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THE SOCIAL ASPECTS OF THE RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS AT SIRPUR IN CHHATISHARH (c. CE 6th - 8th CENTURIES)









Abstract

Humans transform a geographical space into a meaningful and well known place to others by performing their cultural activities in the place through ages. Dakṣiṇa Kosala is no exception to this. Scholarly studies have made us aware of the historical resources of South Kosala. Taking cue from these, attempts have been made in the present essay to provide indications towards the social linkages of the religious establishments at Sirpur called Śrīpura of South Kosala of the past. Therefore the exercise has been done in the light of epigraphic testimonies as well as archaeological materials recently excavated at Sirpur.



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PRELUDE

Human beings look for a place in order to live and branch out there like a tree on the earth. They interact with the place they settle in. Naturally, they utilise the natural resources of that place for the sake of their living. Thus they relate their activities to different segments of the earth. These may be the hilly area, the riverine area, the agricultural area, the littoral area, the pastoral area or even the uncultivated area [Chattopadhyaya 2003:50]. In doing so, they socially cultivate and develop certain patterns of behaviour gradually through ages. They socially transmit their behaviour patterns to others. These vary from one place to another. These human behaviour patterns constitute what we may call human culture.  Such ‘spatial-cultural variables’ [Chattopadhyaya 2003: 49] gradually lead people to develop a sense of belongingness to the place they choose to settle. The archaeologist has brought to light the traces of human interactions with the places of their settlement through their discoveries of artefacts from several excavated sites in India [Chakrabarti: 2003]. Archaeological explorations and excavations are still on. It appears that human groups have developed roads for communication, built up residences and many other things for the sake of their settlement in a locality [Chattopadhyaya 2003: 68].  At this point we like to propose the historical conception of janapada literally meaning ‘the feet of the people’, according to the Buddhist text Aguttaranikāya. The text mentions sixteen major janapadas such as Aṅga (Bhagalpur, east Bihar), Magadha (Patna and Gaya districts, southern Bihar), to mention a few and these janapadas were situated in a vast land stretching from the north-west to the Godavari valley [Chakravarti 2013: 79-81]. As said above, people have constituted areas for habitation, villages, cities, market towns and functionally networked these spaces and differentiated the ones from the forest (araya) [Chattopadhyaya 2011:26; Ghosh 1973: 32-42]. In doing these, they have established social networks of relations [Chakravarti 2013: 92-104]. Thus their interactions with other areas have become  historical [Chattopadhyaya 2011: 35].Taking cue from Chattopadhyaya we can say that human groups living in a territory endeavour to develop their regional/local identities through their cultural achievements. We find the traces of their functional networks of relations/identities in inscriptions, monuments, literary creations etc. [Chattopadhyaya 2011: 22-23]. These preliminaries may now turn our attention to the region of Dakṣiṇa Kosala or South Kosala.

Alexander Cunningham has territorially located the region from the Narmada river at Amarkantak in the north to Kanker in the south and from the mid-Mahanadi valley in the east to Wainganga river in the west [Cunningham 2000: 68]. The region therefore included the districts of Raipur and Bilashpur in Chattisgarh (formerly in Madhya Pradesh) and Sambalpur in Orissa [Bhattacharyya 1991: 112] [latitudes 230 N to 200 S and longitudes 800 W to 840 E]. In the light of archaeological data from several excavated sites such as Malhar, Asurgarh, Marguda valley (Kalahandi district, bodering Chattisgarh), Manmunda (at the confluence of the Tel and Mahanadi rivers in Phulbani district, Orissa), Kharliagarh (close to the east of Kalahandi district) etc. it appears that human beings have occupied the region of south Kosala from very early days. Gradually through ages they have developed ‘relationships and interactions’ [Chakravarti 2009: 129-156] among themselves in the social, economic, political as well as cultural spheres of life.

Sirpur is located within the region of South Kosala. The present day Sirpur (820 East Long, 210 North Lat.) is represented by a small village on the right bank of the Mahanadi in the district of Mahasamund in Chattisgarh in India. In the past Sirpur was called Śrīpura (the city of wealth, prosperity) [Williams 1990: 635 col. III, 1098 col. III] known from the Dhamatari plates1 of the Śarabhapurīya king Sudevarāja (c. CE 571 -c.580) [Mitra Shastri 1995: II: 32]. The very name of the region Śrīpura sounds interesting and therefore attracts our attention. The Sirpur region formerly belonged to the south-eastern most part of Madhya Pradesh.

