Gyaraspur – A Heritage of Excellence

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Gyaraspur is a village of great historical importance in the Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh. As per legend, the village was established by the gods and named after the vow of gyaras, or the 11th day, that was observed by king Rukangada of Vidisha. The king was a staunch devotee of Vishnu and used to observe a strict ekadashi-vrata, a fast on the eleventh day of the month. No one in his household including infants and cattle used to take food on that day. Once his son-in-law, Sobhana, visited his palace on ekadashi. He was tired from his journey but was not offered food as the king and the family was observing the fast. As a result, he died however, he obtained more than full recompense in the next world. Two or three years later a brahmana came to pass Gyaraspur and took a halt. He witnessed a strange phenomenon in the night. Vishnu’s angels descended down, swept the place, and set up a darbar (court). After some time Sobhana descended and took his seat to hold the court. As he used to hold his court every night, the place started being known as Sobhanapuri. But it became more celebrated by the name of Gyaraspur because gyaras was the day that led to his elevation.1

Locals attribute the foundation of the village to a Gond chief called Man who ruled from Gada Madhala near Jabalpur. The chief was suffering from leprosy and came to the village after hearing about the fame of Gyaraspur. He was cured by drinking local water. He excavated three tanks, one in the southwest known as Madagan, and two in the northeast, the larger one known as Man-sarovar.2 The antiquities of the village were first brought to light by J D Beglar who explored the town in 1871-72.3 He finds no legend or traditions current among the locals except that the destruction of temples was done by Muhammadans during the reign of Naurang Shah, or Aurangzeb. All the stupas seen by Beglar were reportedly opened by the Europeans. Alexander Cunningham visited the village in 1874-75.4 He tells that the village once would be of considerable importance as remains of several fine temples of the medieval period are strewn in and around the village. Cunningham does not tell any legends associated with the village and describes the four major monuments, Ath-khambha, Bajramatha, Hindola torana, and the Maladevi temple. D R Bhandarkar paid a visit in 1914 and describes in detail the antiquities as well as local traditions and legends.5 Conservation activities were started by M B Garde of the Gwalior Archaeological Department in the 1920s. The village has not received its due attention from the scholar community and no comprehensive study has been taken up yet.

Monuments – There are many monuments of importance belonging to the 9th-10th centuries CE in the village.

Ath-Khamba

 

Ath-khamba – These remains of once a magnificent temple are locally known as Ath-khambha because of the eight surviving pillars standing over a platform. The temple was east-facing and consisted of a mandapa, an antrala, and a garbha-grha. The front four pillars belong to the mandapa, the next two to the antarala, and the last two are the pilasters of the garbha-grha. The mandapa pillars are embellished with ghata-pallava motifs and the abacus above has the arrangement to support bhara-vahakas (weight bearers), the latter is missing now. The lintel above the pillars, both from inside and outside, has been decorated with musicians, dancers, and amorous couples. The ceiling above the mandapa has survived and is also partially responsible for keeping these pillars standing by its weight.

Antarala doorway with makara-torana in form of a trefoil arch

Antarala doorway as seen from the garbha-grha

The antarala doorway is decorated with an exquisite makara-torana forming a garland in the front as a trefoil arch with three drooping lotus pendants. The makaras, from the mouth of which emerges this torana, are placed over the abacus portion of the pillars. Over the makaras are placed bhara-vahakas supporting the lintel block above. The lintel is decorated with images of musicians, dancers, and amorous couples.  In the central niche on the front of the lintel is a scene of Shivalinga worship suggesting the Shaiva association of the temple.

