Posts filed under ‘Territory of South Koshal’

Ruins of ancient temple found in Jhinkerpali village, Boudh

BOUDH:The recovery of remains of a purportedly 10th century temple from a farm land in Jhinkerpali village under Palsagora gram panchayat in Kantamal block of the district has opened up a new chapter in the history of temples under Somvansi rulers. As per reports, the ruins of the temple were found while earth work was underway in the farm land of Parameswar Sahu on Friday.

The ruins include pillars with engraved motifs besides blocks with writings in Palli script. The excavator, which was deployed in the farm land, came across the ruins following which the work was put on hold. As the news spread, excited villagers rushed to the spot to catch a glimpse of the ruins.

Local villagers call the place from where the ruins were recovered as ‘Chandi Taal’ while revenue records reflect it as ‘Deva Staal’. Manoj Mohanty, a villager, recalled his grandfather mentioning about the existence of a Maa Chandi Bhairavi Temple at the place. In 1991, two Shiva Lingas had been found from the location which are currently being worshipped in Palsagora temple.

Researcher Satyanarayan Pani said the ruins hint of the temple being constructed during 10th Century. As the Somvansi rulers were devotees of ‘Chandi’, they could have built the temple, he said.

While the early history of Boudh is still obscure, the discovery of three remarkable Buddhist statues from the region had led some scholars to believe that the place was an important Buddhist centre of Odisha.
The town, which has over 200 temples built by Somvansi rulers, has led some to believe that the ruins could be that of a Shiva temple.

Boudh houses some ancient temples including the famous twin temples of Nilamadhava and Sidheswar and the twin temples dedicated to Hari and Hara. These apart, there are Chari Sambhu temple and the Ramanath temples dating back to the 9th century AD.




July 25, 2017 at 4:40 pm Leave a comment

BOOKS: History of Kosal and Sonepur

The western world is very good at preserving places of historical importance. Even in Asia, countries like China, Japan and South Korea have undertaken tremendous efforts to restore centers of historical and cultural heritage. But, things are very different in western Odisha. Forget about preserving these centers, the Odisha government has systematically erased the history of western Odisha and Somavamsi Kings from the prescribed text books. My native place (the undivided Balangir district) has a very rich history. However, we were never taught about it in schools. Following are few interesting books by Dr. Sadananda Agrawal on the history of western Odisha.

Following images were taken from the FB page of Dr. Agrawal:




April 15, 2017 at 8:57 am Leave a comment

Destruction of historical monuments in Western Odisha

Following is a report from the Sambad:


October 29, 2014 at 1:33 am 1 comment

Samalei to Sambaleswari: myth and reality in oral narratives and history

Dr. Chitrasen Pasayat

Sambalpur, above and beyond the seat of Buddhism and Hinduism, is also abode of other religions and communities such as Muslims, Christians and numerous indigenous tribal communities. With this multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual composition, Sambalpur has always preferred the path of social accommodation and social integration. In Sambalpur, as a consequence, people of diverse religious faiths have inhabited collectively in harmony. It may correctly be identified as the most pluralistic society. The present essay is an effort to appreciate how the autochthonous groups and their religious traditions (Little Tradition) have been effectively wrapped up in the regional Hindu society and culture (Great Tradition). Moreover, this paper is an attempt to understand how afterward these traditions have played most noteworthy role in the process of state formation in the regional level i.e. in the erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya or kingdom during medieval period. In Sambalpur, as discussed elsewhere, the ruling class was always aware of the fact that communalism would weaken the state and would cause disharmony in social life and would divert the attention of the people from formation of a separate Sambalpur Rajya. So, attempts were made to integrate the indigenous communities into one fold under the broad umbrella of Hinduism. What’s more, their deities were acknowledged, exalted and glorified to the Hindu status by the ruling class of Sambalpur in order to appease the local subjects so that the ruling class could consolidate their power over the natives and exercise their suzerainty over this area. Understandably, in this process of building unified Sambalpur Rajya indigenous communities with their religious traditions were successfully absorbed in the mainstream of the Hindu Great Tradition through its branches like Saivism, Vaisnavism and Saktism. The area of our study i.e. Sambalpur is the headquarters town of modern Sambalpur district. It is situated on the left bank of the river Mahanadi.

From the earliest time, Sambalpur has been celebrated as the land of Tantrik Buddhism. It is an ancient town and it has the global reputation of being a Tantra Pitha. When Buddhism as a religious-cultural power began to decline in several parts of India, Sambalpur shouldered the vital responsibility of the continuation of this faith in its new form i.e. Tantrik Buddhism. In this context, it may be mentioned that the existence of Sambalpur may be dated back at least to the early Christian era. The Greek Geographer Ptolemy (middle of the second century A.D.) in his book the Geographike refers to a town named Sambalaka located on the bank of the river Manada. Ancient Sambalaka and Manada are identified with modern Sambalpur and the river Mahanadi respectively (O’Malley, 1909:20). The suffix Pur has been later supplemented by sanskritising the original name Sambala when this region has come under the Chauhan rule (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:2-3). Likewise, the Samalei Pitha may be supposed to be much older and the aborigines may have worshiped the deity since time immemorial. Sambalpur is intimately linked with the spread of Tantrik Buddhism both in India as well as overseas. It is recognized to be the land where the Sambara Tantra was advocated by a famous Siddha called Pitopada who is as well regarded to have conquered the Siddhi of invisibility at Sambala (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:446). Sometimes, in the eighth century A.D., Indrabhuti was the king of Sambalaka / Sambalpur and was believed to have patronized Tantrik Buddhism. He was the author of the manuscript the Jnanasiddhi. His sister Laksmikara / Laksminkara is also reported to be Tantrik Buddhist perfectionist. She is celebrated as one of the 84 SiddhaGurus in Tantrik Buddhism and as the propounder of a religious faith called Sahaja-yana, consequently, building a grand name and reputation for herself. It implies that by the time of medieval period, the land of Sambala / Sambalaka / Sambalpur was one of the key seats of Tantrik Buddhism.

There is no denying the fact that the Vajra-yana of Indrabhuti and Sahaja-yana of Laksminkara flourished and prospered in Sambalpur region in the eighth century A.D. At that time, Sambalpur might have developed a very high standard of Tantrik culture. Most probably, Samalei Pitha was an essential part of that great cultural tradition. In the Garbha-griha (inner sanctum) of this temple, “the image of Samlai is a large block of stone in the middle of which is a projection with a narrow groove regarded as the mouth. On both sides of this are depressions covered with beaten gold leaf to represent the eyes” (O’Malley, 1909:218).The fierce and typical shapeless rock made to appear like the face of Samalei Devi (goddess) with two gold leaves in the forms of eyes and in the middle a projection resembling the mouth of a cow recommends some influence of Tantra. In this context, mention may be made of Panda (1996:37) who has recognized some noteworthy points that in front of the Garbha-griha of Samalei Gudi (temple), there is a pillared hall wherein a pair of human foot prints with two eight-petalled lotus-rosette motifs on both sides is engraved on a stone panel. This pair of footprints is worshipped as Sitala-mata. Such footprints are found to be imprinted on stone slabs at Ghudar and Ranipur-Jharial in the district of Bolangir and Narsinghnath in the district of Bargarh. Panda (1985:106) viewed that admiration of footprints of Siddhacharyas was very widespread and common to the Tantrik School. His view may be corroborated by the opinion of Patel (2004:42) on footprint emblem discerned in the site of Ranipur-Jharial. Patel accepts as true that it is reminiscent of early Buddhist worship of anoconic diction. In this respect, availability of footprints in crude form at Rampad on the riverbed near Sambalesvari temple carries significance to a great extent. For that reason, Samalei Pitha had Buddhist connection. In other words, Sambalpur had made Tantrik Buddhism a potent spiritual power and effective cultural force in the Indian sub-continent. In view of this, Sambalpur might be recognized as one of the important urban centers with intercontinental reputation in between the second and eighth century A.D. it seems that, Tantrik Buddhism continued to triumph in Sambalpur till about 13th century A.D. long after Buddhism had vanished from many parts of India.

