Jaina Vestiges of Dharapat, District Bankura, West Bengal

Social Share
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Shubha Majumder

 

Dharapat (8701749E – 230758N), an ancient village,  is located on the northern bank of the river Dwarakeswar, about 8

temple_of_dharapat
Temple of Dharapa

km north-west of Vishnupur town in the Bankura district of West Bengal. The site has a sikhara type temple, locally known as Nengta Thakurer Mandir (the temple of the naked god) or Shamchand Thakurer Mandir. The former name is probably derived from the images of the Tirthankaras on the northern and western temple walls. One image is clearly identifiable as that of Rsahabhanatha and the cognizances of the other are covered by the modern plaster and are therefore, not visible. An image of Visnu is fixed on the outer wall of the temple. The temples of Dharapat have been studied by several scholars. However, the identification of the temple idiom, whether Brahmanical or Jaina, is still uncertain. The present paper is a brief empirical attempt to explain some important iconographic features of a Jaina Tirthankara images found from the site Dharapat. Three Jaina Tirthankara image have been reported from the present site among them one is Rsahabhanatha, one is Parsvanatha and rest one is unidentifiable.

The Rsahabhanatha image plaqued on the northern wall of the abandoned Shamchand Mandir is of caubisi type. It is a massive image

Tirthankara Rsahabhanatha, Dharapat
Tirthankara Rsahabhanatha, Dharapat

of blackish stone and measures about 1.6 m in height. The dimensions of the specimen (massive and square) suggest that it was definitely not a free-standing image but was fixed against the concerned Jaina sanctuary. Visually, it is quite schematic and rigid and the plastic tendencies are minimal. The Jina is standing in kayotsarga posture on a double-petalled lotus placed on a sapta-ratha pedestal. The bull lanchana is neatly carved on the pedestal along with two devotees in  namaskara mudra (folded hands) at both corners and a crouching lion close to the lanchana. The simple and stark pedestal leads the eyes of the viewer to the schematic composition above. The mula-nayaka obviously devoid of any worldly attire, has elongated ear-lobes, and wears an elegant jatajuta with kesa-vallari falling down the sides of the head and over the shoulders. This jatajuta is similar to the one depicted in the Rsahabhanatha image from Mayurbhanj (presently in the collection of the National Museum) and also from the early medieval site of Ayodhya and seems to have been a popular stylistic idiom. A circular sirascakra with leafed edges adorns the head of the saviour. Above the sirascakra is the depiction of a trilinear chatra flanked by two Vidyadharas holding long garlands. The Jina is flanked on both sides by stout male cauri-bearers. They wear deeply incised loin cloths and elaborate jewellery and both of them have plain, small oval shaped halos. Obviously, the modulation of surfaces apparent from the drapery and jewellery are restricted to these parikara elements. These cauri-bearers stand on lotus pedestals and their left hands are in katyavalambita posture and the right hands hold a fly-whisk. On the edges of the back stele, on a projected frame, are miniature figures of twenty-four Tirthankaras arranged in six vertical rows of two each on either side of the mula-nayaka. Like the principal image, they also stand in kayotsarga posture on a double-petalled lotus and their respective lanchanas are carved at the center of their lotus thrones. Stylistically, the image may be assignable to c. 11th century CE. This image bears a unique style of carving especially discernible from the waist downwards. The lower part of the body is quite heavy (and seems to have weighed down the image) in comparison to the upper portion. The Rsahabhanatha image from another cluster in the Kumari-Kansavati valley (site: Khatra) is of a lighter disposition and the weight of the entire body seems to have been evenly distributed. Therefore, the Dharapat variety is quite different so far as the carving techniques are concerned. Even if one compares the present image with that found from Pakbirra the jatamukutas are quite similar. However, stylistically, the Pakbirra specimen is comparable to that found from Khatra. The stone used for making the Dharapat Rsahabhanatha is entirely different from those used in other images found from the present study area as well as the Adinatha images from the Kumari-Kansavati valley and Pakbirra.

The Jina image plaque on the western wall of the same temple is identified as Tirthankara Santinatha.

Tirthankara Santinatha, Dharapat
Tirthankara Santinatha, Dharapat

The deer lanchana of the Jina is clearly discernible in the panca-ratha pedestal. Surprisingly, the coiffure of the Jina has an almost clean shaven appearance along with a usnisa. This treatment of the coiffure makes the image unique and similar treatment is seen in the Parsvanatha image from Bahulara. This Jina with a rounded puffy face and uplifted chest has a boyish appearance unlike other Jina images in the study area. The accentuated curvilinear lips impart a sense of liveliness to the expression of the Jina. The kevala-tree is finely carved and spreads on both sides of the well defined halo of the deity. The cauri-bearers, eight planetary deities and the Vidyadharas are present. The eight planetary deities (one is abraded and is beyond recognition, however, its position suggests that it is Sani) are carved in details and the clockwise disposition is Candra, Budha, Sukra, Rahu, Sani (abraded), Brhaspati, Mangala and Surya. The same alignment is found in the Parsvanatha images from Bahulara and Harmasra. The planetary deities are seated on double-petalled lotus-pedestals (except Rahu) and conform to well practice iconographic modes since the ninth-tenth centuries CE. Numerous sculptures found from different Jaina clusters in the Chhotanagpur region depict astagrahas.

