Temples at Arthuna: Architecture from the medieval Vagada region

The historic Vagada region corresponds to the modern geographical areas of southern Rajasthan, especially the Dungarpur and Banswara districts. Several temples are found in this region including a few noteworthy ones such as the Tripura Sundari Temple at Dungarpur, Brahma Temple at Chinch, Sambhavnath Jain Temple at Talwara, Shiva Temple at Paraheda (Panaheda) and Shiv and Jain temples at Arthuna.[1] Of these, Arthuna is situated on the banks of River Mahi and its tributary River Anas in the present-day Banswara district of Rajasthan. The town of Arthuna has several architectural vestiges that boast the region from the medieval period. Most of the temples and tanks were commissioned during the rule of the Paramaras, specifically during the eleventh-twelfth century CE. It once served as a vital political centre of the Paramaras of Vagada. Seven inscriptions of the Paramaras have been found at Arthuna, of which five inscriptions are from the time of Paramara Chamundaraja and two are from the time of Paramara Vijayraja. The inscriptions, which are in Sanskrit language and written using Devanagari script, applaud the Paramaras and mention their genealogies. They also document the construction of temples, consecration of images and donation of lands to Brahmanas. Except for the inscription in the Mandaleshwar Temple, other inscriptions are stored in the Government Museum at Ajmer, Rajasthan.

The ancient names of this town that surface in the historical records of the Paramaras are Utthupanaka, Uthunaka and Arathunaka.[2] For instance, in the inscriptions from the reign of Paramara king Chamundaraja, we find mention of Utthapanaka or Uthunaka as a place name, which has been identified with present-day Arthuna.[3] The little-known Paramara family who ruled Vagada (literally means a forest)[4] were an offshoot of the imperial Paramaras of Malwa, and had their capital at Dhar, situated in the present-day state of Madhya Pradesh. The heydays of their rule were during the eleventh-twelfth century CE. Another important branch of the Paramaras was at Arbuda (Mount Abu) with Chandravati as their political seat, also known as Chandroti, a village near Abu Road in Rajasthan. Legends accord the mythical birth of the Paramaras to a sacred fire at Mount Abu, revered as a place of sanctity. The story narrates how sage Vishvamitra stole a wish-granting cow from sage Vashishtha. Hence, the latter made special offerings to the sacrificial pit, following which a hero re-acquired the cow and earned the name Paramara.[5] There are some variations of this story, but most texts and inscriptions have similar interpretations, including the Arthuna inscription of Chamundaraja.[6]

The lesser-known yet rich architectural heritage at Arthuna consists of eight large temples and temple complexes, as well as several architectural remains, that highlights the historical exuberance of the region. This large corpus of visual art bears testimony to the thriving settlement that the Vagada region witnessed through medieval times. The temples at Arthuna are situated to the east of the modern settlement, dispersed along a natural lake known as the Gamela Talav (natural lake). From the wall remains found to the southeast of all the temple structures, it is evident that Arthuna was a fortified settlement during the medieval period. Though it has been difficult for scholars to demarcate the exact boundaries and extent of this fortification, based on the ancient brick wall revealed during the project on River Mahi, the remaining portions of the ancient fortification have been traced.

Image 1: Map showing all the extant temples of Arthuna which are mostly dispersed along the Gamela Talav.

All the temples within Arthuna are built in stone. While the main fabric of the temple is sandstone the images on the exterior walls of some of the temples, for instance, the Someshwar Mahadev and Kumbheshwar Mahadev temples, are made of a variety of granite stone. The contrast between the yellow sandstone and greenish-black granite gives an interesting colour tone to the temples. The stylistic features of the temples conform to the architectural styles of the Maha-Maru, Maha-Gurjara, and Maru-Gurjara temple architecture. These styles of temple architecture were identified and labelled by an eminent scholar of temple architecture, the Late Prof. M.A. Dhaky, based on the distinct features of the temples. This comprises the ground plan, elevation of the temple, and the decorative motifs on the temple walls. Dhaky opines that Vagada ‘pauses on a trijunction of Malwa, Mewad and Gujarat’, the regions that influenced the aforementioned architectural styles.[7] As a result, artistic influences from all the neighbouring regions have contributed to the architecture in Arthuna. The salient features of select temples are briefly enumerated here.

