Volume: IV, Issue: II, July-December 2013
SYNCHRONIZING ART IDIOM AND EPIGRAPHICAL EVIDENCE: ŚIVA-PĀRVATĪ IMAGE DATED 139 FROM KAUŚĀMBĪ
A dark red sandstone inscribed image of Śiva and Pārvatī measuring 0.750 m. high and 0.350 m. wide discovered from a field near the great monolith at Kauśāmbī (Kosam) was first reported by General Alexander Cunningham in his Archaeological Report for the years 1874-75 and 1876-77. The image bears an inscription of at least three lines on its pedestal, the third being entirely lost except for a single letter pa followed by another unidentifiable letter. Some words on each side of the extant two lines of the record are also lost. The inscription refers to certain Mahārāja Śri Bhīmavarman and the date as the 7th day of the second month of the year 139 of an unspecified saṁvat. The name of the season that usually precedes the month in this style of dating is damaged. Apparently it refers to the date of the installation of the image on which it is inscribed during the rule of the illustrious king Bhīmavarman.
A dark red sandstone inscribed image of Śiva and Pārvatī measuring 0.750 m. high and 0.350 m. wide1 discovered from a field near the great monolith at Kauśāmbī (Kosam)2 was first reported by General Alexander Cunningham in his Archaeological Report for the years 1874-75 and 1876-77. The image (Fig. 1) bears an inscription of at least three lines on its pedestal, the third being entirely lost except for a single letter pa followed by another unidentifiable letter. Some words on each side of the extant two lines of the record are also lost. The inscription refers to certain Mahārāja Śri Bhīmavarman and the date as the 7th day of the second month of the year 139 of an unspecified saṁvat. The name of the season that usually precedes the month in this style of dating is damaged. Apparently it refers to the date of the installation of the image on which it is inscribed during the rule of the illustrious king Bhīmavarman.
Cunningham who read the year as 136 assigned it to the Gupta era thus bringing the date of the record to the middle of the fifth century CE during the reign of the Gupta monarch Skandagupta. He opined that king Bhīmavarman must have been a tributary of the Guptas and a local ruler of Kauśāmbī3. The inscription was again edited by John Faithful Fleet in the Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. III, Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and Their Successors published in 1888. Fleet simply followed Cunningham in dating the record without any comment on its paleography or giving any other reason for assigning it to the Gupta saṁvat4. More recently Pratapaditya Pal has followed Cunningham suggesting 459 CE for this image though he has not given any reasons for assigning such a late date to this image5. Stella Kramrisch found it difficult to date it so late on stylistic grounds and suggested the Kalacuri-Cedi era of 248 CE for its date. It brings the image to 387-88 AD in the reign of Candragupta II Vikramaditya6. J. C. Harle suggested that the date should be referred to the Śaka era that would provide us 217 CE for the date of the image7. Joanna Gottfried Williams did not agree with Harle and assigned the image to 387-88 CE on stylistic basis. She felt the date suggested by Stella Kramrisch is most suitable8.
All these views about the date of this image that vary between the mid-third and mid-fifth century of the Christian era are primarily based on two considerations – the art idiom and the date of the inscription. We shall examine both to see if the two are at variance from each other or they can be synchronized to arrive at an acceptable conclusion.
The image depicts Śiva standing facing with his Jaṭā tied at the top with a band passing through it. A thin curl of hair passing in front of his ears and under his chin, reaches the neck. This rather peculiar feature actually looks like a string of beads. He is shown with Moustache and wears small earrings. The third eye on the forehead is prominently shown in horizontal position. He wears the sacred thread, a single string of beads around his neck and anklets. The right hand is raised in abhaya and also holds an akṣamālā (rosary). The fold of his upper garment passes over the wrist of his left hand that has a pot in it. The ithyphallic figure has a lower garment worn like a dhoti but can be skin as the fold hanging between the feet indicates. Pārvatī standing on the left of Śiva wears an elaborate head-dress that looks like a pompom and has large earrings dangling on both sides of her face. She wears a single string of beads around her neck and a long pendent that reaches up to and between her breasts. Multiple bangles behind a thick bracelet in each hand and several armlets are shown. Her right hand is raised in abhaya like that of Śiva and she holds a mirror with a long handle and knob in the left9. The folds of her drapery pass over her left wrist. She wears heavy anklets in both her feet and the folds of her lower garment hang gracefully up to anklets.
