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Relocating the Past of Ancient Dandabhukti in Dantan

Tarun Tapas Mukherjee

Introduction

With the discovery of a gigantic monastery (60Mx60M) by Prof. Asok Datta and his team from the Department of Archaeology, Calcutta University following the excavations undertaken in six phases from 2003-2004 to 2011-12, researchers and enthusiasts have once again become interested in the elusive region of Dandabhukti. A general survey of the region around the modern-day muffasil town Dantan reveals that the entire region is rich in archaeological artefacts and certain place-names still contain the names recorded in the inscriptions from the 7th century.

Three Legends about Dandabhukti and Dantan

Historians sometimes draw upon two legends while writing about Dandabhukti and the Moghalmari site: the Tooth Chronicle of Dathavamsa, a Sinhalese text and the oral epic of Sashisena or Sakhisena, written down by the Bengali poet Fakirram in the 16th century and by the Odishan poet Pratap Ray in the 17th century. Besides these, there is another story relating to the origin of the name of ‘Dantan’ involving Sri Chaitanyadeb. Let us see whether they can be used as materials for explaining Dandabhukti and Moghalmari.

Tooth Chronicle and Dantapura of Dathavamsa

Dathavamsa, “founded on an older, and …no longer extant Dalada-va?sa in Sinhalese, [written] by Dhammakitti of Pulasti-pura..in the latter part of the twelth century A.D., tells of a pseudo-historical tale of the miraculous transfer of the tooth relic of Buddha from Kalinga to Srilanka by Hemamala and Dantakumar from the port of Tamralipta:

“agamum–aturit? te pa??ana? T?malitti?.”

The location of the city of Dantapura or Dantapuri is described thus:

“Dantapure Kali?gassa Brahmadattassa r?jino.”

From the similarities in name with Dandabhukti and Dantan some historians think that Dantapur was or could be Dantan, the capital of Dandabhukti, while others locate it near Puri, Odisha (Puri<Dantapuri). Those who argue in favour of Dantan put forward that, had Dantapuri been near Puri, they would not have come to Tamralipta to sail for Srilanka as they could go there right from the port near Puri. With the discovery of the Moghalmari Buddhist monastic complex, the idea was once again floated. This is encouraging point but it does not at all validate the logic. First, the similarity in name is accidental. Secondly, Dandabhukti, as is evident from the CPIs, arose as consolidation of regional power restricted with a small geopolitical entity from the 6th century onwards and it depended heavily on agrarian economy for its sustenance. And there is neither record, nor any possibility that it could be the capital of as large a kingdom as Kalinga. The story—even if taken to be containing historical information, tells of a story which involved big powers and Dandabhukti as a small kingdom (which might not have come into existence in 3-4 century AD) could hardly lay its claim to such miraculous relic as the tooth relic of Buddha. Then again, we find a reference to Meruparbat where the relics were hidden:

ratanagirinikuñje n?gar?ja? apassi

……………………………………………………………….

abhigami bhujaginda? Merup?de nipanna?”

‘Ratangiri’ and ‘Meru-parbat’ can refer to Ratnagiri or Udaygiri (what Xuanzang described as Pushpagiri) situated on hillocks than to any other monastery like the Moghalmari monastery. As for the couple’s going to Tamralipta, it can be explained through the argument that they could leave the capital in disguise more effectively from other port than from a port where their disguise would be hardly effective. Another interesting thing to note is the movement of the couple: Dantakumar, in disguise, goes to the southern country, hides the tooth-relic in the sand and returns to the city, joins his wife and together they reach the spot and after many troubles they reach Tamalittim:

Kusumasurabhicu???ki??ahatth?hi nicca?

sakutukam-anuy?t? k?nane devat?hi
acalagahanadugga? khepayitv?na magga?
agamum-aturit? te pa??ana? T?malitti?.

(Having travelled by a path rendered difficult by hills and forests, and eagerly followed by the gods of the woods, who had their hands filled with flowers and scented flower, they slowly arrived at the city of Tamalitti.)

