Raja, Praja and Bhagawan: understanding oral narratives and state formation in Huma desha
Saiva cult is a primordial cult and it has pervaded all over India. Archaeological and historical remnants of the Indus Valley Civilization attest the fact that Saivism is a pre-Aryan conception. The availability of a large number of ancient relics i.e. stone pieces resembling phallus had led the indologists as well as historians to trust that Pasupati (Siva) was worshipped in the Linga (phallic) shape by the non-Aryans of Indus Valley Civilization. This practice of Siva worship seems to have spread to different parts of India from 3000 B.C. Sambalpur is not an exception to it. The history of Saivism can be traced back to the first century A.D. Siva worship in the form of Bhairava worship was prevalent in the Upper Mahanadi valley of Orissa at least from the first century A.D., even though some other scholars are of the opinion that the Bhairava cult became admired from the eighth century A.D. onwards1. All the same, people of Sambalpur area adore Siva both in iconic and aniconic forms. The phallic worship is the most accepted and symbolical compromise of the worship of Siva in his iconic and aniconic forms.
The Somavamsis, who began their rule in modern Binka-Subarnapur area in the eighth century A.D., were great patrons of this stream of Hinduism. Subsequently, the Chauhan Rajas who reigned Sambalpur area from about 14th century A.D. to middle of the 20th century A.D. had also extended royal patronage to Saivism. They built Siva temples in different parts of Sambalpur Rajya and made extensive village and land grants for regular and elaborate performance of Seva-Puja which is highly structured in these religious shrines.
In the erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya one discovers a large number of Siva temples constructed under the royal patronage during the Chauhan reigns. The most legendary among them are those of the Asta-Sambhus, literary meaning of which is eight Sambhus or Sivas. They are, namely Bimaleswara at Huma, Kedarnatha at Ambabhona, Biswanath at Deogaon, Balunkeswara at Gaisama, Maneswara at Maneswar, Swapneswara at Sorna, Bisweswara at Soranda and Nilakantheswara at Niljee.
Lord Bimaleswara at Huma is understood as the Adya-Sambhu, i.e. the earliest among the Asta-Sambhus who appears to have been much admired during the reigns of Chauhan Rajas in Sambalpur. This Saiva pitha has constantly drawn the attention of visitors and scholars of diverse discipline since a very long time. The reason is that, it has provided new facts which compel to rethink for socio-historical reconstruction and re-building of this place. In the present study, our emphasis is on the oral tradition accessible in the local area.
The area of our study is Bimaleswara tirtha. This Saiva Pitha is located on the left bank of the river Mahanadi 14 miles (24 kms.) down stream and south of Sambalpur. Lord Bimaleswara is worshipped in the Garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple. Bhairabi Devi is adored to his left and Lord Bhairo to his right. As per the oral tradition prevalent in the village Huma and its surrounding area, the Ganga Emperor Anangabhimadeva-III (1211-1239 A.D.) had constructed this temple. In the 16th century AD Balaram Dev, the first Chauhan ruler of Huma desa / Sambalpur, presumably found this pitha in a dilapidated condition. He not only conserved this monument but also gave land-grants for regular seva-puja in the temple. It is also assumed that, the temple was rebuilt or renovated by Maharaja Baliar Singh (1660-1690 A.D.), the fifth Chauhan Raja of Sambalpur Rajya. The rest of the temples of Asta-Sambhus were built during the rule of Raja Ajit Singh (1766-1788 A.D.) of Sambalpur2. All these disclose the truth that, the Chauhan Rajas of Sambalpur Rajya were great champions of Saivism.
It is in fact, amusing and wonderful to see the Bimaleswara temple in leaning shape. One and all look at the temple in silent surprise. As walking on the moon is one of the wonders of our time, leaning temple at Huma is one of the wonders of medieval period. It reminds us the famous leaning tower of Pisa. The temple is positioned on the rocky cradle just on the bank of the river Mahanadi. The basis of leaning cannot be assumed to be the technical flaws at the time of construction. It is also not easily acceptable that weak foundation might have caused leaning attitude of the temple.
In fact, construction of temple is quite favourite of Chauhan Rajas as well-known to us from innumerable temples built during their reigns. They had already established themselves as good builders. Again, the temple is not an enormous structure. There might have been interior displacement of the rocky bed on which it stands, either due to flood current in the river Mahanadi or earthquake, thus affecting the straight posture of the original temple. In other words, the plinth of the temple has been deviated slightly from its original arrangement and as a result, the body of the temple has become tilted or at an angle. Nevertheless, people visiting this temple stare at this phenomenon in bewilderment. Be that as it may, there is no denying the fact that this has fascinated the attention of historians, sculptures and other researchers.