Garbha-grha doorway

Shiva
Brahma
Vishnu
From left to right – Brahmani, Maheshwari, Shiva, Kaumari, Vaishnavi
From left to right – Varahi, Indrani, Chamunda, Ganesha
Shiva-Kalyanasundara panels in the south jamb
Uma-Maheswara panels in the north jamb

The garbha-grha doorway is built with five shakhas (bands). At the bottom of the doorjamb are dvarapalas with female attendants. The latala-bimba of the lintel has an image of a four-armed Shiva shown seated. At the terminals of the lintel are Brahma and Vishnu.  In the recess are the images of dancing Sapta-matrikas arranged in a curious fashion. They are accompanied by Shiva and Ganesha however Shiva as Veerabhadra is not placed at the start of the group being his regular position. Here, the group starts with Brahmi followed by Maheshwari, and then comes Shiva, all depicted on the left side of the recess while Ganesha is shown after Chamunda on the right side of the recess.  All the goddesses are carved with their respective mounts, however, the image of Chamunda is given special attention as she is shown standing over a preta and carved with eight hands holding different attributes while the rest of the matrikas are shown with four hands. The posture of Ganesha is of great interest as he is shown dancing with his back turned towards the group, his one leg placed over the ground and another on his mount, rat, and his head turned backward gazing at the matrikas.  On the doorway panels, the three panels in the south depict the story of Shiva’s marriage with Parvati or the kalyana-sundara episode while the three panels in the north have images of Shiva with Parvati.

View from the north-west

An inscription engraved on a pillar makes obeisance to Krishesvara and dates to samvat 1039, corresponding to 982 CE. Krishnesvara might be the god to whom the temple was dedicated. The construction of the temple may be placed in the first half of the ninth century CE.6 Krishna Deva suggests it is not unlikely that this large ornate temple, worthy of a royal foundation, was built by or for Krishnapa, brother of the Chandella king Dhanga (954-1002 CE).7

Photograph of the Bajramath Temple taken by Joseph David Beglar between 1871 and 1872 | British Library
Bajra Matha

Bajra Matha – This east-facing temple presently consists of three shrines, placed side-by-side, all connected to the same common mandapa (hall) in the front. However, this was not the case originally as not all the shrines were built at the same time. The temple stands over a high platform. The mandapa is supported by sixteen pillars including two pillars that are works of later restoration. The main entrance is provided in the east while balconies were provided in the north and the south. The shikhara (superstructure) of the central shrine only has survived. The surviving pillars are left largely plain rectangular with very few decorations.

Photograph of the sculpture on the doors and pillars of the Bajramath Temple taken by Joseph David Beglar between 1871 and 1872 | British Library
The central shrine is dedicated to Surya and is built in pancha-ratha style. The garbha-grha doorway has sapta-sakhas (seven bands). At the bottom of the door-jambs are present Ganga and Yamuna with their female attendants and dvarapalas (door guardians). The fourth sakha from inside has four panels on each side, each panel depicting a standing Surya. The lalata-bimba has an image of Surya seated over a chariot driven by seven horses. On either side of the lalata-bimba is a motif of kirti-mukha sandwiched between a lion and an elephant. The lintel above the doorway has three niches, each having an image of Surya standing with his retinue. As the doorway has a total of twelve images of Surya, Birdi proposes an interesting argument that this comprises the representation of dvadasha-Aditya (twelve Adityas).8 Inside the garbha-grha is an image of Jain Tirthankara Neminath, a later addition.

Southern shrine

The doorway of the southern shrine is composed of six shakhas (bands). At the bottom of the door-jambs are Ganga and Yamuna over their respective mounts. The fourth shakha from inside has panels, four on each side. These panels have images of Shiva. Shiva also occupies the prominent lalata-bimba position. The lintel above has three niches, all housing images of Shiva. Similar to the doorway of the central shrine, this doorway also has twelve representations of Shiva. Birdi suggests that this may correspond to twelve depositions of Rudra as found in Matsya, Vayu, and Vishnu Puranas.9 However, this argument does not appear strong enough as Rudras are generally eleven and when represented they are all shown with similar characteristics. Krishna Deva excludes the image over the lalata-bimba and the remaining eleventh images he considers of eleven Rudras.10 However, while he includes the lalata-bimba image of Surya to enumerate twelve Adityas, he does not give any reason why to exclude the lalata-bimba image in the case of enumerating Rudras.