If one is to believe the geographical locations, hills down to the southern country along the coast can only refer to the Eastern Ghats and this will indicate a place down the southern part of Odisha, which extended in the ancient times to modern-day Andhra Pradesh. In the case of Dantan as Dantapura, such a natural setting is unthinkable. However, the description can also be just rhetorical. So far nobody has questioned the authenticity of the description of the places written by a Sinhalese writer who must have relied on others for his account. Did the poet commit an error while marking the point of departure from Tamralipta?

So far no epigraphic record bearing the name of Dantapur has been found, while ‘Danda-bhukti’ dates from the 7th century AD and logically it must have got its name from ‘Danda’ (whatever its meaning might have been) and not from ‘Danta’ etc. For ‘Danta’ (or ‘Danta-pura) is very unlikely to have degenerated in ‘Danda’, while it is very likely that after the decline and disintegration of Dandabhukti in the 12th century ‘Danda’ degenerated into ‘Dandou’, ‘Dantou’, ‘Dantoon’, ‘Danton’, ‘Dantan’ etc. But whatever the logic the present can afford now, the past is full of uncertainties and the future may have different interpretation to offer following new evidences.

 The Legend of Sashisena or Sakhisena

The oral epic of the love-story between Sashisena and Ahimanikya was very popular in Bengal and Odisha, and there is still a person living on the border of Odisha who was a singer-performer of the story. N. N. Vasu in his survey reported the popularity of the story in this part and recorded it at length. But the question is: how far one can depend on such story while looking for a history of the region? In plain analysis, the story fails to confirm to anything historical in this region. First, the story is written in the mode of fairy-tale having the basic structure of adventure, love and fulfillment without having any reference to any specific place and time. The simple reason is that it was an orally circulated epic or ballad, which the minstrels could use very effectively at any place—from Odisha to Bengal. It came to be written down in the 16th century by a Bengali poet Fakirram. But that does not confirm that the story was created by a Bengali poet or that the story refers to a historical location in Bengal or that the king Bikramjit alias Pratapaditya was a historical character as presented was by N.N. Vasu. The only vague historical element or connection, it might have, is perhaps a substitution or mixing of Sashilekha with Sashisena in folk memory. Sashilekha was a historical person who donated land for the construction of the Shaivite temple complex of Nanneshwara in somewhere in Dandabhukti-mandala which was being ruled by her husband, mandaladhipati Magalkalasa.

In fact, the story seems to have originated in Odisha, more particularly somewhere in Sambalpur or Sonepur, in the 7-8th century as a story of miracle among some tribe. Later on it was developed by wandering minstrels into an oral epic. In Sonepur one can find a temple dedicated to Sashisena, and it was built in the 20th century on the spot where its old temple stood. It has still preserved the motifs of the story relating it to the Tantric Shakti cult of the area. Historian Sudam Naik said,

“The temple was built as a memory of the eighth century eternal love story of Ahimanikya, son of a dewan and Sashisena, the princess. It was after the original temple fell that the king of Sonepur Biramitradaya Singhdeo rebuilt the temple. It is a small temple, only about seven feet high.”

It may be mentioned here that the story seems to have transmitted from Odisha with the migration of many people to this part of Bengal during the British rule. So the story cannot be relied upon as a literary source of history. But strangely enough, the Moghalmari mound has officially got a sign-board now “Sakhisenar Dipi”….Access the Full Text>>

Shree Kshetra Mahuli, Satara, Maharashtra

Kane Dwijendra, Travel Writer

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Satara, 240km South East of Mumbai, is a place with very rich Cultural and Historical background, dating back right from Shivaji Maharaj era to end of Peshwai. Satara has number of religious places around. Some of the temples are 500 to 600 years old. One of such old temple complexes devoted to Lord Shiva is “Shree Kshetra Mahuli”. This is birth place of the famous Chief Justice in Peshwa regime, Mr. Ramshastri Prabhune. He was known for his straightforwardness in giving justice irrespective of who was the accused. He was known for his unbiased opinions. Ram Shastri held office during later part of 18th Century.