Let us first consider its iconographic features and art idiom. At the first glance, though pleasing to the eye, the image shows archaic traits of the pre-Gupta period rather than the suave features of the Classical Age. The body contours, the treatment of legs, the facial expressions, the hair styles as also the attributes like the pot in the left hand of Śiva and the mirror in the left hand of Pārvatī all indicate Kuṣāṇa period of the early third century.
The image depicts standing Śiva with his jaṭā tied at the base and with long bands that pass through the top. Joanna Williams describes it as “worn in smooth, bulging jaṭā or locks, pulled up in distinct sheaf, a style of which I am not aware before the fourth century”10. We may draw attention to two mukhaliṅgas one each from from Gujjar Kheri (District Sonipat) and Kiloi (District Rohtak) in Haryana. In the first case the Ekamukhaliṅga made of buff colored sandstone, having a round face, moustache, drooping eyelids, a tilaka mark and a horizontal eye on the forehead, has ‘the matted hair worn in smooth bulging locks pulled up like a sheaf and stringed’11. Besides comparing it with the Ekamukhaliṅgas in the State Museum, Lucknow and Baroda Museum, Handa has rightly assigned it to the Kuṣāṇa period12. The second Mukhaliṅga made of mottled red sandstone, from the village Kiloi, though in bad state of preservation, also shows matted hair stringed at the top forming a bun-like top-knot. This image too has been assigned to the “Kuṣāṇa-Gupta transitional phase”13 i.e. the third century CE. As such we find ourselves in complete agreement with J. C. Harle’s observation that “the hair arranged in large strands…confirm the close relationship between the styles of Kauśāmbi and Mathurā in Kuṣāṇa times”14.
The hair of Pārvatī dressed in a style of a pompom also deserves attention. As already noted by scholars like Stella Kramrisch15, who have made observations on the image under discussion, this type of hair style is definitely pre-Gupta. We have numerous examples of beautiful female images in general and of Pārvatī in particular belonging to the Gupta period but none shows such a hair style. The typical Gupta idiom may be seen in the Pārvatī head from Ahichchhatra16.
The horizontal third eye on the forehead of Śiva is worth taking note of. This feature was in vogue in the pre-Gupta period but almost completely disappeared from the Gupta period onwards, when the sculptors started depicting the third eye of Śiva in vertical position. Numerous well-known examples attest this fact. We may draw attention to the Ekamukhaliṅgas from Khoh17, Udayagiri18, Bhumra19, Khambaria20 and Caturmukhaliṅga from Nachna21. All these well-known images of Śiva depict his third eye on forehead in vertical position.
The plasticity of the Kauśāmbī image of Śiva is rather rigid and points towards an early date in the Kuṣāṇa period. The way the chest of Śiva has been depicted, clearly point to its archaic nature of the pre-Gupta period. As pointed out by Harle, “The image shows strong marks of the Mathura Kuṣāṇa style, in the chest of the male figure”22. He further observes that the nipples are crudely indicated by circles placed much too far over near the armpits23. Likewise, the pot in the hand of Śiva and the mirror in the hand of Pārvatī too are of pre-Gupta style.
Thus, overall the iconographic features of the image have nothing that may support its date in the fifth century CE. Both Stella Kramrisch and Joanna G. Williams, it is evidently clear, were conscious of this fact. Yet they dated it to the Gupta period, it appears, primarily on the basis of the inscription on the pedestal of the image which refers to the installation of the image in the year 139, of an unspecified era, during the rule of Mahāraja Bhīmavarman. Since Kramrisch and Williams could not place this king correctly they assigned him to the Gupta period following Cunningham and Fleet without caring to make a critical analysis of the inscription. Pratapaditya Pal has also done the same thing while dating this image. However, the key to the precise dating of this image lies in the inscription as the art-idiom can be variable and doubtful.
The fragmentary three line inscription, in the northern Brāhmi characters of the early third century24, reads (Fig. 2)25:
L.1. …….Mah[ā]r[ā]jasya Śri Bhīmavarmmaṇaḥ Saṃva[t] 100 30 926
L.2. ……………2(?) diva 7[l] Eta[d] divasa kumara me…..
It tells us that the image was installed in the year 139 of an unspecified era during the reign of the illustrious king Bhīmavarman, apparently at Kauśāmbī. This ruler, who is known from three inscriptions from Kauśāmbī dated in the years 12227, 13028 and the present one under discussion dated in the year 139 of an unspecified era, was evidently a ruler of the Magha dynasty29. A large number of his copper coins are known from the coin hoards30.
