Shiva Temple at Charchoma: What remains of a Gupta period temple

Charchoma Shiva Temple (Image 1) is situated in the village of Charchoma Maliya in the Kota district of the state of Rajasthan. The temple is a National Protected Monument that falls under jurisdiction of the Jaipur Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The temple’s oldest surviving features trace its historical origins back to the late Gupta period, around the 7th century CE, showcasing regional variations of the Gupta style. Renovated in the 19th century, the temple now presents a simple appearance with minimal decoration. Nonetheless, some parts of the temple retain original artwork, reflecting the aesthetics of the Gupta period. Notably, the Charchoma Shiva Temple has two significant inscriptions in late Gupta Brahmi letters, confirming its foundation around the time.

Image 1: Southeast view of the mulaprasada (main temple). Comprising a mandapa (hall), antarala (vestibule or antechamber), and a garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) on its plan, the temple has a simple elevation with minimal decoration. Outside the main temple, there is a yajnakund for performing yajna and havan (fire rituals).
Image 1: Southeast view of the mulaprasada (main temple). Comprising a mandapa (hall), antarala (vestibule or antechamber), and a garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) on its plan, the temple has a simple elevation with minimal decoration. Outside the main temple, there is a yajnakund for performing yajna and havan (fire rituals).

The temple is situated atop an elevated area accessible via a set of stairs. The pathway leading to the platform is flanked by stone platforms or benches on three different levels on both sides, providing a sitting place for the devotees. Close to the mulaprasada (main temple), there are two other raised areas or stone platforms where sculptures of deities and engraved stone steles are placed. To the northeast of the main temple stands a smaller stone platform, which has a deity covered in vermilion placed under a tree. In front of the main temple, a larger platform encircles a tree and features sculptures of Ganesh (covered in vermilion), a Goddess, and a Nandi (Image 2). Another Nandi figure, bigger in size, is placed directly in front of the temple.

Image 2: In front of the entrance to the mulaprasada (main temple) inside the complex, there is a platform with ancient stone sculptures of a goddess (probably Parvati), Ganesha (covered in vermilion) and a small Nandi. Another Nandi figure, bigger in size, is placed directly in front of the temple.
Image 2: In front of the entrance to the mulaprasada (main temple) inside the complex, there is a platform with ancient stone sculptures of a goddess (probably Parvati), Ganesha (covered in vermilion) and a small Nandi. Another Nandi figure, bigger in size, is placed directly in front of the temple.

The main Shiva Temple is located at the centre of the elevated top and faces east. It has a mandapa (pillared hall), antarala (vestibule) and a garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) on its plan (Image 3). The vertical elevation of the temple shows base mouldings, jangha (wall proper) and shikhara (superstructure).

Image 3: View of the mulaprasada (main temple) from the southwest. The garbhagriha, unlike the mandapa exterior, shows some decoration on its façade. The garbhagriha stands on base mouldings with jaali (checkered) windows and chaitya arches. It has a simple latina-type shikhara (spire) with niches topped by udgama pediments (pediments with interconnected chaitya dormers) which look like miniature shikaras. At the apex, an amalaka is placed topped by bijapuraka (citron fruit).
Image 3: View of the mulaprasada (main temple) from the southwest. The garbhagriha, unlike the mandapa exterior, shows some decoration on its façade. The garbhagriha stands on base mouldings with jaali (checkered) windows and chaitya arches. It has a simple latina-type shikhara (spire) with niches topped by udgama pediments (pediments with interconnected chaitya dormers) which look like miniature shikaras. At the apex, an amalaka is placed topped by bijapuraka (citron fruit).