Reportedly, Laksminkara had married Sevole, the son of the king Jalendra of Lanka / Lankapuri. But, Laksminkara preferred the career of a Tantrik Buddhist perfectionist and practiced Tantra Sadhana in Lankapuri which was regarded as Mahayogapitha or a great centre of Tantrik Buddhist Yoga. Continuous meditation and Tantra Sadhana for seven years in the cemetery of Lankapuri Mahayogapitha made her properly enlightened and she distinguished herself among the people of India and abroad as Bhagavati Laksminkara or Goddess Laksminkara because of her Uttama Siddhi or excellent attainment. Lanka or Lankapuri is identified with modern Sonepur or Subarnapur (Mishra, 2003:87-88). Lankesvari, therefore, may be recognized as Laksminkara as the former nomenclature appears to be a corruption of the latter. A legend also ascribes Goddess Samalei to Lankesvari. Furthermore, Chaurasi Samalei are important deities of the Keutas, the fishermen caste of Bolangir (Senapati and Sahu, 1968:107). This notion of Chaurasi (84) Samalei prevalent among the Keutas (fishermen) of west Odisha very probably refers to 84 Siddha-Gurus in Tantrik Buddhism. In view of this, Goddess Laksminkara may reasonably be identified with Laksminkara i.e. Samalei or Samalesvari who has been worshipped by the local people in Sambalpur. Raja Ramai Dev founded the kingdom of Patna in the fourteenth century. Within a very short span of his military career, Raja Ramai Dev became the chief of the cluster of eighteen Garhs (forts). Patna was an important State in west Odisha under the Chauhans since fourteenth century. By the sixteenth century, almost the whole of west Odisha came under the political sway of the Chauhan Rajas of Patna who occupied as many as eighteen Garhs (Athara-Garh) under them. The twelfth king Raja Narasingha Dev handed over to his younger brother Balaram Dev the territory lying north of the river Ang / Ong (O’Malley, 1909:21; Senapati and Sahu, 1968:3). It is said that one rainy night when the Rani of Narasingha Dev was in the throes of childbirth, Balaram Dev swam across a hill-stream named Mayabati, which was flowing in between the capital town of Patnagarh and the village Barapada, and brought the nurse from that village to attend the Rani. It was reward for this courageous and faithful service that Raja Narasingha Dev gave the northeastern part of his dominion to Balaram Dev. Later on, there arose a quarrel between the two brothers concerning the extent of their respective territories. However, it was cordially settled by the intervention of the Queen 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. After that 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 and from that time onwards the river was called Ang and was regarded as the natural frontier between Patna and Sambalpur territories.

It appears that Raja Narasingha Dev placed the Sambalpur region under the charge of his younger brother Balaram Dev to check the aggression of Haihaya power of Ratanpur (Senapati and Sahu, 1968:52-53). In other words, Balaram Dev was given the Sambalpur tract where he, later on, assumed the power and founded the state of Sambalpur, which became most powerful of the Garhjat cluster and from that time onwards, the importance of Patna declined (Senapati and Sahu, 1968:3). Accordingly, Balaram Dev became the first Chauhan Raja of Sambalpur Rajya about the middle of the 16th century A.D. “The town is named after its tutelary goddess Samlai, who was installed here when it was founded; and local tradition asserts that this name is derived from the fact that a cotton tree (simul) grew at the place where her image was set up” (O’Malley, 1909:1). Thus, as per the prevailing tradition, Balaram Dev discovered the image of Samalei beneath a Semel (silk cotton) tree. The botanical name of this tree is Bomax malabaricum. Because of phonetic resemblance between Semel and Samalei some scholars give credence to this tale that the deity worshipped under a Semel tree has come to be recognized as Samalei. Oral tradition relates that Raja Balaram Dev was given a grant of this area by his elder brother Raja Narasingha Dev of Patnagarh. Balaram Dev “first established himself at a place in the Bargarh tahsil which he called Nuagarh, i.e., the new fort. Next, as his power grew, he made a new capital at a larger place called Baragarh, or the big fort, the modern Bargarh” (O’Malley, 1909:21). Thus, he established himself first at Bargarh on the bank of the river Jira. Bargarh is on the National Highway No.6 and is about 50 kms. to the west of Sambalpur. The original name of this place was Baghar-Kota as identified from an inscription of the 11th century A.D. It was called Bargarh probably from the time of Raja Balaram Dev who made it for some time his headquarters and constructed a big (Bar / Bad) fort (Garh) for its protection. Later on, Raja Narayan Singh, the last Chauhan Raja granted this place in Maufi (free hold) to two Brahmin brothers Krusna Das and Narayan Das, sons of Baluki Das who was killed in action by the Gond rebels led by Bandya Ray and Mahapatra Ray. The grant is known as the Sri-kata / Sir-Kata grant (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:510). Etymologically, the word Sri-Kata or Sir-Kata is a combination of Sir and Kata. The word Sir means head and Kata means cutting. In other words, the award is meant for sacrifice of life.

However, Raja Balaram Dev is believed to have shifted his capital from Bargarh to Chaunrpur, “a village lying opposite to Sambalpur on the southern bank of the river Mahanadi” (O’Malley, 1909:21). In all probability, during this phase when Raja Balaram Dev carved out a new Rajya out of the territory of his elder brother he named it Huma Desa. Thereafter, the time of foundation of Sambalpur Rajya was about the year 1570 A.D. (Panda, 1996:35).

As per the legend, the village Chaunrpur is supposed to be the seat of Raja Balaram Dev previous to his coming to Sambalpur. One day while hunting, Raja Balaram Dev crossed the river Mahanadi. When he arrived at the left bank an attractive hare appeared before him. Raja Balaram Dev set his hounds at the innocent creature. But the outcome was contrary to his expectation. After some time, Raja Balaram Dev discovered his hounds repulsed by the hare. He had not anticipated such a scene. Struck by the most timid of animals, he thought that there might be some supernatural power in the land. That night Goddess Samalei appeared in his dream and said, “Why do you appear so sad? Don’t think that there appears to have been a mistake. I am Lankesvari here. Worship me. Your expectations and hopes will be fulfilled.” Next day, Raja Balaram Dev discovered the deity in the form of a stone. Afterward, he decided to build his Gad or Garh nearby. Having built a Gad he installed in it the deity Samalei. The place where her image was set up was a Kud (island) on which stood a Semel tree and hence was called Semel-Kud while the deity was named Samalei. Similar narratives are recorded by O’Malley (1909:217) and Senapati and Mahanti (1971:2-3) in their Sambalpur Gazetteer.

Afterward, Samalei has been sanskritised to Samalesvari. Etymologically, the name Samalesvari is a combination of Samala and Isvari. The word Samala refers to Sambala or Sambalpur. Accordingly, Samalesvari means Isvari of Sambala in the reigns of Chauhans. In other words, Sambalpur is acknowledged as the land of Samalei and she is the reigning deity of Sambalpur “A similar legend is still current regarding the foundation of Kharagpur, the city of the hare, in the Monghyr district” (O’Malley, 1909:21; Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:2-3). Be that as it may, identical stories prevail about origins of other places of Odisha like Cuttack, Talcher and Baripada. Matching story is also associated with detection of deities like Banibakreswari of Kuapada village under Delanga block in Puri district and Barala Devi of Balasakumpa village in Phulbani district. This is why, it is hard to estimate the accurate time and locate the exact place of the origin of this myth (Pasayat, 2003:10-12). Nevertheless, this story attests the fact that the aboriginal religious shrine like Samalei has received royal patronage. Raja Balaram Dev enshrined Samalei Devi inside his Gad. During his reign, Seva-Puja (Puja services) was provided from the royal treasury. In other words, State funding of Seva-Puja has been introduced since then. Subsequently, the present temple was built during 1657-95 A.D. in the reign of Raja Chhatra Sai (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:548). In view of this, it may be suggested here that Samalei Pitha already existed when Raja Balaram Dev arrived here. Perhaps, the temple was in a dilapidated condition. So, Raja Balaram Dev extended royal patronage and rebuilt the temple. Afterward, Raja Chhatra Sai had also most probably rebuilt or renovated the temple.

There is no denying the fact that Raja Balaram Dev adopted this Sakti-Pitha and extended royal patronage. But, the most significant development in the period of Raja Chhatra Sai (1657-95) was endowment of forty villages for the regular worship of Samalei Devi. Names of some villages have been collected from the natives. These are Jayaghanta, Kalamati, Ambasada Katapali, Nunia Jampali, Karpula Senapali, Chaunrpur etc. In other words, Raja Chhatra Sai made a permanent arrangement for the maintenance of the Samalei Gudi. It means that recognized steps have been taken by the Chauhan rulers for the state-funding of the Seva-Puja in Samalei Gudi and she has been elevated to the status of Rastra-Devi and called Sambalesvari i.e. Isvari or presiding deity of Sambala or Sambalpur. However, the landed property assigned for the performance of the daily and special Puja of Samalei Devi have been converted into personal property by the priests. This had been possible, most probably, during the British rule, either by hiding or destroying the copper plate grants. Any how, the priests are now managing the Seva-Puja of Samalei Gudi. Allegedly, the temple has no landed property at present (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:548).