It is well known that all the Magha rulers used dates of an unspecified era in a consecutive order from 51 to 139. The identification of this era has been a hotly debated topic amongst scholars. D. R. Sahni31, Sten Konow32, A. Cunningham33 and J. F. Fleet34 have assigned it to the Gupta era of 319 CE, where as D. R. Bhandarkar35, K. P. Jayaswal36, A. Ghosh37, N.G. Majumdar38 and Krishna Deva39 identified it with the Kalacuri-Cedi era of 248 CE. Many scholars have followed either of these views despite of some very cogent evidence against their theories. However, a large number of scholars like N.P. Chakravarti40, V.V. Mirashi41, D.C. Sircar42, A.S. Altekar43, K.D. Bajpai44 and Ajay Mitra Shastri45 have attributed these dates to the Śaka era of 78 CE.
We shall take up the issue afresh even at the risk of some repetition of the arguments already advanced by eminent scholars earlier. The palaeography of some of the letters of the Magha inscriptions no doubt appears to be developed like the Gupta alphabet but as already pointed out by A. M. Shastri46 their general appearance is much closer to the Kuṣāṇa inscriptions than to the Gupta epigraphs.
The closest Gupta inscriptions to the one under discussion, if we apply the Gupta era date to the present one, shall be the Mankuwar image inscription of the reign of Kumāragupta I dated in the Gupta Saṁvat 129 (Fig. 3) and the Junagadh rock inscription of Skandagupta of the Gupta year 136. The palaeography of the inscription of Bhīmavarman materially differs from either of these records. For instance, the form of ya in sya is much more elongated in the Mankuwar image inscription than that of the same letter in the Magha inscription. Likewise the form of letters śri in the first line and ka in the second line of Bhīmavarman’s inscription when compared with the same letters in the second line of the Mankuwar image inscription show a marked difference in their forms clearly indicating an earlier date for the former.
The language and the style of dating are the other two factors that indicate its dating in the Kuṣāṇa period. There is a strong influence of Prākrit on Bhīmavarman’s inscription, a trait prevalent in the Kuṣāṇa period. During the Gupta period the use of chaste Sanskrit was in vogue for epigraphic records. All the Gupta inscriptions are written in pure Sanskrit. As for the dating the present record the year, season and the day have been used. This style of dating is not to be found in the inscriptions of the post-Kuṣāṇa period. The Gupta inscriptions invariably refer to the year, month and fortnight. The seasons are not mentioned therein. Thus the internal evidence of the inscription of Bhīmavarman clearly puts in the Kuṣāṇa period.
The most important factor in the record that goes against its dating in the Gupta period is the name of Mahārāja Bhīmavarman during whose reign the image was installed, apparently at Kauśāmbī. It is well-known fact that the Maghas were ruling over the whole of Allahabad- Kauśāmbī region as independent sovereigns. This is exactly the area that was under the imperial Guptas from a very early date. The Purāṇas assign Prayāga on the Ganges, Sāketa and Magadha to the successors of Mahārāja Gupta. The verse is generally assigned to the time of Candragupta I47. The Gupta sovereignty over the region is also attested by the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta. It has been convincingly pointed out by Jagannath Agrawal that this Aśokan Pillar which was originally located at Kauśāmbī was brought to Allahabad by Samudragupta himself48.
On the other hand we find the Magha rulers issuing inscriptions from the year 51 to 139 without any reference to a supreme power to which they owed any allegiance. Not only this, a large number of their seals and sealings are also known from the region. All the known Gupta feudatories like the Aulikaras of Daśapura, the Parivrājaka Mahārājas and the kings of Uccakalpa specifically refer to the sovereignty of the Guptas49 in their inscriptions. It is unthinkable that the Maghas, if they were feudatories of the imperial Guptas, failed to take any notice of the latter. A very large number of the Magha copper coins, including that of Bhīmavarman, have been discovered from the entire region in various hoards and stray finds. This is clear evidence of their independent status as the imperial Guptas are not known to have permitted any of their feudatories to issue coins. The only possibility is that the Maghas were independent sovereign rulers as admitted by all the scholars. It is impossible for two independent sovereign powers to have their supremacy over the same territory. As such they have to be placed prior to the Gupta rule in the 2nd-3rd century CE.
It appears that soon after the death of Kaniṣka I in c. 102 CE, the Maghas carved out an independent state in the forest region to the south of the Yamuna including the region of Allahabad and Kauśāmbī as no evidence of the Kuṣāṇa rule is available from the region after this. They continued to rule till they were ousted by the Guptas. Once we accept this fact the entire problem of chronology is solved and the identity of Bhīmavarman is established. Thus the epigraphical data provided by the pedestal inscription stands in complete synchronism with the iconographic traits of the image under discussion that may now safely be assigned to Śaka 139 = 217 CE belonging to the reign of Mahārāja Bhīmavarman of the Magha dynasty who ruled in the second decade of the third century.1
1. First published in Ashvini Agrawal (ed.), 2013, LEGACY OF INDIAN ART - CONTINUITY IN CHANGE, Aryan Books International, New Delhi. Published in JHSS with the permission of the author.
