The town of Malhar is situated in the Bilaspur district of the Chhattisgarh state. In the twelfth century CE Kalachuri epigraphs, Malhar is referred to as Mallala or Mallala-pattana.1 The term pattana (=port) may be relevant as the town is bound by three rivers, the Arpa to the west, the Lilagara to the east, and the Sivanatha to its south. The village was located on an ancient route from Kausambi to Puri and it would have helped Malhar gaining prominence and wealth witnessing cultural and political developments.2 K D Bajpai suggests that Mallal is probably a derivation of Mallari, a title of Shiva. In the Puranas we find a demon named Malla and Shiva killed the demon thus called Mallari.3 When Alexander Cunnigham and his assistants were exploring northern India following the routes of the Chinese pilgrims, they skipped Malhar assuming that it only contained old mud fortifications but nothing else of importance. J D Beglar, an assistant of Cunningham, skipped the town in 1873-74 mentioning that he learned in Sheorinarayan that Malhar and Pamgrah were merely earthen forts and contain no remains of structures. He only later realized that Malhar had remains of two temples and numerous fragments scattered all over.4
A few inscriptions mention temple building activity at Malhar. A Kalachuri inscription, discovered at Malhar and deposited in the Nagpur Museum, mentions construction of a temple for Shiva under the name Kedara during the reign of the Kalachuri king Jajalladeva II (1165-1168 CE). Another Kalachuri inscription, found from Ratanpur5 and deposited in the Nagpur Museum, mentions construction of a temple of Shiva-Dhurjati at Mallala by Brahmadeva during the reign of the Kalachuri king Prithvideva II. The archaeological potential of the site was soon realized and it underwent two large excavations. The first excavation was taken up between 1975-78 by the Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology of the Sagar University, in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology, Government of Madhya Pradesh, under the direction of Prof K D Bajpai, assisted by Dr. S K Pandey and V D Jha. The second excavation was taken up by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2009-2012 under the guidance of S K Mittra. While the earlier excavation was concentrated on the exterior of the mud fort, the later excavation was done in the interior parts of the fort. These excavations have revealed the occupation at the site from 1000 BCE to 1300 CE.6 Following cultural sequences have been revealed in the first excavation:7
- Period I (Pre-Mauryan Period – 1000-300 BCE) – marked by the presence of red ware and black polished ware sherds however none were found at Malhar in this layer
- Period II (Maurya-Satavahana-Kushana Period – 325 BCE – 300 CE) – marked by the black and red ware, and red ware sherds, a few notable discoveries include punch-marked square copper coins, several Satavahana coins with the elephant symbol, antimony rod, and a terracotta head of a boy with well-marked features, nine square copper coins belonging to first century CE bearing legend “Kumaghabhijhabha”, a terracotta sealing bearing the legend “gamasya kosaliya” (of the village Kosala) in the Brahmi characters of the second century CE, and another clay seal bearing legend “Vedasiris” (of Vedasri)
- Period III (Sharabhapuriya-Somavamshi Period – 300-650 CE) – marked by the houses built of stones, baked bricks, and rammed floors, yielded thin red ware and plain red ware sherds, a big vessel bearing the inscription “Maharupa”, a few notable findings include a baked pendant with Brahmi inscription reading “Kalyanarchi”, a clay seal bearing inscription “Maharaja Mahendrasya” in the Gupta Brahmi characters, remains of a Shiva temple, a huge tank locally known as “Potnar”, two Buddhist shrines belonging to Vajrayana sect, and an image of a Vajrayana deity now preserved at the Malhar museum.
- Period IV (Post-Somavamshi Period 650-900 CE) – yielded typical pottery with shining black interior and black-red exterior and various sculpture fragments. Some notable findings are a square red sandstone piece with a rosette circle and symbols like padma, ghata, and deer, another stone piece with Nandi in human form in anjali-mudra, a red sandstone image of seated Ganesha, a copper weight, and a terracotta gamesman.
