagavamshi kings during the 14th century CE.14 As Jha15 has dated the Marwa Mahal temple to the 16th century CE, he keeps the same dating for this temple also. During the time of Cunningham, the temple was probably not called Cherki Mahal as he described it as an unknown temple. This suggests that the present name is a recent development of the late nineteenth or early twentieth century CE.

 


1 Jenkins, R (1825). Account of Ancient Hindu Remains in Chattisgher published in the Asiatic Researches vol. XV. p. 506
2 Cunningham, Alexander (1884). Report of a Tour in the Central Provinces and Lower Gangetic Doab in 1881-82, vol. XVII. pp. 34-42
3 De Brett, E A (1909). Central Provinces Gazetteer – Chhattisgarh Feudatory States. The Time Press. Bombay (now Mumbai). p. 147
4 Pandey, Anil Kumar (2016). Pachrani Excavation – New Insights on Early Medieval History of Chhattisgarh published in New dimensions of early medieval India. ISBN 97881992266077. pp. 73-75
5 Vajpayee, Ajeya (2019). Bhoramdeo: Style, History & Legend published on Sahapedia, retrieved on 03/07/20222
6 यदु , हेमू .  छत्तीसगढ़ का खजुराहो – भोरमदेव मंदिर. छत्तीसगढ़ अस्मिता प्रतिष्ठान.  रायपुर. p. 30
7 Manwani, S N (1984). The Temple Art of the Kalachuris of Ratanpur, the Ph.D. thesis submitted to the Harisingh Gour University, Sagar, Madhya Pradesh. p. 149
8 Corpus Inscriptionium Indicarium Vol IV Part 2:  Inscriptions of the Kalachuri-Chedi Era. pp. 580-582
9 Inscription (TBD)
10 Minj, Rajeev John (2015). Art and Architecture of the Brick Temples of Chhattisgarh (from c. 6th century to 14th century A.D.), Ph.D. thesis submitted to the Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur. p. 192
11 Manwani, S N (1984). The Temple Art of the Kalachuris of Ratanpur, the Ph.D. thesis submitted to the Harisingh Gour University, Sagar, Madhya Pradesh. p. 169
12 झा, मंगलानन्द (2008). दक्षिण कोसल के कलचुरी कालीन मंदिर. संचालनालय संस्कृति एवं पुरातत्त्व विभाग.  रायपुर p. 173
13 शर्मा, सीताराम (1989). भोरम देव. मध्य प्रदेश हिंदी ग्रन्थ अकादमी. भोपाल. p. 7
14 Minj, Rajeev John (2015). Art and Architecture of the Brick Temples of Chhattisgarh (from c. 6th century to 14th century A.D.), Ph.D. thesis submitted to the Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur. p. 194
15 झा, मंगलानन्द (2008). दक्षिण कोसल के कलचुरी कालीन मंदिर. संचालनालय संस्कृति एवं पुरातत्त्व विभाग.  रायपुर p. 175

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.