Mitawali – Yogini Temple Mystified

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Mitawali (Mitaoli) is situated in the Morena district of Madhya Pradesh. This small village is famous for its circular yogini temple. Not much is known about the antiquity of this village. Surprisingly, this temple escaped the curious eyes of Sir Alexander Cunningham, who with his associates, carried out extensive surveys of the antiquities of northern and western India in the late nineteenth century CE. Many new places were brought into the light when M B Garde took up the explorations of antiquities in the Gwalior state during the first quarter of the nineteenth century CE and Mitawali was one among those. The first mention of the place and its inscriptions was in the Gwalior State Archaeological Department’s report of 1915-16. Conservation activities were taken up in the 1940s and mentioned in the annual report of the Gwalior Archaeological Department for the years 1942-46. The report mentions various conservation activities carried out during those years and the report is silent on the discovery of the temple and the hill, it may be assumed that the temple and the place were already known to the archaeological department. The report also includes various inscriptions found at the site. Among the conservation activities were included the cutting of steps (masonry and rock-cut) for ascending the hill to approach the temple, refitting of the main entrance door, repairs to the central shrine which was in worship, rebuilding of parapet wall around the roof, rebuilding of the terraced roof, etc.1

The temple is located over an isolated hill in the environs of Mitawali

The antiquity of this village can be set back to the Kushana period as we find a Mahasena image of that period at this site. From the Kushana time, the next period of importance would be the tenth-century period of the Kacchapaghata rulers who constructed the yogini temple here. After their fall, the place would have gone into obscurity.

Entrance to the complex

Ekattarso Mahadeva Temple (Yogini Temple) – Standing atop an isolated hill about a hundred feet high, this circular temple commands a splendid view of the cultivated fields below. A life-size bull figure, measuring 2.04 m long and 1.53 m high (without hump)2, is installed at the foothill. The temple over the hilltop is so named because of the presence of a multitude of shivalingas inside its cells. This circular temple is one of the very few such temples in India. This is a yogini temple dedicated to sixty-four yoginis. Other prominent yogini temples in India are located at Bhedaghat near Jabalpur, Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, and  Hirapur, Ranipur-Jharial in Odhisa. The yogini cult was a secretive practice confined to a few groups and individuals. Its secrets are very securely guarded by its proponents and practitioners and it is very hard to know its rituals and practices if one is not initiated into the cult. And when one becomes part of the cult and community, the vow to guard its secrets applies.

The temple has a circular peripheral wall, a flat-roofed inner collonade, and a circular temple facing east in the inner circular courtyard. The circular peripheral wall shows different courses of construction at different times. The wall rises over a circular plinth that carries an adhisthana above. The adhisthana is composed of regular moldings. The jangha above adhisthana has offsets separated by pilasters. The pilasters are provided with a small niche carrying either an image of Shiva-Parvati or diamond-shaped pastilles. A varandika composed of various moldings is placed over the jangha. The topmost course of the wall, composed of bricks and limestone, was an addition during the conservation activities taken up by the Gwalior Archaeological Department.3 An entrance into the inner courtyard is provided in the east.

Collonade
Cell Number 37

The circular enclosure is hypaethral except for the covered roof over the cells. Hypaethral is an important characteristic of a yogini temple as many of their rituals and practices were carried out directly under the sky. This hypaethral nature of the temples also suggested a linkage to astronomy. The interior of this circular enclosure has a pillared colonnade supported by 139 columns. It has sixty-five cells provided against its back wall. Usually, the cells should be numbered sixty-four to house the same number of yoginis. In the case of an extra cell, the cell is used usually to house an image of some important central deity, in a few cases it may be Shiva as Shiva is the overall lord of all the yoginis, or in some cases, it may be a specific goddess. Cell number thirty-seven here is given special decorative treatment on its door-jambs and lintel suggesting it was the extra cell to enshrine a specific deity. We are unfortunate that none of the yogini images of Mitawali are traceable and thus we do not know to whom this extra cell was dedicated. At present, all these cells have a shivalinga inside, the reason behind the present name of the temple, Ekattarso-Mahadeva or 101-Mahadeva.

