Sohagpur – Virateshvara Temple


Sohagpur is a tehsil town in the Narmadapuram (old name Hoshangabad) district of Madhya Pradesh. The southeast region of Madhya Pradesh, including the districts of Jabalpur, Narsinghpur, Narmadapuram, etc. was part of the ancient Chedi kingdom. Chedi was one of the sixteen mahajanapadas of that flourished during the fifth-sixth century BCE and was frequently mentioned in Buddhist literature. During the Mahabharata period, Shishupala was the king of Chedi who was slain at the hands of Krishna. Sohagpur gained prominence during the Kalachuris of Tripuris in the tenth-eleventh century CE, the period when a grand temple was constructed in the town. The town was then known as Saubhagyapura as reflected in a Kalachuri inscription at Bilhari.1 The antiquities of the town were first described by J D Beglar, who visited the town in 1873-74 and published his accounts in 1878. He mentions the palace, occupying nearly the center of the city, was constructed in bricks and stone, the latter mostly taken from the ancient remains of various temples. He mentions numerous ruins, to the east of the Virateshvara temple, whence every stone that could be used or was needed for the modern city, has been, and is being taken away. Beglar counted as many as eight groups of temples and twenty-one sati monuments among these ruins. Traditions ascribe these ruins to Viratanagara, the capital city of King Virata.2 Banerji covers the temple in his compendium on the Haihaya’s monuments published in 1931. He sets the chronology of various monuments belonging to the dynasty and places the Virateshvara temple to the latter half of the eleventh-century CE.3 The temple was also included in the Ph.D. thesis of Dr. Rahman Ali on the art and architecture of the Kalachuris of Tripuri.4 Though much has been written on the temple however a comprehensive study of the town and its vicinity areas is still wanting.

Virateshvara Temple, a photograph by J D Beglar in 1873-74 | British Library
Side & back view, a photograph by J D Beglar in 1873-74 | British Library

Virateshvara Temple – The temple stands on a high jagati (platform) and originally consists of a square garbha-grha, rectangular antarala, square mandapa with its lateral kakshashana, and an entrance ardha-mandapa in the east. Beglar, who visited the temple in 1873-74 mentions the lateral transept in the north had already suffered much damage that it stood at the brink of collapse while the one in the south was better preserved. Banerji, writing in 1931, mentions the porches in the front and in the north along with the roof of the mandapa were entirely ruined leaving on the pavement in the front and portions of the sides. The garbha-grha is square in plan and has pilasters at corners supporting the ceiling, the latter is built of intersecting squares.

Interior view, a photograph by J D Beglar in 1873-74 | British Library

The mandapa ceiling is composed of overlapping concentric circles, decreasing in size from bottom to top. This ceiling rests over an octagon formed by heavy lintels supported over eight pairs of pilasters and four pillars in the center. The top of this trabeate dome had fallen leaving five courses of concentric rings as reported by Banerji. This ceiling has been conserved and the opening has been closed. The bracket of each pilaster carries a female figure standing below a tree, in a position to support the lowest level of the circular dome ceiling. Three of these brackets were existing when Beglar visited and they can still be seen in that position in the temple.

Kakshashana in the south

The two lateral sides of the mandapa have projecting transepts terminating in kakshashana with backrests and seats, the one in the south is well preserved while the one in the north is entirely gone. These kakshashana have benches with brackets running on three sides. These support two half-pillars in the front, and together with the back pilasters the roof over the kakshashana is supported. The portion of the front wall, below the benches, is profusely carved with various apsaras, gaja-shardula motifs, and other images. The original entrance in the east was supported on pillars and pilasters at the back and had a ceiling of intersecting squares. This entrance porch is entirely gone and has been replaced with a simple entrance directly leading into the mandapa.

The antarala entrance doorway is composed of seven shakhas (bands). At the base of the jambs are the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, holding vases accompanied by their attendants and four-armed Shaiva dvarapalas. The dvarapala in the right jam holds a vajra (thunderbolt), akshamala (rosary), trishula, and kripana (dagger) in his four hands. The dvarapala in the left jamb holds padma (lotus), khatvanga (skull-mace), damaru, and kapala (skull-cup) in his four hands. The central band is rupa-shakha and is sandwiched between two mithuna-shakhas. This rupa-shakha carries large niches housing divine images. The images on the left jamb are, from top to bottom, Brahma, Sarasvati, two devotees worshipping linga, Shiva with Durga, and Sarasvati. The lintel has three large projecting brackets, one in the center and two at the terminals. The bracket on the left has a figure of a seated eight-armed Sarasvati holding a vina in her two hands. Next to her, in the recessed space between two brackets, is Brahma, followed by a standing figure of Sarasvati and again another figure of Brahma. The central bracket, or lalata-bimba, carries an image of an eight-armed Nataraja, holding damaru, trishula, akshamala, dhanush (bow), and khatvanga. His three hands are in different mudras, one left hand is in tarjani-mudra, one right hand is in abhaya-mudra and another right hand is in varada-mudra. To his left, in the recessed space, is an image of Vishnu, followed by a standing female holding a vase and Gaja-Lakshmi. The bracket on the right carries an image of six-armed dancing Ganesha. The sur-lintel over the top has sapta-matrikas accompanied by Shiva and Ganesha and nava-grhas.

Sapta-ratha pattern vimana
Sculptures in the west
Sculptures in the north

Mithuna and gaja-shardula motifs in the recess area

The temple vimana is sapta-ratha in plan. The elevation consists of vedibandha (base), jangha, varandika, and shikhara (tower). The jangha is divided into three tiers using two bandhana moldings. The lowermost tier is larger than the rest while the uppermost tier is the smallest. The niches on all the tiers of the bhadra have various divinities. The niches over the pratiratha have various apsaras and celestial damsels in different postures over the lower two tiers while the ones on the uppermost tier carry figures of flying celestial holding a garland. The niches over the karna have ashta-dikpalas on the lowermost tier, Vasus over the middle tier, and a Shaiva deity on the uppermost tier. The recess space is filled with gaja-shardula motifs, amorous couples, and a few divinities. The bhadra niches in the south have Shiva-Tripurantaka in the middle tier, and a seated Shiva in the uppermost tier while the lowermost niche is empty. The bhadra niches in the west have Shiva-Nataraja in the lowermost tier, a seated Sadashiva in the middle tier, and three standing deities (one appears Ardhanareeshvara) in the uppermost tier. The bhadra niches in the north have Chamunda in the lowermost tier, Shiva-Ekapada in the middle, and Shiva-Vinadhara in the uppermost tier.

Kapili in the north
Kapili in the south

Kapili niches in the north have Sarasvati in the lowermost tier, Ardhanareeshvara in the middle tier, and three goddesses in the uppermost tier. Kapili niches in the south have Ganesh in the lowermost tier, Kartikeya in the middle, and Uma-Maheshvara in the uppermost tier.

Sixteen-armed Durga on suka-nasika

The shikhara follows the sapta-ratha pattern as that of jangha. Each ratha of the jangha terminates on the top with a miniature shikhara, the bhadra terminating a little higher than the rest. The bhadra and pratiratha on the shikhara have similar miniature shikhara at the lowermost course, while the karna and partikarna have bhumi-amalaka. The karna continues the rise with bhumi-amalaka being placed at each tier, total of twenty-one tiers. The pratikarna does not follow the full height of the shikhara but terminates going up to seven tiers with the anga-shikhara of the bhadra.  The anga-shikhara of the bhadra is also terminated with amalaka and kalsaa at the top. Above this, the shikhara becomes homogeneous, having a mesh pattern till the top except at karna which continues to carry bhumi-amalaka. The shikhara is topped with an amalaka, chandrika, amalasarika, and kalasa.5 A suka-nasika is projected from the front of the shikhara forming the superstructure above the antarala. It is surmounted by a circular medallion carrying an image of Shiva as Nataraja. On its lateral facade, pilastered niches are provided, and these carry an image of sixteen-armed Durga in the south and of Shiva in the north. Looking at the style of its architecture and sculpture, Banerji dates the temple to the latter half of the eleventh century CE.

1 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. IV, Inscriptions of the Kalachuri-Chedi Era, part I. pp. 204-224
2 Beglar, J D (1878). Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa, 1871-72; and in the Central Provinces, 1873-74, vol. VII. The Superintendant of Government Printing. Calcutta. pp. 239-246
3 Banerji, R D (1931). The Haihayas of Tripuri and their Monuments. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. pp. 48-53
4 Ali, Rahman (1970). The Art and Architecture of the Kalachuris of Tripuri, Ph.D. thesis submitted to the University of Poona. pp. 89-95
5 Singh, Amrendra Kumar (2002). Temples of the Kalachuri Period. Pratibha Prakashan. Delhi. ISBN 8177020544. pp. 87-90

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.