In the present image organization of space evident from the entire composition is remarkable as well as static. Elaborations in the stele are kept to a minimum. This Jina is made of the same stone which was used in the Rsahabhanatha image described earlier. The borders of the plaque depicting this image have a finely carved floral scroll. The Visnu image plaqued on the eastern wall of the

Tirthankara Parsvanatha, Dharapat
Tirthankara Parsvanatha, Dharapat

same temple has a similar floral border.

Very close to the above temple, an image of Parsvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara, is still worshipped as Snake hooded Visnu, in the sanctum of a modern temple. The site witnessed the predominance of the Jaina order, at least till the 12th century, and subsequently the Vaishnava faith gained popularity. This Parsvanatha image measuring 63 cm x 40 cm is of greyish stone. The specimen has been converted to an image of snake hooded Visnu by subsequent additions (during the early medieval period) of two hands holding sankha and gad. Such forcible transformation of a Jaina image into a Brahmanical one suggests the prevalence of Vaishnavism and the decline of the Jaina order. The deity stands in kayotsarga posture on a double-petalled lotus-pedestal under a canopy of seven snake hoods. The outline of its towering snake-hood (almost like the outline of an acanthus leaf) has similar counterparts in the Parsvanatha images found from Bahulara and Joypur which are presently in the Vishnupur Sahitya Parishad Museum (hence forth VSPM), Vishnupur. The contemporary Brahmanical images as seen from the specimens presently in the collection of the VSPM, Vishnupur, are quite crude and naive so far as the carving techniques are concerned.

The arms of the Parsvanatha are carved almost parallel to its body. The two male cauri-bearers have also been transformed into Lakshmi and Saraswati. The pedestal of the image has also been changed and most probably the image has a panca-ratha pedestal. Stylistically, the original image is assignable to c. 11th century CE. This Parsvanatha image is similar to the images of the same Jina found from the Kumari-Kansavati valley. The depictions of the snake hooded yaksa and yaksini commonly depicted along with Parsvanatha images is not evident here.

Very close to the present site there are several sites associated with Jaina antiquities in form of sculptural remains as well as architectural remains. Jay Krishnapur

Caumukha, Jay Krishnapur Dharapat
Caumukha, Jay Krishnapur Dharapat

is one of them, located on the north bank of the river Dwarakeswar and is about five and a half kms north of Vishnupur, on the Sonamukhi-Vishnupur road. Besides a cluster of late medieval-pre-modern temples, the village has some debris of late habitational remains at its north-eastern part.40 From these ruins, some antiquities of early medieval and medieval period have been recovered. A few sculptural remains related to the Jaina ideology are preserved in the VSPM, Vishnupur. Among these, the most notable specimen is a greyish stone caumukha measuring 30 cm x 13 cm x 13 cm. It is well carved and represents a miniature pidha deul. It has four diminishing pidhas as it ascends to the top which is crowned by an amalakaśila. Four Tirthankaras in kayotsarga posture and under trefoiled arches are carved in the central niches of the four sides of the caumukha. The Jinas are flanked by attendants on both sides. Stylistically, this specimen is quite stout with four horizontal tiers constituting the curvilinear sikhara. The specimen is quite abraded and the stone used is of local provenance. This crudely carved caumukha is less refined from those found from other sites of the study area as well as from the site of Pakbira and other parts of the district. However, like most of the caumukha specimens from the district, the height of the miniature Jina depicted below the niche reaches more than half the height of the entire caumukha. The general appearance and the abundance of the ruins show that the settlement had its beginning not later than the early medieval period. The Jaina antiquities suggest the popularity of the Jaina ideology which must have influenced the overall growth of this settlement. The subsequent popularity of Vaishnavism evident from the archaeological database is quite significant. The well known settlement of Dihar (from the early village farming phases onwards) is not far away from this site. Jay Krishnapur’s early medieval identity is closely related with the settlement dynamics of Dihar.

The site Muninagar, has some modern temples built over the old habitational ruins. A thorough study of the Basulimata idol enshrined in the Basuli temple revealed that it is actually a Tirthankara image. Some other Jaina sculptural fragments are also kept in this temple complex and they are all worshipped as Brahmanical icons. This area needs further investigations so as to get more supportive evidence in elucidating the actual context of the said sculptural remains and their association with Jainism. The initial spread of the Jaina ideology in this region is very much clear. This example is a clear indication of the transformation of a Jaina deity into a folk deity.