The garbhagriha of the temple is a small, simple and plain structure from the inside. The only decoration visible is at the entrance of this space: the T-shaped doorframe (Image 4) which has multiple decorated shakhas (vertical mouldings on the door jamb). The bottom of the shakha depicts the river Goddess Ganga and Yamuna which are presently in a bad state of preservation. The river Goddess depicted on the proper left is shown standing, with one hand placed on her waist and the other (withered) that seems like it is raised upward. Her uplifted hand might have been there for carrying a water pot. She has an elaborate headdress and is adorned with beautiful necklaces, circular earrings and bangles. Her lower garment is translucent, and she carries a scarf around her arms. Her lower body is damaged completely beneath her knees and along with her chin. A dwarf attendant can be seen on her side, holding a parasol above her head. Such representation of river goddesses was a motif that emerged from the Gupta period onwards. The depiction of this Goddess bears resemblance to the terracotta river Goddess of Ahichhatra, currently housed in the National Museum.

Above the river Goddess, a makara is depicted, facing upward and four shakhas are carved above it. The shakhas on the internal sides depict a seated dwarf figure holding a creeper emerging from his navel (Image 4). The undulating creeper is beautifully moving upward, enhancing the aesthetic appeal of this shakha. The next shakha is decorated with different floral patterns, while the third shakha is embellished with leaf motifs. The fourth shakha is adorned with rosettes.

Image 4: The garbhagriha, or inner sanctum, of the temple, is a small and dimly lit chamber currently housing a sculpture of the Goddess Adi Shakti. The only decoration visible is at the entrance of this space: the T-shaped doorframe which has multiple decorated shakhas (vertical mouldings on the door jamb). The bottom of the shakha depicts the river Goddess Ganga and Yamuna which are presently in a bad state of preservation.
Image 4: The garbhagriha, or inner sanctum, of the temple, is a small and dimly lit chamber currently housing a sculpture of the Goddess Adi Shakti. The only decoration visible is at the entrance of this space: the T-shaped doorframe which has multiple decorated shakhas (vertical mouldings on the door jamb). The bottom of the shakha depicts the river Goddess Ganga and Yamuna which are presently in a bad state of preservation.

The last shakha, positioned at the extreme end, depicts an elaborate kirtimukha (face of glory). Above the kirtimukha, a dvarapala (attendant) is shown standing, holding his weapon (Image 4). His one hand is placed on his waist, while the other grips a spear. He has heavy, open jatas (twisted locks of hair) and is shown wearing a lower garment, with a robe draped around his arms. Above the dvarapala, the shakha is decorated with dwarf figures who are shown dancing and playing musical instruments such as flute, bean, and drum. These stout dwarf figures, with beautiful and thick curly hair are shown wearing a dhoti, carrying a scarf around their arms.

The lalatabimba (lintel) of the door depicts a mukhalinga (linga with a face) carved with a head placed on a pedestal (Image 4). The face has arched eyebrows, two beautiful eyes, a broad nose, and defined lips. A third eye is on the forehead, and one can notice the heavy jatas. Flanking the linga, two devotees sit with folded hands, a gesture demonstrating respect and homage. Next to these devotees, maladharas (garland bearers) are depicted in slight, holding garlands for the deity.

Above the lalatabimba, several decorative mouldings adorn the structure. The first moulding above the lalatabimba is decorated with a floral motif. The second moulding above that, appears to be decorated with dentils, but upon closer examination, numerous kirtimukhas are revealed, carved in a manner resembling dentils. Four additional mouldings sit above it, with two chaitya arches carved one above the other at the centre of these mouldings.

The doorframe of the temple reflects the exquisite characteristics of the Gupta period. Its T-shape of the doorframe, presence of river goddesses, dvarapalas, elaborate kirtimukhas, and the intricate decoration of shakhas with various floral motifs and figures, mirrors architectural elements found in other famous Gupta temples of Madhya Pradesh and surrounding regions. Examples include the Parvati Temple at Nachna Kuthara, Shiva Temple at Bhumara, and even at the Dashavtar Temple at Deograh. The presence of a mukhalinga on the lalatabimba indicates that the temple was dedicated to Shiva. Although the doorframe of Charchoma Shiva Temple is beautifully adorned, it is damaged and faded in many places, hindering the visibility of its intricate features.