- Period V (Kalachuri Period 900-1300 CE) – yielded plain red ware sherds, white stone, and burnt bricks, a few notable findings are a Buddhist vihara raised upon a platform of white slate stones.
The excavation of 2009-12 revealed five level of cultural sequences starting with pre-Mauryan era and going till later Gupta period. A seal was discovered in the third level beloging to the Satavahana period, the seal reads ‘Yuvarajasya Vasisthiputrasya gutalasiya’ in typical Satavahana Brahmi script. The history of Malhar after the Satavahanas is primarily dependent on various numismatic evidence due to missing other historical evidence. The discovery of a large number of coins ranging from 1st century BCE to 4th century CE bearing a distinct symbol, known as the Malhar symbol, provides clues on the political situation of the town during that period. As the coins bore the specific symbol indicating the town, it is generally believed that these served as the local currency and were minted with the purpose of circulation within the region of Malhar. As the use of the symbol continued for more than four centuries while the town was being ruled by four different dynasties, therefore the symbol was not a dynastic emblem. These coins are either of lead or lead-copper mix.8 As no other site in Chhattisgarh has yielded similar punch-marked coins therefore it is evident that Malhar enjoyed a unique and isolated position that required the use of such currency. Malhar was situated on an ancient route connecting Koshambi with Puri passing through Bharhut, Bandhavgarh, Amarkantak, Kharod, and, Sirpur.9 This gave a unique trade advantage to Malhar and the pilgrims and merchants going towards Puri took a halt here. They engaged in local trade activities such as food and accommodation etc. and therefore the need for a local currency arose. Majumdar puts Malhar as an isolated indigenous numismatic zone as the coins minted here were not found elsewhere suggesting that the coins were solely used within the region.
Numismatic evidence provides a list of three different dynasties ruling Malhar between the 1st century BCE and the 4th century CE. The first named king on the coins is Silalusiri who probably ruled during the 1st century BCE and started the use of the Malhar symbol over the coins. He was followed by Achadasiri and Dhamabhada as the coins of these two rulers are topologically similar to that of Silalusiri. The next dynasty was the Maghas, and we get the names of four kings, Maghasiri, Siriyamagha, Sivamagha, Paramagha, and Yugamagha. The Maghas ruled between the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. The kings from the next dynasty in line were Bhaliga and Sivasiri Silaluka. The coins of these kings have a figure of an elephant on the obverse and the reverse was either blank or had a tree or a peacock. They ruled during the 3rd century CE. The coins after these kings had an elephant on the obverse and a deity on the reverse. These coins did not bear legends or incomplete legends.10
Malhar would have come under the Guptas as evident from the Allahabad pillar inscription of Smaudragupta. A clay seal bearing the legend “Maharaja Mahendrasya” has been found at Malhar. The legend over the seal is written in the Gupta Brahmi alphabet. K D Bajpai identifies Mahendra of the seal with the ruler bearing the same name mentioned in the Allahabad Pillar Inscription of Samudragupta.11 The Allahabad pillar inscription mentions Mahendra as the king of Kosala who was defeated in the hands of the Samudragupta but was reinstated after the defeat. The Sharabhapuriyas, an indigenous Chhattisgarh dynasty, ruled over the region after the disintegration of the Guptas. Their capital city was Sharabhpur (शरभपुर) which sometimes is equated with Malhar however it is not a widely accepted theory.12 After the Sharabhapuriyas, the region went to the Panduvamshis, first the Mekal branch and later the Daksina Kosala branch. As per an epigraph found in Malhar, we come to know that the last king of the Mekal Panduvamshis was Shurabala Udirnavairya.13 The Daksina Kosala Panduvamshis transferred the capital to Sripur. They were displaced by the Kalachuris by the end of the ninth century CE. A Shiva temple, Durjati Mahadeva, was constructed by minister Brahmadeva during the reign of Prithvi-deva II (1135-1165 CE). During the rule of Jajalla-deva II (1165-1168 CE), a temple for Shiva named Kedareshvara was constructed in Malhar by a brahman Somaraj.14 This temple is now known as the Pataleshvara Temple. The Kalachuris were displaced by the Marathas in 1742 CE.
