By Vaishnavi Patil
Through the Mittal Institute’s South Asia and the Arts Travel Fund, I traveled to Vadodara, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra in India to conduct research for my qualifying paper, a requirement in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard University. My qualifying paper explores the conception of the mother-child motif in ancient India within Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions, and expands on the function and role of these goddesses and the similarities and differences in their worship.
The essay will also delve into the significance of the mother-child iconography within ancient India and in the world, drawing comparisons from various other cultures to understand the importance of the motif. Lastly, I will also explore the idea of religious cosmopolitanism in the Western region of South Asia, owing to the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain sites in close proximity to each other, and their shared iconography and motifs. My research focuses on the sites in Western India — most importantly, in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Karnataka.
Sculptures From Across India
Samalaji Sculpture at Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery.
The Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery holds a number of sculptures from various important sites in India. While visiting the museum, I photographed and documented the sculptures excavated from Samalaji, Devnimori, Roda, Tintoi, and the hoard of Akota Jain Bronzes now housed in the museum. I also had the chance to speak with Vinay Patel, the curator of the Arts section in the museum. In the Baroda Museum’s Archaeology Department, I met with Professor Urmi Ghosh Biswas, who discussed the sculptures throughout the department’s collections. Mr. Pathak, the chief librarian of the archaeology library at Baroda University, helped me access a number of Master’s dissertations and PhD theses that students have written over the years.
I then made site visits to Samalaji and Roda, which were very helpful in understanding the landscape and their proximity to the temple complexes. Samalaji is a major Hindu pilgrimage center in Aravalli district of Gujarat state of India. The present temple at Samalaji is likely to have been built in the 16th century, but on the edges of the river, some brick temples have been found that could be dated to the Gupta period. Although Samalaji is a primarily Vaishnava site, there are many Shiva temples in the area.
Samalaji Vishnu Temple, Samalaji.
The Temples of Gujarat
During my visit to the temples in Samalaji, Gujarat, I discovered the following:
Samalaji Temple: The present temple dedicated to Samalaji, a form of Vishnu or a name of Krishna, is likely built in the 11th century in Solanki style, last renovated at least 500 years ago. In the past, the temple was claimed by Jains. It’s located on the banks of the Meshvo River in the valley, surrounded by well-wooded hills. It is also referred to as Dholi Dhajawala due to white silk flag fluttering atop the temple. From the two inscriptions found, the name of the deity seems to be Gadadharji — the holder of the club, a well-known title of Vishnu, Krishna, or Samalaji.
Trilokanatha Temple: The main image in the shrine is a Vishnu idol with four hands. There is also a Shiva image with a trishul in the Gupta style. Lord Shiva’s body is covered with a tiger skin, and he’s holding a trishul in his left hand. A cobra encircles his right hand, and on his head is the Jata Mukuta.
Kashi Vishwanatha Temple: This temple is below ground level, with layers of earth as high as 10 feet surrounding the walls of the temple. The idol of Sadashiva, installed in the temple, has a jata mukuta. There is an image of the descent of the Ganges, which might date back to about 7th century.
Vishram Ghat: Two temple remains are visible here. In one temple, I saw the idol of Vishnu (or Vishwaroop), or it may also be identified as Brahma, as it has eight hands and three heads. This temple area is also known for “Kalsi Chhokrani Maa” (mother of sixteen children) and the local Adivasis consider this goddess to be the one who protects children.
Step-well, Roda Temples, Raisingpur, Sabarkantha.
Harishchandra Ni Chori, Samalaji.
Harishchandra ni chori: Multiple legends link this site to the legendary king Harishchandra — it was built for his wedding ceremony, or he performed Rajsuya Yagna for begetting a son. The temple at Harishchandra ni chori probably dates to the 10th century AD. It has a rectangular sanctum with a large pavilion in front. The whole structure is enclosed within the courtyard, and though the walls of the courtyard have fallen down, the ornamental gateway (torana) still stands.
Temple (possibly of Mangala Devi): On the other side of the river Mashvo, a temple in broken ruins is found. There is no idol in this temple. It faces northward, and one ornamental arch remains, which has sculptures and some remains of marble and painted portions on the walls.
Ranchhodray Temple: The Ranchhodray temple is situated near Surya Kund on the bank of the river Meshvo. From its sculptures, it is believed to belong to the 6th century AD. The giant nandi in the front of the temple is now housed in the CSMVS museum in Mumbai. Only the central and top-most part of the temple have been preserved. There is an idol of Lord Shri Krishna Ranchhodray in the temple, and a jyotirlinga form of Lord Shiva.
Samalaji Site Museum: Sculpture from neighboring sites, including Samalaji and Devnimori.
The site visit to Roda was also very helpful, though few of the original sculptures remain at the site. I visited the two Shiva temples and the Vishnu temple, all three of which did not have a main image in their shrines. There is a step-well, or vav, near the temple complex with one Shiva and one Vishnu temple. The sculptures on the side and the back of the temples in niches might be a clue to the temple’s association with the specific gods. These temples belong to a later period, also perhaps to the 11th century Solanki style, similar to that of the Samalaji temple. Similarly, at Tintoi, all structures are of a modern time, and the temples lack their original sculptures.
Saptamatrikas, Elephanta caves, Mumbai.
In Mumbai, I visited the CSMVS museum, where there are two Samalaji sculptures on display and many others from the Mumbai area. Particularly of interest were the Parel sculptures, which are very similar in style and size to those found at Samalaji. Thus, we can consider them evidence of connection between these two sites. At Elephanta, I had the chance to look at all of the caves, particularly the sculpture of Saptamatrikas. Although all are almost damaged beyond recognition, their location and arrangement within the cave site was important for my research.