Nonetheless, there is enough shelter among these rocks to harbour a variety of fish locally identified as Kudo fish. That is why, the river Ghat is known as Machhindra Ghat. Some rituals in connection with the reverence of Lord Bimaleswara are performed in this river Ghat. Twenty-two steps leading to this Ghat take you back to Baisi Pabachha i.e. twenty-two steps of Shri Jagannath Temple at Puri. The water of Machhindra Ghat is considered to be sacred. Devotees take their bath here prior to offering Puja to the divinity.
Now and then, people present food to Kudo fishes. It is mesmerizing to see these fishes accepting food from human beings with no fear. This reminds us the Maneswara Saiva Pitha where tortoises in the adjoining pool also acknowledge food from human beings without fear. Entertainingly, the Kudo fishes respond to the call of the priests and approach to the ladder of the bathing Ghat to be fed by the pilgrims. No one is permitted to catch them3. Neighboring inhabitants regard them as godly creatures and Matchha Avatara (incarnation) of Lord Visnu at Huma and Katchhapa Avatara at Maneswara.
It is understood that, there is a secret path from the seat of Lord Bimaleswara to the river Mahanadi and the Kudo fishes take refuge at the feet of the deity throughout the rainy season. Similarly, it is also supposed that there is a secret path from the seat of Lord Maneswara to the adjacent pond. A number of myths are associated with Kudo fishes. As per the oral tradition, on one occasion a woman did not pay any heed to the local people and caught a Kudo fish and decided to slash it into pieces. While attempting to cut the fish with her Pankhi (locally made knife) she was instantly altered into a stone. The stone representation of the woman was found on the riverbed for several years. Afterward, it has been swept away by the floodwater.
According to the oral tradition, the temple was inclined from the very beginning of its construction for the reason that Lord Bimaleswara himself desired such a temple. In order to fulfill his wish, Maharaja Baliar Singh built a leaning temple for the god. In course of time, the shape of the temple and associated fable itself popularized this Pitha far and wide. For some, from the very beginning of the construction of the temple, the temple architect might have consciously made the temple inclined towards the river keeping in mind that the centre of gravity of the body would remain outside the temple so that strong floodwater cannot destabilize the temple. Be that as it may, such an abnormal and unusual feature of the temple was not easily acceptable to the ordinary natives for which there was a need of a myth to rationalize its leaning position that Lord Bimaleswara desired to have such a temple for himself.
On the one hand, the myth has glorified Lord Bimaleswara and on the other hand the myth has helped in the popularization of this Pitha. It may be mentioned here that apart from the main temple, there are two small temples of Lord Siva and one Vaisnava Temple constructed latter on inside the temple complex. High boundary walls enclose the temple complex. The temples are made up of siuly cut stones. In Jagamohana burnt bricks are found as well. These miniatures are also said to have been in leaning position. But these are so small in size that they cannot lean unless they are treated to do so. In all probability, in conformity with the existing tradition and design of the main temple these small temples are also built accordingly. These temples cannot situate so, had there been any displacement of foundation area or technical defects.
As pointed out earlier, sculptures, quite pet of the Chauhan rulers are not found in dominating in Bimaleswara temple like that of the Narasinghanath mainly in Vimana portion. Even though, it is presumed that there was no sculpture of significance excepting the Parsva Devatas, it is quite possible that some sculptures are hidden under the thick plaster. Of course, sculptural consideration is of less significance here than the technique of construction which deserves special consideration and attention. In all likelihood, the architects avoided any type of sculptural representations on the body of the temple in order to keep it light so that the centre of gravity was free from heavy pressure.
Though we are not in possession of any documentary support to explain the plan of the Bimaleswara temple as a leaning temple, no clarification or findings properly convinces us to acknowledge the theory that the present shape of the temple is the effect of some natural happenings or calamities. In view of this, the Bimaleswara temple unquestionably bears testimony to the advanced technical know-how of the Chauhan builders of Sambalpur area.