It may be understood with exactitude that in the 15th and 16th century A.D., after collapse of the Ganga empire of Odisha, a strong pull towards political fragmentation as well as decentralization of power took place to a certain extent due to the partition of ruling chiefs who ended up as independent potentates. In the frontier zone of uncertain control like Daksina Kosala (roughly modern west Odisha) the indigenous tribal chiefs and chiefs of obscure origins took advantage of weak central authority; they assumed power and formed several small Rajyas (Deo, 2003:96). Formation of a separate Bargarh and subsequently Huma Desa and finally Sambalpur Rajya by Raja Balaram Dev in the 16th century A.D. was the product of the partition of the ruling family of Patnagarh. In all probability, this was a forested area and inhabited by aboriginal people when Raja Balaram Dev first arrived here. He was a reputed warrior. Owing to military necessity, the administration of this tribal dominated, hilly and forested part was entrusted to him by his elder brother Raja Narasingha Dev, the-then Chauhan Raja of Patnagarh. Raja Balaram Dev was successful to consolidate and strengthen the Chauhan rule in this part of the Rajya and he carved out a new Rajya out of the country of his elder brother. Subsequently, he and his successors extended and strengthened Chauhan rule in Sambalpur Rajya. In order to sustain a separate and independent Sambalpur Rajya, most probably, Raja Balaram Dev and his successors had to depend upon the Bhagas (share) and Bhogas. They had to influence the local tribal people to become settled agriculturists, so that production would augment because tribal economy based on hunting and shifting cultivation cannot maintain a Rajya as analysed somewhere else by Deo (2003:96). To legitimize their status as Rajas and to their share (Bhaga) of the produce, the Chauhan rulers granted lands to Brahmins and temples, which contributed to altering the agrarian situation, formation of hierarchical social order and also encouraged Brahminisation or Hinduisation of society in this area. In view of this, it may be recommended that Samalei Pitha previously existed when Raja Balaram Dev arrived here. Perhaps, this religious Pitha was in a decaying state. He extended state patronage and rebuilt or renovated this Pitha. Later on, Raja Chhatra Sai was also, most probably, instrumental in rebuilding or renovating it. As a result, the temple of Samalei or Sambalesvari became an important apparatus of Hinduisation in Sambalpur.

“There is a tradition that the country was invaded by the Muhammadan general Kalapahar…The story is that when Kalapahar invaded Odisha (A. D. 1568), the priests of Puri fled with the images of Jagannath and buried it on the Mahanadi to the south of Sambalpur. Kalapahar followed them to Sambalpur with his army, but could not force an entrance into the fort. While encamped outside it, his force was destroyed by the goddesses Samlai and Patneswari; for the former assumed the form of a milkmaid and sold curds and milk to his soldiers, while the latter appeared as a malini or gardener and sold them fruit. Milk, curds and fruit spread desolation in the army, for cholera broke out; and Samlai put Kalapahar to flight, capturing among other things his drum, the sound of which had the reputation of making the limbs of the Hindu gods and goddesses off their images. The drum, ghanta or big bell, and ghulghula or small bell taken by Samlai are still to be seen in her temple; while the tombs of Muhammadans who accompanied Kalapahar are pointed out at Sankerbandh, where his army encamped” (O’Malley, 1909:22).

It is believed that the priests buried the images on the Mahanadi in Soneur or Subarnapur, which is situated to the south of Sambalpur. It is said that the incident took place when Chhatra Sai was the ruler of Sambalpur. But it is also said that it took place during the reign of Balabhadra Dev. When the soldiers of Kalapahada drank the milk and curd, which spread desolation among them, at this hour, Raja Balabhadra Dev of Sambalpur drove back Kalapahada effectively. Accordingly, Samalei Devi satisfied Kalapahada’s thirst for quest to destroy the image of Lord Jagannath. It would not be out of place to mention that matching stories prevail in other shrines of Odisha namely Chalhakhai Devi at Kulada in Ganjam district, Dahikhai-Chamundai Devi at Rambha in Ganjam district. This tale is also associated with Danteswari Devi at Bastar in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh (Pasayat, 2003:20). It may be suggested that the foundation of this narrative is a feat of imagination. This is why, it is complicated to identify the place wherefrom and classify the time when this tale has initially been conceived and later adopted in other religious shrines. Nonetheless, we cannot disregard the information that this tale has singled out the supernatural power and deeds of Samalei Devi. It has established socio-cultural affiliation between the aborigines and the caste Hindus. By assimilating such stories into Samalei cult, the aboriginal people identify themselves as part of the larger Hindu religious culture, thus, contributing to Hindu cultural unity at a larger level which had facilitated at the time of state formation in Sambalpur.

Samalei at Sambalpur is a shapeless rock made to appear like a face. It may be believed to be a big piece of head-like stone structure. According to the oral tradition, Daksa arranged a Yajna. He invited all the deities and relatives to be present at the function. But he did not call his own daughter Sati and son-in-law Lord Siva, for the reason that Sati married Lord Siva against the desire and wish of Daksa. When Sati came to know about it, tears rolled down her face. When she settled down she got down at her father’s residence to attend the ritual ceremony without invitation. Unfortunately, Sati was received with dihonour and disgrace. She protested and accused her father for his neglect and disregard shown to her husband. Daksa broke into anger and cursed Lord Siva as a beggar, ashman, Yogi, king of goblins and so on. Sati could not put up with such abuse and insult; she jumped into the Yajna-Kunda. Consequently, Lord Siva became furious and started his Tandava bearing the corpse of Sati on his back. It was terrible and the destruction of the entire universe was imminent. So, Lord Visnu came out to protect the mankind. He instructed his Sudarsana Chakra to slash the dead body of Sati into pieces. When Lord Siva became conscious, Lord Visnu consoled him and the anger of Lord Siva cooled. Thereafter, Lord Siva retired alone to his abode Kailas. The corpse of Sati hewn into a number of pieces and wherever a fragment touched the earth, a Sakti-Pitha i.e. shrine of mother goddess sprang up. It is understood to be the head of Sati, which is enshrined and worshipped in the Samalei Gudi of Sambalpur.

Though mythological origin of the Sakti-Pitha at Sambalpur is connected with the most famous Daksa-Yajna story, originally it is not reported or recorded in any of the epic tradition of the Hindu religion. There is no denying the fact that the image of Samalei Devi is a large block of stone. There is also a projection with a narrow groove in the middle of the stone image of the deity. This projection is supposed to be the mouth of the deity. On both sides of projection are depressions covered with beaten gold leaves, which symbolize the eyes of the deity. Moreover, the image of Samalei Devi does not bear a resemblance to any other Sakti goddess found in Odisha. There is a Parsva-Devata of Samalei identified as Pitabali who is understood to be the deity of tribal people namely Kandhas (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:547). The above account of Samalei Devi recommends us to accept as true that she is a non-Brahmin deity, formerly worshipped by the aborigines of Sambalpur. Addition of Daksa-Yajna narrative is very likely a later improvement to add to Samalei some supplementary doses of Sanskritik fundamentals. This may be recommended to be an excellent illustration of localization or parochialisation of renowned Daksa-Yajna account to validate the faith of the aborigines with the Hindu epic tradition (Great Tradition) of India. By identifying Sambalpur with the manifestation of Sakti as Sambalesvari and her mythical and miraculous actions, the local people identify and classify themselves as component of the larger Hindu culture (Great Tradition), thus, contributing to cultural unity and consolidation of Chauhan rule in Sambalpur.

