Thobon (also spelled Thubon, Thoban, etc.) is a small village in the Ashoknagar district of Madhya Pradesh. It is situated on the western bank of the Aur River, a tributary of the Betwa River. The antiquity of the village was first rediscovered by M B Garde in the early decades of the twentieth-century CE.1 Garde reports Thobon possessing many Jaina temples of later than the 10th century CE and numerous medieval period Hindu temples.2 However, no serious attempt was made to conserve and protect these monuments during his tenure. For a long time, the site was left unnoticed and uncared for. In 1990, C B Trivedi3 brought back the site to the notice of scholars however that also did not trigger any attempt for conservation. The first serious survey of the site was carried out in 2010-11 by the Northern Region, Temple Survey Project of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The antiquities were divided into five groups, Kuti Area Complex, Kuti Extension, Gargaj Area, Thoban Village, and Sitamarhi Group. A very brief description of only a few monuments was provided in the report.4 Conservation activities were soon taken up and now we see these ruins in a better state of preservation. However, a comprehensive study of Thobon has not been taken up till now and the site presents a good potential for such a study. The discovery of megalithic burial stone graves from Thobon takes the history of the town back to the prehistoric period. These burials were in the form of rectangular enclosures made with small size stones, only three have survived the rest have been vandalized.5 During the medieval period, the village was under the Pratiharas and Kachchhapaghatas. Many temples were constructed during this period, the majority of them belonging to 950-1150 CE and a few to 1150-1300 CE.6 The village would have become an important pilgrimage center with the establishment of monasteries, both Shaiva and Vaishnava, during the same period. Thobon was also a great Jain pilgrimage center as evidenced by a Jain temple dateable to the twelfth century CE. The village retains this character at present and as Thubonji it is considered a Jain Atishaya Kshetra, with a Jain trust managing the temples and other activities.
Kuti Area Complex – This complex has a few temples and a Vaishnava matha (monastery). The matha is locally known as Baradari. It is a pillared verandah with its backside attached to a hill. There are two rows of six pillars each supporting a flat roof above. In front of the matha, on its eastern and western flanks, two rows of shrines are arranged facing each other. Each row has two or three temples. There are a total of seven temples in the complex, five in front of the Baradari and two at its terminals. Five temples are dedicated to Vishnu while two are to Shiva. The Baradari with its two temples at either end are parts of a single shrine with two garbha-grhas placed opposite to each other and connected via a pillared verandah.
All these temples are more or less similar in plan and size. They all contain a square garbha-grha (sanctum), rectangular antarala (vestibule), and a mukha-mandapa (front porch) supported by two front pillars and two back pilasters. They all belong to the mandapika type bereft of shikhara (tower). The temples are built in pancharatha plan. Two niches are provided on the karna and one niche on the bhadra. The bhadra-niche is topped with a udgama. The lower karna-niche has standing dikpalas. The upper karna-niche has a seated deity. The bhadra niches have Vaishnava deities or Shaiva deities based upon the temple dedication. In the case of Vaishnava deities in bhadra, we see Varaha, Narasimha, Surya, and Trivikrama. In the case of Shiava deities in bhadra, we find Ganesha, Kartikeya, and Surya. The antarala doorways are elaborately decorated. At the base of the doorjamb are the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, accompanied by dvarapalas and attendants. In the case of the Vaishnava shrine, the doorway lintel has Vishnu riding Garuda at the lalala-bimba and Brahma and Shiva at the terminals. The recessed space of the lintel is divided into two tiers, the upper tier having Sapta-matrikas with Shiva-Vinadhara and Ganesha while the lower tier has nava-grhas. The lintel in the case of Shaiva shrine has Kalyanasundara in one case and Shiva-Natesha in another case over the lalata-bimba. It is interesting to note that all the Vaishnava temples are on one side while all the Shiva temples are on another side, both facing each other.