Both epigraphic as well as archaeological discoveries including recently excavated several artefacts from Sirpur [Katare 1959:2-8; Mitra Shastri 1995; Sharma 2007; Sing 2009: 11-27] drive home the fact that the region in ancient times witnessed diverse human activities-social, economic, political as well as cultural. In other words the region went, as we have learnt, through ‘historical/cultural processes’.Therefore we may call it a cultural zone [Chattopadhyaya 2011:23].Therefore we like to designate the human cultural activities of the region as ‘social history, the history of groups and groupings’ in the language of Fernand Braudel [Braudel 1995:20]. In connection with their activities human beings bring about events through their interaction with others. Consequently the human society witnesses changes. The historian is concerned with an understanding of those changes in society and therefore endeavours to understand historical events. But historical events become meaningful if the historian examines those in relation to their physical geographical surroundings. For, archaeologically [Chakrabrti: 2003] and historically [Chakravarti: 2013] we learn that human beings have used both land and water for their living through ages. They have brought about changes in the physical landscape. Thus their relation with land and water has become extremely close and inseparable. Therefore historical events are conditioned by our physical geographical setting. Therefore the engagement with an understanding of the historical events of a region also demands the historian’s attention to the physical setting of the region.

GEOGRAPHICAL SETTING OF SIRPUR

In this context it should be noted that the physical setting of Sirpur grew geologically along with that of Madhya Pradesh through millions of years. Now, Madhya Pradesh is geologically characterised by the rocks of Archaean, Pre-Cambrian or Cuddapah2 age. Raipur in Madhya Pradesh is said to have been characterised by the Cuddapah rocks containing quartzites and shales [Mukherjee 2005: 360, 370]. We are provided with the fact that the Chattisgarh plain is also characterised by the Cuddapah sedimentaries with the underlying rocks of the Archaean age [Singh 2002: 736.]. It is not difficult to understand that the land of Sirpur belonging to the Chattisgarh plain has been constituted by such rocks of the hoary past. This is supported also by the recent archaeological excavations at Sirpur. The excavations have brought to light shales, quartz, blocks of the Cuddapah age, carved laterites, schist stones, dolomite blocks depicting images, quartz pebbles used as polisher etc. [Sharma 2007: 3ff]. The Cuddapah quartzites, limestones etc also serve the purpose of building and decoration.We further learn that both the Archaean and Cuddapah rocks contain several economically important minerals like sapphire, garnet, emerald etc. These are used as gemstones [Mukherjee 2005:369, 373]. The recent report [Misra 2006: 27-39] from Geological Survey of India also draws our attention to the availability of different minerals such as chrysoberyl, barytes, bauxite, beryl, granite and quartzite as building stones, diamond, dolomite, garnets, limestone etc from Raipur. In this connection our attention is also drawn to early Indian textual references from the Kauilīya Arthaśāstra, Agastimata (c. 6th century CE), Bhat Sahitā (c. 6th century CE), Ratnaparikṣā (c. 6th century CE) etc [Biswas and Biswas 1996: II 69ff].