Shree Kshetra Mahuli is situated at confluence of rivers Krishna and Venna. Krishna being major river of the two. This place is also called as “Dakshin Kashi”. There are three major temples of Lord Shiva namely, Vishweshwar, Rameshwar and Sangameshwar. There are a few more temples as well but I could not get names and details of these. Vishweshwar side is called “Sangam Mahuli” whereas Rameshwar side is called “Kshtra Mahuli”.

Durga Idols of Kumartuli: Surviving Oral Traditions through Changes

Dr. Lopamudra Maitra, Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC- UG), Pune

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Introduction

As the torrential rain gushes down the plastic and tarpaulin sheets of the narrow alleys in Kumartuli, covering the half-made clay idols, the smell of wet earth emanates, reverberates, encircles and rises up to announce the arrival of the auspicious occasion— Durga Puja. Finally, as the dawn of Mahalaya announces the arrival of the Devipaksha and the last ablutions are offered to seek blessings from one’s forefathers on the banks of the sacred river Ganga, the artisans of Kumartuli pronounce the occasion through invoking the powers of the female goddess by painting the eyes of the idols of Durga, famously known as Chokkhudaan or bestowing of the eyes. A popular and annual sight in the region every year, this relatively small, yet largely famous and well-renowned region of Kumartuli stands tucked within the narrow lanes and by-lanes of Sovabazar area of the northern region of the present city of Kolkata (West Bengal, India) and the relatively recent construction of the underground metro-railway station of the same name.  A busy place for idol-makers, the kumbhars, their small and narrow workshops, aligned against their crowded tenements, hum with the buzz of activities at most times of the year, especially during the time of the Durga puja. Over the years, the region has experienced a surge and witnessed changes in the style of the clay idols, their expression and depictions, especially the ones made for Durga puja. Carrying forth a string of history within itself, as these depictions represent a strain of continuity of the famous worship of female deities of the region, the changes and alterations in visual depictions of the idols made in Kumartuli also help to reflect new ideas and ideologies in the age of new-media, forming an important part of Visual Anthropology. Based on an extensive fieldwork in the region of Kumartuli and various parts of Kolkata throughout the month of Aswina (September-October) between 2011-2012, this paper tries to look into the significant aspects of the representations of the idol-making formats of Kumartuli, their changing presentations and new reflections and how the local history, oral traditions and lores still manifest themselves through these changing representations.

Temples of Bengal: Material Style and Technological Evolution

Priyanka Mangaonkar

Architect and Researcher


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Art of Bengal, which was mainly religious in nature, was expressed through the medium of temples. Brick temples of Bengal (built between 16th and 19th century) forms one of the most distinctive groups of sacred monuments in India. Due to multiple artistic influences acting upon the region during this period the Brick temples of Bengal show wide range of forms and techniques of construction.  Hence the temples constitute a coherent series in their architecture and sculpture, characteristically expressed in brick and terracotta. The chronological span also significant coinciding with the emergence of the new Bengali culture. “In fact, the Bengali temples may be viewed as one of the most important manifestations of this regions culture, closely associated with contemporary movements in religion, literature and the arts as well as with broader political, social and economic developments.”[i] Due to the political unification and consequent independence of Bengal; a unique Bengali style of monumental architecture was created which was also an expression of the local idioms. “Another important result of this change was the combination of Hindu and Muslim elements as intrinsic part of Bengali culture: thus, Muslim rulers and monumental Islamic architecture, but Hindu revivalism and religious poetry.”[ii]

Iconography and Visual Culture of Bengal

Ruma Chakravarti

Independent Researcher

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 Iconography is a field of study that concerns itself with the evaluation of symbols and their significance in religion. It aids in establishing context and helps to link the beliefs and myths of the past to the practices of the present. Any attempt to discuss iconography of temples needs to start with a look at why icons are created. The need for religious iconography is multifold in nature. First, it seeks to make the intangible concept of the gods real through physical presence. Religious iconography has a language of its own which seeks to make the god visible through a certain set of characteristics that are predetermined by rules that originated in ancient times. Secondly, religious icons in the days prior to the industrial revolution provided a unifying effect by their occurrence in temples across a region or a kingdom. Even though the actual mode of worship may differ from region to region within India, the icons themselves are pan-Indian. Icons associated with temples may also be a sign of the wealth or social standing of the person who finances the temple building process. Removing the icons makes religion itself a vague concept which is not as easily disseminated. One other function icons perform is as a record of a certain period in history. The intentional removal of icons during certain historical events can provide clues to the socio-political climate of the time and be reflective of invasion or change of patronage.

In the Footsteps of Hsüan-tsang, in karnasubarna

Sumit Soren

Independent Researcher


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 In those days when there was no discovery channel or BBC; people learnt about distant lands through the travels of brave travelers who undertook perilous journey across thousands of miles. Travelling was certainly not easy in those days when there were no airplanes, motor vehicles or diesel powered ships. Travelling was also not possible through personal endeavor only; often travelers undertook voyage under the patronage or sponsorship of religious institutions or funding from Kings. For these travelers who mainly travelled on foot, caravans or by ships, India was always a favored destination for number of reasons. Stories of the great wealth of India had reached far and wide, the abundance of Buddhist literature and monasteries also invited the travelers to come to India. So we may say India was an attractive destination because of both material and spiritual reason, and thus we find a number of travelers visiting India at different times. Hsüan-tsang, Ibn Batuta, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Francois Bernier all visited India in different times and left for us a reliable picture of life in India in those times.

Bonokathi’s Mystic Deul and the Legend of Echai Ghosh

Somen Sengupta.

Freelance Writer


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In Bengal school of temple architecture Deul style has its own place. Divided mainly between Bongiyo deul and Oriya deul this particular shape of temple or place of worship are few in this part of Bengal but each of them are unique and enrich. Deul temples are tower like structure with expansion on the either side. It is simple but majestic in presence. Jatar deul of South 24 Parganas and Bahulara deul of Onda village in Bankura are two most famous deul structure temple in Bengal. With this we have another lesser known deul temple in a small village near Burdawan and Birbhum border. This one known as Echai Ghosher deul holds an equal importance in the study of Bengal temple.

Story of the Hanseswari Temple, Banshberia

Sikha Banerjee

Retired Teacher and Researcher, West Bengal Education Service


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Hamseswari Temple, Banshberia
Hamseswari Temple, Banshberia

In 1673, Zamindar Rameshwar Ray left Patuli and settled in Bansberia or Banskabati as it was known earlier in Hooghly. Bansberia is located besides our holy river Ganga, and in between Tribeni and Bandel. Zamindar Rameshwar Ray was gifted this village of around 400 Bigha of Land and its Zamindari by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who also gifted him the prestigious title of King. From this time onward many of his kith and kin settled in Bansberia.

Radhe Shyam and Radha Madhab Temples of Bishnupur

Shyamal Chatterji

Mechanical Engineer and Researcher on Hindu Iconography


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Introduction

Which is the best ‘Temple Town’ of West Bengal?  One group of elite travelers will award this title to Kalna; yet others will argue in favour of Bishnupur. I love both .I cannot decide which one can score over the other. Because the Editor has requested me to write about temples of Bankura, I zeroed on the photos of temples of Bishnupur in my HDD… And I decided to showcase Radhe Shyam and Radha Madhab temples—two among the less famous temples of Bishnupur—yet these two offer excellent oeuvre of wall-reliefs. These temples are of ‘Ek-Ratna’ (single spire) construction and made of laterite stone with thick white coating.

We find the finest among the ‘Panch-Ratna’ (five spires), ’Ek-Ratna’ and ‘Jor-Bangla’ temple architecture at Bishnupur. I have visited many sites of terra cotta temples in West Bengal. What appealed to me most is the sense of proportion among the architects of Bisnupur.  If I were younger and equipped with a professional degree in Architecture instead of Mechanical Engineering, I would have pursued a project of identifying the dimensional proportions of West Bengal’s temples to arrive at the aesthetics of that of temple architecture!

History

A robbery in the Malla kingdom in 16th century changed the face of Bengal’s architecture. Vaishnav guru Srinivas Acharya and two other greats, Narattoma Das and Shyamanand were taking three cartloads of scriptures from Vrindavan to Puri . The writings were priceless…these carts contained books by great Vaishnavites Sri Jeeva Goswami, Sri Rup Goswami and Raghunath Das among others. The dacoits knew that cartloads of great treasure were being moved from one location to another. They had no other clue. There were only ten foot soldiers ‘protecting’ these cartloads. The ‘treasure’ was easily looted during one night when all the travelers were asleep. This happened at Gopalpur village, within the territory of the Malla king.

Srinivas Acharya stayed back in Bengal determined to recover the books .The robbers’ allegiance was to the local King Vir Hambir. Srinivas had a face-to-face interaction with his court’s religious supremo Vyasacharya where Srinivas Acharya demonstrated his depth of knowledge regarding Vaishnav religion. King became his ardent disciple and the books were restored to Srinivas.

Vaishnav religion had strong impact on cultural life of Bengal. Malla kingdom was free from Muslim dominance and became a hub for Vaishnav religion and culture during 16th to 18th centuries.

According to books and articles I read on temples of Bishnupur, the first ‘Pancha-Ratna’ temple built during 1639 AD did not survive. The next one to be built was ‘Shyama Raya’ temple – one of the finest in Bengal. Close to it came up ‘Jor-Bangla’ temple, Radhe Shyam temple and Lalji temple during the course of time. Radhe Shyam temple, opposite the new Lalji temple, was built by Malla king Chaitanya Singha in 1759 AD. This can be called the ‘youngest’ among the temples which were built during the heyday of Malla kingdom. ‘Radha Madhab’ temple was built by Srimani Devi, one of the consorts of King Vir Singha in 1737 AD. This temple is the 1st one a tourist comes across as s/he enters the ASI Complex , south of Lalbandh.

shyam1 

‘Radhe Shyam’ temple and ‘Radha Madhab’ temple

‘Radhe Shyam’ temple is ‘Ek-Ratna’ – single spire temple with a square base measuring 11.1 m and  10.7 m in height. The spire is cylindrical, with semi-spherical dome. The idea of installing a spire on top of the temple, according to some writers, came from the then prevailing Muslim architecture. The deity used to be placed in the spire during festival days so that a large crowd of devotees can view the idol from a distance. The work on this temple is most elaborate and aesthetically pleasing among the laterite temples I have come across.

Entrances to the sanctum for devotees as well as for services have three arches. The arches on the front side has lost most of the wall-reliefs.  Ditto on the arches on the service side of the temple. Two rows of wall-reliefs set inside alcoves, each on right and left flanks of the front face, go up to the top. Two rows of alcoves connect these two verticals and offer the best of the oeuvre. Here, the wall-reliefs are based on Ramayana and ‘Dashavatar’ (Ten incarnations) of Vishnu.

Clockwise from top LH: Balarama, Rama, Varaha and NriSingha Avatar
Clockwise from top LH: Balarama, Rama, Varaha
and NriSingha Avatar
Six_Handed_Chaitanyadev
‘ChaitanyaDev’ with six hands. Top two hands hold a bow, middle two a flute and the
lower two a stick and a ‘kamandolu’- pot for holy water. Imageries of Rama,Krsna and merged into one. ‘ChaitanyaDev’ here is projected as an incarnation of Vishnu.

The walls inside have excellent wall-reliefs too – much bigger size than the ones on the outside. Among them, ‘Ananta-sayane Vishnu’  (Vishnu resting on Ananta) is very well-known.  A favourite of mine too. I also like the ‘Sharho-bhuja Chaitanya’ (Chaitanya Dev with six hands) and a panel on ‘Krsna Leela’. We find ‘Sharho-bhuja Chaitanya’ wall-relief in many temples including Madan Mohan temple of Vishnupur and ‘Ananta vasudev’ temple at Bansberia, Hooghly.