The garbhagriha, or inner sanctum, of the temple is a small and dimly lit chamber. It is noteworthy that while the temple is revered as a Shiva Temple featuring a mukhalinga on the lalatabimba, the current deity housed in the garbhagriha is a sculpture of the Goddess Adi Shakti (Image 4). The Goddess sculpture is actively worshipped and adorned with clothing, obscuring the attributes of the Goddess. However, a metal trident is prominently installed near the sculpture.

What stands out is that the sculpture of Adi Shakti is positioned at the centre of a projection within the garbhagriha, which depicts male figures, standing and holding a stem of the creeper emerging from their navels. Above the Goddess’s head, one can observe similar decoration of dentils and chaitya arches as seen in the doorframe of the garbhagriha.

Outside the garbhagriha lies an antarala, connecting it to the mandapa. The rectangular plain passage or antechamber has four pillars and two pilasters. The pillars have a square bottom and a circular upper shaft. The pillars are carved with half lotuses at the middle portion of the shaft on all four sides which is the only decorative motif visible on the pillars. The pilasters are carved with bands decorated with leaves and various floral motifs. The central and upper portions of the pilasters are decorated similarly to the pillars, featuring full-blown lotuses.

On one of the pillars within the antarala, there is an inscription carved below the half lotus. This twelve-line inscription is believed to be in the late Gupta Brahmi script, with Sanskrit being the language used. (Image 5) Unfortunately, the surface of the pillar has deteriorated over time, impacting the legibility of the carved letters. The last three lines exhibit a different style and lettering compared to the upper part of the inscription. According to Ratanlal Mishra, the first three lines of the inscription discuss the Shiva linga and the temple.[1]

Image 5: The pillar on the north end of the antarala has an inscription in Brahmi script with Gupta letters playing an important role in dating the foundation of the temple. The inscription is carved below a full-blown lotus. However, the surface of the pillar has deteriorated and the letters are not clear, making it difficult to discern the meaning of the inscription. Nevertheless, one can observe that the inscription comprises twelve lines. The last three lines appear distinct in their letters and style compared to the upper part of the inscription. The first three lines of the inscription discuss the Shiva linga and the temple.
Image 5: The pillar on the north end of the antarala has an inscription in Brahmi script with Gupta letters playing an important role in dating the foundation of the temple. The inscription is carved below a full-blown lotus. However, the surface of the pillar has deteriorated and the letters are not clear, making it difficult to discern the meaning of the inscription. Nevertheless, one can observe that the inscription comprises twelve lines. The last three lines appear distinct in their letters and style compared to the upper part of the inscription. The first three lines of the inscription discuss the Shiva linga and the temple.

The mandapa of the temple (Image 6) is a rectangular hall accessed through a T-shaped entrance. The doorframe of the entrance is carved with beautiful floral designs and undulating creepers which are now wither-worn and visible only upon close observation. The udumbara (threshold) is decorated with lotus medallions and animal figures, while the uttaranga has dentils which resemble wooden architecture.

Image 6: The mandapa (pillared hall) in the Shiva Temple of Charchoma is a rectangular hall featuring a stone platform at its centre. Four pillars stand at each corner of the platform, presently covered with decorated cloth pieces. The pillars are topped with brackets supporting the ceiling which follows the trabeated system of constructions.
Image 6: The mandapa (pillared hall) in the Shiva Temple of Charchoma is a rectangular hall featuring a stone platform at its centre. Four pillars stand at each corner of the platform, presently covered with decorated cloth pieces. The pillars are topped with brackets supporting the ceiling which follows the trabeated system of constructions.