There is one more story, which indicates the dietary pattern of Samalei Devi. On one occasion, the priest was offering prayers to the goddess. His small daughter was standing by his side. The priest had fruits and flowers on a plate. All of a sudden, the priest discovered that the deity had disappeared. Looking up, he found the deity devouring his girl child. He was dumb-founded. Thereafter, the priest threw the plate right away at the face of the deity. As a result, the face of the deity turned to back side. So, the deity is thought to be facing away from the main entrance and that is why there is no face on the front side. Interestingly, this tale with little variation is found in the following religious shrines namely Kanaka-Durga at Piteipur village in Jagatsinghpur district, Janlei Devi at Hinjilikatu in Ganjam district and Kumari Devi at Bonai in Sundargarh district. In addition, the narrative is associated with Chandrahasini Devi at Chandrapur in Bilaspur district of the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh (Pasayat, 2003:19). However, the meaning of this tale is more important for our study. This story is meant not only to frighten children away but also suggests the practice of severe form of blood sacrifice and influence of Tantra on this Pitha. As per the oral tradition, once upon a time human beings were sacrificed before Samalei Devi. It is said that once a Siddha Brahmin arrived at Sambalpur. Priests of Samalei Devi caught him for sacrifice before the deity. The Brahmin told the priests to leave him alone and no one else before the deity inside the Garbhagriha so that Samalei Devi could munch him if she required. Accordingly, the Brahmin was not beheaded and rather left alone and alive in the Garbhagriha and the doors were closed. The episode went contrary to the interest of the priests. Next morning, the Brahmin came out from the Garbhagriha alive and unhurt. The account spread quickly throughout the Rajya that the Brahmin had contended and pleased Samalei Devi and the deity had blessed him. Maharaja Baliar Singh heard this incredible and miraculous incident; he gave order to bring to an end the practice of human sacrifice before Samalei Devi. Since then, buffaloes were sacrificed before the deity. Now a days, Buka (he-goat) and cock are familiar sacrificial objects in Durga Puja, Chaitra Purnima and other occasions in this Sakti-Pitha. This may be understood to be the process of legitimization of Brahmin priests in the non-Brahminik Samalei Gudi and minimization of severe practice of blood sacrifice in this Pitha.

According to the tradition, Samalei was worshipped in the beginning by the natives belonging to Sahara and Jhara communities living on the bank of the river Mahanadi. The chief occupation of these people was to collect diamonds and gold from the riverbed of Mahanadi. On one occasion, they found a big piece of stone under the deep water. They brought it out with the hope to extract diamonds and other valuable stones from it; they positioned it under a Semel tree on the bank of the river. Later on, they realized it as a deity in the shape of a stone. Thence, they started worshipping her (Dash, 1962:227). Although, Raja Balaram Dev adopted the local deity, he did not reject and exclude the traditional servitors of the deity from the temple cult, which was emerging as a testimony to Sanskritisation or Hinduisation of Samalei Devi. He appointed the Saharas, the traditional worshippers of the deity as the priests and Jharas as the servants and holders of canopy of Samalei Devi (Sae Deo, 1985:7-8). Saharas are generally considered to be untouchables in the social hierarchy of this culture area. In villages, the Jhankar worships Samalei as village deity. Though the Jhankars do not belong to any specific caste or community they are, in fact, non-Brahmin priests who also worship other village deities namely Mauli, BudhiMa and Gram-Pati. Previously, Jhankars were granted rent-free lands for their service in the villages. All these combinedly point out that Samalei has the personality of a non-Brahmin deity. Most probably, the rulers intended no harm to the sentiments and feelings of the aborigines. In view of this, it may be suggested that Saktism has taken all care to adopt and approve the features of the aboriginal or local religious cult i.e. Samalei. In other words, numerous local indigenous communities with Samalei tradition of erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya have been deeply attracted towards and absorbed in the mainstream of the Indian cultural tradition through Saktism i.e. Great Tradition. Saktism coupled with Saivism has formed the centre of the integration of Indian civilization and has a great influence on the regional religious culture of Sambalpur i.e. Little Tradition.

A very important characteristic of the development of religious system in Sambalpur region during the medieval period is the introduction of Tantrik elements in worship. As it has been discussed earlier, historical and archaeological remains attest the fact that Sambalpur region has been a stronghold of Saivism and Saktism united with Tantrism. Furthermore, severe practice of blood sacrifice at this Pitha, absence of caste distinction, employment or engagement of tribal or non-Brahmin priests, installation of the guardian deity (Samalei) in the Garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), belief in the replica or proxy divinity (Chalanti Pratima) of the main deity, annual or periodical journey (Yatra) of the Chalanti Pratima, spirit possession or descending of Samalei Devi through human beings etc. suggest some connections with the Tantra. As it is discussed elsewhere, Sambalpur as well as Samalei Pitha has been identified with an important seat of Tantrism where a very high standard of Tantrik culture had developed during the Buddhist and pre-Chauhan period. But, thereafter, particularly during the Chauhan period the unique blend of Saktism, Saivism, Tantrism and Sanskritik or Brahminical culture rose to a new height in Sambalpur region. Most probably, the Chauhan Rajas have brought their own faith with them. But they have not enjoined on common people of this area to believe and follow their faith and worship their deity rather they have reckoned their own faith with that of the locality. It was not what they practiced and worshipped but what they felt under what they believed that was important. The Chauhan Rajas have taken all care to retain the primitive character of this Pitha like aniconical image of the deity, non-Brahmin priests of the deity, blood sacrifice and the like. By constructing or renovating the temple, they have introduced elaborate rituals in a orderly manner. By giving rent-free land grants to the temple they have ensured regular and expected Seva-Puja for the deity. They have also manufactured myths wherever required to classify the deity as a Hindu goddess. In all probability, they have cautiously followed this principle under political expediency with a view to pleasing the local subjects.

In this context, mention may be made of Asapuri Devi who is the tutelary goddess of the Chauhan Rajas all over the country. Raja Ramai Dev, the first Chauhan Raja of Patna Rajya identified her as Patanesvari in Patna or Patana-gad meaning Isvari of Patana. Since then Patanesvari has been the tutelary goddess of the Chauhan Rajas of the Patana-gad or Patana house. In the same way, Raja Balaram Dev established Sambalpur Rajya. He also extolled the local deity Samalei as Sambalesvari meaning Isvari of Sambala or Sambalpur and the Raja accepted her with his own tutelary goddess. This way, the Hindu scholars and priests hinduised the local name of the deity i.e. from Samalei to Sambalesvari. According to this name, she is the deity of all who dwell in Sambalpur. In other words, the deity represents a larger society wherein people of various ethnic background stay together. Thus, the deity has become the source and symbol of unity and integrity mainly between the aboriginal people and caste-Hindus in Sambalpur. It may be understood that the Chauhan Rajas have made it their principle to esteem and extol the deities of the aborigines or natives wherever they have established their kingdoms and expanded their territory. Samalei, the deity of the autochthonous people has been hijacked by the ruling classes and used as tool to exercise their authority and control over the latter. Not only Samalei of Sambalpur but also Asta-Sambhus in different parts of erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya namely Bimaleswara at Huma, Kedarnath at Ambabhona, Biswanath at Deogaon, Balunkeswara at Gaisama, Maneswara at Maneswar, Swapneswara at Sorna, Bisweswara at Soranda and Nilakantheswara at Niljee have been adopted and given royal patronage in the reigns of Chauhan Rajas. Temples have been constructed and elaborate rituals have been introduced in these temples. Rent-free lands and villages have been granted and regular Seva-Puja of these deities has been ensured. This fundamental principle has made them admired and popular among the local inhabitants and also helped them to expand, consolidate and strengthen the Chauhan rule in Sambalpur region.

It may be noted here that Patanesvari temples are found only at few places like Patnagarh, Bolangir and Sambalpur whereas the number of Samalei Gudi or Samalesvari temples in Sambalpur is quite large. Besides the Samalei Gudi to be found in Sambalpur, Barpali and Subarnapur, the deity occupies a pivotal position in the religious life of the common people through out the length and breadth of the land of Samalei i.e. Sambalpur. She is being commonly worshipped under a tree in the form of a stone in the vicinity of almost each and every village of erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya. This indicates the extent of reverence shown to Samalei in every part of Sambalpur region. In villages, Samalei is worshipped by the Jhankars who enjoy rent-free lands for their Seva-Puja as mentioned earlier. Moreover, many indigenous, aboriginal, native, local, folk or tribal communities with their religious traditions (Little Tradition) of Sambalpur region have been successfully absorbed in the mainstream of the Hindu Great Tradition through Saivism, Saktism and Vaisnavism and helped in the process of state formation during medieval period in erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya. Bose (1941:188) has correctly pointed out, “Hinduism has grown by the incorporation of many tribal cults, until it has become a kind of federation of religious beliefs and practices…which goes by the name of Hinduism”. In sum, it may be concluded that as most of the rulers originated from one of the local groups it was easy for them to raise their deity to be the state deity or Rastra-Devata. In this process, it has helped them to legitimize and consolidate their political power over this area. Deities have become the linkage between the ruler and the ruled. The patronage of local deities and their elevation have helped the ruler to spread the narrative that the local deity has been pleased with the new ruler or the deity has blessed the ruler or the ruler has pleased the deity. They have successfully used the emotional attachment and religious sentiments of the local communities to the deity. This has helped the ruler to mobilize support of the local people and to legitimize their position and status in this area. This pattern has emerged partly because the rulers have needed the support of the local communities for their numerical strength and partly because of the fear of the deity whose wrath might result from absence of worship. The incorporation of local communities into the wider social order and their indoctrination proceeded in multifaceted manner through ceremonial and enactment of hierarchical relations. So, multiple simultaneous processes of Hinduisation, Tribalisation and localization / parochialisation are found linking between the Hindu Great Tradition and the local Little Tradition of Sambalpur. These processes of diffusion, acculturation and assimilation were never one-way flow from Hindu Great Tradition to local Little Tradition alone. In Sambalpur area, simultaneous process of acculturation and de-culturation has been observed down the ages. It has proceeded through complex processes of interaction, which are confirmed by myths, legends and historical evidence.