Mandaleshwar Mahadeva Temple

Locally known as the Mandaleshwar Mahadev ka mandir, the temple is dedicated to Shiva and situated slightly apart from the other temples in the complex, near the bus stand of Arthuna village. With an inscription that mentions the patronization of the temple during the reign of Paramara King Chamundaraja, this is one of few temples in Arthuna that has a laudatory epigraphical record in its name. At first glance, it might appear as a lone standing temple, but a closer look reveals that the high jagati (raised platform) on which the temple stands today likely had ancillary structures as well. Since these structures are preserved only in the form of foundation walls, it is difficult to ascertain if they are contemporary to the main temple. The temple is oriented to the east. The plan consists of a garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), antarala (antechamber), sabhamandapa (semi-open hall) with lateral transepts, and a mukhamandapa (porch). The saptaratha mulaprasada (temple proper exterior with seven projections on each side) has projections and recesses in the form of bhadras (principal projection), karnas (corner projection) and nandikas (intermediate projection). The base of the temple has various mouldings like the graaspatti (band of kirtimukhas), kumbha (pitcher) and kani (conical-shaped moulding), all of which are simple in design and not ornate. The exterior walls of the temple have images only in the three principal niches facing the cardinal directions. The Natesha in the west-facing wall, Chamunda in the north-facing niche and Andhakasuravadha image in the south-facing wall. The other projections on the walls are carved with geometric designs while the recesses are adorned with kutasthambhas, which are motifs of small miniature models of temple spires surmounted on pilasters. This is a notable feature of the temple, frequently occurring in temples of the Malwa region, however, not commonly seen within temples in Arthuna. The original shikhara (spire) of the temple has been lost. Composed of stone, it must have been of the multi-spired shekhari variety.

The temple interior is also relatively plain. One of the most interesting aspects is the depiction of the sutradhara on the pillar shaft of the sabhamandapa. Sutradharas were architects who designed and supervised the construction of a temple. The image here is shown holding a yardstick and hence has been identified as probably of the architect who was instrumental in building the temple. The ceiling of the temple is made up of concentric circles. The garbhagriha enshrines an image of a Goddess, presumably an image of Parvati.

The dating of the temple is crucial not just for this structure but also for several other temples within Arthuna. There is a eulogy inscription within the temple which states that the foundation of this Shiva Temple was laid by Paramara Vagada King Chamundaraja, under the name Mandalesha in the year 1080 CE.[8] Scholars have debated about the contemporaneity of the temple and the inscription, but largely agree upon the date as late eleventh century CE for the temple.[9]

As aforementioned, in the present settlement, the Mandaleshwar Mahadev Temple is slightly isolated from other temples of Arthuna. We shall now discuss the other temples in order of their appearance starting from the Hanuman Garhi Temple complex, which is the largest within Arthuna.

Image 2: North facing elevation of the Mandaleshwar Mahadev Temple which has the main temple body built in stone and the shikhara in brick.
Image 2: North facing elevation of the Mandaleshwar Mahadev Temple which has the main temple body built in stone and the shikhara in brick.

Hanuman Garhi Temple Complex

The Hanuman Garhi Temple complex is the largest, most vibrant and highly visited temple complex within Arthuna. The complex acquires its name from a colossal Hanuman statue enshrined here, dating to 1107 CE during Paramara King Vijayaraja’s rule in Vagada.[10]

The architecture of the complex is characterized by two large temples, Neelkanth Mahadev Temple and Kumbheshwar Temple, Hanuman Temple, over a dozen smaller shrines, a Surya Kund (water tank) and numerous architectural and sculptural remains all placed within the ancient prakara (compound wall). There is an entrance gateway to the west of almost all the temples. The loftiest is the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, drawing several affinities with other Shaiva shrines within Arthuna like the Someshwar Mahadev and Kumbheshwar Mahadev temples. The main temple consists of a saptaratha mulaprasada, antarala and a sabhamandapa. The distinctive feature of this mandapa (hall) is the kakshasana (balcony-like feature with low seatbacks) with dwarf walls containing ornamentation and figural depictions on the exterior. All the projections and offsets of the temple walls are plain. Among the images in the principal niches, only the Lakulisha image in the southern niche is still in place. The garbhagriha of this temple is at a lower level than the mandapa, which is at a surface level.

Next to this temple, stands the dilapidated Kumbheshwar Temple, homonymous with another temple complex within Arthuna, locally known as Mataji ka mandir. The temple is in a state of ruin and has lost several of its components including the ceiling of the mandapa. The main shrine must have been surmounted with a phamsana (pyramidical) shikhara. Further north, there are several smaller memorial shrines and the relatively recently built Hanuman Temple. Though the enshrined image is old, the temple is a crude construction. In front of this temple, there is a huge Shivalinga placed inside one of the ruined temples, that attracts several devotees on a regular basis. While these constitute one side of the Hanuman Garhi Temple complex, the other side has numerous temple foundations alongside the Surya Kund. One of the temples on the northern flank of the Kund is an interesting shrine, locally known as the Kanphada Sadhu ka mandir, attributed to a Shaiva saint or acharya as per local descriptions. It consists of a garbhagriha, antarala and mandapa on plan, with a shekhari-variety shikhara on the main shrine.