At the entrance, flanking the doorframe, stand two pillars, one on each side. These pillars are carved, featuring a square base that transitions into a hexagon and then circular shaft adorned with a cushion-like design, serving as the base for brackets. There is an inscription outside the mandapa which discusses a pushpa vatika (groove or garden) where various trees, creepers, and flowers bloom. Among the trees mentioned are the Vakul tree, Priyangu creeper, Jalnaga or the Varuna tree, Katuka, Hingu, and Dhoopal.[2]

Inside the mandapa, there is a stone platform on which a huge Chaturmukha linga (Image 6) is placed. There are four pillars positioned at the four corners of the platform. These pillars are square at the base, transitioning into a hexagonal shape in the middle, and becoming circular at the top. The pillars are topped with brackets, which support the ceiling of the mandapa, following the trabeated system.

As suggested by the term chaturmukha, the linga has four faces, each facing one of the four cardinal directions. It is black in colour. According to popular lore, the Chaturmukha linga represents Shiva, Parvati, Brahma, and Vishnu (Image 7). The face facing east (entrance gate) is of Shiva, adorned with a heavy jatabhara (braided hairdo) atop his head. The south face of the linga has a heavy jatamukuta (matted crown) on its head and hairlocks cascading down to the shoulders. The west face (rear) also has a jatamukuta, albeit carved slightly differently from the other three. The north face has snail-shaped curls culminating in a jatamukuta. The deity is adorned with a beautiful necklace. The sringara (attributes) of all the four faces of the Chaturmukha linga are done differently.

Image 7: A Chaturmukha linga is placed on top of the stone platform in the mandapa. As per the literal meaning of the term Chaturmukha, the linga has four faces, each facing a cardinal direction. The linga is made of a black stone and is worshipped as the primary deity by the locals. According to popular lore, the Chaturmukha linga represents Shiva, Parvati, Brahma, and Vishnu. The mukha facing the east (entrance gate) is of Shiva with a heavy jatabhara (braided hairdo) on the head. The south face of the linga has a heavy jatamukuta (matted crown) on its head and hairlocks cascading down to the shoulders. The west face (rear) also has a jatamukuta, albeit carved slightly differently from the other three. The north face has snail-shaped curls culminating in a jatamukuta.
Image 7: A Chaturmukha linga is placed on top of the stone platform in the mandapa. As per the literal meaning of the term Chaturmukha, the linga has four faces, each facing a cardinal direction. The linga is made of a black stone and is worshipped as the primary deity by the locals. According to popular lore, the Chaturmukha linga represents Shiva, Parvati, Brahma, and Vishnu. The mukha facing the east (entrance gate) is of Shiva with a heavy jatabhara (braided hairdo) on the head. The south face of the linga has a heavy jatamukuta (matted crown) on its head and hairlocks cascading down to the shoulders. The west face (rear) also has a jatamukuta, albeit carved slightly differently from the other three. The north face has snail-shaped curls culminating in a jatamukuta.

Contrary to the interior of the temple, the exterior is characterized by simplicity and plainness, with only a few decorative elements. The garbhagriha is a small square structure which stands on plain base mouldings. The jangha is divided into two registers by a moulding (Image 3). The lower register is entirely plain, while the upper register features a broad floral band running across the walls. The walls on the north and south sides have checkered windows which are topped by double chaitya arches. The rear wall lacks windows but it is adorned by two Chaitya arches placed next to each other, just above the floral band, serving as decorative elements.

The double chaitya arch on the southern side features a depiction of Kartikeya in the lower arch (Image 8). A close study of the sculpture shows the attributes of the deity who is shown seated on a peacock and holding a spear. The presence of the vahana (vehicle) and weapon unmistakably identifies the figure as Kartikeya, the son of Shiva, to whom the temple was originally dedicated. The depiction of Kartikeya in the arch exhibits a style typical of the Gupta period. This frontal representation of the God of war with his attributes was the standard iconography of Kartikeya during Gupta period. Notably, depictions of Kartikeya were not only found in sculptural art of that period but also appeared on the gold coins of Kumar Gupta.