Along with these natural resources Śrīpura had also another important resource of overland route communications. In this connection we may firstly refer to the Gupta ruler Samudragupta’s (c. CE. 335-376) military campaign from Pāṭaliputra to the south. According to the Allahabad Praśasti we find the Gupta ruler to have captured (grahaa) the king Mahendra of Kosala of Dakṣiṇāpatha and then released (moka) him with his kingdom. It was South Kosala and its capital was Śrīpura [Raychaudhuri 1996: 475]. We are told that he entered the Deccan through Chattisgarh [Chakravarti 2013: 234]. In other words there must have been a route from Pāṭaliputra through South Kośala to the eastern Deccan. We are told that a route from Katni in the north of Jabbalpur went towards Chattisgarh. There was another route from Prayaga to Jabbalpur and then following the Godavari valley the road reached Andhra Pradesh. But the route was not popular because of the dense forest of the Bastar region and the Maikal Mountain [Chandra: 24]. However, the fact is that the road was there and that too was connected to the water course of the Godavari approaching the Bay of Bengal. We should also take note of Xuan Xang’s (c. CE. 629-45) statement that he went to (south) Kosala from Kaliṅga through forests and mountains [Beal 1983: 209]. It means that there was a route from Kaliṅga on the Orissa coast to South Kosala. It is not unlikely that the route must have had come into use much before the Chinese pilgrim came to India. Therefore it appears that Śrīpura was connected to Pāṭaliputra on the one hand and coastal Kaliṅga on the other. The route connections of Śrīpura may indicate its possible access to water courses. These natural treasures/potentials and spatial connections constituted the structural base of the place of Sirpur for a long time. Thus these were the long term changes [Braudel 1995: 81-85] that constituted wealth (śrī) for the place. With this wealth the place came to be associated through ages. This is probably why it came to be designated as Śrīpura in historical records. Thus Śrīpura or Sirpur became an area of attraction economically as well as strategically. It may be noted that the wealth (śrī) of the region might have prompted Samudragupta to pay his attention to South Kosala. Further, Samudragupta might have a plan to link this area by road to commercial activities. From this point of view the Gupta ruler probably made a diplomatic settlement with South Kosala so that the people of the forest area could be used to safeguard the commercially potential routes thereof [Thapar 2001: 12]. This might have been the attitude of the Gupta ruler to the region. For, we know that the Gupta ruler caused a shrewd, diplomatic and successful military campaign for having under his control the economic potentials of the east coast of early India [Chakravarti 1986: 131-33]. Therefore it is essential to take into consideration the natural potentials as well as the geological/geographical situation of the Sirpur or Śrīpura region of South Kosala. Without this background it is difficult to understand why (emphasis added) the Sirpur region only attracted the attention of the king, why the capital was finally shifted from Śarabhapura to Śrīpura and witnessed the accumulation of substantial patronage [Basu Majumdar 2008: 87-98]. At this point of shifting the attention from one capital to another we should take note of the historical fact that Mathura received the attention of the Kuṣāṇa king and later Ujjaini received the attention of the Gupta ruler. Understandably it was due to the economic potentials or benfits of Mathura and Ujjaini [Raychaudhuri 1996: 418, 491, Mukherjee 2002: 42-43, 60n, 61n; Bose 1967: 41-43, 46; Chakravarti 1986: 96-97, 99, 103-104]. For, ‘the love for gain as well as for domination is an inborn instinct of man’ [Chakravarti 1986: VII]. The circumstantial factors, noted above, might have motivated the Śarabhapurīya king to shift his attention from Śarabhapura finally to Śrīpura.

We are told that South Kosala became an independent political entity when it was ruled by Jayarāja (c. CE 550-560), the fourth king of the Śarabhapurīya ruling dynasty of the region. The capital of the kingdom actually became Śrīpura in the late sixth century CE [Mitra Shastri discourse relating to Sirpur is confined to the period from the CE sixth to the eighth centuries.

HISTORIOGRAPHICAL RELEVANCE

A region may also be defined in terms of the cultural ‘forms’ of human beings. At this point we find that the South Kosala region witnessed the cultural achievements of the people. We find that scholars have attempted to understand these cultural activities in South Kosala.  We come to know about the historical achievements of South Kosala3 [Bakker 1994: 1-41]. Ajay Mitra Shastri has discussed the administration of the temples under the Śarabhapurīya and Pāṇḍuvaṁśī rulers of Chattisgarh [Mitra Shastri 1977: 63-69].4 S. P. Tiwari has discussed ‘the historical geography and political-cultural history of South Kośala’ during the sixth and seventh centuries CE. The discussion is confined to the region of South Kosala under the rule of the Śarabhapurīya kings [Tiwari 1985]. Recently B. P. Sahu has analysed the evolution of South Kosala ‘as a historic-cultural unit’. He has profiled South Kosala [Sahu 2011: 39-59].P. K. Nayak and others have recently brought to light some aspects of the history of South Kosala such as Tel river valley urban centres of the early historic period, crafts and commerce (c. CE 400-1000), trade of the ancient and early medieval times etc. [Nayak 2010:. 1-145]. Attempts have also been made to understand ‘Jainism in Chattisgarh Through Epigraphy and Other Texts’ [Basu Majumdar 2013: 85-98]. Along with South Kosala attempts have also been made to understand the cultural activities of the Sirpur region located within South Kosala. Heinrich Poell has recently examined the ‘architectural and stylistic’ characteristics of Buddhist remains from Sirpur. He has also assessed their artistic linkages with other centres of Buddhism in eastern India and elsewhere [Poell 2013: 23-46]. The Sirpur region is characterised by a good number of religious structures Brahmanical, Jain and Buddhist. We have also mentioned above the fact that a huge number of artefacts have been unearthed at Sirpur.5. These archaeological remains reveal various aspects of the activities of the people who lived and utilized the landscape of Sirpur. Thus, the cultural achievements of the people of the Sirpur region have also included religious establishments. There are evidences to assume that the people centred their activities on the religious establishments at Sirpur.