The village Chaunrpur, on the right bank of the river Mahanadi is held to be the seat of Raja Balaram Dev, prior to his approaching to Sambalpur. According to the local tradition, a cowherd boy residing in a nearby village of Chaunrpur initiated worshipping Lord Bimaleswara. He used to take the cows to the interior jungles on the riverbank. To his utter surprise, once he found that a black cow was remaining missing for a particular time on every day. Subsequently, he started watching the movement of the cow. It was a rainy day and the river was enraged. To his amusement, he saw the cow crossing the high current of the river Mahanadi. One fine morning, the cowherd boy followed the cow and swam across the river and came to the left bank of the river Mahanadi. He observed the cow going up to a stone and spraying her milk over it. The cowherd boy realized that there was a greater or superior power, which directed the behavior of the black cow. Thence, he observed devotion, submission and reverence to the supernatural power residing in that rock. Subsequently, people residing nearby came to know about this fact and visited the site. Seeing the location, they at once assumed it to be a Saiva Pitha and since then started worshipping it. It would not be out of context to mention here that the above-mentioned religious myth is connected with a large number of religious Pithas all over the state in Orissa, which consist of not only Saiva Pithas, but Vaisnava Pithas as well4.
Formation of a separate Chauhan kingdom by Balaram Dev in the 16th century AD was the result of the partition of ruling family of Patnagarh. There are three narratives on this subject. First, when Narasingha Dev was the ruler of Patnagarh Ratanpur was a hostile power. So, Narasingha Dev placed the Sambalpur tract under the charge of his younger brother Balaram Dev to check the aggression of Haihaya power of Ratanpur. Subsequently, Balaram Dev formed a separate kingdom and established himself at Sambalpur. Secondly, it is said that, one rainy night when the queen of Narasingha Dev was in the throes of child birth, Balaram Dev swam across a hill-stream named Mayabati, which was flowing between Patnagarh and the village Barapada and brought the nurse from that village to attend the queen. Narasingha Dev was pleased to award the Sambalpur tract to Balaram Dev for his courageous and faithful service.
As per the third narrative, there arose a quarrel between the two brothers on the issue of ‘bhai-bhaga’. The dispute was amicably settled after the intervention of their mother. Tradition goes that, the queen mother took her both sons to the bed of the river Surangi and asked the elder and the younger to sit on her right and left laps respectively. Then she told them that, the river Surangi should be taken as her own body (Ang). The elder brother should enjoy the territory to the right of the river and the younger one to the left of it. Both the brothers acknowledged the decision of their mother. From that time onwards, the river was called Ang and was regarded as the natural frontier between Patna and Sambalpur territories.
We may relate these three oral narratives and try to present a comprehensive picture. Probably, Balaram Dev came to Sambalpur tract to check the aggression of Ratanpur. He established himself initially at Bargarh on the bank of the river Jira and built his fort there. There from, he is said to have shifted his capital to Chaunrpur, on the right bank of the river Mahanadi. Finally, he shifted his capital to Sambalpur on the left bank of the river Mahanadi. These three places are on the bank of the rivers. Bargarh, situated on the Jira delta is a fertile plain. In order to broaden his power base and increase his economic strength, Balaram Dev controlled this fertile region. Similarly, Chaunrpur and Sambalpur, situated on the upper Mahanadi delta is a fertile plain. Balaram Dev controlled this fertile region as well. Thus, he consolidated Chauhan power in this tract and built a separate kingdom namely Huma-desa and subsequently Sambalpur. Subsequently, however, there might have been a fight between the two brothers on the boundary issue of their territories which was resolved peacefully by their mother.
When Balaram Dev shifted to Chaunrpur from Bargarh then heard the miraculous incident of the deity at Huma narrated above and visited this Pitha. Realizing the religious sanctity and popularity of this Pitha he allocated revenues of some villages namely Huma, Bulpunga, Dhatukpali, Gangadharpali and Mahle for the maintenance, regular worship and religious ceremonies of Lord Bimaleswara. O’Malley, in his Sambalpur Gazetteer, has written that, “The temple has an endowment consisting of Huma and 6 other villages, which have been exempted from assessment so long as the temple stands and the religious ceremonies are maintained. The grant is an old one, being said to date back to the time of Balaram Deva, first Raja of Sambalpur”5. In other words, State funding of Seva-Puja has been introduced since then. Most probably, when Raja Balaram Dev carved out a new Rajya out of the province of his elder brother he named it Huma Desa. Thereafter, as the erudite historian Dr. N. K. Sahu has described, the period of establishment of the Sambalpur Rajya was about the year 1570 A.D.6
The village Huma and its Saiva Pitha may be supposed to be much older than the time of Raja Balaram Dev whose Rajya was once identified as Huma Desa. The following analysis unearths the reality that the continuation of this Pitha can at least be dated back to the eleventh century A.D. Panda7 recognizes some significant points that the gateway/doorjamb to the Garbhagriha of this temple is of late Somavamsi period and it is comparable to that of the Jagamohana of the Narsinghnath temple of Gandhagiri near Paikmal of Bargarh district. Another significant stone panel fitted to the wall of the Jagamohana on the proper right of the doorjamb is a broken one, depicting three Grahas of the Nava-Grahas panel which can also be dated to the late Somavamsi period and in all probability was fitted above the doorjamb of the Garbhagriha in its original state. In view of that, the doorjamb as well as the broken Nava-Grahas panel can be iconographically dated to the eleventh century A.D.
According to the oral tradition prevalent in the village Huma and its surrounding area, as stated earlier, the Ganga Emperor Anangabhimadeva-III (1211-1239 A.D.) has constructed this temple. Hence, it can be said with precision that Huma bears the testimony of a significant place of pilgrimage and a glorious place of Siva worship since at least the eleventh century A.D., if these historical relics are reckoned to be the earliest of all antiquities existing at Huma. It is not out of place to mention that, Dakshina Kosala with its capital at Suvarnapur or Yajatinagar was the seat of power of the later Somavamsi for sometime. Sonepur stone inscription of Bhanudeva dated 1268 AD attests this fact. Both the epigraphic evidence as well as tradition combine to prove that, Sonepur was occupied by the Gangas during the reign of Anangabhimadeva-III.
In the 15th and 16th century A.D., after the disintegration of the Ganga Empire of Orissa, a strong pull towards political fragmentation and decentralization of power took place. It happened partly due to the partition of ruling families and partly due to land grants of villages by the ruler to indigenous tribal chiefs who ended up as independent potentates in the frontier zone of uncertain control like Daksina Kosala (roughly west Orissa). The indigenous tribal chiefs and chiefs of obscure origins took advantage of weak central authority, assumed power and formed several Rajyas8.
In all probability, Huma as well as its adjoining area was a thick forested area and inhabited by aboriginal people when Raja Balaram Dev first arrived here. He was a reputed warrior. Owing to military necessity, his elder brother, Raja Narasingha Dev, the tenth Chauhan Raja of Patna Rajya entrusted the administration of this tribal dominated, hilly and forested part to him. Balaram Dev first established himself at Bargarh on the bank of the river Jira as mentioned earlier. Then, he shifted his capital to Chaurpur on the right bank of the river Mahanadi and named it Huma desa. There from, he sifted his capital to the left bank of the river Mahanadi and formed the present Sambalpur. As discussed earlier, Bargarh-Sambalpur-Sonepur area, situated on the upper Mahanadi delta was a fertile plain with a high yield of per unit of land. Balaram Dev successfully consolidated the Chauhan rule in this part of their Rajya and carved out a new Rajya out of the territory of his elder brother and named it Huma Desa. This period, thus, marked the culmination of the process of state formation in this area under the Chauhans. Thus, Chauhan power was mainly responsible for unifying different areas of West Orissa under one rule.
In this process of consolidation of power, there is no denying that, Balaram Dev was basically liable for amalgamating Bargarh-Sambalpur-Sonepur regions under his rule and carved out a new kingdom. The topographical condition was helpful for agriculture. He made the plain area suitable for settled cultivation. During this period, presumably, local communities and people were mobilized for plough cultivation. Even brahmanas could not confine their activities to their traditional duties and followed the profession of plough cultivation. ‘Halua’ brahmana, for instance, is a category of agricultural brahmanas of Sambalpur area. The word ‘halua’ is derived from ‘hala’ meaning ‘plough’. The aboriginal base of plough cultivation and the transformation of tribal chiefs into big landlords/gauntias/Zamindars/kshatriyas in Sambalpur area paved the path of assimilation. With the assimilation of the local and tribal people as peasants there was a great deal of agricultural expansion and surplus mobilization in this area. This constituted the material base for the rise of Balaram Dev. In this context, one cannot ignore the change in the material base and its corresponding reflection on society and polity. During this period, there was a striking change in power equation in West Orissa. Sambalpur became most powerful of the garhjat cluster. From that time onwards, the importance of Patnagarh declined and the significance of Sambalpur increased.
In order to sustain his separate and independent Rajya, most probably Raja Balaram Dev had to depend upon the Bhogas and Bhagas. As mentioned above, he had to persuade the local tribal people to become settled agriculturists so that production would increase. Perhaps, the socio-economic life of the people was very simple. They were reliant on subsistence economy which was primarily based on hunting, food gathering and shifting cultivation. This type of survival economy almost certainly could not create adequate surplus and could not sustain an emerging Rajya as analyzed elsewhere9. To legitimize his status as Raja and to his share of the produce (Bhaga), Raja Balaram Dev granted lands to Brahmins and temples which contributed to the changing agrarian situation, formation of a hierarchical social order and Brahminisation / Hinduisation of the society. In this process, we may assume that, tribal people were assimilated as peasants. The process of tribal integration appears to have been gradual through acculturation. In the economic sphere, thus, this period may be characterized as peasant cultivation. As a result of this, there was agricultural expansion, which constituted the material base for the rise of the Chauhan kingdom in this part of West Orissa.
It may be suggested here that Huma Pitha already existed when Raja Balaram Dev arrived here. Possibly, the temple was in a dilapidated condition. Raja Balaram Dev extended royal patronage and rebuilt or renovated the temple. Subsequently, Maharaja Baliar Singh, the fifth Raja of Sambalpur Rajya had also most probably rebuilt or renovated it during his time. Be that as it may, there is no denying the fact that, Raja Balaram Dev adopted this Pitha and extended royal patronage.
As it has been discussed earlier, Balaram Dev first established himself at Bargarh on the bank of the river Jira. But a pertinent question arises here, why Chaurpur or Huma or Sambalpur was the better choice of Balaram Dev for his new capital. There are four probable reasons for this. Broadly speaking, the topographical condition of West Orissa was not helpful for settled agriculture. Chaurpur, Huma and Sambalpur were positioned strategically in a jungle area during those days on the bank of the river Mahanadi. Huma is in between Sambalpur and Sonepur. Admittedly, the Sambalpur-Sonepur area, situated on the upper Mahanadi delta is a fertile plain. The historical Huma desa was situated in this delta area of the Mahanadi flowing into the Bay of Bengal. It was not surprising that, this area had the benefit of an active delta growth with a high yield of per unit of land. It was also not unexpected that, the Chauhan power while trying to broaden its power base, had attempted to control this fertile region just like it had done earlier in Bargarh. Most probably, they had made the plain area suitable for agriculture for agrarian expansion as well as surplus mobilization. It is not unanticipated that, these areas have been conducive for high yield. One cannot ignore the fact that, the chief areas of cultivation lay along the banks of the river Mahanadi. The cultivated plains of this area yielded numerous varieties of paddy, some of which were the finest in the country.
Secondly, a large tract of this area was abounded with forests. This might have facilitated a continuous supply of fuel, fodder and timber and vast pastoral ground. This also suggests that, efforts were being made to bring forests area under plough cultivation resulting in an increase of crop growing area. Perhaps, the Chauhans brought a large tract of land under cultivation. Despite the fact that we do not come across any major irrigation projects during this period, yet prevalent terms like kata, bandh, chuan, etc., give us an impression that some kind of artificial irrigation was prevalent during Chauhan rule. It may be noted that, kata, bandh, chuan etc., are small reservoirs of water formed either by natural process or created by human agency.
Third one is the Mahanadi. In olden days, river was used as the main trade route. It was the convenient way of transportation of goods by boats. It did not astonish that, the river Mahanadi was the main out-let for the trade and produce of this area. The produce was carried in boats from Sambalpur to Binka (Binitapur), Subarnapur, and Boudh and even to Cuttack. Commodities were also brought back through this river route. Boats could also ascend the Mahanadi as far as Arang in the Raipur district of Chhattisgarh. Conspicuously, boat transport was carried on as far as Subarnapur and Boudh in the flood season till very recently. As regards water communication O’Malley in his Sambalpur Gazetteer published in 1909 writes as follows, “In flood time boats take 5 days to reach Cuttack from Sambalpur, while the journey to Sonpur lasts one day and to Binka 6 hours. At other times the length of the journey depends on how often they are stranded on the sand or between rocks-a frequent occurrence soon after the rains, owing to the low depth of water in the river and the numerous rocks cropping up its bed. The duration of the return journey is much longer. In July and November it takes laden boats 25 days and 21 days respectively to reach Sambalpur from Cuttack, 6 and 5 days from Sonpur and 5 and 4 days respectively from Binka”10.
Fourthly, Sambalpur had the tradition of producing diamonds extracted from the sands of the river Mahanadi at Hirakud. Etymologically, the name Hirakud is a combination of Hira and Kud. The word Hira means diamond and the word Kud means island. Consequently, the literary meaning of Hirakud (Hira+Kud) is ‘Diamond Island’. As regards Hirakud O’Malley in his Sambalpur Gazetteer published in 1909 (page 203-04) writes as follows, “The name means the diamond island, diamond mining being formerly carried on by a class of people called Jhoras, for whose maintenance, it is said, the revenue of about 30 villages on either bank of the river Mahanadi was assigned by the former Rajas of Sambalpur. These people worked during the cold and hot weather, when the water was low. The work was done in the bed of the river in either branch, and some large and valuable diamonds are known to have been found in the right branch.” Hirakud to Subarnapur-Boudh was that component of the river Mahanadi where the diamonds and gold were procurable down the river Mahanadi to as far as Subarnapur11. Even these days, valuable stones are reportedly recovered from the riverbed of the Mahanadi.
It may be noted that, benefits of the first three points were available in case of Bargarh also. But, relatively speaking, Chaunrpur/Sambalpur was far better location being on the Mahanadi than Bargarh on the Jira. Fourth point was an added advantage for Balaram Dev. Perhaps, he wanted to control the mineral business under his direct supervision. This business was so important during the Chauhan rule that, the revenue of 30 villages on either bank of the river Mahanadi was assigned by the Chauhan rulers of Sambalpur for maintenance of Jhoras who were traditionally employed for this purpose.
In view of the above analysis it may be suggested that, Huma region was quite important from commercial, political and social points of view besides its religious significance. Raja Balram Dev was not indifferent to the reality that there were antagonism between people of different races, religions and communities. He was well aware of the problem of communalism that would weaken the State formation, cause disharmony in social life and divert the attention of people from formation of a separate Rajya in this area, which was his preferred goal. Therefore, he had made attempts to integrate the indigenous communities into one fold under the umbrella of the Hinduism. As expected, in the process of the building of a unified and separate Rajya, indigenous communities with their religious traditions were also successfully absorbed in the mainstream of the Hindu Great Tradition through its branches like Saivism, Saktism and Vaisnavism and various Hindu epics and Puranas.
In this context, it may be mentioned here that temple is an important agent or instrument of Hinduisation12. The newly founded ruling house at Chaunrpur in connivance with the brahmanas wanted to bridge the gulf between the elite and the folk. Of course, the process of integration appeared to have been gradual through acculturation was perhaps a planned device imposed from above. Construction of a Siva temple led to the upward mobility of the local priests of this shrine, who were non-Brahmins. The royal patronage drew the attention of the people in large number from far and wide. It led to the regular flow of devotees, both tribal and non-tribal people to this Pitha. The coming of non-tribal devotees might have led to social interaction between the caste-Hindus and the local tribal people.
With the assimilation of tribal societies into a state society there was a marked change in their stratification system. In the place of an egalitarian tribal social structure there arose a hierarchical social system. Gonds, for instance, are divided into two main groups, ‘Raj’ Gonds who form the aristocracy and ‘Dhur’ or dust Gonds who are the common people. The Raj Gonds may be considered to be the descendants of Gond landed proprietors, who have been formed into a separate group and admitted to Hinduism with the status of a cultivating caste. Notably, brahmanas take water from them and many Raj Gonds wear the sacred thread like the brahmanas13. Second example is Binjhal tribe. “The more advanced Binjhals boast of an alliance with Rajputs and call themselves Barhias, a title originally borne by small hill chiefs, but the common Binjhals do not claim such Rajput descent”14. However, they do not employ brahmanas as their priests15. thus, we cannot ignore the change in material base and its corresponding reflection on society and polity.
The fame and popularity of the deity enshrined in Huma temple had come to be known as Lord Bimaleswara. By the time of renovation of this temple in 1670 by Maharaja Baliar Singh, this was very popular as Huma-Kshetra not only due to its religious importance but also owing to its socio-economic and political contributions. Businessmen as far as from Kantilo, Bolangir, Barpali, Bargarh, Subarnapur and Maniabandha were attending the fairs and festivals at this Pitha to sale their goods16.
State sponsorship or royal patronage by Balaram Dev to this religious Pitha was a firm and uncompromising measure to appease and pacify the natives and to legitimize his authority over them, which also facilitated the process of Hinduisation to build up a larger Hindu / Chauhan Rajya in this area. Understandably, Balaram Dev was successful in bringing people closer to this temple and by means of this temple he was able to consolidate his authority and influence over the forest region of Huma. In a similar fashion, he adopted Samalei Devi and constructed a temple at Sambalpur and extended royal patronage17. The successors of Raja Balaram Dev had also methodically followed this principle and patronized the Saiva Pithas in different parts of former Sambalpur Rajya. The most famous among them were those of Asta-Sambhus as mentioned earlier.
Thus, the Chauhan Rajas consolidated their power and position and established a superior Chauhan Rajya in Sambalpur. It is imperative to note down that, the religious importance of Huma-Kshetra is equated with other Kshetras of Orissa namely, Sri-Kshetra (Shri Jagannath Temple) at Puri, Arka-Kshetra (Sun Temple) at Konark. It may be recommended that the rationale behind such royal patronages is to give a boost to the local cults and at the same time to capitalize on the religious sentiments of the local people to such an extent / degree that it can be used as a means for political ends. In any case, the rise of Huma-Kshetra in Sambalpur, particularly during the 16th century has to be accredited to the patronage of the Chauhan Rajas, which has helped in consolidation of the Chauhan rule and State formation in Sambalpur area and also facilitated the process of Hinduisation in this region.
1. S. S. Panda, “Bhairava Worship in Upper Mahanadi Valley”, Orissa Review, January, 2004, p.39; C. Pasayat, “Oral Tradition of Huma and Legitimisation of Chauhan Rule”, The Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol. XLVII, No. 2, 2004, pp. 90-96; idem., “Myth and Religious Cult of Orissa: A Study of Bimaleswara of Huma”, The Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol. XLIX, No. 1, 2, 3 & 4, 2008, pp. 186-192.
2. N. Senapati and B. Mahanti (Eds.), Sambalpur District Gazetteer, Cuttack: Gazetteers Unit, Government Press, 1971, p. 51, 526; C. Pasayat, “The Leaning Temple of Huma in Sambalpur District in Orissa”, Orissa Review, November, 1990, pp.20-23; S. S. Panda, “Early Chauhan Temples of Sambalpur Town”, Orissa Review, April, 1996, pp.34-35.
3. N. Senapati and B. Mahanti (eds.), op. cit., 1971, p. 11; C. Pasayat, op. cit., 1990, p. 20-23.
4. C. Pasayat Glimpses of Tribal and Folkculture, New Delhi: Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., 2003, pp. 16-18.
5. O’Malley, L. S. S., Sambalpur Gazetteer, New Delhi: Logos Press, 1909 (reprint 2007), p. 204; N. Senapati and B. Mahanti (eds.), op. cit., 1971, p. 526.
6. S. S. Panda, op. cit., 1996, p. 35.
7. ibid., pp. 34-35.
8. F. Deo, “Chauhan Myth and Royal Legitimisation in Kosala (Daksina)”, Souvenir, Sambalpur Lok Mahotsav, Sambalpur, 2003, pp.96; C. Pasayat, “The State and Culture in Early Medieval Western Orissa: A Study of Myths and Fables on Patnagarh and Marjarakesari in Narasinghanath”, Utkal Historical Research Journal, Vol. XXII, 2009, pp. 135-152.
9. ibid., 96.
10. O’Malley, op.cit., 1909, p.162; N. Senapati and B. Mahanti, op. cit., 1971, p. 86.
11. O’Malley, op.cit., 1909, pp. 1, 9-12, 20, 203-04; N. Senapati and B. Mahanti, op.cit., 1971, pp. 273-74.
12. A. Eschmann, “Hinduisation of Tribal Deities in Orissa: The Sakta and Saiva Typology” in A. Eschmann, H. Kulke and G. C. Tripathy (eds.), The Cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa, New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1978, pp.78-98.
13. N. Senapati and B. Mahanti, op. cit., 1971, p. 117.
14. ibid., p. 118.
15. ibid., p. 121.
16. ibid., p. 526.
17. C. Pasayat, op. cit., 2003, p. 67-84.
Dr. Chitrasen Pasayat
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