Bose, N.K.  (1941),“The Hindu Method of Tribal Absorption”, Science and Culture,pp.199-194.

Dash, S.P. (1962), Sambalpur Itihas (Odia), Sambalpur: Viswabharati Press.

Deo, F. (2003), “Chauhan Myth and Royal Legitimization in Kosala (Daksina)”, Sambalpur Lok Mahotsav Souvenir  – 2003, pp.96-101.

Eschmann, A. (1986), “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.

Mishra, R. (2003), “Scientific Theories in the Creativities of the Samvalaka – Princess Laksminkara” Sambalpur Lok Mahotsav Souvenir – 2003, pp.87-90.

O’Malley, L. S. S. (1909), Sambalpur Gazetteer, New Delhi: Logos Press (reprinted 2007).

Panda, L.K.   (1985), Saivism in Orissa, Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan.

Panda, S.S. (1996), “Early Chauhan Temples of Sambalpur Town”, Orissa Review, April, pp.34-38.

Panda, S.S. (2003), “Narsinghnath Temple of Bargarh District”, Orissa Review, August, pp.61-72.

Pasayat, C. (1998), Tribe, Caste and Folkculture, Jaipur: Rawat Publications.

Pasayat, C. (2003), Glimpses of Tribal and Folk Culture, New Delhi: Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Pasayat, C. (2007), Adivasi Moukhika Sahitya Parampara (in Odia), Kolkata: Sahitya Akademi.

Pasayat, C. (2007), Tribal Non-tribal Divide: Myth and Reality, Bhubaneswar.

Pasayat, C. (2007), History of Tribal Society and Culture, New Delhi: Zenith Books International

Patel, C. B. (2004), “Manuscript Efflorescence of Rampur Jharial”, Orissa Review, August, pp.41-44.

Sae Deo, L.R. (1985), “Samalesvari Mandira Pratisthara Kimbadanti O Samkshipta Itihas” (Odia), Basanta Milana Smaranika, Hirakhanda, Sambalpur, pp.7-8.

Senapati, N. & B. Mahanti (eds.), (1971), Sambalpur District Gazetteer, Cuttack: Orissa Government Press.


Dr. Chitrasen Pasayat resides at 152, Vijay Vihar, Nuagaon Road, PO: Sishupalgarh, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, 751002

October 22, 2012 at 10:47 am 2 comments

Khandabasa of Junagarh: showcasing the history and culture of Maraguda and South Kosal

Following report is from the Sambad:

October 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm Leave a comment

History of Kosal and Odisha: A contemporary thought by Bhanu Padmo

Following article is written by Bhanu Padmo. You can download the Odia PDF here:

June 23, 2012 at 8:24 am Leave a comment

Jitamitra Prasad Singh Deo and his research work on South Kosal

Following information is taken from D.K.Printworld website:

April 16, 2012 at 5:01 am Leave a comment

Has the Odisha govt. renamed the Utkal Divasa as Odisha day?

On 2008 I joined various e-groups to participate in the discussions about Odisha and western Odisha. On that year April first I received various e-mails protesting the name of Utkala Divasa. The common complain was that the present Odisha is an amalgamation of Kosala, Kalinga and Utkala, which some historians also refer as Trikalinga. Even today, the common complain from the people of western Odisha (Kosal region) is that there is no mention of Kosal in the history books of Odisha.

Culturally and linguistically western Odisha is different from coastal Odisha. There have been significant archaeological excavations of the upper Mahanadi valley (both western Odisha and Chhattisgarh region). It is evident that western Odisha had shakti, tantric and tribal culture unlike the coastal Orissa which is mainly dominated by Vaishnva culture. The 64 Yogini temple of Ranipur-Jharial, Balangir is a living monument of tantric civilization. In this regard, the “Sasisena Kavya” narrate an interesting incident happened in Sonepur with respect to a tantric expert known as “Jynanadei Maluni”.  If you are visiting western Odisha through river Mhanadi you will see that on both sides of Mahanadi there are lord Shiva temples. Prof. Sadhu Charan Panda has done lot of research on Nagas found in these temples.

Ramai Dev of Patna (present day Balangir) founded the Chauhan rule in western Odisha. The Somavamsi kings of Sonepur established many of the Shiva temples in Bhubaneswar and they have set the norms for worshiping the lord Shiva in BBSR. Today, the temples of Mandiramalini Sonepur bear a deserted look; whereas govt. is spending lot of money to preserve the temples in Bhubaneswar. Today, the old capital of Somavamsi rulers is no where to be found in the tourist map of Odisha. So far, the intelligentsias of Odisha are running away from the word Kosal and Kosli language. This is also cited as one of the reasons for instigating the Kosli language movement and separate Kosal state movement.

Jitamitra Prasad Singh Deo in his book “Cultural Profile of South Kosala” points out that “in the early period the South Kosala state was formed on the upper Mhanadi valley (western Odisha and Chhattisgarh); and in the early medieval period the people of Kosala tract originally spoke a language which was similar to the Bhojpuri Prakrit; whereas, the language of coastal Odisha had affinity with Magadhi.” This clearly indicates that there is a huge difference in the evolution pattern of languages of western Odisha and coastal Odisha.

In the past former MP Sriballav Panigrahi, former MP and current Odisha minister Prasanna Acharjya and present MP Bhakta Charan Das have raised the issue of Kosli language in the parliament. In addition, some people and organizations from western Odisha are working for the recognition of Kosli language and culture. It is also learned that in some of the schools of western Odisha Kosli language will be a medium of education in the primary level.

Many have pointed out that now the Odisha govt. is observing Odisha day not Utkala Divasa. It is good. I have nothing against Utkala but let govt. establish few institutes like Kalinga University and Kosal University. Let there be Kalinga Gramya bank and Kosal gramya bank. The Odisha govt. should also recommend so that some trains should be named as Kosal express.

One can ask, after all what is in a name! But, this is the same reason why Mumbai is renamed after Mumbadevi and Chennai is named after Chennapattinam. Indeed, Orissa was renamed as Odisha. The local sentiments should be respected. It is better for all of us if we respect the history, language and culture of all the regions. After all, the beauty of India is in its diversity.

April 3, 2012 at 4:03 pm 4 comments

The Somavamsi kings of Kosal

Ch 05 History Of Orissa From The Earliest Times To The Period (Page- 191-241)

See chapter XIV, Page 204.

September 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm Leave a comment

The archaic Indian punch marked coins: A glimpse of Sonepur hoard type coin

Following report is from


The word ‘Archaic’ has been used here to denote the series often known as the ‘Janapada’ series of Indian Punch-marked coins. Any discussion regarding the term can be dispensed with as researchers in this field are too familiar with it.  The term broadly differentiates the known range of PMCs into two general classes. One of them is the more familiar class comprising of coins with five symbols punched upon them – the class that is widely known as the ‘Imperial’ or ‘Magadhan’ PMCs and is thought to have formed the currency of the Magadhan empire down to the Mauryam times. These coins as a class exhibit certain characteristics such as weight, fabric and the number of punches or symbols that remain constant and may not be used as effective classification parameters. Their findspots are widespread across the known extents of the Magadhan empire and as such it can be safely generalised that they formed a uniform currency which was most likely controlled by the Magadhan burocracy. These coins have been extensively studied by Gupta and Hardaker whose seminal monograph remains the best reference to access them academically.

The other class is much less studied in comparison to the Imperial PMCs. It is the coins of this class and their classification that the paper primarily deals with. Although the main objective is to discuss the classification, certain other important aspects regarding the coinage will also be brought out, especially in the commentary that will accompany the slides after the main paper is over.

 Codrington recorded the first of these coins in an article in which he dealt with coins that were reported from Dhank in Saurashtra. These coins continued to be ascribed to ‘Konkan’ after a possible confusion, which cannot be traced effectively, of the provenance to a homonymous town not situated far from Bombay. Scholarly attention was drawn to coins of this class in the early decades of this century by Durga Prasad and E.H.C. Walsh, who discussed some varieties of these coins in their papers. Later P. L. Gupta devoted considerable attention to these coins, both in his doctoral dissertation (which unfortunately remains unpublished) and in several miscellaneous articles and papers. In 1969, the first edition of his masterly handbook ‘Coins’ appeared, in which he published his views on the classification of these coins in a summarised form. Mitchiner published a monograph on the earliest Indian coins, in which the archaic PMCs featured prominently. The contributions by Hardaker, McIntyre and Cribb may be cited as the latest attempts to study and categorize a group of these coins in a systematic fashion.

As a class characteristic, the coins are much more varied than the Imperial PMCs. They vary in weight, fabric, size, techniques of manufacture and most importantly the provenance. The paper deals with a brief outline of attempts to classify the coins and the approaches one may adopt towards their systematic classification. Needless to say, the classification of these coins assumes great significance when viewed from the standpoint of methodology, because classification is often the first step adopted in a scientific study.

‘Intrinsic’ and ‘Extrinsic’ approaches:

Broadly the approaches to classification may be categorized as ‘Intrinsic’ and ‘Extrinsic’. The intrinsic approaches would be limited to those aspects borne by the coins themselves, whereas the extrinsic approaches will be those that are not prima-facie inherent in the coin when it is examined. Classifiaction criteria such as weight, the variety and nature of punches or symbols, the techniques of manufacture,  and denominational patterns would serve as examples of the intrinsic approaches to classification. These will be discussed below, concentrating on their utility as criteria for classification and their suitability for detailed analysis.

The Nature of Punches / Symbols: As a general observation, the variation encountered in the nature of symbols while dealing with the Archaic PMCs is less to a certain degree than the Imperial PMCs. Symbols are predominantly more of a geometric nature, and bear fewer signs of a pictorial origin. The intricacy of the symbols is also worth noting. They can be distinguished in two main classes. In the first class symbols or marks which are specific may be grouped together. By ‘specific’ I mean that these symbols occur on coins that have a strong geopolitical orientation in terms of their find-spots. In other words, the ‘specific’ symbols occur on coins of series from certain geographic areas. The ‘pulley’, the ‘rayed circles’ seen on the ‘bent bars’ and the ‘3-S’ mark that characterises certain series of coins encountered chiefly in the Gangetic valley are examples of specific symbols. The other class comprises the ‘general’ symbols, which as opposed to the ‘specific’ ones may exhibit intra-serial shifts. Most of the non-geometric and less abstruse symbols, like the animate forms such as the elephant, can be called ‘general’ symbols. It must be noted, however, that even though a given symbol may be grouped as ‘general’ by virtue of its nature, it may exhibit ‘specific’ forms. This may sometimes cause the categorization of that symbol as ‘specific’, not in nature but in form. Some examples of ‘specific’ and ‘general’ symbols are illustrated here. (PRESENT)

It is extremely interesting to note that there exists at least one series that bears  symbols that could be otherwise classified as ‘specific’. This is the series known chiefly from the Bareilly region and represented by the Lotapur hoard that now lies in the collections of the Lucknow museum. Some coins of this hoard, while retaining regiospecific peculiarities in terms of weight and fabric with other coins, exhibit the ‘rayed circles’ of the ‘bent bar’ coins, the ‘3-S’ of the Gangetic valley coins and the ‘pulley’ of the Sultanpur hoard type coins. The last mentioned occurrence is yet unpublished, while the other coins can be seen listed in the thesis of P. L. Gupta. The reason for this inter-serial shift in specific symbols remains a mystery.

The Number of Punches: This is by far the most objective of the intrinsic approaches to classify the Archaic PMCs.  A scheme of classification may be illustrated with the help of this slide. (PRESENT) As a general observation, the coins may be categorized as single, double or quadruple marked coins.

The coins bearing a single punch may further be classified as uniface and biface. The biface coins actually bear two punches and may look like die-struck coins. But the facts that the second punch,  usually on the reverse, has been applied after the first one without offering any protection to it and that it occupies only a certain portion of the reverse field helps maintain their status as PMCs. Also the overall impression that these biface coins carry is that of single-punched coins. Hence their inclusion in this category. The small coins encountered in Western Malwa are good examples of biface Archaic PMCs, while coins of the Mathura region and those from the Sultanpur hoard serve as examples of the uniface varieties. A third group of the ‘single-punched’ coin consists of those pieces, which bear the punch struck more than once. Here again, technically these coins may not be ‘single-punched’ but their overall appearance betrays their nature as such and the last punch serves as the most prominent, obliterating the others below it. The Archaic PMCs from Saurashtra can serve as examples of this group.

The double-marked coins may further be classified into those bearing the same punch twice and those bearing two different punches, struck on  one side only without obliterating the other to any great extent. Examples of the both groups include certain fractional units from the lower Gangetic valley, illustrated by Hardaker.

The coins with quadruple marks form the most interesting and extensive series of the Archaic PMCs. The first group of these includes the coins which have two pairs of symbols punched on them. Thus essentially the number of symbols remains two, but the coin betrays an impression of a four-symbol coin. Such coins are chiefly encountered in the lower Gangetic valley, in the area between Allahabad and Varanasi, chiefly from the districts of Mirzapur and Ghazipur. The second group consists of coins having essentially three symbols, two struck separately, while the third is represented in a pair. At times, the marks forming the pair can be diminutive as compared to the two separate ones, as illustrated by coins of the Bhabua hoard. But mostly, all four symbols display the same degree of prominence. Coins belonging to this class are chiefly encountered in upper and lower Gangetic valley, and also in the Deccan. Some of the coins from the Gangetic valley from this class have a symbol struck three times. This is the symbol that usually forms the pair. But the occurrence of such coins is very low and as such they may not be categorised as a separate class. The third group is the least extensive of the four-punch coins. It includes coins with two symbols, one struck once and the other three times. So far only one group of such coins has been encountered and its provenance is not reliably ascertained, although they are said to have been found in the Jhansi region. The coins of the fourth and last group have four symbols, all of them different. By far they are the most widely distributed coins among the Archaic PMCs. They are encountered in the upper and lower Gangetic valley, Malwa and Chhattisgarh. It is interesting to note that some of the coins from Gangetic valley that show four symbols, have one of them struck twice. But in this case the occurrence is low and therefore they are not categorised as a different group.

Manufacturing techniques: The archaic PMCs can be grouped on the basis of the technique by which they are manufactured. The manufacturing process can be divided into two main stages – a) making the blanks and b) manufacturing coins from the blanks. It would be appropriate to say that the classification in this case depends only on the technique to produce the blanks, that is process (a). Process (b) remained virtually the same for all coins, because all of them were made from the blanks by multiple striking. On close observation it becomes evident that two main techniques were used to produce the blanks – cutting them through a sheet of silver, and making use of flattened globules. The factor that leads one to this conclusion is the appearance of the edges of coins. Coins made out of blanks that were cut from sheets exhibit sharp and dorsi-ventrally tapering edges, whereas coins manufactured from flattened globules have rounded edges with minute vertical furrows. The technique to produce globules has been widely discussed by Gupta, Bhardwaj and others. But most of the methods that have been suggested by them are scientifically inaccurate and industrially not viable. Especially, the contention of Gupta and Lahiri that a pre-determined quantity of molten metal was dropped in water to yield a globule is fantastic. It is impossible to measure molten metal to a corresponding accurate solid weight in a volumetric manner and liquid metal dropped in water would behave as two immiscible liquids would – it will disperse into several tiny droplets, which upon shock-cooling yield not one, but many tiny globules. An offshoot of the manufacturing process has yielded some Archaic PMCs with a scyphate shape. Examples of this process are the well-known coins from Varanasi region and those from the Sultanpur hoards. The technique to manufacture these coins still remains to be satisfactorily elucidated. While commenting on the Sultanpur coins Gupta has envisaged a process in which the metal was stamped with the punch bearing the symbol while still being in a ‘semi-molten’ state, similar to sealing wax. He further comments that this has caused the edges of the coins to bulge upward in a rounded fashion, giving them their distinct scyphate shape. This explanation is metallurgically and technically inaccurate. Metals do not exhibit a ‘plastic’ state while they convert from liquid to solid form. At best they exhibit an increased malleability that varies directly with the temperature, as the metal cools down it becomes harder. So there is no room for a metal to remain in a ‘semi-molten’ stage. Moreover, in case of the Sultanpur hoard type coins, recent discovery of restruck pieces showing vestiges of the previous punch on the reverse clearly demonstrate that Gupta’s view is not tenable. As regards the formation of ‘droplets’ or ‘globules’ it has been observed that a pre-weighed piece of metal like silver, if fired in a free standing manner, automatically assumes a spherical form when molten. If this sphere is allowed to cool naturally, a globule is formed that can then be flattened to yield a coin blank. Globules of silver according to various weight requirements are even today made by placing pre-weighed pieces of silver wire on a charcoal bed, and arranging many such beds in layers in a kiln which can be then fired to melt the pieces. As the kiln is allowed to cool, the molten silver solidifies giving globules, which are then separated from the charcoal simply by sifting. The technical and industrial efficiency of this process leaves no doubt that the manufacturing of globules to yield blanks of archaic PMCs was indeed undertaken by the same process in ancient India.