DISCUSSION

We begin our discussion by paying attention to the relevant inscriptions including the recent discovery of twelve inscribed6 copper-plates recording land grants from Sirpur [Singh 2009: 11-27]. As stated above, the king needed the support of others in order to consolidate his power and authority in a strategically and economically potential area. This may help us to understand the measures that the Pāṇḍuvaṁśī ruler had taken in order to entrench his power and authority at Sirpur. In point of the word Pāṇḍuvaṁśī we may turn our attention to the insightful studies by B. D. Chattopadhyaya. We learn from it that there was an urge on behalf of different royal lineages for securing legitimacy and status during the early medieval period. We also notice that the mythical lineages such as Sūryavaṁśa and Chandravaṁśa were resorted to by the rulers with tribal background or obscure origins. They required it for their claim to Kṣatriya status and legitimacy [Chattopadhyaya 2003: 159]. It may be that the dynasty of the king Tīvaradeva might have sought to identify itself (Pāṇḍuvaṁśī)7 with the name of the epic hero Pāṇḍu of the Mahābhārata. Thus the dynasty probably sought support through legitimacy and status in order to be acceptable to the local society. At this point we may refer to a step taken by Mahāśiva-Tīvararāja or Tīvaradeva (c. CE 660-c. 680) [Mitra Shastri 1995 I: 156-157]. He issued from Śrīpura the administrative order for the settlement of Brāhmaṇas at different places within the kingdom of South Kosala. Thus we find him to have settled twenty-five Brāhmaṇas at the village of Bondaka (perhaps Banda in Raigarh) on the bank of the Mahanadi [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 103-106]. Tīvaradeva is also known to have settled two more Brāhmaṇas Bhaṭṭa Bhavadatta and Bhaṭṭa Haradatta at the village of Pimparipadraka (probably Piprod north-west of Rajim, or Pondh, north of Rajim) [Mirashi 1984: 116. fn.5]. His Baloda (Raipur, Chattisgarh) plates also refer to his village grant for feeding thirty Brāhmaṇas or others daily (pratyahamupabhogāya). It is to be noted that the provision of his free feeding service was planned (parikalpitasattra) [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 113-115, text-lines 27, 26]. His recent inscriptions of the year 7 from the Sirpur excavation, as mentioned under note 6, also bear the fact that he settled one Brāhmaṇa Masidevopadhyaya by granting him the village of Pañcakuṭya (unidentified) in Anarghavalli (probably corresponding to modern Janjgir in the Bilashpur district) [Singh 2009: 12-15, Mirashi 1998: 419-420]. Thus Tīvaradeva paved the way to ensure support of the socially elite class to his royal authority at Sirpur. At this point we may think of fragmentary inscriptions8 bearing the names Mahāśivagupta Teevaradeo and Harṣagupta found from an excavated mound (SRP-5) [Sharma 2007: 24-26]. The largest Buddhist vihāra is reported to have been unearthed from the excavated mound. The monastery appears to have been built up during the period of Mahāśivagupta Tīvaradeva. It might have continued to survive during the period of Harṣagupta [Sharma 2007: 26]. The monastery has ten cells (2.40x2.0 m) for monks with garbha-gha (6.50x4.50 m) and ardha-maṇḍapa (4.0x3.75m) and a pillared-maṇḍapa (8.60x7.60 m) with a 2.10 m wide corridor on all sides. The garbha-gha houses the Buddha in bhūmisparśa mudrā (“touching the earth” [Liebert 1986: 41]). The ardha-maṇḍapa is based on two pillars showing the Buddha again in bhūmisparśa mudrā. The Buddha is shown associated with the two Padmapānis [Sharma 2007: Plt.25]. The vihāra is founded on the black schist stone and made of bricks of 39x12x7 cm and 39x19x6 cm. The monastery was double storied with 1 m wide nine schist staircases [Sharma 2007: pl 26]. The pillars, walls etc. of the vihāra under review show the designs of animals and human figures. It appears that the vihāra was built up with stones and carved bricks. Many monolithic pillars showing the sculptural art were carved. Therefore the artistic grandeur of the vihāra leads one to assume that there were artists who had the mastery over the arts of stone and brick carving and the scope to show their artistic skill through their masonry service to the monastery at Sirpur. It may be noted that they were engaged in the work of building religious structures at Śrīpura. Therefore we can assume that the monastery provided the scope of job opportunities to the people. Thus the king tried to socially consolidate his power and authority by getting the monastery built up at Sirpur.