L S Nigam suggests Malhar, being a very important cultural and political center during the early centuries of the current era, was the place where the art activities of Dakshina Kosala originated. He mentions that at Malhlar we can observe the art activities from the second century BCE to the Kalchuri period at Malhar.15 A Vishnu image, discovered at Malhar and now housed in the site museum, has a Brahmi inscription assignable to 200 BCE. The inscription tells that the image was consecrated by Bharadvaja, the wife of Parnadatta. It is the earliest sculptural representation from the site.16
General Epigraphs – This section gives details on various epigraphs discovered at Malhar but are not associated with a specific monument but discovered at Malhar.
- Mallar plates of Maha-Jayaraja17 – issued in the fifth regnal year of the Sarabhapuriya king Jayaraja (550-560 CE), about 555 CE – written in Sanskrit, box-headed variety of Central Indian alphabets – Issued from Sarabhapura, it mentions king Maha-Jayaraja as the crest jewel of the feudatory chiefs who bowed down before him. He is referred to as a devout Vaishnava. The grant talks about a donation of a village by the king to increase the religious merits of his parents and of his own.
- Mallar plates of Jayaraja18 – issued in the ninth regnal year of the Sarabhapuriya king Jayaraja (55-560 CE), about 559 CE – written in Sanskrit, box-headed variety of Central Indian alphabets – Issued from Sarabhapura, king Jayaraja was described in a similar manner as that of the above grant. The grant mentions a donation of a village by some Vatsa, who held the office of Hadappagraha.
- Mallar plates of Pravararaja19 – issued in the third regnal year of the Sarabhapuriya king Pravararaja (580-590 CE), about 583 CE – written in Sanskrit, box-headed variety of Central Indian alphabets – Issued from Sripura, the grant is about a donation of a village to a brahmana by the king.
- Mallar plates of Vyaghraraja20 – issued in the forty-first regnal year, probably of Pravara-bhattaraka, may be dated to sixth century CE – written in Sanskrit, nail-headed variety of South Indian alphabets – Issued from Prasannapura, the grant mentions a donation by Vyaghraraja, the younger brother of the ruling king Pravara-bhattaraka, the son of Jaya-bhattaraka of the family known as Amararya-kula. Jaya-bhattaraka may be identified with the Sarabhapuriya king Jayaraja (550-560 CE) and Pravara-bhattaraka may be identified with his son Pravara. Pravara of this grant cannot be identified with the Sharabhapuriya king Pravararaja (580-590 CE) as the latter was the brother of Jayaraja. The grant mentions a donation of a village by Vyaghraraja.
- Mallar plates of Shurabala Udirnavaira21 – issued in the eighth regnal year of the Mekala Panduvamshi king Shurabala (600-625 CE) – written in Sanskrit, Southern class of Central Indian alphabets – The grant mentions that it belongs to illustrious lord Jayeshvara-bhattaraka who is described as carrying a trident in his hand, having an excellent bull for his mount and snakes his retinue. He also put Ananga (Kaamdeva) ablaze. The grant is written with permission from Udirnavaira, a title of Shurabala of the Panduvamshi dynasty of Mekala, and mentions a donation of a village to the lord. The genealogy of Shurabala is given as, Jayabala -> Vatsaraja (married to Dronabhattarika) -> Nagabala (married to Indrabhattarika) -> Bharatabala (married to Mahadevi)-> Shurabala. Shurabala is mentioned as devout Maheshvara.
- Mallar plates of Shivagupta Balarjuna22 – not dated but refers to the reign of the Panduvamshi king Maha-Shivagupta Balarjuna (730-790 CE) – written in Sanskrit, box-headed variety of Central Indian alphabets – mentions a donation of a village at the request from the maternal-uncle of the king to the monks of four quarters who were residing at a small monastery at Taradamska.