1. Alexander Cunningham has given the measurement of the image as 2’9” 1’4”. Cf. CASR, vol. X, p. 3.
2. Long. 81° 27’ East and Lat. 25° 20’ North, Kausambi is well-known archaeological site, on the left bank of the river Yamuna, represented by modern village of Kosam in U. P. It was the capital of Vatsa Mahājanapada and one of the important metropolises in ancient India.
3. Op. cit., p. 3.
4. Pp. 266-267.
5. Pal, 1974, p. 22, fig. 7.
6. Die figurale plastik der Guptazeit, Wiener Beiträge zur Kunst- und kuturgeschichte Asiens, V, (1931), pp. 15-31, as quoted by J. G. Williams, 1982.
7. Harle, 1996, pp. 19 & 44.
8. Williams, 1982, pp.36-37.
9. Cunningham mistook the mirror for a trisula. Op. cit., p. 3.
10. Op. cit., p. 36.
11. Cf. Handa, Devendra, 2006, pp. 129-30 and Plate 143.
13. Ibid., p. 130, Plates 145 and 146.
14. Harle, op. cit., p. 19.
15. Op. cit.
16. Agrawala, V. S., Terracotta Figurines of Ahichchhatra, District Bareilly, U.P., Ancient India –Bulletin of the Archaeological Survey of India, No. IV, Pl. XLV (114 a &114 b). Also see other goddess figurines, ibid., Pl. XLVII (121-124).
17. Williams, J. G., op. cit., Pl. 171.
18. Ibid., Pl. 113.
19. Ibid., Pl. 183.
20. Ibid., Pl. 182.
21. Ibid., Pls. 161-162.
22. Op. cit., p. 19.
23. Ibid., p. 44.
24. See Sircar, D.C., 1965, p. 163, n. 1. Also Shastri, A. M., 1979, pp. 20-23.
25. From the photograph. Cf. Fleet, J. F., CII, III, 1888, p. 267.
26. Cunningham read it as 136.
27. J.S.Negi, Some Indological Studies, Allahabad, p.70. The inscription is presently preserved in the Kauśāmbī Museum of the Allahabad University.
28. A. Ghosh, IC, III, p. 182.
29. In the absence of the Magha ending name S. Chattopadhyaya expressed his doubts about assigning this Bhīmavaran to the Magha dynasty, Early History of North India, Delhi, p. 142. However, the style of his inscriptions, palaeography and typology of his coins discovered along with the coins of the other Magha rulers in the Magha coin hoards, leaves no place for such a sceptic view. Cf. Ajay Mitra Shastri,1979, p. 28 and A. Ghosh, IC, III, p.177 ff.
30. A.M. Shastri, op.cit., pp. 63-64 and 89-91.
31. EI, XVIII, p. 160.
32. EI, XXIII, pp. 245-248.
33. Op. cit.
34. CII.III, p. 266.
35. List of Brahmi Inscriptions of North India, Appendix, EI, XIX-XXIII, p. 173, n. 3.
36. History of India, 150-300 A.D., p. 229.
38. EI, XXIV, p. 147.
39. Ibid. p. 255.
40. EI, XXXI, pp. 173-76.
41. EI, XXVI, pp. 297-304.
42. Sircar, 1965, p. 163, note 1.
43. Journal of Ganganath Jha Research Institute,I, pp. 151-153.
44. Indian Numismatic Chronical, III, pp. 11ff.
45. Shastri, 1979, pp. 20-23.
47. Cf. Ashvini Agrawal, Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas, Delhi, 1989, pp. 95-97.
48. Praci-Prabha: Perspectives in Indology, Essays in Honour of Professor B.N. Mukherjee, Ed. D.C. Bhattacharyya and Devendra Handa, Delhi, 1989, pp. 53-57.
49. A. Agrawal, op.cit., pp. 259-262.
Fig. 1 Śiva-Pārvatī image dated 139, Kauśāmbī
Fig. 2 Pedestal inscription of the reign of Mahārāja Bhīmavarman, year 139
Fig. 3 Mankuwar image inscription of Kumāragupta I, Gupta Saṁvat 129