Northern shrine

The doorway of the northern shrine is composed of six shakhas (bands). At the bottom of the door-jambs are Ganga and Yamuna over their respective mounts. The fourth shakha from inside has four panels on each side. These panels have images of Balarama standing under the serpent hood. An image of Sankarshana-Balarama also occupies the prominent lalata-bimba position where he is shown under a serpent hood. Though the image is much mutilated, however, it can be safely identified with Balarama as his images are also present over the doorway jamb panels. The lintel above has three niches, all housing images of Balarama standing under a serpent hood. Birdi does not agree with these image being of Balarama but suggests that these images are of Vishnu and the total of twelve images over the doorway may correspond to twelve Keshava representations as attested in the Kashi-khanda of Skanda Purana.11

South side of the vimana
Narasimha
Chamunda, a scorpion in her stomach
Surya
West side of the vimana
Shiva Nataraja in the central bhadra niche
Varaha
Tripurantaka
Yoga-Narayana
Surya in the north side bhadra niche

On the external walls of the temple vimana are distributed various images across the niches and recess portions. The arrangement of images and disposition of dikpalas from their respective position suggests that the temple had been rebuilt, probably during the period when Jains appropriated it for their purposes. The south side of the vimana has Surya in its bhadra-niche while Chamunda and another matraka are placed in the pratiratha-niche. Yama and Agni take their position on the karna-niches. The bhadra-niche of the west wall of the central shrine is occupied by Shiva-Nataraja flanked by Varahi and Vishnu on his left and Ardha-narishvara on his right. The icon of Varahi is interesting as she is holding a fish and a buffalo is depicted as her mount, both representing tantra influence. Above the Nataraja, on the rathika-niche is an image of Yoga-Narayana.  The back wall of the Vishnu shrine has Surya in the bhadra-niche with Kaumari in a niche to his left. Above Surya, in the rathika-niche is Shiva-Tripurantaka. The back wall of the Shiva shrine has a decorative motif adorning the bhadra-niche. The above rathika-niche has Varaha accompanied by Nataraja and Balarama on the side niches.

North side of the vimana
Kartikeya
Brahmani

On the northern wall of the vimana, Surya takes the central position on the bhadra-niche. The pratiratha-niche to the left of Surya is occupied by Brahmani while the niche to the right has an unidentified deity. The rathika-niche above the bhadra has an image of Ganesha. The kapili niche has an image of Kartikeya. Kartikeya is shown with three heads and eight arms. Due to the absence of any epigraph related to this temple, the dating is done based on its architectural and sculptural studies. The temple has been generally dated to the close of the tenth century CE.12

Mala Devi Temple

 

Photograph of the entrance porch to the Mala De Jain Temple taken by Joseph David Belgar in c. 1871-72 | British Library
Photograph of a close view of the top of the shikara of the Mala De Jain Temple taken by David J. Belgar in c. 1871-72 | British Library
Mala Devi Temple – Perched on a slope of a hill and built against its northern ridge, this partly structural and partly rock-cut temple provides a picturesque view of the Gyaraspur green fields. The temple may not be termed rock-cut in its strict sense as there was no specific excavation done to accommodate the temple. The natural cavern of the hill was utilized as the garbha-grha and the rest of the temple was built around it. The temple was referred to as Mala De Temple in the reports of Alexander Cunningham13 and the Archaeological Department reports14. Though it started being known as Mala Devi temple however there is no information on who was Mala Devi and how the temple got this name. The temple faces east and consists of an ardha-mandapa, mandapa, antrala, and garbha-grha. This is a sandhara temple having a circumambulatory path around the garbha-grha. The shikhara (superstructure) is in pancha-ratha style. The temple is dedicated to Jain Tirthankaras and the earlier theory that it was originally a Hindu temple later attributed to Jains is incorrect. It would be very probable that the cave on the hill was originally revered by the Jains and with its growing popularity a temple was constructed in its front keeping the original cavern as its garbha-grha. Meister mentions in one interview that a hermit made his shelter in this cavern and later it was converted into a temple.15 He explains that the way the natural crevice of the hill was amalgamated into the temple suggests that the spot was sanctified as used by a particularly revered saint.16

The western and northern side of the temple vimana is partly composed of the hill and partly of structural blocks. The east and south sides are completely structural in design. Looking at the southern side of the temple we get a complete design of the temple. Three projecting balconies or windows are provided on the southern side. Various Jain deities are housed in the niches on all sides. On the niche between the two windows over the mandapa on the southern side is found eight-armed Yakshi Chakreshvari seated over Garuda and holding chakra and other attributes. In the niche on her left is a Jina and in the niche on her right is Yakshi Ambika carrying a child. Krishna Deva has described various images of the outer walls of the temple.17 Some of the images are inscribed and provide names like Tarapati, Vahnishika, Hima, etc.18 On the southern side are found Yaksha Dharanendra and Yakshi Padmavati, both standing under a serpent hood. In the west is found another image of Yakshi Padmavati. On the northern side are found standing Kubera, Rohini, Kandarpa, consort of Revanta, and various other yakshis.

The ardha-mandapa is supported by four pillars. The doorway is composed of five shakhas (bands). On the base of the door-jambs are Ganga and Yamuna accompanied by dvarapalas and attendants. Yakshi Chakreshvari is present on the lalata-bimba. She is eight-armed and riding over Garuda. The mandapa inside is supported by four central pillars. Garbha-grha doorway is also composed of five shakhas and resembles very much the ardha-mandapa doorway. Ganga and Yamuna are present at the base of door jambs. A lotus emerges behind the goddesses and over it are shown five figures. The central figure on the lotus above Yamuna is two-armed, seated in vyakhana-mudra and there appears a lakuta (rod) resting over his shoulders. Around him are shown four figures, two on either side. The two figures on his right are in anjali-mudra while the two on his left are not in anjali-mudra but appear to move away from him. R D Trivedi identifies the central figure with that as Lakulisa and the four people around him as his disciples, Kaurushya, Garga, Mitra, and Kushika.19 However, the posture of the two disciples on the left of the central figures does not go well with the Lakulisa identification. A very similar design is present over the lotus behind Ganga. Here the central figure does not seem to hold a lakuta. In fact, the lakuta of the image over Yamuna is also not very clear as the image is broken at that point. Trivedi draws a comparison with the design present on Teli Ka Mandir in Gwalior, however, in the latter, Lakulisa is shown with two disciples and his lakuta is very clearly visible. Therefore, the identification of the central figure as Lakulisa in the case of Mala Devi Temple needs further research keeping in the context that the temple was dedicated to a Jain Tirthankara. The image at lalata-bimba is much defaced however from what remains it is clear that it would be an image of Chakreshvari as evident from her mount Garuda. Vidyadevi and Saraswati at the terminals of the door lintel.

Garbha-grha doorway
Entrance to circumambulatory path

The natural crevice of the hill is fitted into the temple, the former makes the garbha-grha and its ceiling. The central spur pierces through both the outer wall and the wall of the garbha-grha, blocking totally the pradakshina-path but leaving the natural crevice to form the northwest corner of the garbha-grha. Inside the garbha-grha is an image of a Jain Tirthankar. On the north and the south of the garbha-grha doorway are provided entrances for pradkashina-path (circumambulation path). The lintel over the entrances is carved with multiple registers containing niches and mini-shrines. The lintel of the southern entrance has seven Tirthankaras on its lowest register, four Tirthankaras in the middle, and seven Tirthankaras over the top register. River goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, are present over the base of door jambs. The northern entrance is designed in the same fashion however on its lowest lintel register are found images of Sapta-matrakas accompanied by Ganesha and Virabhadra. The middle and top register follows the pattern as that of the southern entrance.