Vishnu resting on ‘Ananta’ the snake, his feet up on the lap of Devi Lakshmi. Brahma sits on a lotus emanating of Vishnu’s navel. Siva and other gods are among the celestial onlookers.
Vishnu resting on ‘Ananta’ the snake, his feet up on the lap of Devi Lakshmi.
Brahma sits on a lotus emanating of Vishnu’s navel. Siva and other gods are among the celestial
onlookers.

‘Radha Madhab‘ temple too is ‘Ek-Ratna’ – single spire temple with  a square base measuring 11.1 m and  9.2 m in height. The spire is hexagonal, with ‘rekha’-styled dome. We can visualize the beauty of the temple when it was new – the ‘do-chala’ (two slanting roves) three-arched entrance adding to the same. Both the front and the service side of the temple have three arches. Arches, pillars and inside walls were quite artfully done – quite apparent from the 3rd photo here.

Radhamadhab_Temple

Panels
Details of work on the front façade. We find Krishna Leela scenes in the lower portion. On the upper side, we find
scenes from Ramayana –mainly ‘AranyaKando’ to ‘SundaraKanda’ – Rama, Seeta, Hanuman,
Shurpanakha, Maarich, Jatayu et all.

Sadly, a lot of the wall-reliefs are damaged. The white coat has suffered erosion because of weather and human touch. Some of the details still are quite attractive, though the laterite has been exposed. We find an ‘Ananta-sayane Vishnu’ (Vishnu resting on Ananta) here too, which was definitely as grand as the one in ‘Radhe Shyam’ temple. Time has ravaged this wall-relief – I feel sad when I see the blow-up on my computer screen. Wall-reliefs in the alcoves are quite skillfully done, very appealing to the discerning traveler. We find scenes from Ramayana, Krishnaleela, social scenes and various motifs on the pillars and arches of the temple. ASI tries to maintain green surroundings.

Panel2
Two scenes from Ramayana – on top, Hanuman calls out to Seeta in
‘Ashokbaon’ as two female guards are in vigil. At bottom, we find
‘Rakshasha’ guards fight with Hanumana.

 The readers of Chitrolekha International Magazine who want to view more photos of these temples and/or other terra cotta temples of Bishnupur may please visit my blogs in

www.hubpages.com/shyamchat,

http://przmm.blogspot.com ,

http://tctob.blogspot.com .

Shyamal Chatterji is an Engineer by profession from IIT, Kharagpur (Mechanical Engineering, 1968). Presently, he is retired from professional life. He is now working on Iconography of terra cotta temples of Bengal. He is also associated with PANIIT and actively supports the IITians for ITI Project. His works can be viewed in: http://przmm.blogspot.com, http://tctob.blogspot.com & http://hubpages.com/shyamchat.

Brihadeeswara Temple: “Dakshina Meru”

Sudha Jagannath

Brihannayika Culture Resource, New Delhi


The Brihadeesvara Temple stands as a supreme example of Chola architecture. Built on a scale appropriate enough to house the presiding deity, Sri Brihadeesvara, or the Lord of the Universe, the temple continues to excite wonder at its many unique architectural features and living presence as a centre of Saiva devotion. During the period when Chola power was in the ascendant, (around 850-1350 AD) architecture in the Tamil country went through dramatic changes. Indeed before the time of the most famous Chola king, Rajaraja I, gopurams in temple complexes were not built on a very grand scale. During the reign of Rajaraja I, the temple at Tanjore was built not only as a monument to the sway of Chola power over many southern lands but as a living sign of Saiva concepts and beliefs. It was called ‘Dakdhina Meru’ as a complement to the ‘Uttara Meru’ or the sacred mount of Kailasa, thought of as the spine of the universe. The Dakshina Meru was thought to be a centre of divine power analogous to the northern centre of Sri Kailas. Many inscriptions of Rajaraja I (A D 985-1012) reveal him to be a great warrior and an ardent devotee of Shiva. It is this spirit of ardent devotion that visualizes the entire temple complex itself as a visible symbol of the divine presence. Over the centuries the successive powers of the Nayakas and the Marathas added smaller shrines and other embellishments to the temple complex in a manner that is a tribute to the original founder as well as the spirit of Saivism.

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