- Mallar plates of Shivagupta23 – not dated but refers to the reign of the Panduvamshi king Maha-Shivagupta Balarjuna (730-790 CE) – written in Sanskrit, box-headed variety of Central Indian alphabets – Mentions donation of a village for the maintenance and repairs for the arrangements of bali and caru offerings for the temples of Kapaleshvara and Bhattaraka (probably Surya) built by Shivanandin.
- Inscription on Chaturbhuja-Vishnu image24 – The inscription mentions that the statue was installed by the wife, Bharadvaja, of some Parnadatta.
Monuments – There are two temples and a mud fort at Malhar.
Pataleshvara Temple – This is the main temple at Malhar and is presently under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The temple has undergone major renovation and repairs during the last decade of the last century. The temple faces west and is constructed on a high-raised platform (jagati). Three entrances, on the east, south, and north are provided to reach the jagati. These entrances would have been topped with ardha-mandapas (porches) as evident by the bases of pillars. All three entrances were connected to a common mandapa (hall) that led to an antarala (vestibule) and garbhagrha (sanctum). From the remains it appears that the temple was constructed in tri-ratha style. The remains of adhishtana shows two upper moldings decorated with frieze of elephants and simha-vyalas interspersed with images of various deities.
The garbhagrha doorway has life-size statues of the river goddesses, Shaiva dvarapalas and four-armed Vaishnava dvarapalas at the extreme end. Lateral faces of the door-jambs are carved with five panels each. The panels on the right door jamb have Andhakasuravadha-murti at the bottom followed by Ganesha, Uma-Maheshvara, Kalyanasundara scenes in two panels, one panel shows yajna while another shows Shiva-Parvati-parinaya holding hands. The left side door jamb has dancing Shiva followed by Ganesha with his consort and three scenes from the dice game between Shiva and Parvati. In one scene, Parvati’s ganas are shown taking away Nandi after Shiva was defeated and lost all his possessions in the hands of Parvati in the dice game. Antarala (vestibule) has a staircase, nine steps, that takes the devotee down to the garbhagrha. As a devotee needs to below the ground floor thus the name Pataleshvara.25 The linga is missing in the garbha-grha, however, the pitha is still in situ. The water channel is underground and it is said that whatever quantity of water you pour over, it never spills and goes into the ground and this is also a reason behind the etymology of the name Pataleshvara.26 Opposite to the temple is found an image of Nandi over an open-air mandapa.
The temple has been identified with the Kedareshvara temple mentioned in a Kalachuri epigraph. The temple was constructed in 1167 CE by a Brahmana named Somaraja during the reign of the Kalachuri king Jajalla-deva II (1165-1168 CE). The temple was dedicated to Kedara, a title of Shiva. A sculptural shed was constructed in 1974-75 at the site to house various unearthed sculptures around the village.
In 1981-82, around five hundred loose sculptures were chemically cleaned and many of these sculptures are housed in a site museum. Among these sculptures are various Jain images, Chamunda, Ganesha, Nataraja etc. Among the interesting sculptures found at the site, Susmita Majumdar27 mentions one mukha-linga image in possession of Shri Gulab Singh Thakur, a resident of the village. This mukha-linga image has an interesting iconography as the sculptor had tried to merge the human form of Shiva with the linga form. We usually find only the head being carved on a mukha-linga however, in this case, the whole body is carved and as the image is executed in the round this is very evident on the backside of the image. Majumdar tells that this merger is very regional in character as we find similar cases in a few other sculptures in the region.
Shiva images to be updated.
