Pali – The Mystery of the Banas


Pali is the tehsil headquarter in the Korba district of Chhattisgarh, it is situated around 50 km from Bilaspur. Pali would have been an important place in its heydays as it has been mentioned in the Kalachuri inscriptions as a prized conquered territory. The Bilhari Inscription1 mentions Mugdhatunga wrestled Pali from the lord of Kosala. The Banaras plates of Karna2 attribute this feat to Prasiddhadhvala. Prasiddhadhvala and Mugdhatunga were titles of the Kalachuri king Shankargana II (890-910 CE), son of Kokalla I (850-890 CE). The lord of Kosala, mentioned in these epigraphs, would have been the Bana king Vikramaditya I Jayameru, son of Malladeva, who also caused a Shiva temple to be constructed at Pali. The Banaras plates of Karna mention Prasiddhadhavala conquered Pali thinking in his family there would be born men precious on account of their greatness in this world. Mirashi3 opines that the Banas would have wrestled Pali from the Somavamshis. Banas was traditionally associated with the Pallavas. Their northern adventure would have happened during the northern campaign of the Pallava king Nandivarman II Pallavamalla (731-795 CE). The Banas might have pursued further in the north to establish their rule around Bilaspur, and Pali as their capital. However, the Bana adventure was very short-lived, soon they were overthrown by the rising Kalachuri power.

The first modern account of the town and its temple comes from J D Beglar4 who visited the town in 1873-74. He does not mention much about the legends and history of the town and tells seeing the temple with its garbha-grha in a much-damaged condition. Beglar assesses that the damage to the garbha-grha probably happened when treasure-seekers excavated the floor of the temple chamber. The next report was from Cousens5 in 1904 and soon after in 1908 from A H Longhurst6. Longhurst mentions the temple was in a very bad condition and he reconfirms that the garbha-grha was dug up in search of treasures. He tells the outer carved stone surface of the sanctum tower has fallen from the upper portion, and now rises bare and rugged, crowned only by the amalaka, which has also suffered much. Longhurst criticizes the PWD department responsible for conservation work, the said department reported many conservation activities at Pali however very less work was done in actuality. He recommends the temple be declared a protected monument and be preserved at an expanse of the Government.

Mahadeva Temple – The temple faces east and is built over a 3 feet high platform. It is situated next to a water tank, locally known as Navakonia tank, the periphery of that was once adorned with many temples7. The temple has a garbha-grha, antarala and an octagonal mandapa (hall). The mandapa as we see it today is not in its original shape. Originally, it had a rectangular plan, however, the conservation work carried out during the reign of the Kalachuri king Jajalladeva I (1090-1120 CE), extra walls were put in at the corners making this mandapa an octagonal structure. These extra walls were built to provide the required support to the building.

Exterior wall in 1873 by J D Beglar | British Library



The vimana is composed of adhishthana (vedibandha), jangha, baranda, and shikhara. It is sapta-ratha in the plan. The adhishthana has five moldings. The jangha is divided into two tiers, separated by a bandhana of two moldings. Niches are provided on all the offsets on the jangha as well as the kapili portion of the antarala. The kapili upper niche in the south has Durga with her lion mount and the lower niche is empty. The bhadra niches in the south have Kartikeya in the lower tier and Shiva-Andhakantaka in the upper tier. The upper niches on the karna are adorned with dikpalas. The niches on prati-karna and parti-ratha offsets have alasa-kanyas (indolent damsels). The presence of these wide variety of alasa-kanyas confirms to the nari-bandha and the variety as described in the Silpa-prakasa8. The recessed area is filled with amorous couples in the upper tier and hybrid vyalas in the lower tier. The temple has some very interesting depictions of these vyalas, five different types we find here, nara-vyala, mesha-vyala, ashwa-vyala, simha-vyala, and gaja-vyala. The couples are shown in various explicit poses.

West facade
Surya in Bodh Gaya relief | Wikimedia Commons
Helios, early 4th century BCE, Athena’s temple, Ilion | Wikimedia Commons

The bhadra niches in the west have Nataraja in the upper tier and Surya in the lower tier. Surya is shown standing over a chariot driven by four horses. A chariot driven by four horses is usually referred to as quadriga. There are many early Indian art representations of Surya riding over a four-horse-chariot. Many scholars have drawn similarities between the Surya cult in India with that of Persia as in Avesta and Early Greece. Mihr Yasht of Khorda Avesta9 mentions Mithra (i.e. Surya) riding a chariot driven by four steads of white colour. In Greek mythology, Helios, the Sun-god, is shown riding a chariot driven by four horses. In all the Indian texts, describing Surya’s iconography, Surya is said to be riding a chariot driven by seven horses.10 In India, we have four early representations of Surya riding a quadriga. The earliest might be the Surya in Bodh Gaya relief dated 1st-2nd BCE. Quadriga in this image suggests Hellenistic influence however presence of Usha and Pratyusha carrying bow is very much indigenous to India. The second representation is from the Bhaja cave, dated 1st CE. Here Surya is shown riding a chariot and trampling over a demon. He is accompanied by two females, who may be identified with Usha and Pratyusha however they do not conform to their iconographical forms. The third representation is from the Ananta-gumpha in Khandagiri cave complex at Bhubaneswar, where Surya is shown riding a chariot accompanied by two females however the latter does not conform to the iconographic forms of Usha and Pratyusha. Fourth and the last is an image found at the Lala Bhagat pillar found near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. In this representation, Surya is shown riding a quadriga with a single female, who may be identified as his wife. We do have some more Surya images with quadriga during the Kushan period however, after that period all Surya images were carved with seven-horse chariots. It would be very interesting to understand why the sculptors in Pali carved Surya with a four-horse chariot, deviating from the norm of seven horses.


The bhadra niches in the north have Chamunda in the lower tier while the niche in the upper tier is empty. The niches in the kapili section have Harihara in the upper tier and Saraswati in the lower tier.

Mahadeva Temple in 1873 by J D Beglar | British Library

Above the jangha are the five moldings of the varandika. Above this rises the shikhara that has only survived partially. Five bhumis (tiers) of the shikhara have survived and are demarcated by bhumi-amalakas on the karna-ratha. The rest of the shikhara above is a reconstruction during the British period.

Mandapa Ceiling in 1873 by J D Beglar | British Library


The mandapa is octagonal in shape and was probably repaired twice, once during the Kalachuri rule of Jajalladeva and again during the Maratha rule.11 However, this octagonal shape was not the original shape of the mandapa. It was raised as a square structure however during the Kalachuri repair work, additional walls were raised at the corners to provide support for the ceiling and this changed the overall square plan into an octagonal plan. The roof of the mandapa is constructed with eleven concentric circles with each upper tier reducing its circumference. Each tier of this exquisite ceiling is decorated with a different theme than other. The sculptors have tried all the available motifs such as warriors, riders, swans, human figures, lotuses, foliage, celestials, apsaras, etc. We do not see such a ceiling elsewhere in Chhattisgarh. With its external embellishment gone, this now gives a domical shape on the outside. The ceiling of the mandapa is supported on eight pilasters. These pilasters are decorated with different motifs in two niches such as linga-worship, ganas, acharyas, and other Shaiva sculptures. Adhikari suggests that there may be some interrelation between these sculptures and the real life of king Jajalladeva. Shaivacharya Rudrasena was the religious preceptor of the king. These sculptures may portray the life incidences of King Jajalladeva and his guru. These may be sculpted to showcase the king’s pious life and to glorify Shaivism to his subjects. However, there is not enough supporting evidence in her argument. At the top of the pilasters are bharavahakas (weight bearers)

The garbha-grha doorway is composed of three shakhas (bands). The innermost shakha has three niches on each jamb. The niches in the left jamb have Shiva, Vaishnavi, and ganas. The niches in the right jamb have Shiva, Parvati with Ganesha, and Kartikeya. Below these inches are the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna. They are accompanied by dvarapalas. Shiva is present on lalata-bimba, and Brahma and Vishnu in their respective niche at the terminals. The recessed portion is decorated with a frieze depicting nava-grahas. Two additional thin pillars were added in front of the doorway to provide additional support.

Misra15 tells the other significant sculpture at Pali are those of the yogis donning particularly tied jata (matted locks of hair) meticulously rounded and twisted. This imagery is first found at Pali and later became popular in the other Kalachuri period temples. He also mentions three different phases of the construction at this temple site.16 The first phase was the construction by the Bana king Vikramaditya in the ninth century CE. The second phase was by the Kalachuri king Jajalladeva I during the eleventh century CE. Misra claims that this second phase more or less was the reconstruction of the whole temple as otherwise Jajalladeva would not have engraved his kirti over the temple. The third phase during the late Kalachuri period corresponds to the pillars erected in front of the garbha-grha. This is in contrast to the earlier hypothesis of only two phases of construction. Misra states that the two pillars in front of the garbha-grha do not confirm to the standards of the Jajalladeva period therefore these were not part of the reconstruction activities during his time. 

Inscriptions – There are few inscriptions found in this temple.

  1. Vikramaditya’s inscription on the sanctum door12 – undated – The inscription mentions that the temple was built by some Vikramaditya, the son of mahamandaleshvara Malladeva. The king is identified with the Bana king Vikramaditya I (870-895 CE).
  2. Four inscriptions in the mandapa13 – written in Sanskrit and Nagari alphabets – not dated – these four inscriptions were discovered by D R Bhandarkar in 1904, these are incised on a wall, a door-way and a pilaster of the mandapa. The inscriptions read, ‘these are the kirtis of the illustrious Jajalladeva’. These inscriptions can be assigned to the Kalachuri king Jajalladeva I (1090-1120 CE)
  3. On a window in the south – the inscription reads, ‘Sri Magardhwaja Jogi 700’, which appears to be of some pilgrim record. Cunningham suggests this numeral 700 might be reflecting some year in an era. However, as various similar inscriptions with the same name are found in temples in different places, Kelod in Nagpur, Markanda and Churil in Chandrapur, Potenar in Bastar, Bhoram Dev and Kankali in Kawardha, Deorbija in Khairagarh, Bilhari in Jabalpur, Amarkantak, Chandrehe, and various other places. Everywhere the inscriptions read the same phrase. A single person cannot visit so many distant places at the same time and in a short span. Therefore, a suggestion from Hira Lal makes much sense that it is the work of disciples of guru Magardhwaj who at one time had 700 disciples roaming across India and carving the same phrase everywhere. A manuscript copy of the Haihaya Ratanpur kings, owing allegiance to the Shaiva sect, recorded the existence of Matha of Magardhwaja with 700 disciples, dated 1114 CE.14

1 Epigraphia Indica vol. I, pp. 251-270/Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol. IV Part 1, pp. 204-224
2 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol. IV Part 1. pp. 236-249
3 Mirashi, V V (1939). An Ancient Dynasty of Maha-Kosala published in Proceedings of the Indian History Congress vol 3. pp. 319-327
4 Beglar, J D (1874). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa and in the Central Provinces vol. VII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. pp. 217-219
5 Cousens
6 Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Eastern Circle, 1907-08. pp. 37-41
7 Beglar, J D (1874). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa and in the Central Provinces vol. VII. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p. 218
8 Misra, R N (1987). Sculptures of Dahala and Dakshina Kosala and their Background. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi.  pp. 115-116
10 Srivastava, V C (1972). Sun-Worship in Ancient India. Indological Publications. Allahabad. p 296.
11 Adhikari, Swati Mandal (2012). Temple of Pali published in the Proceedings of the Indian History Congress vol. 73. pp. 1242-1249.
12 Mirashi, V V (1955). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV Part 2. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p. cxvi
13 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol IV part II. pp. 418-419
14 Jha, Bishwambhar (2007). Epigraphic Evidence for Early Mithila published in the Proceedings of the Indian History Congress Vol. 67. pp. 1015-1019
15 Misra, R N (1987). Sculptures of Dahala and Dakshina Kosala and their Background. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi.  p. 116
16 Misra, R N (1987). Sculptures of Dahala and Dakshina Kosala and their Background. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi.  p. 114

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.


  1. चित्र हमेशा की तरह अच्‍छे. पाली की बिलासपुर से दूरी 50 किलोमीटर. कालक्रम में शरभपुरीय, सोमवंशी के बाद बाण हैं.

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