Jina image inside garbha-grha
Jina image inside a niche

Photograph of the base of the Mala De Jain Temple showing sculptures on walls and porches taken by Joseph David Belgar in c. 1871-72 | British Library
As there is no foundation inscription, the temple is dated to the latter half of the ninth century CE based on its architectural style and composition as well as the paleography of surviving non-dated label inscriptions. Richard Salomon publishes a Jain inscription, the stone slab bearing that inscription is now housed in the British Museum, with a markedly Brahmanical tone. The stone slab was part of Charles Stuart’s collection and its provenance was Gyaspoor near Bhilsa, the present Gyaraspur. Salomon suggests that the only temple to which this stone slab may belong is the Mala Devi Temple as the temple shows a curious mixture of Jain and Hindu iconographic features. Salomon writes, “it is therefore tempting to speculate whether our inscription could actually have recorded the dedication of the Maladevi temple itself, which thus might have been a Jaina-Brahmanical hybrid from the very beginning (sic.).”20 However, it is evident that except for the representation of the Sapta-matrakas with Ganesha and Virabhadra, the temple has no other Hindu deities. The rest of the images over the outer walls, as well as inner chambers, belong to the Jain pantheon. Therefore, it would not be proper to call the temple Brahmanical-Jain hybrid model. Also, the stone inscription Salomon published does not carry any significant Brahmanical tone. However, this does not change much the speculation of Salomon as we may still say that this Jain stone inscription might have come from the Maladevi temple, the latter being a Jain temple. As Salomon also tells, this speculation can only be confirmed when we check the dimensions of the stone slab and find out where it would have been fitted in the said temple. British Museum also has an image of Sulochana, the Jain yakshi goddess of Tirthankara Padmaprabha, acquired from Charles Stuart, and supposedly belonging to the Mala Devi Temple.
Photograph of the torana or hindola taken by Joseph David Beglar in 1871 or 1872 | British Library

 

Hindola Torana & Chaukhamha– This interesting monument is what remains of a large and magnificent temple. The ornamental entrance gateway is known as Hindola Torana by the locals as it is believed to serve as a stand for a swing (hindola). Two horizontal beams are supported over two rectangular pillars. Between these two beams is a makara-torana with two bends. It is issued from the mouth of makaras supported over the brackets of the pillars.  At the base of the pillar shafts, on its four faces, ten incarnations of Vishnu are carved with Matsya and Kurma carved together on one face, Kalki and Buddha together on another, and the rest sides having one incarnation each, Vamana, Varaha, Narasimha, Rama, Parashurama, and Balarama.

 

Matsya and Kurma
Vamana
Narasimha
Varaha
Parashurama
Buddha and Kalki
Photograph of the ruins of the ”Charkhambha” Temple taken by Joseph David Beglar between 1871 and 1872 | British Library
Chaukhambha
The four pillars, at a distance of about 40 feet from the torana, standing over the remains of a plinth forming a square are the remains of the center of a mandapa once adorning the fallen temple. The temple would have been dedicated to Vishnu as evident from the sculptures found in the excavations as well as the decoration over the torana. Based on the remains, the size of the temple would be 150 feet in length from east to west and 85 feet in breadth from north to south.21
Inscriptions:
  1. Fragmentary record of Hindola Torana22 – This stone slab was discovered by Cunningham during his visit and is now deposited in the Gwalior Museum. It records the grant of a permanent endowment in favor of a temple by a community of merchants. It is dated in Vikrama Samvat 936, corresponding to 878 CE.
  2. On the same slab as above23 – The inscription is written in the Sanskrit language and in Nagari characters of about the twelfth century CE. Only four lines have survived, the rest of the block is broken and lost. The inscription refers to the consecration of an image of the god Chamundasvamideva and records the grant of a village by Mahakumara Trailokyavarman from his camp at Harshapura. Krishnan tells that Trailokyavarman belonged to the Paramara dynasty and ruled as a Mahakumara during the middle of the 12th century CE.
Stupa on Dhekinatha hill

Buddhist Stupa – The Buddhist stupa at Gyaraspur is among the last vestiges of Buddhism in the Malwa area.24 This stupa is largely remodeled and renovated and most of the original material is lost or removed by local treasure hunters. It is built over a large platform that can be approached from the north by a flight of steps. Originally it was adorned with four niches in four cardinal directions, but only that of the east has survived in the restoration. There were three more sculptures of Buddha lying in the ruins. Each of the four occupied a niche in the four quadrants of the stupa and all the images had been removed and stored in the ASI storeroom at the site. The Buddhas in the east and north quadrants are in the dhyana-mudra and those in the south and west quadrants were respectively in the bhumi-sparsha-mudra and dharmachakra-parivartana-mudra. Each Buddha is flanked by two bodhisattvas. From the style, these images may be assigned to the ninth or tenth century CE.25 An inscription on the pedestal reads “Ye dharma hetu-prabhavah” in the script of the 9th-10th century CE.
Gyaraspur Lady Shalabhanjika

Gyaraspur Lady – This exquisite shalabhanjika image is now housed in a secure vault in the Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior. The torso of the statue was collected from the debris of the Hindola Torana complex in 1933. A year later, the head of the statue was also found however both pieces lay separately in the collection room for some time. It was only a few years later that while checking the collection, by chance the head fitted to the torso infusing life into the statue. However, its real potential was only realized later when Dr. C Sivaramamurti categorized it as an unexcelled piece of medieval art and a great masterpiece of all Indian art. Now, this statue is considered an outstanding piece of Indian art from the early medieval period.


1 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. pp. 60-61
2 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. pp. 60-61
3 Beglar, J. D. (1878). Report of Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa in 1871-72; and in the Central Provinces, 1873-74, vol. VII. Archaeological Survey of India. Delhi. pp. 90-93
4 Cunningham, Alexander (1880). Report of Tours in Bundelkhand and Malwa in 1874-75 and 1876-77, vol. X. Archaeological Survey of India. Delhi. p. 34
5 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. pp. 60-61
6 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. p. 61
7 Deva, Krishna (1995). Temples of India. Aryan Books International. New Delhi. ISBN 817305052X. pp. 173-174
8 Birdi, Dev Raj (1991). Gyaraspur – A Heritage of Excellence. Sharada Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 8183520128. p. 56
9 Birdi, Dev Raj (1991). Gyaraspur – A Heritage of Excellence. Sharada Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 8183520128. p. 58
10 Deva, Krishna (1995). Temples of India. Aryan Books International. New Delhi. ISBN 817305052X. p. 175
11 Birdi, Dev Raj (1991). Gyaraspur – A Heritage of Excellence. Sharada Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 8183520128. p. 57
12 Deva, Krishna (1995). Temples of India. Aryan Books International. New Delhi. ISBN 817305052X. p. 175
13 Cunningham, Alexander (1880). Report of Tours in Bundelkhand and Malwa in 1874-75 and 1876-77, vol. X. Archaeological Survey of India. Delhi. p. 34
14 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. p. 62
15 Meister, Michael W & Rykwert, Joseph (1988). Afterword: Adam’s House and Hermits’ Huts: A Conversation published in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics No. 15. pp. 27-33
16 Meister, Michael W (1975). Jaina Temples in Central India published in Aspects of Jaina Art and Architecture.  Gujarat State Committee for the Celebration of 2500th Anniversary of Bhagvan Mahavira Nirvana. Ahmedabad. p. 238
17 Deva, Krishna (1968). Mala Devi Temple at Gyaraspur published in Shri Mahavir Jaina Vidyalaya Golden Jubilee Volume part I. Shri Mahavira Jaina Vidyalaya. Mumbai. pp.  262-269
18 Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Western Circle, for the year ending 31st March, 1914. p. 63
19 Trivedi, R. D. (1990). Temples of the Pratihara Period in Central India. Archaeological Survey of India. Delhi. p. 161
20 Salomon, Richard (1996). British Museum Stone Inscription of the Tripuri Kalacuri Prince Valleka published in Indo-Iranian Journal Vol. 39, No. 2. pp 133-161
21 Birdi, Dev Raj (1991). Gyaraspur – A Heritage of Excellence. Sharada Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 8183520128. P 67
22 No. 151 of Appendix B, Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy for 1952-53. p. 41
23 Epigraphia Indica, vol. 33. pp. 93-94
24 Jain, K. C. (1972). Malwa Through the Ages. Motilal Banarasidass. Delhi. ISBN 812080824X. p. 398
24 Jain, K. C. (1972). Malwa Through the Ages. Motilal Banarasidass. Delhi. ISBN 812080824X. p. 450

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.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Some Svetambara Jains believe that Tirthankara Mallinatha may have been female. I wonder from the name of the temple here is an example of this ?

    • Some Svetambara Jains believe that Tirthankara Mallinatha may have been female. I wonder from the name, if the temple here reflects that?

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