Denominational patterns: the metrology of PMCs and ancient Indian coins in general has been widely discussed and it would suffice here to say that, for the Archaic PMCs, two standards seem to be under operation – one based on 100 rattis and the other on 32 rattis. Classicists have identified the previous standard as ‘Satamana’ and the latter as ‘Karshapana’. Broadly it can be suggested that the 100 rattis standard was in vogue in the NWFP region and the Gangetic valley except Bihar, while the 32 ratti standard prevailed in other areas and Bihar. Significant regional variations can be apparent. Care needs to be taken in metrological examination especially of the fractional units, because the weight standard was based as multiples of the weight of a natural product, the seed of Abrus precatorius which exhibited considerable variation in its weight depending upon the climatic conditions in which the plant grew. Mitchiner has explained the point in a scientific manner.

Ancillary or ‘Shroff’ marks: These remain to be the least studied aspect of the Archaic PMCs. A casual examination of the coins leads us to conclude that for most series, they appear to be stylistically specific and therefore can be utilised as an effective classification adjunct. They are an important tool to build inter-serial chronology, an exercise that has practically never been accomplished and offers great promise as a methodological tool for studying the archaic PMCs. The peculiarity about the ‘shroff’ marks is that they seems to be confined mostly to the Gangetic plains. The only other exception is the bars from the NWFP region. The similarity between the marks on these bars and the Achamaenian Sigloi is well known and has been constructively utilised in the past to tackle the difficult question regarding the origins of coinage in India. However, it remains of only a historiographic significance and a similar study has not been attempted for any other series of archaic PMCs. A systematic study and classification of the ‘shroff’ marks on archaic PMCs from the Gangetic plains will not only serve to classify the coins themselves from a different perspective, it will also lead to certain key-points for the internal chronology of the coins. This will augment the role of these coins, which  otherwise remain ‘silent’, as source of historical information. For example, it has been observed that an identical ‘shroff’ mark (PRESENT) occurs on some coins of the Narhan hoard type as well as on some that belong to a series that is presently being attributed to the ‘Kosala’ region. This indicates that although the Narhan hoard type coins look much more primitive in their appearance, they actually circulated alongside the particular ‘Kosala’ series. This observation, when juxtaposed with the fact that a coin bearing a six-armed symbol in the center (PRESENT) (this has been recently attributed to Magadha as an early series by Gupta) was found in the Narhan hoard makes the picture clearer, giving us three distinct coin series that were more or less contemporary. The ‘shroff’ marks give an estimate of the degree of circulation of these coins and a systematic study will prove extremely beneficial to make preliminary generalisations about the economy of the Gangetic valley civilisation and its monetization. In  short, the ‘shroff’ marks on archaic PMCs need to be studied in much more detail.

Limitations of the intrinsic approaches:

Although the intrinsic approaches help to study the archaic PMCs extremely well from the standpoint of a micro-examination, there are certain limitations in adopting them as main classification adjuncts. The main drawback is that, excepting the case with ‘shroff’ marks, these approaches do not transcend the historical barrier and present the coins in a fragmentary manner, depending more on the inherent characteristics than their historicity. The lateral classification that is facilitated by aspects such as the denomination and the techniques of manufacture may not help in creating a picture in its entirety about a given series of the archaic PMCs. A classification of the archaic PMCs based primarily on the intrinsic approaches would lead the researcher nearer to certain aspects of the archaic PMCs, but will not be effective to construct a coherent and justifiable historical picture. In other words, most of the intrinsic approaches will lead to a purely ‘Numismatic’ study of these coins.

The Extrinsic Approaches:

These include aspects which are not inherent in the coins themselves, but deal with the provenance, hoard analysis and secondary historical sources. From a historiographic standpoint, the extrinsic approaches can be grouped into ‘Classicist’ and ‘Materialist’.

The Classicist approach derives directly from the Nationalist school of Indian History. By the early decades of this century, Western enthusiasm that culminated in rendering  most of the classical Indian literature accessible for scholarly review came to its end. The fruits which efforts of the likes of Max Mueller bore were now available to the second generation of Indian academics who used them as an important component for writing Ancient Indian history. In the absence of sufficient material evidence, the literature remained a primary source of historical information. Thus there evolved a school of historical writing, a school that is well-known for its ‘Indocentric’ approach. Less attention was paid to analysing the development of a particular text in its historical context, and most of the information that was contained in it was taken at face value. This led eventually to the virtual exclusion of material evidence, that was being made available by the science of Archaeology, often to the irony that it was either distorted to fit in with the literary evidenece, or discarded, if it did not! Initially the process seems to have concentrated on culling out the information pertaining to aspects of political history, but gradually attention turned towards  socio-economic aspects. The study of two Sanskrit manuscripts proved extremely important for the assessment of Ancient Indian socio-economic life – they were the Arthashastra by Kautilya and the Ashtadhyayi by Panini. While the first has been often regarded as an ancient Indian version of the ‘Prince’ by Macchiaveli, the second is a grammatical treatise that was first edited by Bohtlingk way back in the 19th century, but was used solely for linguistic purposes and not as a source of historical information. V. S. Agrawala paved the way for the utilisation of Panini in a historical perspective through his seminal work ‘India of Panini’s times’. Here for the first time we hear of the mention of denomination systems and words likeVimshatikaTryumshatikaPada, and Kakani which have become so superfluous in any discussion regarding the PMCs. In the Arthashastra, sufficient information is available to know about the technology of coin production. The other source of historical information was the Buddhist canons, or Jatakas, which were compiled by Rhys-Davids.  The Arthashastra is not very useful to study the archaic PMCs, mainly because of the fact that it is said to have been written by a confidante of Chandragupta Maurya, and that places it well after the establishment of Magadhan supremacy. But the Jatakas and Panini are certainly pertinent to the study and classification of the archaic PMCs. As an accumulation of stories that dealt with Buddha and his life, the Buddhist canon is replete with contemporary information, of both political and socio-economic nature. It is in theJatakas we hear about the ‘Janapadas’ that seem to have flourished almost contemporarily to the Buddha. The term is rather ambiguous, literally meaning the ‘abode of the people’. The attribution of most of the series of archaic PMCs to these ‘Janapadas’ was largely accomplished by P. L. Gupta, in his Doctoral research (1961), which was done under the guidance of the protagonist of the movement – V. S. Agrawala. Since then, it has been the most favoured approach to describe these coins. Gupta’s approach is essentially extrinsic, relying heavily on the information about the ‘Janapadas’ from literary sources and equating them with the series of coins depending on its provenance.

Criticism of the ‘Classicist’ approach:

It will be worth proceeding to a criticism of this approach. Although it prevails as the best attempt to classify the Archaic PMCs and to categorize them in terms that are easy for the numismatists to employ in research, it has some serious drawbacks. They can be grouped into methodological or technical drawbacks and the historical drawbacks. Needless to say, the second category has much wider implications than the first.