Sitamarhi Group of Temples – This group has 15 temples, 14 attached to a single temple complex and one temple standing a little far away on the northern side of the complex. As all the temples are dedicated to Shiva, it may be surmised that this site was an important center of Shaiva practices. The main temple is a large shrine surrounded by thirteen small temples, all these small temples are of mandapika type. The main temple faces west and consists of a garbha-grha, antarala, sabha-mandapa, and mukha-mandapa. The garbha-grha is rectangular and has a ceiling with a full-blown lotus design. The garbha-grha doorway is composed of five shakhas (bands) and is elaborately decorated. On the base of the jambs are the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, with nagas making canopies above them. The goddesses are attended by female attendants and dvarapalas. The lalata-bimba over the lintel has an image of seated Shiva. At the terminals of the lintel are Brahma and Vishnu. In the recess between the terminals and the lalata-bimba are standing deities, and saints holding kamandalu. The sur-lintel has an image of Parvati in the middle accompanied by Brahmani and Vaishnavi at the terminals. The recessed space has female deities, two each on either side of Parvati.
The antarala ceiling is supported by decorated pillars in the front. Images of Ganesha and Surya are placed near the base of these pillars. The sabha-mandapa has transepts in the north and south. These transepts have designs of kakshashana however are not open for entry as a parapet wall block entry as well as support half-pillars on the top. The external facade of this parapet wall is decorated with panels of apsaras and other dancing celestials. The transept in the west is replaced with a mukha-mandapa where an image of Nandi is installed facing the garbha-grha. The temple is built in pancha-ratha style however much of its external facing stones have fallen off. There was once a shikhara however that also has not survived the toll of time. The subsidiary shrines are all small size temples of mandapika type.
Hori ki Marhia Group – This group has two temples. The large temple (Temple No 1) faces east and is consisted of a garbha-grha, antarala, and a mukha-mandapa. A pitha bereft of any image occupies the garbha-grha at present. The antarala doorway is exquisitely carved with various images and decorative patterns. It is composed of five shakhas (bands). At the base of the doorjambs are various figures. The innermost figure is of a female, the one on the left jamb holds a flu-whisk and the one on the right holds a water vessel, both having a canopy made of a naga figure. As one of the figures holds a fly-whisk, she cannot be identified with the river goddess. The next in line is a large female figure standing in tribhanga posture. The figure on the right is more preserved and there is no sign of any mount below the feet of the lady. Though we may identify these two figures as the river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, however as their respective mounts are not carved therefore it remains a speculation. The last figure is of a male attendant. No dvarapalas are found on the jambs, if we do not consider the large female figures as dvarapalas. The lalata-bimba over the lintel has a large image of Vishnu riding over Garuda. At the terminals are Brahma and Shiva, seated next to their mounts. The recessed space between the lalata-bimba and terminals is divided into two tiers. The upper tier has Sapta-matrika with Ganesha at the last. The lower tier has two deities attended by two female attendants, one on either side. The deity on the left may be identified with Balarama as there is a snake hood canopy as well as he appears to be holding a plow. The deity on the right is not identifiable. The mukha-mandapa is elongated and supported on four pillars and two pilasters in the back. It is an open mandapa, with kakshashana (parapet) provided on its three sides. The four front pillars are supported on this kakshashana, a half-pillar resting over this parapet and a half-pillar supporting the parapet.
The temple is built in pancharatha pattern. The vedibandha is composed of four moldings. The jangha is divided into two tiers separated by a bandhana molding. Bhadra is provided with a single large niche carrying a chadhya above and topped with a udgama motif, the latter occupies the upper tier. Pratiratha is kept plain except for the bandhana molding. The karna is provided with two niches. The lower niches over karna have standing dikpalas, while the upper niches have seated deities. The kapili niches are given the same treatment as that of bhadra, except no chadhya is provided here. The kapili niche in the south has Ganesha and in the north has Vishnu as Gaja-moksha. Though no image has survived in the garbha-grha however the images over the lintel lalata-bimba and bhadra-niches suggest the temple was dedicated to Vishnu.
Temple No 2 in this group is a small temple that survived only with its garbha-grha, the present mukha-mandapa is a part of recent conservation activities. The temple is devoid of any decoration, sculptures, etc. except for some scrollwork over the external walls.
Gargaj Group – The Temple No 1 in this group has survived only partially as its garbha-grha is totally lost except for its doorway. The mandapa is aligned not in front of the doorframe but at a right angle which makes this temple very unique. The temple was dedicated to a Jina, as images of various Jinas are found over the doorway lintel. The lalata-bimba has a seated Jina while the terminals have standing Jinas. The recessed space between and beyond the terminals is filled with standing Navagrahs, two in each space except the last on the right having three grahas. The sur-lintel has various images depicting mithuna, musicians, and amorous couples. The pancha-shakha (five bands) doorway has large images of female dvarapalas at the bottom of the jambs. The mandapa has six pillars supported by kakshashana. The external facade of these kakshashana carries images of apsaras, dancers, and other female celestials.
Temple No 2 is composed of a garbha-grha, antarala, and a ardh-mandapa. The garbha-grha doorway is not finished as outlines of uncarved navagrha figures are found over the recessed space of the lintel. The lalata-bimba has an image of Vishnu riding over Garuda, while Brahma and Shiva occupy the terminals. The ardha-mandapa does not have kakshashana as seen in other temples in the village. The temple vimana does not have any projections however the jangha is divided into five sections similar to a pancharatha pattern. The niches in the center of the jangha carry Ganesha, Kartikeya, and Surya. This creates confusion regarding the deity to whom the temple was dedicated. While Vishnu over lalata-bimba suggests the temple was dedicated to him, however, the presence of Shaiva deities like Ganesha and Kartikeya suggests that it was dedicated to Shiva. We have witnessed at Surwaya that the image over the lalata-bimba might be misleading in some cases as at Surwaya though Vishnu was present over the lalata-bimba however the temples were dedicated to Shiva.
Temple No 3 has only survived in its mandapa, a pillared hall supported by six pillars. All these pillars are with kakshashana, half part of the pillar supports a bench and the rest half is placed above the bench. The part of the pillar below the bench is square while the part above is circular. The pillars are topped with bharavahakas which support flat beams above. The ceiling is decorated with a central large lotus design consisting of four tiers and at the four corners are placed four kirtimukhas.
Andha-Kuan Temple Group – This group has three temples standing and the remains of a few only survived with their base. Temple No 1 is built over a low-rising jagati composed of three moldings. The temple is comprised of a garbha-grha, antarala, and an ardha-mandapa supported on two front pillars and two back pilasters. The mandapa has kakshashana parapet on three sides. The antarala doorway has Vishnu riding over Garuda over the lalata-bimba while Brahma and Shiva occupy the terminals. The recesses between have standing figures of nava-grhas over the lower tier. The images over the upper tier are badly eroded. The temple is built in pancharatha style. The jangha is divided into two tiers, niches are provided on the lower tier while the upper tier is left plain except at bhadra and karna where udgama motif is placed. The niches over bhadra have Ganesha, Varaha, and Trivikrama. The niches on kapili have Chamunda and an unidentified deity.
Temple No 2 of this group is comprised of a garbha-grha, antarala, and an ardha-mandapa. The garbha-grha has survived only partially, the rear side has not survived. Vishnu is present over the lalata-bimba of the doorway lintel. Brahma and Shiva occupy their respective positions at the terminals. The recesses are left plain. The ardha-mandapa does not have kakshashana. The temple might be pancharatha vimana however not much has survived to provide details about the decoration and icons occupying niches over the jangha.
Temple No 3 has only survived with its garbha-grha and entrance doorframe. An image of standing Vishnu is over the lalata-bimba of the doorway lintel. The terminals are occupied by Brahma and Shiva. The recesses between are divided into two tiers, the upper tier has Saptamatrikas with Shiva-Vinadhara and Ganesha and the lower tier has standing images of Nava-grhas. The sequence of nava-grhas are reversed here, the regular sequence starts with Surya and ends with Rahu-Ketu but here the sequence starts with Rahu-Ketu and ends with Surya. The temple walls do not show any projections as evident from its vedibandha. Images of Kartikeya and Surya are found on the niches over the lateral walls.
Mahadev Ghat Temple Group – This group also has numerous temples in various states of preservation. Temple No 1 has survived only with its pillared mandapa, with its three pillars and one pilaster standing. It has kakshashana all around, the external facade of which is decorated with scrollwork.
Temple No 2 (THB – 5 D) is very unique as it is the largest temple on site as well as its square garbha-grha projects outwards from the center of the rear wall. Also, there is no open mandapa but a closed one with an entrance opposite to the rear wall. The square mandapa has a naive in the center and aisles on either side formed using rows of four pillars alternating with four pilasters. There are two ornamented doorframes, one in the naive and another before the garbha-grha. The doorframe in the naive has Vishnu over the lalata-bimba and Brahma and Shiva over the terminals. In the recesses are arranged nava-grhas. The garbha-grha doorway also has these three deities but in different postures. On the external facade are various sculptures, Varaha, Lakshmi, Vamana, Ganesha, Kartikeya, etc.
Temple No 3 has survived with its garbha-grha and antarala. The doorway has Vishnu riding over Garuda over the lalata-bimba of the lintel. The terminals of the lintel are occupied by Brahma and Shiva. The recessed space in between is divided into two tiers. The upper tier has Sapta-matrikas with Shiva-Vinadhara and Ganesha, and the lower tier has standing images of Nava-grhas. The garbha-grha is pancharatha in plan. The jangha is divided into two tiers separated by a pattika molding. The lower niches over the karna have images of standing dikpalas, while the upper tier niche has seated Vasus. The pratiratha has dancer damsels on both tiers. The bhadra niche is in the form of a rathika, projected outward significantly. All the bhadra niches are empty at present. One of the kapili niche has an image of Ganesha.
Temple No 4 (THB – 5 H) is built on similar lines as many others at the site, and survived only with its garbha-grha, and antarala. The doorway lintel has Vishnu riding over Garuda in the lalata-bimba, while Brahma and Shiva are at the terminals. The recessed space is divided into two tiers, the upper tier has Sapta-matrikas with Shiva-Vinadhara and Ganesha, and the lower tier has standing images of Nava-grhas.
Temple No 5 (THB-5 C) has survived only with its garbha-grha and antarala. The doorway lintel has sated Vishnu in the lalata-bimba, with Brahma and Shiva at the terminals. In the recessed area are the images of standing nava-grahas. The garbha-grha falls under the pancharatha plan with a missing recess between bhadra and pratiratha. The karna and pratiratha are plain while a niche is provided on bhadra. In the bhadra niches are found Ganesha, Vamana, and Parvati. Niche over kapili also contains images of female celestials.
Temple No 6 (THB-5 B) has survived only with its garbha-grha and antarala. The doorway lintel has sated Vishnu in the lalata-bimba, with Brahma and Shiva at the terminals. In the recessed area are the images of seated nava-grahas. The garbha-grha falls under the pancharatha plan with a missing recess between bhadra and pratiratha. The recess between karna and pratiratha has a pierced screen-like decoration. The karna and pratiratha are plain while a niche is provided on bhadra. In the bhadra niches are found Ganesha, Vamana, and Vishnu as Gaja-moksha. Niche over kapili also contains images of female celestials.
1 Annual Report of the Archaeological Department, Gwalior State, 1914-15.
2 Garde, M B (1934). Archaeology in Gwalior. Alijah Darbar Press. Gwalior. p. 75
3 Trivedi, C B (). Thoban – An Art Center of the late Pratiharas in Bundelkhand published in Sinha, C P (ed.), Archaeology and Art – Krishna Deva Felicitation Volume. pp. 440-444
4 Indian Archaeology 2010-2011 – A Review. pp. 148-165
5 Salahuddin, Sultan (2019). अशोकनगर जिले का पुरातात्त्विक अध्ययन (प्रारंभ से ६०० ई. तक), Ph.D. thesis submitted to the Dr. Harisingh Gaur University, Sagar. p. 224
6 Ali, Ahmed (2005). Kachchhapaghata Art and Architecture. Publication Scheme. Jaipur. ISBN 8181820142. pp. 53-55
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.