Karitalai – Vishnu Varaha Temple


Karitalai village is situated in the Vijayraghavgarh tehsil of Katni district in Madhya Pradesh. The village is known as Karnapura or Karanpur. The village would have assumed considerable importance during the ninth century CE during the reign of the Kaalchuri king Lakshmanaraja I. During the tenth century CE, a majestic temple was constructed and the Kalachuri royal family made considerable donations. The tenth-eleventh century CE also witnessed the emergence of Jainism at Karitalai. Five Jain images found at Karitalai, now in the Mahant Ghasidas Memorial Museum at Raipur, are all dateable to the same period as attested by inscriptions on their pedestal. Four of these images are of dvi-tirthika type, having two Tirthankaras on two faces of the stone. The pairs of Tirthakaras are Ajitanatha-Sambhavanatha, Pushpadanta-Sitalanatjha, Dharmanatha-Shantinatha, Mallinatha-Munisuvrata.1 The fifth image is a chaturvimsatipatta image of Parshvanatha. He is shown seated in padmasana-mudra under a canopy made by a seven-hooded serpent. On the right of Parshvanatha are miniature images of nine Tirthankaras and to his left are eight such images. The remaining six were originally carved above the chhatra however it is missing now.2 It appears that images of all twenty-four Tiranthankaras were installed at Karitalai during that time.

The village soon went into oblivion after the Kalachuris. The antiquities of the village were first reported by Alexander Cunningham who visited the place in 1873-74, however, he did not describe these in detail except for a few mentions of inscriptions and sculptures.3 Though Karitalai has been featured in various studies related to iconography and Kalachuri architecture however all of those lack a dedicated and systematic study of the site.


Vishnu Varaha Temple – The present image of Varaha is installed over a platform, however, it would have been adorned inside a Vishnu temple constructed by Someshvara, a minister of Lakshmanaraja II, as mentioned in the inscription. The grandeur of the temple has been emphasized in the accompanying inscription stating the temple was sarva-prasada-rajoyam i.e. “chief of all the temples”. The inscription further mentions, “the temple resembled Vishnu in all respects except his Vamana form”, “the moon looked like an umbrella tied to the staff at the top of the temple”, “the white flag on the high staff at the top of the temple touched the heavenly stream which looked like flag attached to the staff, as it were; the staff, on its turn was joined to the kanaka-kalasa set on the spire of the temple”.4

This Varaha sculpture is carved in sandstone and measures 6 feet long, 5 feet high and 3 feet broad.5 The image of Varaha is adequately decorated with figures and festoons however it is not as richly decorated as seen in some other Varaha statues such as at Eran, Badoh, and Khajuraho. There are a total of four rows of figures carved over the body of Varaha. The topmost row, at the back of the boar, has ten figures, all shown seated in yogasana-mudra. The next row runs both sides of the body and it has sapta-matrika group with Ganesha and Virabhadra and additional twenty-one figures of sages shown seated in yogasana-mudra. The next row also runs across the body of Varaha, and has forty figures of sages shown seated in yogasana-mudra, each carrying a water vessel and a danda. The last row has figures of seated sages interspersed with yajna-kundas and a few female figures. In total, there are twenty-six figures of sages, eight female figures, and three yajna-kundas. Below the last row, on either side of the body, a garland of three festoons is carved. A few of these festoons have naga figures inside.

Both the tusks of Varaha are broken. Two festoon garlands are carved over the forehead. One garland is composed of bells and another of human figures. The neck has four rows of garlands, and the bottom last garland is composed of forty-two human figures of sages, all shown seated in yogasana-mudra. Over the head of Varaha is a figure of Brahma. Legs are decorated with bell-shaped anklets. Thighs are also decorated with festoons. This is the only Varaha image in Madhya Pradesh that is decorated with yajna-kundas suggesting the association of Varaha with yajna, thus representing a yajna-Varaha.

Kachchapa (Tortoise) Image

Maccha (Fish) Image

At the entrance of a dance school, two large statues have been set and installed. However, that was not their original place. One image is of a kachchapa (tortoise) probably representing the Kachchapa avatara of Vishnu. Another image is of a matsya or machcha (fish) probably representing matsya avatara of Vishnu. Generally, we do not have temples dedicated to these two specific avatars but these may appear in a Vishnu temple as secondary images. It is very probable that these two images were originally installed in the Vishnu temple built by minister Someshvara during the Kalachuri period. If that is the case, then it is probable that the temple held images of all the ten avatars of Vishnu.


  1. Karitalai copper-plate inscription of the Maharaja Jayanatha6 – This copper plate was found, about 1850, in a small receptacle inside a ruined temple of Vishnu-Varaha in Karitalai. The writing is in Sanskrit language using the northern class of alphabet. It is dated in the year 174 without mention of any era. The charter was issued from the city or hill called Uchchakalpa by king Jayanatha. The genealogy of the king is provided: Maharaja Jayanatha was born to Maharaja Vyaghra and Mahadevi Ajjhitadevi. Maharaja Vyaghra was born to Maharaja Jayasvamin and Mahadevi Ramadevi. Maharaja Jayasvamin was born to Maharaja Kumaradeva and Mahadevi Jayasvamini. Maharaja Kumaradeva was born to Maharaja Oghadeva and Mahadevi Kumaradevi. Maharaja Jayanatha grants the village of Chhandapallika to Brahmana Mitrasvamin of the Kanva gotra and Vajasaneya-Madhyamdina. The charter was written by Bhogika Gunjakirtti, the grandson of Bhogika, the Amatya Rajyila, and the son of Bhogika Dhruvadatta. The dutaka is Sarvadatta, the chief of architects. Taking evidence from the other inscriptions of the kings of Uchchakalpa, the year 174 mentioned in this charter is considered of the Gupta era, thus the grant can be dated to 493-94 CE.
  2. Karitalai Stone Inscription of Lakshmanaraja7 – The inscription is affixed to the temple of Devi Madhia at Karitalai. It is a fragmentary inscription that originally had fourteen lines. It is written in the Nagari characters, in the Sanskrit language. As the inscription is fragmentary, not much significance can be inferred from the same. The inscription starts with obeisance to Druhina (Brahma), Upendra (Vishnu), and Rudra (Shiva). The ninth line mentions the routing of Nagabhatta and the eleventh line mentions some saintly person. The twelfth line mentions the illustrious king Amoghavarsha who probably bowed to that saintly person. The record was composed by Prasannaditya of the Ghata family in the year 593 during the reign of the king, the illustrious Lakshmanarajadeva. No era is mentioned in the inscription however as the Kalachuri king used the Kalachuri-Chedi era in their epigraphs, therefore this inscription would be dated in the same era. Thus, the inscription can be dated to 841-42 CE.
  3. Karitalai Stone Inscription of Lakshmanaraja II8 – This inscription is now housed in the Nagpur Museum. The inscription is much mutilated and a considerable portion is lost. It is written in the Nagari characters and Sanskrit language. The inscription mentions three Kalachuri kings, Yuvarajadeva, Lakshmanaraja, and Sankaragana. Bhakamisra, a minister of Yuvarajadeva is mentioned. Someshvara was the son of this minister. He erected a very high temple of Vishnu at Karitalai. The image inside the temple was of Vishnu-Varaha and called Someshvarasvamin after the founder of the temple. Eight Brahmana families were settled near the temple and king Lakshmanaraja (II) granted the village of Dirghasakhika and another unnamed village. His queen, Rahada, granted the village of Chakrahradi to the god on the occasion of a solar eclipse. Sankaragana, a prince at that time, also granted a village on the occasion of a lunar eclipse. A few other villages were also granted and mentioned in the inscription. The inscription is not dated however as it belongs to the reign of Lakshmanaraja II and mentions prince Sankaragana III therefore can be dated between 940-965 CE towards the end of the reign of Lakshmanaraja II.
  4. Karitalai Inscription of the reign of Viraramadeva9 – the inscription refers to the reign of Maharaja Viraramadeva of Uchahadanagara, the same as the present Unchehara town. The record is dated in samvat 1412, equivalent to 1355 CE. It appears to be a sati record.
  5. Karitalai Jain Statue Inscriptions10 – These are the label inscriptions on the five Jain statues found at Karitalai. Two labels are Devabhadra and his wife Yashomati, and the remaining three are Jainchandra, Satyachandra, and Yashodhara.
  6. Karitalai Shell Letter Inscription11 – This is a non-deciphered inscription in the shell characters.

1 Shah, U P (1987). Jaina-rūpa-maṇḍana. Abhinav Publications. Delhi. ISBN 8170172187. p. 162
2 Singh, Amar (1994). Parsvanatha in Central Indian Art published in the Pragdhara No. 4, Journal of the U.P. State Archaeological Organization. p. 130
3 Cunninham, Alexander (1879). Report of a Tour in the Central Provinces in 1873-74 and 1874-75, vol. IX. Archaeological Survey of India. Delhi. pp. 7-8
4 Misra, R N (1987). Sculptures of Dahala and Dakshina Kosala and their Background. Agam Kala Prakashan. Delhi. p. 44
5 Rangarajan, Haripriya (1997). Varaha Images in Madhya Pradesh. Somaiya Publications. New Delhi. ISBN 8170392144. p. 83
6 Fleet, John Faithful (1970). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol. III – Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and their Successors. Indological Book House. Varanasi. pp. 117-120
7 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol. IV – Inscriptions of the Kalachuri-Chedi Era, Part I. pp. 178-182
8 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol. IV – Inscriptions of the Kalachuri-Chedi Era, Part I. pp. 186-195
9 Lal, Hira (1916). No 41 of the Descriptive List of Inscriptions in the Central Provinces and Berar. Government Printing C. P. Nagpur. p. 38
10 Lal, Hira (1932). No 71 of the Descriptive List of Inscriptions in the Central Provinces and Berar. Government Printing C. P. Nagpur. p. 44
11 Lal, Hira (1932). No 74 of the Descriptive List of Inscriptions in the Central Provinces and Berar. Government Printing C. P. Nagpur. p. 45

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