Penara in the western part of this village there is a locality known as Brahman para having a concentration of Brahman communities. In this connection it may be recalled that during the early medieval and medieval periods, Utkala Brahmans migrated in large numbers from Orissa to the Radha region. A Jaina Tirthankara image is still worshipped as Kali mata in this locality. The change of identity from a Jaina deity to Kali mata is noteworthy especially in the context of the spread of the Sakti cult in the Radha region. It must be noted that such transformations and changes have been executed on several occasions only on Jaina images.

Ajodhya is another important Jaina site situated on the northern bank of the river Dwarakeswar, is renowned for its local tradition of studying Sanskrit manuscripts from the medieval period onwards. The village is about 11.3 km northwest from Visnupur town. Pre-medieval remains from this site include Jaina remains. A fisherman discovered a sand stone image of Rsabhanatha from the nearby river bed of Dwarakeswar and it is now displayed in the VSPM, Visnupur. This village has a fair distribution of scattered sculptural remains, however the Jaina connection is yet to be established.  The sand stone sculptural specimen depicts Rsabhanatha of the panca-tirthika type. This is the only sand stone Jaina image from the present study area. The panca-tirthika type is rarely found from the Jaina repertoire of south Bihar although it has been found from several Orissan specimens from the tenth century onwards. However, this type with several variations is common in central Indian sites and also in western Bengal (the Radha region). The Ayodhya Jina stands in kayotsarga posture, on a double-petalled lotus placed on a panca-ratha pedestal. At the centre of the pedestal, the bull lanchana is minutely carved along with two crouching lions at both ends of the pedestal. The mula-nayaka is flanked by two male cauri-bearers standing in abhanga posture on their respective pedestals and their left hands are in katyavalambita posture and the right hands hold fly-whisks. They are wearing short almost transparent lower garments and simple ornaments including armlets, wristlets and ekavali. The stele also contains four miniature Jinas standing in kayotsarga posture on double-petalled pedestals, two in either side of the mula-nayaka. The finely carved mula-nayaka bears a svelte figure, a lucid expression and the Yogic or spiritual power is successfully reflected. The arms of the Jina hang down vertically along the stiff torso and the finger tips touch the thigh on either side. He has the usual jatamukuta and kesa-vallari and an elliptical sirascakra embellished with beads and line border devices. Like the earlier image, the kevala-tree is depicted above and on both sides of the sirascakra. The trilinear chatra is present. The sirascakra is flanked on both sides by disembodied hands playing on drums and a Vidyadhara holding long garlands and hovering in the clouds. This drum motif is not frequently found in other Jina images in the study area. The parikara elements are somehow overwhelmed by the sheer three-dimensionality (deep carving) of the mula-nayaka. This difference in relief depth within the same stele has minimized the elevation of the entire image (as is usually seen in some Orissan and central Indian Jaina sculptures of the early medieval period). The organization of space on both sides of the Jina is quite congested. The Rsabhanatha image from Alkadhara is light and svelte in comparison (of course it has a much wider stele and less pronounced parikara elements) to this specimen. We would like to highlight here the fact that the Damodar-Dwarakeswar valley offers diverse forms of Rsabhanatha, each of uncomparable aesthetic value. Another point regarding this image needs to be pointed out. A similar Rsabhanatha image from Pakbirra except for its spartan parikara is stylistically similar to the Ayodhya specimen. It seems that these images were transported from different Jaina sites of eastern India.

Here an attempted has been made to study the detail iconographic features of the Jaina Tirthankara images found from Dharapat and its adjoining villages situated on the Damodar-Dwarakeswar river valley in the Bankura district of West Bengal. Some observations, though tentative have been given below.

Tirthankara Risavanatha, Ajodhya
Tirthankara Risavanatha, Ajodhya

The present region under study had strong Jaina ideological associations from a very early time (at least from the 8th century CE) as evident by the Jaina sculptural as well as architectural specimens. The images under study bear some unique features.  In the nearby we have encountered some more Jaina images but most of the images are portable except for the two images from Dharapat. The massive images of Dharapat were probably enshrined in temples.

Generally, the Jina images are bereft of individual character and the almost geometrical rendering of the mulanayaka is almost an absolute feature. The Jinas are usually less masculine types with narrow, round shoulders compared to the extremely broad shouldered Jina images of south India. The most conspicuous feature of the Jina figures is the emphasis placed on the vertical, accentuated by the slim figures, flatter chests, arms that are almost completely straight and the thickness of the legs hardly decreases towards the feet so that the sides are almost parallel. The cauri-bearers are comparatively not that effeminate. The majority of the cauri-bearers as evident from Purulia were similarly fashioned unlike the Central Indian (especially at Deogarh) prototypes which have slim bodies. The ornaments, garments and foliate ornamentations in the compositions of the present study area lack finesse and are not that elaborate as evident from south and central Indian specimens. The throne-blankets and the cushions are absent here.

