Surwaya – A Monastery Fortified


Surwaya is a small town in the Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh. It was an important center of the Mattamayura Shaiva sect and a monastery named Shankhamatha was established in the town during the eighth century CE. The Mattamayura sect was founded by Kadambaguhadhivasi at Kadwaya. His successor, Shankhadhipati, presided over Shankhamatha at Surwaya.1 While Kadwaya (ancient Kadambaguha) continued to be the main center of the Mattamayura sect but many branches of it soon came up at various locations, near and far, i.e. Surwaya, Terahi, Mahua, Ranod, Chandrehe, Gurgi, etc. Apart from central India, the branches also spread to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamilnadu. Misra mentions their widespread presence and particularly their tenacity in incorporating within their scope both religious and political power gave a significant meaning to their patronage and allowed a major push into art activities.  One observes here a phenomenon in which patronage was appropriated, serialized, distributed, and redistributed strengthening the ruler-pontiff ties.2 He further tells militancy, among other things, seems to have been an essential ingredient of the existence of these mathas and pontiffs, as they helped out the State in their time of need.3 Likewise, Surwaya would have gained prominence and prosperity under the patronage of Shankhamatha and soon became a town (or pattana) as evident from a thirteenth-century CE inscription where the town is named Sarasvatipattana.

Alexander Cunningham mentions the town in connection with an inscription however it appears he did not visit the town.4 The antiquities of the town were first reported by D R Bhandarkar, who visited in August 1915 at the behest of the then Maharaja of Gwalior as the latter wished to make the site attractive to visitors. The remains consisted of a monastery, two temples, and one mosque.  Bhandarkar submitted a report for the conservation of these remains and the same was taken up by March 1916 under the guidance of M B Garde.5 During this conservation exercise, a later period two-story structure built over the monastery was removed.6 Further explorations at the site exposed an additional temple, taking the count to three, and a stepped well.7 On the same plans of making Surwaya attractive to tourists, Garde published a guidebook in 1918.8 No dedicated study has been attempted on Surwaya for a long time, though it has been featured in various studies centered upon the architecture and temples of the Gwalior region and the same under the Kachchhapaghata dynasty.

Surwaya Inscription of the time of Gopaladeva, now in the Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior
Surwaya Inscription of the time of Ganapati, now in the Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior


  1. Surwaya stone inscription of the time of Gopaladeva9 – the inscription slab was found inside a ruined well, 3 miles NW of the fortress, by M B Garde in 1918, it was later moved to the Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior – dated in the year 1341 of the Vikrama Era, equivalent to 1285 CE – written in the Nagari characters, language Sanskrit – there is no name of any king or dynasty, on the basis of the date mentioned in the record Mirashi takes the inscription would have been engraved during the period of the Yajvapala Gopaladeva – the object of the inscription is to record the excavation of a stepped well (vapi) by a person named Ishvara.  The inscription opens with an invocation to Shiva under Sarva. It then mentions the origin of the Sarasvata Brahmanas stating river Sarasvati married sage Dadhichi, while the latter was doing penance at her banks, and a son was born to them and named Sarasvata. Sarasvata pleased Indra with his penance during a drought period and obtained rains from him. His lineage flourished at Sarasvati-pattana and Bhadreshvara was born in this lineage. He was the crest jewel of the Dikshitas and worshipped Vishnu. From him was born Ashadhara and from the latter Hrishikesha. Lahuvada was his wife and Ralha was his daughter. Ralha gave birth to three sons, Samadhara, Nayaka, and Ghudaddeva. Ghudaddeva married Devasiri, the daughter of Bharahapala. Their sons were Ratnakara, Soma, Ishvara, Silana and Rudra. The inscription further mentions that Ishvara excavated a well. This inscription was composed by Somamishra, the brother of Ishvara, and written by Gangadeva, the son of Brahmana Mane who belonged to the Gauda lineage.
  2. Surwaya stone inscription of Ganapati10 – the inscription was recovered from a tank and was also mentioned by Cunningham – it is dated in the Vikrama Samvat 1348, equivalent to 1291 CE – written in 33 lines, in the Nagari characters and Sanskrit language – it mentions the construction of a tank (vapika) by thakkur Vamana in the time of Ganapati, son of Gopala. It praises the city of Mathura from whence the kayasthas originated and Vamana belonged to that family. The inscription was composed by Somamishra, son of Somadhara, written by Maharaja, son of Somaraja, and incised by Devasimha, son of Madhava.
  3. Surwaya stone inscription of the time of Ganapati11 – the inscription was found inside a ruined well at Surwaya, it is now in the Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior – dated in the year 1350 of the Vikrama Era, equivalent to 1293 CE – written in 22 lines in the Nagari characters, language Sanskrit – The inscription starts with the customary obeisance to Shiva. It then invokes the blessings of the three deities, Sambhu, who adorns the crescent moon on his forehead, the goddess Maharunda who was the family deity of the Yajvapala royal house, and the goddess Sarasvati. It then describes the pedigree of ranaka Chachigadeva, servant of Ganapati and adopted son of Gopala, the latter is identified with the Yajvapala king Gopaladeva ruling from Narwar. Chachigadeva was a learned Kshatriya and belonged to the Lubdhaka family. He performed pilgrimage at Kedara, Somesha (Someshvara at Gujarat), Prayaga, and Gangas. He performed obsequies for the manes of Gaya and paid his debt to Gopaladeva by his noble deeds at the tirthas and on the battlefields. In a desire to increase his spiritual merit, Chachigadeva excavated a stepped well and constructed a garden around it. This inscription was composed by Jayasimha, son of Lohata, belonging to the Mathura clan of Kayasthas.
  4. On a slab from the ruined temples12 – written in Nagari characters and local dialect – damaged and fragmentary – dated in the Vikarama Samvat 1733, equivalent to 1675 CE
  5. On a slab from the ruined temples13 – written in Nagari characters and local dialect – damaged and fragmentary – dated in the Vikarama Samvat 1772, equivalent to 1714 CE
  6. On a broken slab from a temple14 – written in Nagari characters and local dialect – damaged and fragmentary – not dated but of late period characters
Garhi (fortress) complex

Monuments – All the monuments of interest in the town are situated within a fortress, locally known as garhi. There are three temples and a monastery inside this fortress. All these monuments, except the fortifications, etc., are generally dated to the tenth century CE.

Matha (monastery), upper story
The entrance door of a chamber with horse-head pegs

Matha (monastery) – This matha is situated in the northwest corner of the fortress complex. It is a robust structure built of well-dressed stones laid without any mortar. There are two entrances, one from the west and another from the north. These entrances open into a quadrangle courtyard surrounded by a pillared corridor supported by twelve pillars. At the backside of the corridor, on its lateral sides, are provided chambers of different sizes, small and large. The doorframes of these rooms and chambers are ornamented with foliage designs on their jambs and an image of some deity, mostly Ganesha, present on the center of their lintels. Horse heads are used as pegs near the extensions of these lintels. Windows are carved into the walls, and constructed in railing designs to allow sunlight inside.

Shrine above the matha

A shrine has been built above the hall, opposite to the main entrance. This shrine has a square garbha-grha and is of sarvatobhadra type, open on all four sides. It is built in triratha pattern. The four entrances to the garbha-grha, one in each cardinal direction,  are adorned with latticed projections at the bhadra of the jangha. Pillars are provided at each corner, four pillars in total. These pillars support a flat roof joining with the varandika of the vimana. Over this flat roof and above the pillars are four Nagara Latina vimanas. Above the jangha rises the shikhara consisting of three stories marked by bhumi-amalaka at the karna. Perforated windows decorated with carved rafters radiating from a central lotus medallion are also found in the shikhara of the Kuraiya Bir Temple at Kuchdon (Uttar Pradesh).15 This mini shrine represents the best model for the Kachchhapaghata temples.16 There is no approach to this shrine for common visitors at present.


At some point in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries the matha was transformed into a small fortress and a mosque was added in the vicinity of the matha.17 The present matha may be identified with the Shankha-matha mentioned in the Ranod inscription.18 This appears a reasonable assessment as no other remains have been found at Surwaya. With further expansions and the growing popularity and importance of the matha, the village of Surwaya would have grown into a township (pattana) as it is referred to in a thirteenth-century epigraph.

Temple No 1


Temple No 1 – This west-facing temple is composed of a mukha-mandapa, a narrow antarala, and a garbha-grha. The vimana is of pancharatha style. The vedibandha is composed of usual mouldings. The jangha carries niches on its rathas. The bhadra ratha has a single large projecting niche topped with a udgama pediment. The karna ratha also has a single niche carrying images of ashta-dikpalas. The partiratha has two niches, the larger niche has apsaras and vyalas while the lower niche has various deities. The recess portion is also carved in the same manner as that of the pratiratha. The mukha-mandapa is supported by two pillars and two pilasters. It has a highly ornamented ceiling in the shape of a flower. The shikhara of the temple has not survived.

antarala doorway

Architrave above lintel, or sur-lintel, depicting Shiva-Natesha
Vishnu over Garuda at lalata-bimba
From left to right – Brahma, Surya with four planets
From left to right – Vishnu over Garuda, four planets with Rahu and Ketu at the end

Mahakala as Shaiva dvarapala
mukha-mandapa ceiling

The antarala doorway is composed of five shakhas (bands) and is lavishly carved with images. At the base of the jambs are the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, accompanied by Shaiva dvarapalas. A large image of Vishnu riding over Garuda adorns the center of the lintel as lalata-bimba. At the terminals of the lintel is Brahma on the left and on the right would have been Shiva, the image is now fully chipped off. The recessed space between these three is filled with nava-grhas distributed in two spaces. The sur-lintel has Shiva as Natesha in the middle, Ganesha and his consort (Vighneshvari)19 on his right, and Vishnu with Lakshmi in his left recess space. The left terminal at the sur-lintel has an image of Sarasvati while the right terminal has an image of Kartikeya. The architrave above the sur-lintel has Sapta-matrikas accompanied by Shiva-Vinadhara and Ganesha. Though there is a large image of Vishnu at the lalata-bimba however the presence of Shaiva dvarapalas, as well as a Shaiva matha in the vicinity, suggests that the temple was dedicated to Shiva.


The external facade of the temple is much disturbed on its northeast and southeast side. All the bhadra niches that have survived are devoid of images. An image of Mahishasuramardini is present in the kapili niche in the north. A few dikpalas have survived over the karna niche.

Temple No 2

Temple No 2 – This east-facing temple has a mukha-mandapa supported on two pillars and two back pilasters, a narrow antarala, and a garbha-grha. The antarala doorway is composed of five shakhas (bands). At the base of the jambs are the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, accompanied by a large female figure and a Shaiva dvarapala. The doorway lintel has two registers. Vishnu riding over Garuda is placed over the lalata-bimba that spans across both the registers of the lintel. The terminal niches also span across both registers. At the left terminal is Brahma with Brahmani and at the right terminal is Shiva with Parvati. The lower register of the lintel has standing nava-grahas distributed on either side of Vishnu. The upper register has dancing Sapta-matrikas accompanied by Shiva-Vindhara and Ganesha.

Western facade
Northern facade

The vimana is designed in pancharatha style. Niches are provided on all the rathas, the bhadra-rathika is projected in the front and decorated with a udgama above. While karna and bhadra have single niches, the pratiratha is provided with two niches. The karna niches have astha-dikpalas, but only a few have survived. The bhadra niches in the west and north are empty while the niche in the south carries an image of Shiva-Andhakantaka. The partiratha niches on the lower level have apsaras while the upper niches have various deities. The recessed space between the rathas has apsaras and vyalas in the lower tier and divinities in the upper tier. The kapili niches in the south have Ganesha and in the north Parvati.

Temple No 3

Temple No 3 – Only the garbha-grha with its external facade has survived but the temple has lost many of its decorations. The temple faces east and was built in pancharatha style. In its sculptural arrangement, it follows the patterns as seen in Temple 1 and 2 above, with single niches over bhadra and karna and double niches over pratiratha. Karna niches were adorned with astha-dikpalas, but only a few have survived. The bhadra niches are empty at present. The kapili niche in the south has an image of Ganesha. Apsaras and vyalas are arranged within the recesses.


Baodi (well) – There is a well inside this fortress. An image of Vishnu in Anantasayana mudra is carved on the back wall of this well.

1 Epigraphia Indica, Vol. I. pp. 351-360
2 Misra, R N (1993). The Saivite Monasteries, Pontiffs and Patronage in Central India published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay vol. 64-66. p. 108
3 Misra, R N (1997). Pontiffs’ Empowerment in Central Indian Saivite Movement published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay vol 72. p. 72
4 Cunningham, Alexander (1872). Four Reports made during the Years 1862-63-64-65, Vol. II. Archaeological Survey of India. p. 316
5 Archaeology – Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey of India Western Circle for the Year ending 31st March 1916. p. 11
6 Annual Administration Report of the Archaeological Department, Gwalior State for year Samvat 1984, Year 1927-28. p. 5
7 Garde, M B (1934). Archaeology in Gwalior. Alijah Darbar Press. Gwalior. pp. 126-128
8 Garde,  M B (1918). A Guide to Surwaya. The Archaeological Department. Gwalior.
9 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol. VII part III. pp. 591-594
10 Willis, Micheal (1996). Inscriptions of Gopaksetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. pp. 19-20 | Indian Antiquary vol. XXII. p. 82
11 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol. VII part III. pp. 596-599
12 Willis, Micheal (1996). Inscriptions of Gopaksetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 57
13 Willis, Micheal (1996). Inscriptions of Gopaksetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 61
14 Willis, Micheal (1996). Inscriptions of Gopaksetra. British Museum Press. London. ISBN 0714114758. p. 121
15 Trivedi, R D (1990). Temples of the Pratihara Period in Central India. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi. p. 111
16 Ali, Ahmed (2005). Kachchhapaghata Art and Architecture. Publication Scheme. Jaipur. ISBN 8181820142. p. 26
17 Sears, Tamara (2009). Fortified Mathas and Fortress Mosques: The Transformation and Reuse of Hindu Monastic Sites in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries published in Archives of Asian Art, Vol. 59. p. 8
18 Grewal, J S (ed.) ( 2006). Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India. Oxford University Press. p. 53.
19 Deva, Krishna (1995). Temples of India. Aryan Books International. New Delhi. ISBN 8173050546. p. 168

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.


  1. Great work. I was sure you were going to post about this site, since you have posted the other places around Shivapuri.

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