- Malhar Stone Inscription of Jajalladeva II28 – dated in year 919 of the Kalachuri Era (1167 CE) – Sanskrit language, Nagari characters – The inscription refers to the reign of Jajalladeva II of the Kalachuri dynasty of Ratanpur. The object is to record the construction of a temple of Shiva at Malhar under the name of Kedara by a Brahmana named Somaraja. The inscription mentions Ratnadeva II as a fierce cloud that extinguished the continuously raging flames of the spreading mighty fire of the valor of King Chodaganga. Ratnadeva II begot Prithvideva II and the latter begot Jajalladeva II. The inscription then mentions the genealogy of Somaraja. It is mentioned that Somaraja was proficient in both the Mimansas, the Nyaya, the Vaisheshika system and refuted the doctrines of the Charvakas, Buddhas, and Jainas.
- Malhar Stone Inscription29 – dated on paleographic studies to twelfth/thirteenth century CE – This inscription is much damaged and only a few words here and there can be read. It was found at Malhar and deposited at Bilaspur Town Hall. Mention of Chedi-desa is in line 2, Nannadeva in lines 6, 7, and 8, Mallala (old name of Malhar) in line 10, and Kalhana in line 13. It probably mentions the construction of some mansion.
- Inscription in tank pillar30 – written in Sanskrit, Nagari (Siddhamatrika) characters – dated to ninth century CE on paleographic grounds – mentions Ranakshobha, probably a Sailodbhava king.
Bhima Kichaka Temple (Deur Temple) – This temple was a heap of debris and rubbles till a few decades back when it was restored to its former glory. Of course the temple cannot be restored to its original form and the conservationist were fortunate to found doorway pieces intact under the debris and that allowed them to restore the doorway to its original form. found in ruins, ASI did some renovation and all the stones were put in place. The temple was dedicated to Shiva as evident by the Shaiva characters of the themes on the doorway as well as the presence of Uma-Maheshvara at the lalata-bimba. Over the outermost bands of the doorway are carved two life-size dvarapalas. Though the right side dvarapala is much damaged, the left side figure does not show any specific Shaiva characteristics such facial expressions, decorations and weapons. The dvarapalas are shown standing over a pedestal held by a four-armed bharavahaka-kichak (weight bearer dwarf). The next bands have the river goddesses, on the left is Yamuna over a kachchapa (tortoise) and on the right is Ganga over a makara. They are standing under a tree and over a pedestal. The pedestal of Ganga is supported by a two-armed bharavahaka-kichak and of Yamuna by a four-armed bharavahaka-kichak. The innermost band has female figures at the bottom accompanied by their dwarfish attendants. The lintel above the doorway has Uma-Maheshvara in the center and the rest of the space is filled with dwarf ganas and flying celestials. At the terminals of the lintel are amourous couples. The temple is dated to the sixth-seventh century CE.31
The most crucial and interesting part of the doorway are its panels on its lateral face. The five panels on the right door jambs are not interlinked unlike the panels on the left jamb. The uppermost panel is much deteriorated however clear enough to suggest that it shows Shiva and Parvati seated over the Kailasa mountains. Remains of Nandi on the right of Shiva are also evident. The next below panel shows Shiva in two forms, as Gajantaka-murti as well as Andhakantaka-murti. Shiva is shown with six or eight arms with his uppermost two arms holding the hide of an elephant, the head and bottom part of the elephant dangles on either side of the God. His one leg is placed over demon apsamara and his lower two hands are holding his trishula that pierces demon Andhaka, the latter is almost lost except faint outline. Parvati is the witness of the overall scene, she is shown seated over the Kailasa mountains. The next panel represents Shiva as the supreme dancer taking the centerstage. He is accompanied by a drummist and Parvati seated over a simhasana (throne) enjoys the scene. Shiva is probably depicted with eight arms. Bosma32 tells the dance posture in the panel is the katisamam karana as described in the Natyashashtra. As per the text, the legs are required to be in svastikapasritam pose, one hand should be near the navel and another on the hip and the pelvis should be in the udvahita pose.33 As this panel is much damaged, it is not very clear if one hand of Shiva is near his navel or not and his other hand is reaching out to Parvati instead of being on his hip. Though, small variations from the standard poses should be acceptable as far as these variations do not result in different poses and karanas. bottommost panel shows Shiva and Parvati seated over the Kailasa mountain accompanied by Nandi, Kartikeya over his peacock and various ganas. The next panel depicts Shiva’s marriage with Parvati, in company are Vishnu holding a water vessel, Brahma as the officiating priest, and a female attendant of Parvati. Shiva is shown urdhva-linga (ithyphallic) and holding hands of Parvati. As the couple stands little away from the ritual fire, it appears that the parigrahan-samskara is over and now they are into the saptapadi-samsakara. The bottommost panel shows Shiva and Parvati seated in the environs of the Kailasa mountain. In company are Kartikeya with his peacock, Nandi and a few ganas. While a group of gana indulged in mischiefs in the bottom part of the panel, a mysterious figure is shown in the left bottom side of the panel. This figure is four-armed and Bosma34 identifies him with Bhringi.
The five panels on the left door jamb depicts the story of Shiva’s adventures in the Daruvana-forest. The overall theme here is the establishment of linga worship. The Kedar-khanda of the Skanda-Purana35 narrates the episode. Once Shiva was wandering naked in the Daruvana forest. The forest was habituated by sages and siddhas. The wives of the sages of that forest got attracted towards Shiva and started following him. The sages when came to their homes found the homes empty and came to know the situation. They all cursed him to be a eunuch and his penis (linga) fell down. The linga started growing enormously and covered all the universe very soon. The Purana then tells the story of Brahma and Vishnu trying to find origins of this linga but both failing in this attempt. When Shive revealed the identity then the sages of the Daruvana forest asked for forgiveness and were granted the same by the God. The overall episode is for an explanation of the establishment of linga worship. The bottommost panel on the door jamb shows Shiva with urdhvalinga and carrying a bowl and a rod with peacock feathers at the top. In front of him standing two ladies in posture of giving alms. The panel above has Shiva and infuriated emancipated sages in the front. It depicts the scene when the sages confronted the God and cursed him for abducting their wives. The panel above again shows Shiva and the sages however here the sages are all posture of asking protection with folded hands. This panel depicts the scene when the sages realized their mistake and asked for forgiveness from the Lord. The lady behind Shiva may be Parvati as the spot where the sages asked for forgiveness happened at the Kailasa. The panel above shows two elephants surrounded by a group of sages. Bosma36 identifies this panel with the help of Vamana Purana, where the story goes that the sages were asked to reestablish Shiva’s linga at lake Sannihatya however they were not able to move the linga. They approached Parvati and she told them to go to a lake where Shiva has immersed himself in form of an elephant. Shiva joined the sages to Daruvana in form of an elephant. The uppermost panel shows Shiva and Parvati seated on Nandi and taking leave from the sages in the Daruvana. The upper half of the panel shows a linga established and being worshipped by the sages.
1 Bajpai, K D (1975). Excavation at Malhar – A Historical Site of Madhya Pradesh published in the Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 36. p. 63
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3 Bajpai & Pandey (1978). Malhar (Hindi). The University of Sagar. p. 3
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7 Bajpai & Pandey (1978). Malhar. Sagar University. Sagar. p. 12
8 Majumdar, Sushmita Bose (2001). Core Peripheral Relationship in South Kosala – A Regional Study published in the Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 62. pp. 99-100
9 Bajpai & Pandey (1978). Malhar (Hindi). The University of Sagar. p. 3
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21 Studies in Indian Epigraphy
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34 Bosma, Natasja (2018). Daksina Kosala: A Rich Centre of Early Saivism, a thesis submitted to the The University of Groningen. ISBN 9789403403939. p. 200
35 Tagare, G V (1950). Skanda-Purana, Part I. Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Private Limited. New Delhi. pp. 42-53
36 Bosma, Natasja (2018). Daksina Kosala: A Rich Centre of Early Saivism, a thesis submitted to the The University of Groningen. ISBN 9789403403939. pp. 203-204
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.