The other half is dotted with three small temples built in the phamasana shikhara style. One of these temples, which is oriented to the west, is beautifully crafted with images on the exterior walls. It houses Chamunda, Natesha and Lakulisha in its three principal niches, coupled with dikpalas (gods of the cardinal directions) and apsaras (celestial damsels) on subsidiary projections and recesses.

Image 3: An overview of the Hanuman Garhi Temple complex from the eastern side. Seen here (from left to right) are many Shiva temples, behind it is the Hanuman Temple with a flag, Kumbheshwar Temple and Neelkhanth Mahadev Temple with the Surya Kund in front of it.
Image 3: An overview of the Hanuman Garhi Temple complex from the eastern side. Seen here (from left to right) are many Shiva temples, behind it is the Hanuman Temple with a flag, Kumbheshwar Temple and Neelkhanth Mahadev Temple with the Surya Kund in front of it.

Someshwar Mahadev Temple

As we move out of the Hanuman Garhi complex, towards the agricultural fields to its southeast, we encounter several individual temples and temple complexes.

Situated along the Gamela Talav, the Someshwar Mahadev Temple complex has a picturesque and beautiful setting. The temple complex is a panchayatana, meaning that the main shrine is surrounded by four sub-shrines, all standing on a high raised platform. This elevated jagati has several well-crafted mouldings and makara pranala (water chute) to release the water from the garbhagriha. On the platform, remnants of toranas (arched gateway or entrance), serving as entrance gateways on the northern and eastern sides of the temple, are preserved only in the form of pillar bases today. Although the temple proper has a simple, sparsely decorated plinth, the wall is profusely decorated. The plinth follows a pattern similar to the Mandaleshwar Mahadeva Temple. The entire wall projections, built in schist stone, are adorned with imagery of gods, goddesses, apsaras and ascetics. These include Shaiva images inside principal niches–Natesha, Andhakasuravadh, Chamunda and dikpalas representing the cardinal deities–Indra, Agni, Nritti, Vayu, Kuber, and Ishana. The temple possesses a shekhari-variety shikhara, a preferred type within the temples at Arthuna. While this shikhara is only partially preserved, the one that must have been atop the sabhamandapa is completely lost, only to be replaced sometime later by a crudely made dome. There was likely a samvarna (pyramidical type of superstructure or spire) type of shikhara on the mandapa, a feature also seen on the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple within the Hanuman Garhi Temple complex.

Among the subsidiary shrines of this temple complex, only the shrines on the northeast and southeast have survived. Faint traces of the plinth remain in the northwestern and southwestern shrines, speculated to be identical to the two other surviving shrines. All four shrines share an identical ground plan, architectural language of the mouldings, and treatment of wall surfaces on the exterior and the interior. Notables are the icons on the exterior walls of the temple, featuring the Vamana-Trivikrama avatar of Vishnu, Narasimha and Surya, unlike the more common Shaiva imagery. The depiction of dikpalas, ascetics and apsaras, as seen in the main temple, continues. In a panchayatana system, the main shrine is usually surrounded by shrines of other deities like Vishnu, Surya, Dev and Ganesh.

There is no direct inscription record to date the temple but based on stylistic comparisons, it can be dated to the twelfth century CE.

Image 4: View of the Someshwar Mahadev Temple from the western side, with the Gamela Talav situated to its north. The Kumbheshwar Mahadev Temple is faintly discernible in the background.
Image 4: View of the Someshwar Mahadev Temple from the western side, with the Gamela Talav situated to its north. The Kumbheshwar Mahadev Temple is faintly discernible in the background.

Kumbheshwar Mahadeva Temple

Adjacent to the Someshwar Mahadev Temple, a short distance along the route flanking the Gamela Talav, stands the Kumbheshwar Mahadev Temple. These two temples are positioned facing each other. This structure also stands on an elevated platform, accessible via steps on two sides to reach the main temple situated at its centre. The main Shiva Temple orients to the west and like the Someshwar Mahadev Temple, adopts a panchayatana style shrine, albeit in a more dilapidated state. Despite variations in their preservation, the similarity in their architectural patterns aids in conjecturing the missing elements in the temple structure of Kumbheshwar.

The four sub-shrines which must have once stood on the corners of the plinth are completely lost, barring traces of their plinth that help in speculating their form. The main temple shares similarities with the Someshwar Mahadev Temple in terms of its plinth mouldings, wall decorations, and imagery. This temple is still currently in use for worship. It is said that an epigraph was dedicated to the temple, however, it cannot be located now.[11] The stylistic comparisons affix it to the twelfth century CE.

Image 5: South elevation of the Kumbheshwar Mahadev Temple. The shikhara above the main shrine has only one tier remnant whereas the shikhara above the mandapa has been replaced by a crude dome.
Image 5: South elevation of the Kumbheshwar Mahadev Temple. The shikhara above the main shrine has only one tier remnant whereas the shikhara above the mandapa has been replaced by a crude dome.

Shiva Temple

On the same road as the above-discussed temples, we encounter another temple, which is locally known as the Shiva Temple. The pattern of building the temples on a high-raised platform has been followed here as well, however, there are not enough traces remaining to substantiate the prevalence of a panchayatana temple. The temple was largely buried under overgrown debris, revealed only after the clearance work undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the past century.

Oriented to the east, the main components of the temple - garbhagriha, antarala, sabhamandapa, and mukhamandapa - mirror the Someshwar and Kumbheshwar Mahadev temples. The conventional mouldings, shaiva imagery in the principal niches of the mulaprasada (main temple), the ceilings of the mandapa, and the shikharas are also similar. The shekhari-variety shikhara on the garbhagriha and the samvarna type of shikhara on the mandapa have both undergone significant renovation. But the restorations have been done using the original material and hence both the superstructures appear to be well preserved. The niches at the base of the shekhari shikhara contain images of Digambar Shiva, Shiva flanked by Vishnu and Brahma and Lakulisha on the south, west, and north elevations. The images of Lakulisha are not uncommon in Arthuna, asserting the strong presence of the Pashupata Shaiva sect in this region. The Late Prof. M.A. Dhaky argued that Pashupata Shaivism proliferated in Rajasthan between the tenth and twelfth century CE. Stylistically, the Shiva Temple becomes another edifice whose period of building can be dated back to the twelfth century CE.

Image 6: South elevation of the Shiva Temple featuring a mandapa with lateral transepts common in Arthuna temples. There are restorations done to the main shekhari shikhara of the temple. The shikhara above the mandapa can be used as an analogy to understand the mandapa shikharas of other temples in Arthuna.

Jain Temple

The Jain Temple complex is situated to the south of the Someshwar and Kumbheshwar Mahadev Temple complexes. Speculating from the extensive remains and layout, the Jain Temple must have been a large complex originally. Similar to other temples in Arthuna, this temple is also built on a raised platform, accessed via a flight of steps on the north side. In the case of a Jinalaya, i.e., a Jain temple, the main shrine is called a jinaprasada. This main temple is surrounded by plinths on its three sides which support small shrines or devakulikas. Square in design, only a couple of such small shrines remain today, but they likely surrounded the main temple in the past, functioning as small shrines to enshrine deities or as places of worship for ascetics and monks.

The main temple is of a pancharatha variety, i.e., each exterior wall of the mulaprasada possesses five projections. The plinth that supports the jangha (exterior wall) consists of conventional mouldings of khura, kumbha, and kalasha with sharp shapes and edges but minimal embellishments. The recessed and projected jangha surfaces contain various images. The principal niches are empty today; however, other projections have dikpalas, complemented with the images of apsaras and ascetics. The shekhari-shikhara is preserved with corner aedicules known as pratyangas, while the main central spire is lost. Interestingly, the niches at each side of the shikhara’s base contain images of goddesses Lakshmi, Chakreshvari and Brahmani on the east, south and west sides respectively. This is a distinctive feature of the temple. The door jamb of the interior of the shrine has an image of a Jina, making it clear that the temple was once dedicated to Jain worship. The interiors of the mandapa and the garbhagriha are not easily accessible owing to heavy bat infestation.

To the west of the main temple, there are several remains of many other shrines which might have been part of a larger complex. Most parts of the superstructure are dilapidated, with dismantled portions visible in the vicinity of the temple. The only noteworthy remains are the mutilated colossal images of Jina as such free-standing Jina images are not commonly seen. Similar or bigger than this, is a Jain Tirthankara image from the Alwar district, in the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple complex. The inscriptions at the base of the free-standing statues ascribe it to the sixteenth century CE. Based on the re-modelling of the interiors of the temple, scholars argue that the extant temple, the original construction of which can be placed in the twelfth century CE, also went through restorations in the fifteenth-sixteenth century CE.[12]

Image 7: View of the Jain Temple remains from the west facing elevation. Surrounding the main temple are plinths of devakulikas which have not survived.

Chaunsath Yogini Temple

Another important temple in Arthuna is the Chaunsath Yogini Temple, located a bit further from the Jain Temple. Although in a ruinous state, it stands out as one of the most exquisite temples at the site. With regard to ground plan and elevation, the Chaunsath Yogini Temple follows the convention of most other temples in Arthuna. It stands on a jagati consisting of a garbhagriha, mandapa, and a mukhamandapa. While the garbhagriha, enveloped by a bejewelled exterior wall, has survived, a considerable portion of the mandapa is lost. From what remains in the form of plinth traces and masonry ruins, the conjectural plan of the temple is discernible. Quite different from other temples in Arthuna is the vedibandha of the temple, which consists of finely carved mouldings like gajathara (a band of elephants), narathara (a band of human figures), kumbha and kalasha. The gajathara and narathara mouldings are unique to this temple in Arthuna. Although the kumbha and kalasha mouldings are found in other temples like Someshwar and Kumbheshwar Mahadev, the surface treatment of these mouldings in the Chaunsath Yogini Temple is distinct.

The three principal niches facing the cardinal directions on the exterior walls of this temple are empty. But the images on subsidiary projections, including those at the base of the shikhara and on the kumbha moulding of the vedibandha, indicate that the temple was dedicated to Goddess worship. This is the only temple in Arthuna which exhibits a shakta affiliation, all other temples are Shaiva or Jain.

Other Architectural Remains within Arthuna

Apart from the temples discussed above, there are ruins of many other temples scattered around the lake. In the case of some ruinous structures, the plinths have survived which have been demarcated within enclosure walls by the ASI. Such ruinous plinths are next to the Someshwar Mahadev Temple, Shiva Temple and the Hanuman Garhi Temple. The plinth remains near the Hanuman Garhi Temple complex stylistically align with other temple architecture patterns at Arthuna. These remains testify the presence of many other temples which have been lost with time.

Nestled in a small village and testimony of the rules of a relatively smaller dynasty, the temples of Arthuna are an important historical record of the region and a marker of architectural exuberance. However, it lacks the deserved attention both in academic and popular discussions. For better preservation of the ruins and a nuanced understanding of their art-architectural merit, the edifices at Arthuna need to be visited, studied and discussed in greater detail.


Footnotes:

[1] Pal, The Temples of Rajasthan, 59–61.

[2] Singh, ‘Interpreting the History of the Paramāras,’ 13–14.

[3] Trivedi, Inscriptions of the Paramāras, Chandēllas, Kachchapaghātas, and Two Minor Dynasties, 289.

[4] Trivedi, Art Traditions of the Paramaras of Vagada, 1.

[5] Mehta, Political History of Gujarat C.A.D 750-950, 138–43.

[6] Trivedi, 288–89.

[7] Dhaky, ‘Renaissance and the Late Maru-Gurjara Temple Architecture,’ 8.

[8] Kielhorn, ‘Miscelleanea-A short account of six unpublished inscriptions,’ 80–81.

[9] Trivedi, Art Traditions of the Paramaras of Vagada, 39.

[10] Trivedi, Inscriptions of the Paramāras, Chandēllas, Kachchapaghātas, and Two Minor Dynasties, 309–11.

[11] Trivedi, Art Traditions of the Paramaras of Vagada, 134.

[12] Trivedi, Art Traditions of the Paramaras, 71.

Bibliography:

Dhaky, M.A. ‘Renaissance and the Late Maru-Gurjara Temple Architecture.’ Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Special Number, Western Indian Art (1965-66), 1966, 4–22.

Kielhorn, F. ‘Miscelleanea-A short account of six unpublished inscriptions.’ Edited by Richard Carnac Temple. Oriental Research Institute Bombay, The Indian Antiquary A Journal of Oriental Research, no. XXII (1893): 80–81.

Mehta, Shobhana K. Political History of Gujarat C.A.D 750-950. University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (United Kingdom), 1961.

Pal, Hamendar Bhisham. The Temples of Rajasthan. Prakash Publishers, 1969.

Singh, Arvind K. ‘Interpreting the History of the Paramāras’. In Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 22, no. 1 (2012): 13–28.

Trivedi, H. V. Inscriptions of the Paramāras, Chandēllas, Kachchapaghātas, and Two Minor Dynasties. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. Archaeological Survey of India, 1900.

Trivedi, P. K. Art Traditions of the Paramaras of Vagada. Jaipur Publication Scheme, 1995.