Image 8: The double chaitya arch on the southern side shows Kartikeya in the lower arch. He is shown seated on a peacock, holding a spear.
Image 8: The double chaitya arch on the southern side shows Kartikeya in the lower arch. He is shown seated on a peacock, holding a spear.

The north wall of the garbhagriha depicts a bust of a deity in the lower chaitya arch. This bust looks similar to the one found on the lalatabimba of the garbhagriha doorjamb. It is placed on a pedestal, which could be a yonipatta (the base slab of a Linga is designed as a womb or yoni), suggesting that the bust might be a mukhalinga (Image 9). However, due to the thick plaster and colour coating, the details of the bust are not clear, although it appears that the deity has a jatabhara on his head. Additionally, two flying celestial beings are shown on each side of the mukhalinga. The upper chaitya arches on both sides show kirtimukha peering out of the arches, with another kirtimukha at the apex.

Image 9: The side walls of the garbhagriha have windows which are topped by double chaitya arches. The lower chaitya arch depicts the bust of a deity flanked by two celestial beings. The upper chaitya arch shows a grassamukha.
Image 9: The side walls of the garbhagriha have windows which are topped by double chaitya arches. The lower chaitya arch depicts the bust of a deity flanked by two celestial beings. The upper chaitya arch shows a grassamukha.

Above the jangha, varandika (moulded parapet; an elevated set of mouldings separating the wall and superstructure) is placed, consisting of various kinds of mouldings: kapotapalika (cyma eve cornice), antarapatta (recessed face between projecting moulding), another moulding, and kapotapalika. The anatarapatta has projected square panels carved with the four-petalled flowers. The space in between depicts a triangular space filled with floral designs. On these mouldings, a plain latina shikhara (North Indian mono-spired superstructure with curvilinear vertical bands) is placed. The shikhara is devoid of any ornamentation and figures, but one can notice the presence of niches topped by an udgama pediment on all three sides. At the apex, an amalaka (crowning member of the latina shikhara) is placed topped by a bijapuraka (fruit of citron).

The mandapa is a flat-roofed structure with a plain, simple base, adorned only with a single decorative band at the top. The walls are also plain but have an extended chhajja (eave) supported by brackets, which is the only decoration. At the upper section of the wall, projected spouts are installed at intervals to let air and light inside the mandapa.

There are structures outside the temple complex. A stone platform is on the left side of the steps which leads to the temple complex. This platform has Shiva lingas and a Nandi which are worshipped regularly. There are a few other sculptures of gods and goddesses which are placed on the same platform.

Outside the temple, is a water tank with a tall platform at its centre. This structure has chhattris on its four corners, adding to the beauty of the tank. These chhatris, made of sandstone, consist of a square platform and four pillars, topped with chhajja (eves) and a dome. The domical roof of the chhatris suggests that they may be a later addition.

The Charchoma Shiva Temple is an important site for understanding the regional variation of the late Gupta style. Over time, the temple underwent modifications resulting in the present structure of the temple site. These modifications serve as pieces of evidence of the temple’s enduring relevance since its foundation in the late Gupta period. Today, despite being an ASI protected site, the Shiva Temple continues to be revered and draws numerous worshippers from the surrounding regions. It is also believed that the village Charchoma derived its name from the Chaturmukha linga housed within the temple.


Footnotes:

[1] Mishra, Inscriptions of Rajasthan, vol. IV, 14.

[2] Mishra, Inscriptions of Rajasthan, vol. II, 13.

Bibliography

Archaeological Survey of India, Jaipur Circle. Charchoma Siva Temple. Archaeological Survey of India. n.d. https://asijaipurcircle.nic.in/Charchoma%20-%20Siva%20temple%20&%202%20unpublished%20Gupta%20insciptions.html

Dhaky, M. A. Encyclopaedia of Temple Architecture North India Foundations of North Indian Style. Vol. 2 Part 1. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 1991.

Mishra, Ratanlal. Inscriptions of Rajasthan Volume IV. Jaipur: Jawahar Kala Kendra, 2006.