The Pāṇḍuvaṁśī ruler Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna9 (c.CE 740- c.797) also might have attempted to do the same by establishing linkages with the local society. At this point we like to turn our attention to the recent excavations at Sirpur. From the excavation at Sirpur (SRP -7, 8 and 9) we have come to know that a Pañcāyatana Śiva temple complex was built up at Sirpur. This Pañcāyatana Śiva temple complex included two west-facing main temples in the centre and the two sub shrines in the northwest and southwest and third shrine was west-facing. Probably the priest who performed religious activities for this Pañcāyatana Śiva temple complex was provided with a house to stay there. For, our attention is drawn to a two-room house unearthed in the south of the Pañcāyatana Śiva temple. The front room is 7.5 m long and 2.5 m wide and the back room is also of the same measurements. The entrance to the back room is 1m wide [Sharma 2007: 10-11, fig. 4, 2012: 101-08, 102, 132, fig. 23A]. We are told that an inscribed clay seal reading ‘Śivagupta rājas’ has been found from one of the rooms of Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna’s residence found in the temple complex. This inscribed seal may allow one to assume that this temple complex was built up by Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna. The assumption is supported interestingly by the copper plates from Bālārjuna’s house, according to the excavator. We find that the name of the temple complex was Bāleśwara Bhaṭṭāraka Mahikā (‘monastic residence’) [Sharma 2007: 31, Mitra Shastri 1995: II 377]. We read that the residential monastery was attached to the shrine built up by Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna himself (svakārita) at Sirpur. In another copper-plate we are told that Dayeśvara-bhaṭṭāraka himself built a shrine within the residential monastery of Bāleśwara Bhaṭṭāraka. The Bāleśwara residential monastery was also attached with another Amareśvara temple (Amareśvarāyatana)evidently named after one lady Amaradevī who got this temple constructed within the premises of the monastery. Whether these ladies were the queens of Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna [Basu Majumdar 2008: 92] it is probably difficult to say [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 379, fn. 14]. However, according to the epigraphic records recovered from this temple complex, we are told, Bāleśwara and Udaiśvara got the ‘Yugal temples’ (Sharma 2012: 96, SRP 38B) built at Sirpur. It consists of the two temples one in the north and the other in the south and they were named after Bāleśwara Bhaṭṭāraka and Udaiśvara-bhaṭṭāraka. From the stone inscription of Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna found from the Sirpur excavation it appears that he gave three hundred frying pans and a lot of fire wood (khallikānāṁśata deya kathabharatrayam tathā) [Sharma 2007: 43, text line 49]. The frying pans were made of iron and many other iron objects of use in the kitchen were found.10 This lump sum donation was probably made for supporting several people associated with the temple complex. The provisions were also kept for feeding the pilgrims who came to the sacred place. In this regard we like to propose the fact that the stone-built underground granaries have been exposed near the temples at Sirpur under discussion. We are further told that each granary could store about 40 quintals of rice. It is interesting to note that a huge number of stone saddle-querns and pestles, pounders, Red slipped pottery objects like plates, hāñdi, bowls etc. have been unearthed at the Śiva temple area [Sharma 2012: 129, Sharma 2007: 32-33, SRP-14].11 At this point the donation of fire wood, mentioned above, becomes significant. All these artefacts may support the fact that those who came to the temple site at Sirpur were provided with food. That the pilgrims came to visit religious institutions at Sirpur may be corroborated by the depiction of the couples with child on the side walls of the entrance to the Buddhist monastery mentioned above [Sharma 2007: 24-25, SRP-5]. The act of providing substantial help to the institution becomes significant when we find the word satra in the context of this donation in the epigraph. The inscription points out that the donation was meant for the free feeding services of the monastic institution (mahesatropayogārtham) [Sharma 2007: 43]. This is supported by another epigraphic record from Sirpur. The inscribed stone refers to the word saktam (ttram)ta [Mitra Shastri 1995: II:148, text line 8b]. If we accept the word as a satra, then we may say that the monk Ᾱnandaprabha paid the required price and purchased from the Saṁgha (ktvā mūlyena Saghata) a hut in the monastery (vihārakuicakre) [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 148, text line 7], condiment (vyaňjana) and two handfuls (setikā) [Sircar 1966: 309] of white rice (sitataṇḍula) [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 148, text line 8]. He did these in accordance with his desire for the feeding arrangement (ātmaparipāṭivaśena bhojyam) for each monk everyday (anudinam) [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 148-149, text lines 9-10]. The arrangement was made in the hall (kui) [Williams 1990: 288] of the monastery. We are told that the monk Ᾱnandaprabha paid an amount to the Saṁgha in order to secure the rice with condiments (vyanjanāṁsena-sahita sitataṇḍulam) for the purpose of feeding monks freely [Dikshit 1955-56/1987: 198, text-line 8]. It is interesting to note that a monastic structure with a central hall surrounded by cells has been unearthed at Sirpur [Sharma 2007: 28, 32, fig.18]. The structure, we are told, was caused to be built up by one monk Ᾱnandaprabha according to an inscription [Sharma 2007: 28]. Probably this Ᾱnandaprabha is identical with the Ᾱnandaprabha of the above noted Sirpur stone slab inscription.