Central Shiva Shrine
Entrance to the central shrine

At the center of the enclosure stands a Shiva temple of a circular plan. The temple has a circular garbha-grha, a circular ambulatory path, and a circular veranda. The garbha-grha wall is composed of 11 pilasters, the ambulatory path is supported on 17 pillars, and the veranda on 17-pairs (34 numbers) of columns. This shrine is dedicated to Shiva as he is the overlord of the yoginis. A shivalinga is enshrined inside the garbha-grha of the temple.

As no foundation inscription has been found and therefore dating of the temple is a matter of contention among scholars. The fragmentary inscription of Maharaja Devapala mentioning his queen and the construction of a temple is dated to 1323 CE. However, Maharaja Devapala of the Kachchhapaghata dynasty ruled between 1055-1085 CE. Dehejia tells the temple construction mentioned in the inscription had happened some 250 years in the past from the date of the inscription. She explains the Kacchavaha rulers of Gwalior of the fourteenth century CE asserted themselves as and when the power in Delhi showed signs of weakness. In such cases, they used to embellish old temples and create occasions for donations, and the 1323 CE record would have been part of this exercise.4 Willis5 assigns this temple to the rule of the Kachchhapaghata king Ratnapala (1105-1130 CE), however, he does not provide supporting proof for the same.

Vishnu temple opposite the Yogini Temple

Opposite the circular Yogini temple is a small temple dedicated to Vishnu and standing over high jagati (platform) approached through a flight of steps. The temple faces east and only consists of a garbha-grha. Inside the garbha-grha is a damaged statue of a yogini that once might be adorning a cell in the Yogini temple. The jangha is divided into three sections using pilasters, however, all the sections lie in the same plane. The middle section on all three sides has a niche with a sculpture of a deity. The doorway is composed of three shakhas (bands). Vishnu is present over the latata-bimba of the lintel accompanied by Shiva and Brahma at its terminals. Nava-grahas are distributed in the recess between them. River goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, are present at the base of the door jambs accompanied by their attendants. Ahmed Ali assigns this temple to 850-950 CE, earlier than the circular yogini temple.6

Kushana period Mahasena from Mitawali | asianart.com

Inscriptions

  1. On a slab in the temple7 – written in 21 lines, Sanskrit language, much damaged – dated Vikrama Samvat 1380, equivalent  CE –  mentions king Devapaladeva in connection with the temple’s construction, also mentions Bhojadeva, probably the writer of the inscription
  2. On a temple plinth8 – written in 2 lines, Nagari script, Hindi language – dated Vikrama Samvat 1560, equivalent CE – only one word and date are given
  3. On Mahadeva Temple9 – dated Vikrama Samvat 1565 – reads dasaloyo sapta after the date
  4. Rock Inscription10 – written in Nagari characters, damaged and fragmentary record – dated to Vikrama Samvat 1588 – it was written by Harasimgha, engraved by Jaju, Maguli, and Hamadaipati
  5. On the entrance of the circular temple11 – written in 5 lines, Hindi language, Nagari script – dated Vikrama Samvat 162[1] – not legible
  6. From the circular temple12 – written in 6 lines, Nagari script, Sanskrit language – not dated, dateable to thirteenth century CE based on paleography – mentions Thanasimha Chauhan
  7. On the entrance of Mahadeva Temple13 – in characters of about the thirteenth-fourteenth century CE – refers to Saptami, Srikrishna, and Akrstinatha
  8. On the entrance of the circular temple14 – written in 2 lines, Nagari script, Hindi language – mentions Hamiradeva Chauhan
  9. On the entrance of the circular temple15 – written in 2 lines, Nagari script, Hindi language – contains the names of sutradhara Haru and sutradhara Khanu
  10. Rock inscription16 – written in 6 lines, Nagari script, Sanskrit language, in characters of about the thirteenth century CE – praises Prthvisimha Chauhan
  11. Rock inscription17 – Nagari script, Sanskrit language, in characters of about fourteenth century CE – record begins with kremkarasmarakarmuka etc.
  12. Rock inscription18 – Nagari script, Sanskrit language, in characters of about fourteenth century CE – records a verse in Sardulavikrdita metre beginning with drtvaikamprachuram
  13. Rock inscription19 – Nagari script, Sanskrit language, in characters of about fifteenth century CE – records the glory of king Virama Tomara
  14. On the entrance wall of the circular temple20 – 2 lines, Nagari script, Hindi language, in characters of about fifteenth century CE – mentions Vasu, son of Deu
  15. On a slab found while digging the temple plinth21 – lines, Nagari script, Sanskrit language, in characters of about fifteenth century CE – seem to refer to the reign of king Kirttisinghadeva and Raysinghadeva
  16. On a pillar of Mahadeva Temple22 – 15 lines, Nagari script, Sanskrit language – mentions Maharaja Rayasimha and a hymn for Surya
  17. On the Mahadeva temple entrance23 – Nagari script, Sanskrit language – mentions the construction of a vapi (well)
  18. On the entrance wall of the circular temple24 – a pilgrim record mentioning jogi Paneram
  19. On the entrance wall of the circular temple25 – 2 lines, Nagari script, local dialect – reads 1) aha dasinidasu, 2) jogi, 3) satasai varasakai
  20. On a pillar between cells 39-4026 – a pilgrim record mentioning the name Gangadata, son of Hota
  21. On an outer pillar, before cell 3827 – a pilgrim record mentioning the name of Manaditya, son of Janardana
  22. On an outer pillar, before cell 2028 – a pilgrim record mentioning the name of Sadhu Guli
  23. On a pedestal29 – mentions the name of yogini Vabhravi
  24. On a pedestal30 (No XIV-xi)- mentions the name of yogini Lanvini
  25. On a pedestal31 (No XIV-xii)- mentions the name of yogini Trailokyamaya

1 Quinquennial Administration Report of the Archaeological Department Gwalior State for the years 1942-46. pp. 8-10
2 Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 79
3 Dehejia, Vidya (1986). Yogini Cult and Temples. National Museum. New Delhi. p. 122
4 Dehejia, Vidya (1986). Yogini Cult and Temples. National Museum. New Delhi. pp. 123-124
5 Willis, Michael D (1996). Architecture in Central India under the Kacchapaghata Rulers in South Asian Studies, vol. 12. p.
6 Ali, Ahmed (2005). Kachchhapaghata Art and Architecture. Publication Scheme. Jaipur. ISBN 8181820142. p. 53
7 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 23
8 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 43 | No I of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 86
9 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 43
10 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 44 | No II of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 86
11 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 47 | No III of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 87
12 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 114 | No IV of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 87
13 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 114 | No XIV-xiii of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 91
14 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 114 | No XI of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 90
15 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 114 | No XII of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 90
16 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115 | No V of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 87-88
17 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115
18 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115 | No IX of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 90
19 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115
20 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115 | No XIV-xiv of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 93
21 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115 | No XIV-xv of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 93
22 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115 | No VII of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 89
23 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115 | No VIII of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. pp. 89-90
24 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115 | No XIV-iv of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 92
25 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115 | No XIV-iv of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 92
26 Willis, Michael D. (1996). Inscriptions of Gopalsetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 115 | No XIV-i of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 91
27 No XIV-ii of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 91
28 No XIV-iii of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 91
29 No XIV-x of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 93
30 No XIV-xi of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 93
31 No XIV-xii of Singh, A K (2010). The Riddle of the Circular Temple of Mitaoli in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, volume 83 for 2009-2010. ISSN 0972-0766. p. 93

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.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Saurabh, i know only two other Yogini temples prior to this viz. Khajuraho and Hirapur, Odisha. One in Jabalpur area. Is there any more?

    • Hi,
      Following yogini temples are in good state of preservation:
      1. Khajuraho Yogini Temple, Madhya Pradesh
      2. Mitawali Yogini Temple, Madhya Pradesh
      3. Bhedaghat Yogini Temple, Madhya Pradesh
      4. Hirapur Yogini Temple, Odhisa
      5. Jharial Yogini Temple, Odhisa

      There are few other yogini temples in India however those are very much in ruins or only plith has survived.

  2. There are two more in Orissa near Ranipur and Jharial, close to Hirapur. but not as famous or well known so hard to find.

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