Panagar (पनागर) is a town in the Jabalpur district of Madhya Pradesh. The 1870 gazetteer mentions it as a growing town containing 1,303 houses and 4,063 people. Due to the many iron mines in the neighborhood, iron was the principal trade of the town.1 The revised gazetteer of 1968 categorized the town as an important town of Jabalpur. It tells the original name of the town was Pangarh (पानगढ़, a betel fort) as the place has been very famous for its extensive betel-leaf gardens. While the trade in iron has been significantly reduced by now, the town is now known for its manufacture of brass and bronze wares, ornaments, etc., and as the largest cattle market in the district.2 The antiquity of the town was first noticed in the annual report of the eastern circle of the archaeology department. D B Spooner and J F Blakiston paid a visit to inspect the platform over which installed a zoomorphic image of Varaha. He mentions the place had nothing of interest except for this Varaha image, the latter was 5.5 feet long and 2.5 feet high. It once stood over a pedestal however it broke down and fell nearby the pedestal leaving portions of its hoofs and base. The legs of the broken image were missing except for two pieces. A few repair works on the platform and its surroundings were undertaken and completed in 1912.3 Among the various antiquities of the town, the gazetteer highlights a seven feet black stone statue of Surya as the most important.
Kher Mai Mandir – Though now in active worship, originally this shrine only had a platform carrying a pedestal with the Varaha image above it. As no remains of any roof have been found, this zoomorphic image of Varaha might be standing open to the sky, as is also the case with many similar images at Khor, Majholi, Bilhari, Khoh, Eran, Badoh, Karitalai, Dudhai, etc. At some point in time, the statue was broken leaving its hoofs and base still attached to the pedestal. The structure that we see today is the construction by the Archaeology Department (ASI) to safeguard and conserve the antiquities found here. Today, a few loose images have been placed over this pedestal, and worship is offered to those.
Made of grey sandstone, the Varaha image is about 5.5 feet long and 2.5 feet high. The face is much damaged leaving traces of a few figures. A standing male figure carrying a plow is present below his right ear near the jaws. The corresponding place on the left is occupied by a figure of a fish. In both ears, two male figures are shown seated. Over the head of Varaha is a figure of seated Brahma. The upper body of the Varaha is decorated with nine series of rows containing divine figures. The topmost row has thirty-three two-armed male figures in total, with sixteen figures shown seated holding a rod and a water vessel and seventeen figures seated without attributes in their hands. The second row below has a total of forty-six figures, including Sapta-matrikas with Shiva and Ganesha, Ashvinikumaras, Dvadash-Adityas, and Nava-Graha groups.
The third row has a total of forty-one figures, with twelve female figures holding water pots in their hands. As the female figures are shown holding water pots, they may represent a group of river goddesses. The fourth row has forty-three figures in all, males and females as well as three animals. The fifth row has forty-two figures, including the Ekadasa-Rudras and a few Bhairavas. The sixth row has forty-two figures, all males. The seventh row has forty-seven male figures, all shown seated in ardhalalitasana and holding a gada (club) and a danda (rod). Rangarajan identifies a few of them with six Vasus, ten Nagadevatas, and eleventh Gandharvas.4 The eighth row has fifty-six figures, one of them is Kalki riding over a horse and the rest may represent Gandharvas. The ninth row is partly broken and what remains tells that it has seventeen male figures and a few female figures. Near the tail on the ninth row are shown four animals.
The loose sculptures presently placed inside the complex include that of Surya, Uma-Maheshvara, and Vishnu-Anantasayana among various others. The size of the Surya and Anantasayana image suggests that there once stood a Vaishnava temple at the site, the whereabouts of which are not known. As the town has not undergone systematic excavation and explorations, the proper assessment of its antiquity is not done and still waiting for further research. Proximity to Jabalpur, a stronghold of the Kalachuris, the Varaha image, and the others may be attributed to the Kalachuri dynasty of the 10th-11th century CE.
1 Grant, Charles (ed.) (1870). The Gazetteer of the Central Provinces of India. Education Society’s Press. Nagpur. p. 390
2 Shrivastav, P N (1968). Madhya Pradesh District Gazetteers – Jabalpur. District Gazetteer Department, Madhya Pradesh. Bhopal. p. 689
3 Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India, Eastern Circle, for 1911-12. pp. 39-40
4 Rangarajan, Haripriya (1997). Varaha Images in Madhya Pradesh. Somaiya Publication Pvt. Ltd. Delhi. ISBN 8170392144. pp. 89-91
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.