It is not difficult to understand that the religious institutions at Sirpur required the support of humans as well as that of material resources. The Bonda, Rajim and Baloda plates of Tīvaradeva and the Bardula, Bonda, Lodhia, Mallar plates, Sirpur Laksman Temple Inscription and Senkapat Stone Slab Inscription of Śivagupta or Mahāśivagupta Bālārjuna mention the villagers nearby the villages granted [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 105, 110, 115, 121, 126, 132, 136, 146, 158]. It may be assumed that the rural people provided agricultural products including rice, mentioned above, in order to maintain the free feeding services on behalf of the religious institution at Sirpur. The assumption may be supported by a few significant clues from the concerned inscription from Sirpur. Thus, we get references to hali in the Senkapat inscription [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 155]. We are told that the word hali is the same as hala which signified a land ploughed up by one plough, though the actual measure of the land is not known [Sircar 1966: 125; Mitra Shastri 1995: II 157, fn.20]. Therefore the words dvihali and dvihalikadvayam as mentioned in the Senkapat epigraph [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 155, vv. 15, 20-21] signified a large amount of land which was ploughed up by six ploughs (halas) and its agro-products were supposedly handed over to the donee to maintain the free feeding services. At this point we may propose the epigraphic references to bhāga12 which the villagers were asked to pay to the donee. It signified a royal share of the produce [Ghoshal 1972: 392-393]. The share therefore might have included agricultural products including rice. In point of rice we have an epigraphic reference. It is Sakṛṣṇatalā mentioned in the context of dvihali (two ploughs) in the Senkapat inscription. It was a black-soil land [Mitra Shastri 1995: II: 157] which was ploughed up by the two ploughs and this land was given to the temple. The rice might have been stored in the granaries mentioned above [Sharma 2012: 129]. The materials other than rice required for maintaining the free-feeding services were probably collected from a nearby market. For, we have a reference to the market called Navahaṭṭa in the Gandheśvara temple inscription of the time of Śivagupta Bālārjuna from Sirpur. Our attention is also drawn to another inscriptional reference to Pranavahattaka on the door of the entrance to the Gandheśvara temple. However, Pranavahaṭṭaka is said to have been identical with Navahaṭṭa. It might have been a village nearby Sirpur where a market was newly established. Incidentally we find that the garland-makers (mālākārāḥ) used to live at the village of Navahatta (Navahaṭṭanivasina)[Mitra Shastri 1995: II:152-53, text-line 5, fn. 14].Thus Navahaṭṭa may have also signified a village and not necessarily a market only [Basu Majumdar 2008: 91]. Beside this, we turn our attention to a few rows of structures on the west (32. 85m long) and on the east (24.30m long) of the street unearthed at Sirpur [Sharma 2012: 128-129, fig. 37, pls. 40A and 40B]. According to Sharma, there are eleven shops located on the west side and each of the shops was provided with two storage rooms. On the average the measurement of the rooms is 2.10 x 1.85m. On the east side of the street also there are eleven shops each of which was backed by two rooms having the measurement of 2.40 x 1. 60m.The author draws our attention to the sale of coconut, vermillion, the images of the gods, conch-shells, brass-shells etc. at these shops. 

To the south-east of these shops a platform (10.30 x 7.70) with three steps has been unearthed. In the light of present day cultural performances like folk dance, religious drama, Rām-līlā etc. in Chattisgarh in general and Sirpur in particular, it has been assumed that the platform was used as a public stage for showing performing arts. Thus the stage has been called Rām-Līlā Mañcha. At this point certain interesting and relevant epigraphic evidences may be cited. It appears from the Lodhia Plates of Śivagupta Bālārjuna, year 57 that performing arts like dance and instrumental music [nrtyavāditra]were performed at the Iśaneśvara temple at Pattana Khadirapadra-tala or probably present day Khairapali near Baidpali [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 132, fn. 62, 129, text-line 12]. Thus the Rāmāyaṇa Mañcha as described by Sharma [Sharma 2012: 129 - 130, SRP-24 Fig. 38, pl 39B] might have been the stage for holding the public show on behalf of the temple. In other words the temple might have performed the recreational functions for the people of the local society. In this way the temple played a cultural role in the local society. The people of the locality might have taken part in those functions, although we do not know exactly who participated in that public show.

Besides, there were many people who took to different artisanal occupations at Sirpur. In support of this we have several artefacts like iron-lock, lots of iron nails of different shapes and sizes, clamps, chisels, glass bangles, baked and carved bricks, stone saddle-querns and pestles, bowls, hāñdi found from the excavations [Sharma 2012: 18ff].These cultural objects provide indications towards the presence of a good number of occupational groups at Sirpur. In support of their presence at Sirpur the relevant evidences from the Lodhia Plates and Sirpur Lakṣmaṇa Temple inscriptions of Śivagupta Bālārjuna may be considered. According to these epigraphs, the works were done in order to repair the cracks and breaks in the temples [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 129, 132, 143, 146].Therefore such repairing jobs necessitated the required labour services from the proper artisans at Sirpur. We may also assume that there were workers/artisans who were skilled enough to produce objects made of stones. The assumption is supported by the fact that the sculptures of images like Mahiṣāsuramardinī etc have been found from the excavation at Sirpur. The three types, viz, granite, red sand stone and silt stones were used in making such sculptures [Sharma 2012: 19]. Beside this, the styles of the religious architectures found from Sirpur may lead one to assume that these were directed by some expert. Incidentally our attention is drawn to a baked clay seal of one Taradatta with emblem from the Sirpur excavation. He has been described as the chief architect [Sharma 2012: 26]. He might have given the directions for the architectural styles at Sirpur. Therefore from what we have stated so far we learn that the people have performed their activities in certain places [Anderson 2010: 5]. Thus they have transformed Sirpur into a cultural place. Keeping this in view now we close the discussion with a few observations.

CONCLUSION

The discourse makes us aware of the fact that the people have left behind their material traces visible in religious structures and innumerable artefacts they had used in their real life situations. They also developed their religious beliefs and rituals, emotions related to the images of the gods and goddesses as well as cultural performances. These represented the non-material traces of their existence at Sirpur. It appears that both the king and the ordinary people through their material and non-material traces have defined/sensed the geographical space of Sirpur in their own way. Significantly they have made Sirpur Śrīpura and preserved as such in their records. They have filled up the geographical space of Sirpur with their cultural activities and thus contributed to the meaning of the place [Anderson 2010: 2 - 5, 176 - 178] through the religious establishments.

 

NOTES

1. We have seventeen epigraphic records in regard to the Śarabhapurīya kings namely Śarabha, Narendra, Prasanna/Prasannamātra, Jayarāja, Mānamātra-Durgarāja, Sudevarāja and Pravararāja. Of these inscriptions the sixteen inscribed plates have been found from different parts of Chattisgarh and the rest one plate has been available from the Kalahandi district of Orissa. Now, we do not have any inscription for Sarabha. We have three inscriptions to the king Narendra, four inscriptions to Jayarāja, seven epigraphs to Sudevarāja, two epigraphic records to Pravararāja and one to an unknown authority. The Dhamatari plates belong to the group of the seven plates of Sudevarāja. However, the Śarabhapurīya inscriptions point out that the kings were politically based at a place called Śarabhapura. Opinions differ on the identification/location of the place. In this regard various proposals have been put forward. Thus we learn that Arvi in Wardha district in Maharashtra, Sambhalpur in Sambalpur district in Orissa, Sarbhar in Bilashpur district, Malhar in Bilashpur district have been proposed for the identification/location of Sarabhapura. But the place has not yet been identified/located definitely. However, the suggestion is that the place might have been somewhere in Raipur as many epigraphs of this ruling house have been available from Raipur in Chattisgarh [Mitra Shastri 1995: I 3-4, 90-95, 109-115].

2. We learn from Geology that the crust of the earth has been developed through millions of years. We find that different types of rocks have been formed---igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. From immemorial time different natural agencies like air, water, life etc. have been causing changes in the rocks. Consequently the surface of the earth has been subject to constant change. Attempts have been made to understand the geological formations of the earth through geological periods such as Archaean, Pre-Cambrian, Cambrian etc. One of the Cambrian rock formations is called Cuddapah as it is best developed in the Cuddapah basin of Andhra Pradesh [Mukherjee 2005: 347-52, 370].

3. I remain thankful to Prof.Hans Bakker who has kindly given me a copy of his two valuable articles on South Kosala.

4. I remain thankful to Dr. D. P. Dubey, Deptt of AHCA, Allahabad University, who has kindly given me a copy of the article.

5. Personal communication with Dr. A. K. Sharma, Mr. Prabhat Kumar Singh and Mr. Praveen Tirke.

6. The plates under discussion were found from the layer 6 at the depth of 2.27 m in the Qd AI in the excavated area at Sirpur (SRP-30) on 05/11/2008. The plates were under the mound between the Gandharveśvara temple and the Rayakera pond at Sirpur.

7. The Pāṇḍuvaṁśins started with Udayana. Then Indrabala, Nannadeva I, Ῑśānadeva and Bhavadeva are known to have ruled in South Kosala. After Bhavadeva we find Tīvaradeva to have ascended the throne. Probably from the time of Tīvaradeva Sirpur grew with cultural features. So the present discussion starts with the period of Tīvaradeva.

8. The inscription remains undeciphered, according to personal communication with Mr. Prabhat Kumar Singh, a member of the excavation team at Sirpur.

9. He was so called because he was as brilliant as the Mahābhārata hero Arjuna in arrow shooting (dhanui pravī----arjjunoyamiti yopadhināmalebhe /) [Sharma 2007: 41, ll. b-c]. For his date I have followed the arguments put forward by Ajay Mitra Shastri [Mitra Shastri 1995:I 139-157]

10. Personal communication with Dr. A. K. Sharma, the director of the excavations at the site, and his associates Mr. Prabhat Kumar Singh and Mr. Praveen Tirkey. They have kindly allowed me to see the objects from the excavation. I remain thankful to all of them.

11. Personally I have seen these artefacts kept under the custody of Dr. A. K. Sharma and Mr. Prabhat Kumar Singh at the camp at Sirpur.

12. The term occurs in the Bonda, Rajim and Baloda Plates of Tīvaradeva and the Bardula, Bonda, Lodhia, Mallar Plates of Śivagupta Bālārjuna [Mitra Shastri 1995: II 104, 109, 113, 120, 125, 130, 135].

 

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