The search for the spread of the Jaina ideology in the present study area could be explained in different ways. Archaeologically, this issue may be resolved if we consider the earliest Jaina settlements bearing shrines and rock-cut sculptural evidence found at the Kuluha hill (in the district of Hazaribagh, 6 miles southwest of Hunterganj), located between Rajgir and the present study area. We also have to take into consideration the Jaina remains from Rajgir and Pareshnath in the same hilly complex. The present study area is actually an extension of the geo-physical niche bearing the Rajgir, Kuluha and Pareshnath complex. Therefore, the spread of the Jaina ideology can be visualized from Kuluha to the adjoining upper reaches of the Damodar-Barakar-Ajay valleys. Referring to our earlier observation on the unique geo-cultural status of the Chhotanagpur plateau and its peripherals we may surmise that glimpses of settlement in the form of rock paintings and occurrence of microliths (probably used by Mesolithic survivors) in the Kuluha hill complex gradually extended to the early BRW associated settlements along the river Damodar (as witnessed at Katrasgarh in the upper reaches of the Damodar and Bharatpur in the lower reaches of the Damodar). During the early medieval period, Katrasgarh, Pandra, etc. along the upper reaches of the Damodar also exhibit the ruins of Jaina temples and fragmentary pieces of sculptures. Furthermore, the Barakar-Asansol region also yielded Jaina antiquities, including temple ruins. By the way, this area along the Damodar-Ajay is also known for the distribution of the Saraks/Magis. In this connection, it should be mentioned that Saragdihi, a BRW associated metal using/working site also along the river Damodar is situated between the Kuluha hill and the Vishnupur region. Its remains suggest the spread of Jaina population and the early phase of monumental architectural and sculptural activities.

Stylistically the Jaina sculptural remains from the study area bear unmistakable resemblances with the Rajgir hill sculptures of 6th-8th centuries CE. Some common stylistic features apparent from both the south Bihar and the study region specimens include the characteristic bow-like position of arms in relation to the body, the placid facial expression and the carving of the Jina body especially in the rendering of the waist. The treatment of the bodies is neither flattened nor highly modelled. In spite of betraying similarities, the concerned sculptures in the present study area have a more complicated and elaborate back-slab compared to the simplified ones of the earlier south Bihar specimens. The stylistic spread from Bihar may be due to the expansion of the Brahmanical ideology in Bihar which resulted in the proselytizing movement of the Jaina followers in the areas between the plateau and the extensive plains.

We have earlier mentioned that there were other Jaina associated localities likes Jay Krishnapur, Muninagar, Ayodhya and Penara etc. not far away from Dharapat. Therefore, it may not be unwise to say that this particular village was a part of the overall spread and development of Jaina beliefs and practices in this northeastern part of the district of Bankura. Stylistically, all the sculptures discussed above, are assignable to a period starting from the 10th century CE to the 13th century CE. What is noteworthy is the fact that stylistically, the Jaina deities are of a slender disposition and this form of depiction was especially popular in the Jaina images (datable to 10th-13th centuries CE) found from Purulia and various sites in western Orissa. Jaina images found from other sites of Bankura (including the Kumari-Kansavati valley) are stylistically different from the Jaina images found from the present region.

It may be assumed from all this evidence that the site Dharapat was an important center of Jainism up to the 13th century when it was taken over as a site for Visnu worship which again, yielded place to the worship of Krishna leading to the construction of the present Syamchand temple towards the close to of the 17th or 18th century CE. From the point of view of social history, Dharapat is a very important place in the Bankura district where successive religious cultures thrived and declined over the ages. Look forward to future researches which may consolidate the preliminary thoughts or alter the trajectory of the same.

Published content on Koulal is copyright protected and it’s strictly prohibited to reuse any content or part of it without required permission from the Editor.

 

Facebook Comments

Post Author: Shubha Majumder

Shubha Majumder
Deputy Superintendent Archaeologist of Archaeological Survey of India, Completed his PhD on Jainism in ancient Bengal.

0 thoughts on “Jaina Vestiges of Dharapat, District Bankura, West Bengal

    Avatar

    Tarasankar Banerjee

    (24th June 2018 - 12:00 pm)

    A wonderful research work. A very good initiative to bring out the iconographic features of the Jaina Thirthankara images in detail found in some particular areas which were the important centers of the Jainism. Nicely described the changes and transformations of religious faiths and cultures over the period. Its worth reading. warm regards to the author for this marvelous presentation with justified vision and acceptable analysis. Thanks to the author as well as team Koulal.

    […] read more:Jaina Vestiges of Dharapat, District Bankura, West Bengal […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *