Nohta – Nohaleshwar Temple

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Nohta is situated on the eastern banks of the Sunar River in the Damoh district of Madhya Pradesh. The river is named Sunar in Google Maps however the district gazetteer mentions the river name as Bearma (or present Vyrama).1 In fact, River Vyrama and Sunar are two names of the same river, and it is a tributary of the Ken River. Little away from Nohta town is the junction of river Sunar and river Guraiya landing the sanctity of the town as a sangam. The antiquities of the town were first reported by Henry Cousens who paid a visit in December 1893. He tells Nohta at one time must have been a place of importance judging from the number of sites of old temples which are scattered in and around the village, and the great quantities of sculptured slabs, pillars, doorways, and images that are now found built promiscuously into the walls of houses of the village. The only old temple standing during his time was a Shiva temple lying about half a mile south of the village. It was in a very ruinous condition, the outer shell of the walls of the shrine having for the most part fallen together with its shikhara and roof of sabha-mandapa. Fortunately, most of the fallen parts were piled up next to where they fell.2 Cousens immediately started the conservation works and when J F Blakiston paid a visit in February 1913, the temple was in very excellent order.3 He mentions that the temple is rebuilt to a great extent owing to its ruinous condition however the work has been very well done and anyone know knowing that it has been dismantled would have supposed that it was always in its present state. He dates the temple to the twelfth century CE. The temple has been featured in various compendiums on Indian temples, Kalachuri period temples, and the temples of the Damoh region.4,5,6,7,8 However, all these various studies have not improved upon the information we already got from the previous explorations.

Shiva Temple, Nohta, taken by Henry Cousens between 1892 and 1894 | British Library
Photograph of a ruined temple at Nohta taken by Henry Cousens between 1892 and 1894 | British Library

Nohaleshwar Temple – The temple faces west and is built over a platform of about 1.26 m high. The temple consists of a rectangular garbha-grha (sanctum), antarala (vestibule), ranga-mandapa (hall), and a mukha-mandapa (porch). The vimana is pancha-ratha in plan and is composed of vedibandha, jangha, varandika and shikhara. The vedibandha has the usual moldings of khura, kumbha, kumuda, etc. On the kumbha molding, over each ratha is provided a niche, the niche over bhadra is larger than others. The jangha has two registers of niches, the lower register has larger images than the upper register. Images are placed over all the rathas, while the recess portion is decorated with gaja-shardula-vyala motifs. The shikhara is a reconstruction utilizing the fallen pieces and debris, and thus it has various incoherent pieces in its composition.

Parvati on north kapili niche
Vayu on the north facade
Shiva-Vinadhara
Varuna with makara
Eastern Facade
Surya
Shiva-Andhakantaka
Indra in the east
Ishana
South-west view
Agni
Nataraja in the south
Chamunda in south kapili niche
Shiva-Gajantaka in south kapili upper niche

The outer walls of the temple are decorated with various images. The lower register of images over the jangha has Shiva-Vinadhara in the north, Shiva-Andhakantaka in the east, and Shiva-Nataraja in the north on bhadra niches. The upper register on jangha has Surya in the east and Shiva-Parvati in the south. Ashta-dikpalas are occupying their respective positions over the lower register of the jangha at karna-rathas. The rest of the niches and places have been occupied by divine couples, apsaras, dancers, and other divinities. The niches of the kapili area have Parvati in the north and Chamunda and Shiva-Gajantaka in the south. Eight projecting niches over the vedibandha of the ranga-mandapa are occupied by various matrikas from Sapta-Matrika group.

Ranga-mandapa doorway

Yamuna over a tortoise
Ganga over a makara
Ranga-mandapa

The entrance doorway of the ranga-mandapa is highly ornate. It is composed of five shakhas (bands). At the base of the door-jambs are the river goddesses, Ganga over a makara on the right and Yamuna over a tortoise on the left, with attendants and Shiava dvarapalas. The lintel has two horizontal friezes. The lower frieze has an image of Nataraja with nava-grhas distributed on his either side. The above frieze has Shiva in the middle with Brahma and Vishnu at the terminals. In between are distributed six male divinities, three on each side. The ceiling of the mukha-mandapa has a lotus carved inside. The ranga-mandapa is rectangular in plan and supported by sixteen pillars, four central and twelve peripheral, divided into nine compartments. The central four pillars have bhara-vahakas (weight bearers) above the capital, the rest of the pillars are devoid of this element.

Antarala doorway

Ganga over makara

The antarala doorway is similarly ornate as the ranga-mandapa. It is composed of five shakhas (bands). The lintel has two friezes of images. The upper lintel has Shiva seated over a lotus in the middle with Brahma and Vishnu, both seated over a lotus, at the terminals. In between them, six male divinities are distributed, three on either side of Shiva. The lower lintel has Shiva-Nataraja in the latala-bimba and Brahma standing with Savitri and Vishnu standing with Lakshmi at the terminals. In between them are distributed nava-grahas. At the base of the door-jamb are the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, standing with their attendants. At the extreme jamb are standing Shaiva dvarapalas. A shivalinga is installed inside the garbha-grha.

Asharfilal Pathak takes this temple as the finest example of the architecture promoted by Queen Nohla of Kalchuri King Yuvaraja-deva I (915-945 CE).9 Krishna Deva dates to the same period of 950-960 CE however he is silent on its founders as there is no epigraphical evidence for the same.10 During 950-960, Nohta would have been under the Kalachuri king Lakshmana-raja II (945-970 CE), the successor of King Yuvaraja-deva I.

Varaha image at Phutera tank, Damoh | ASI, Jabalpur Branch

Various loose sculptures have been discovered at Nohta, a few are placed inside a ruined Jain temple in the town, a few have been removed to other places and museums and many have been utilized by the residents in the construction of their houses. The images and pieces used by the resident for the construction of their houses were witnessed and mentioned by Henry Cousens in 1893 during his first visit. As many images belong to the Jain religion, Nohta would have been an important Jain pilgrimage center in the past. An exquisitely carved Varaha image from Nohta has been installed at Phutera Tank in Damoh.11


1 Shrivastav, P N (1974). Madhya Pradesh District Gazetteers – Damoh. District Gazetteer Department. Bhopal. p. 385
2 Archaeology, Progress Report of the Archaeology Survey of Western India for the months May 1893 to April 1894. p. 6
3 Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Eastern Circle, for 1912-13. pp. 44-45
4 पाठक, अशर्फीलाल (1981). दमोह जिला का ऐतिहासिक पुरातत्त्व, Ph.D. thesis (unpublished) submitted to the Sagar University.
5 Deva, Krishna (1995). Temples of India. Aryan Books International. Delhi. ISBN 817305052X. pp. 161-162
6 सोनी, संजय बाबू (2002). दमोह जिले का पुरातत्त्व, Ph.D. thesis (unpublished) submitted to the Dr. Harisingh Gour University, Sagar.
7 Singh, Amrendra Kumar (2002). Temples of the Kalachuri Period. Pratibha Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 8177020544. pp. 66-67
8 पाण्डेय, उमेश चंद्र (2019). दमोह जिले का प्राचीन स्थापत्य एवं मूर्तिशिल्प, Ph.D. thesis (unpublished) submitted to the Dr. Harisingh Gour University, Sagar.
9 पाठक, अशर्फीलाल (1981). दमोह जिला का ऐतिहासिक पुरातत्त्व, Ph.D. thesis (unpublished) submitted to the Sagar University. p. 100
10 Deva, Krishna (1995). Temples of India. Aryan Books International. Delhi. ISBN 817305052X. p. 162
11 Shrivastav, P N (1974). Madhya Pradesh District Gazetteers – Damoh. District Gazetteer Department. Bhopal. p. 386

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.