The methodological drawbacks: The main methodological drawback is fitting of the material evidence into the literary. The latter in most cases is extremely diffused in its nature. The number of ‘Janapadas’ and ‘Mahajanapadas’ varies from a staggering 173 as known from the Puranas to 16 that we know from the Buddhist texts. The term, as said previously, itself is very ambiguous – it can mean a locale, a town, a city, a district, a county, a country or even a nation! The Buddhist texts make mentions of tribal states – Buddha himself belonged to the Shakya tribe who had their own state in the Himalayan foothills – but these states are not included in the ‘Janapadas’. Secondly, the way in which these ‘Janapadas’ are described is very vague. We know nothing about their extent, or about the actual area that was controlled by each of them. As regards their political history, certain rulers are mentioned in the Jatakas, like Prasenajit of Kosala and Brahmadatta of Kashi, but beyond this and the fact that these personalities may have been contemporaries of the Buddha, nothing else is known about them. Certain politically important events have found repercussions in the Jatakas. Inference can be drawn that the kingdom of Kashi was assimilated by Kosala by the mention of the king of Kosala as ‘Varanasiggaho’ or ‘the conquerer of Varanasi’. The context in which the terms ‘Janapada’ or ‘Mahajanapada’ were employed is not clear. In the wake of such a diffused description, an attempt to classify the Archaic PMCs as belonging to only the 16 ‘Janapadas’ may at its best be described as arbitrary and unfounded. These inferences are anything but conclusive, and it would be hazardous to take them as a primary source of historical information. But this is exactly what has happened under the influence of the Indocentric school of writing of the ancient Indian history. One of the greatest fallacies of this approach is that it does not encourage objectivity and comparative interdisciplinary research. Instead, it treats the literary evidence as paramount and the discussion presented here will make the participants aware that this is not the case.

From the standpoint of numismatic methodology as well, the approach adopted by Gupta to classify the Archaic PMCs is not correct. While we know of the 16 ‘Janapadas’, we have many more series of these coins at our disposal. Many varieties became known since Gupta summarised his findings in his book ‘Coins’. A rigid attribution of all the known varieties of a particular series, depending solely on their find-spot distribution, to one of the 16 states is not scientific. The case here will be best described by the classification of the so-called ‘Kosala’ coins by Hardaker. A  close examination of  these coins reveals that they contain certain distinct series depending on the number of punches, fabric and ‘shroff’ marks. All of them need not be issues of ‘Kosala’. Even on the grounds of provenance, the attribution of all them to a single state is doubtful. For example the four-symbol coins with which his catalogue begins have two pairs of the symbols punched upon them, and it ends with the pieces from the Palia hoard, which, although retaining the ‘3-S’ symbol, are very different in fabric and the stylistic orientation of the ‘shroff’ marks. In between these two series, there are coins that have four different marks but are more akin to those at the beginning of the catalogue in their fabric. The underlying hypothesis for a sequential arrangement of these coins is the tenet ‘the thickness of the coin gradually increases along the time – thin coins are earlier than thick coins’. We all know that it worked very well for the Imperial series and they did fit into some kind of order based on this tenet. But it does not seem to work well for the archaic PMCs, even in a given series. In case of the ‘Kosala’ coins, those of the Palia hoard are not only different from the rest of the group, their find-spot is at least a couple of hundred miles apart from the classically known region known as ‘Kosala’. Similarly, the first group of Hardaker’s coins are chiefly encountered between Allahabad and Varanasi, and this region is also out of the reach of classical ‘Kosala’. Coins of the middle group are  represented by the Sahet-Mahet hoard, and its find-spot is the site of Sravasti,the ancient capital of ‘Kosala’. As such, on the basis of provenance they alone may be attributed to Kosala, but not the other groups.

The second example of the phenomenon where more than one distinct series have been found attributed to the same ‘Janapada’ is the four symbol coins found in central India. Most of them have an elephant, executed in a rustic and tribal form. These can be further classified into two broad classes, those with a pair of symbol and those having all four as different marks. Those with a pair can be further classified into several groups such coins having a tree as a fourth mark, those having an ‘omega’-like curved line as the fourth mark and so on. Most of these coins have been attributed to ‘Kalinga’, ‘Andhra’ and ‘Ashmaka’ in an absolutely arbitrary manner. They are represented by important hoards such as Snghavaram (A.P.), Nanded (Maharashtra) and Sonepur (Orissa). Many are found as stray finds all over the Narmada valley and the Deccan. When their findspots are plotted, a most interesting fact emerges – the types of these archaic PMCs are specific to valleys of certain rivers. The coins with the tree as the fourth mark are found along the upper Godavari valley. Those with the ‘omega’ mark are chiefly centred along the banks of Tapi and those having four different symbols (Sonepur hoard type) are chiefly found in the basin of Mahanadi (Chhattisgarh region). This fact indicates that they, in all probability, belong to certain estuarine economies to the south of the Vindhyas, about which nothing more is known as yet.

The third and last case to exemplify the fallacy of the approach to classify the coins as issues of ‘Janapadas’ is that of the Sultanpur hoard type coins (the ‘pulley’ type). No ‘Janapada’ is known to have existed in the region of their find-spot. The way out was to attribute them, first to ‘Ashmaka’ and then when it was realised that the location was far too south of the classical ‘Ashmaka’, to ‘Kuntala’ – another ephemeral classical area which would at best accommodate the find spot barely within its northern limits! These attempts to force ‘the Material’ into ‘the Literary’ are pathetic and lead the researcher on a totally different course. For example, classifying and attributing the four symbol coins just mentioned to ‘Ashmaka’ completely obliterates the fact that they are found along certain river banks, which is of a far reaching historical significance.

Historical drawbacks: From the historical standpoint, the approach to classify Archaic PMCs into various ‘Janapadas’ lacks justification from an extremely important angle. When the coins are attributed to certain ‘Janapadas’, it is implicit in the attribution that they are State issues. Today our knowledge about the State and its functions in the Gangetic valley is extremely limited. The texts which serve as the basis for attribution of the archaic PMCs to various ‘Janapadas’ contain very little information about the State. At best, it can be said that they indicate presence of monarchical states and republics in the Gangetic valley. But they are silent on what was the nature and function of these monarchies and republics. It may not be out of context here to take the case of mentions of the King of Varanasi as mentioned in the Jatakas. Several rulers of Varanasi are named ‘Brahmadatta’, and it is likely that the name is used more as a title. Elements of a sarcasm towards the ruling elite, against which the populist Buddhist Sangha was organised in its early days can not be ruled out. This is because ‘Brahmadatta’ can mean ‘given (supported) by the Brahmins’ and it is possible that the Buddhist canon is using the term in a derogatory manner to denote the pro-Brahmin stance of the Kings of Varanasi. This is accentuated further when they laud the ruler of Kosala for his capture of Varanasi. In short, the political accounts in these texts are often governed by the prejudices which their compilers submitted to, and this considerably reduces their objectivity as sources of historical information. Secondly, a vast amount of archaeological data needs to be analysed before any generalisations in direction of ascertaining the nature and functions of the State can be made. Without this analytical approach, ascribing important instruments such as coins to the State and to imply that they were indeed issued by the State can turn out to be a historical blunder. Internal evidence suggests the possibility of at least some of the series being issues that are not related to the State. This is the only way one can explain the presence of a number of series current in a single geographic region – a case that is best illustrated by the series of Archaic PMCs encountered in the area between Allahabad and Varanasi.

The Materialist approach and its utility:

On the basis of the foregoing discussion, a plea for a fresh reassessment of the classification of Archaic PMCs has to be made. The most rational and objective way to do this at the moment is the ‘Materialist’ approach. Kosambi laid the foundations of this approach to the study of ancient Indian history, and analysed various aspects from a dialectical standpoint. His research into aspects of numismatics was, however, guided by certain preconceived notions and therefore less objective among his contributions. Nevertheless, he stressed the importance of material evidence and helped to drive the attention of researchers from information that was primarily gathered from literary evidence. Adopting this methodology, the most objective and rational approach to classify the Archaic PMCs is to describe them on the basis of their find-spots with respect to the present day geographic locations. This approach not only emphasises the important regio-specific nature of the coinage, it presents a clearer picture of their distribution pattern. It helps effectively in the use of these coins as source of historical information and liberates them from the garbs of undue ‘Classicism’. The coins may can be described on the basis of known hoards – terminology such as ‘Narhan hoard type’ or ‘Sultanpur hoard type’ is much more rational than their ascription to either ‘Ashmaka’ or ‘Kuntala’ or whatever the case might be. They can be easily grouped further in an alphabetical manner depending upon the modern states or geopolitical regions (say Uttar Pradesh or Malwa) to which their respective find-spots belong. Such an exercise gives the researcher an idea about several important aspects regarding the coinage in a contemporary context. It also helps present the coins in their proper archaeological perspective and renders them accessible for interdisciplinary research. Each of the series can then be further studied applying the intrinsic approaches delineated before. This will help create a rational and historically viable picture for the Archaic Indian PMCs.

August 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts



Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 464 other subscribers

%d bloggers like this: