Shalabhanjika: The Tree Deity

The Śālabhañjikā (शालभंजिका) is a recurring sculptural motif in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist sacred spaces. The Shalabhanjika is a stylised sculpture that usually exaggerates feminine features, of a standing woman, holding a branch of a tree.

Shalabhanjika sculptures often adorn the pillars of a temple, or are placed along the circumambulation path (pradakshina path) of the deity, or in the temple’s architecture as bracket figures. It is assumed to be a symbol of fertility and auspiciousness.

Shalabhanjika: Etymology

Literally, the word Shala-bhanjika means, “the breaking/bending of a branch of the Shala tree” (Shorea robusta).  The word has been in use in ancient Indian literature since the 5th century BCE. The earliest carvings of this sculpture form emerged during the Maurya period (4th Century BCE) and continued to appear in various places during the Sunga and Satavahana periods. (2nd Century BCE to 1st Century AD).

Origin: Shalabhanjika

Shalabhanjika: Lepakshi (Image Copyright: The Custodians)
Shalabhanjika: Lepakshi (Image Copyright: The Custodians)

A “pastime” or a “garden game” in folk tradition is suggested in the Ashtdhyayi of Panini, and is limited to the eastern parts of the country where Shala trees were in abundance. The connotation of the terms Shalabhanjika is such a game, where ladies used bend branches of the Shala tree, pluck the flowers and throw them on each other.

According to Buddhist texts, when Mayadevi, the mother of Lord Buddha, was on her way to her father’s city, she stopped on the way when she saw the Lumbini grove, full of Shala trees, in full bloom. She, with her escorts entered the grove to entertain themselves. At the time, Lord Buddha was in her womb. As the Queen gracefully stood along a Shala tree, her labour pains commenced, and Lord Buddha was born there. The Queen stood in the classical tribhanga pose, and this scene, therefore is considered auspicious by the Buddhists.

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Birth of Buddha. Mayadevi, in the Shalabhanjika pose. Via, The Freer Indian Sculptures, by Aschwin Lippe (Smithsonian Institute)

Over time, the motif took on two forms, one representing the “nativity” scene, which was essentially sacred, and the other in which a charming beauty was depicted with the branch clasped in her hands, which was secular.

Shalabhanjika: In Sculpture

A typical Shalabhanjika sculpture depicts a woman standing in a tribhanga pose (the body is ‘broken’ at two points to give three bends in the body — one at the neck and the other at the hip) holding a branch of a tree. More often than not, the sculpture is adorned with heavy jewellery and complex hairstyles. In later sculptures, other trees found their way as a part of this motif — the Ashok tree, the Mango tree also feature in some Shalabhanjika sculptures.

Shalabhanjika: Lepakshi (Image Copyright: The Custodians)
Shalabhanjika: Lepakshi (Image Copyright: The Custodians)

Shalabhanjika in Literature

The term Shalabhanjika has been used in many literary works including:

  • Harshacharita and Kadambari, by Bana
  • Viddha-shalabhanjika by Rajashekhara
  • Arya-saptashati, by Givardhanacharya
  • Naishadhiyacharita, by Sriharsha

Locations well-known for beautiful Shalabhanjika sculptures between the 2nd Century BCE to the 1st Century CE) include the art at Sanchi (see featured image), Bharhut, Kaushambi, Mehrauli, and Amravati. Mathura has a few masterpieces from the Kushana period (1st – 3rd Century CE). Later masterpieces include the 12th century Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebidu.

Featured image: Shalabhanjika at Sanchi Stupa (Image Copyright: The Custodians)

References

  1. Karnataka’s Rich Heritage – Temple Sculptures & Dancing Apsaras: An Amalgam of Hindu Mythology, Natyasastra and Silpasastra, by Lalit Chugh
  2. Salabhanjika Motif in Sanskrit Literature, by U. N. Roy
  3. Woman in Indian sculpture, by M. L. Varadpande
  4. Sacred Plants of India, by Nanditha Krishna
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Kopeshwar Temple – Khidrapur

What it cannot make up for in size and scale, the Khidrapur temple makes up in grandeur and ornateness. This temple is dedicated to the wrathful form of Lord Shiva, known as Kopeshwar. Of the Shiva temples, this one is unique, in that the Nandi is absent. We don’t know why.

Khidrapur - Kopeshwar Temple
Khidrapur – Kopeshwar Temple

Legend

Long time ago, there lived a chief of Gods called Daksha. He was married to Prasuti, the daughter of Manu, who bore him sixteen daughters. Satī was the youngest of them all, and had her heart set on Shiva.

Daksha and Shiva did not see eye-to-eye. There was, to say the least, a general animosity; more on Daksha’s side. When Satī was of marriageable age, Daksha held a Swayamvar, where he invited all, except Shiva. Satī had made up her mind about who she would choose, but not seeing Shiva in the assembly, flung the garland in the air and asked of Shiva to accept it. Shiva appeared there, middle of the assembly – garland around his neck. Daksha had no choice, but to grudgingly accept; Satī and Shiva were married.

Much later, Daksha held an ashwamedh (horse sacrifice) – again, all Gods were invited to partake of the offerings of the sacrifice; except Shiva. When Satī heard of this she was furious and after an argument with Shiva proceeded to the sacrifice, uninvited. Some insults ensued, and Satī released an inward consuming fire and died at Daksha’s feet. (some versions say Satī self-immolated in the sacrificial fire)

Khidrapur - Kopeshwar Temple
Khidrapur – Kopeshwar Temple

Shiva soon got to know of this and was consumed with rage. In that state he tore a lock of his hair and flung it to earth, which gave rise to the frightful form of Virbhadrā, who wrecked havoc at the sacrifice. Daksha was beheaded, among other ‘divine’ casualties. Brahmā and Vishṇu had to intervene to stop the carnage. Shiva bestowed a goat’s head to Daksha and made good, all injuries caused. Thus, all was well; all those present bowed to the Trinity, and departed.

Khidrapur - Kopeshwar Temple
Khidrapur – Kopeshwar Temple

History

Construction of this temple was started by the Śilāhāra King, Gandarāditya I, (the youngest of five sons of Mārasimha) around 1126 CE (Some sources put the date at 1028 CE). For more information of dynasties of Maharashtra, see The Dynasties of Maharashtra

The Śilāhāras were originally feudatories of the Rāśtrakuta empire, and ruled in North Konkan, from around 800 CE. By 900 CE, there were three branches of the dynasty; apart from the original North Konkan branch, they now also ruled South Konkan and South Maharashtra (Kolhapur). Gandarāditya I (r. 1108 – 1138), of the Kolhapur branch, started the construction of the Khidrapur temple. Gandarāditya was a prolific temple-builder and is credited for building four temples in the region and providing grants for a few more, including Jain and Buddhist temples. Gandarāditya was succeeded by Vijayāditya and Bhōja II, after which this dynasty came to an end at the hands of the Seuna Yādavs.

Khidrapur - Kopeshwar Temple
Khidrapur – Kopeshwar Temple

 

Construction of the temple continued for over seventy years during the reign of his successors, Vijayāditya and Bhōja II. The structure was still incomplete when the Yādav king Singhana annexed the Śilāhāra kingdom, and remains such, to this day. Singhana also possibly contributed to the construction of the temple, according to some inscriptions in the temple.

Temple Architecture

Plan - Khidrapur Temple
Plan – Khidrapur Temple (Click to Enlarge)

The temple consists of the garbha-grha (sanctum), the antarāla (antechamber), the gūḍha-maṇḍapa (enclosed hall) and the raṅga-maṇḍapa, constructed in a row. Usually, there is a dvāra-maṇḍapa in front of such a gūḍha-maṇḍapa but here its place is taken  by a detached large octagonal maṇḍapa (called sabhā-maṇḍapa or ranga-maṇḍapa), as in the case of the Sun Temple at Modhera. Inside, are twelve pillars in a circle which open to the sky, because the ceiling was never constructed. It is believed by the local people that a pious man who stands on the slab below that opening, goes to heaven. Hence, it is also called the swarga-maṇḍapa.

The garbha-grha, the antarāla and the gūḍha-maṇḍapa are star-shaped on the outside Their walls are decorated with various images from top to bottom The lowest part of the jaṅghā (pillars) are adorned with beautiful figures of elephants (Gajapeetha), with various Gods such as Indrā, Brahmā and Vishṇu riding them. There are 92 such elephants, 46 on each side. (Adapted from CII Vol. 4)

Khidrapur - Kopeshwar Temple
Khidrapur – Kopeshwar Temple

 

The construction methodology followed is the dry mortar bedding technique. (ASI, Mumbai Circle)

Here’s another extract (with minor edits for consistency and readability) from the The Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency (Vol. XXIV – Kolhapur) about Khidrapur:

Khidrapur, lies on the Krishnā river about twelve miles south-east of Shirol. The chief interest of the village is the temple of Kopeshwar which lies in the centre of the village and is 10½’ x 65’ x 52½’ high, to the top of the dome. The walls are made of black stone richly carved and the dome is covered with stucco. To the main building are attached two richly carved sculptured mandaps or vestibules. In the vestibule are two concentric squares; the outer with twenty and the inner with twelve pillars, richly carved. In front of the temple is round roofless structure called the Swarga Mandapa or Heavenly Hall, on the plan of what would be a twenty-rayed star, only that the spaces for four of the rays are occupied by four entrances. On the outside on a low screen wall stand thirty-six short pillars, while inside is a circle of twelve columns. Further from the temple is the nagārkhāna or drum-chamber. The outer walls of the temple are broken at oblique angles as in the Nilang Hemādpanti temple.

By the south door of the temple is a Devgiri Yādav inscription of Sinhadev in Devnāgari dated Shak 1135 (A.D. 1213) granting the village of Khandaleshwar in Miraj for the worship of Kopeshwar.

*

Khidrapur is about 65kms south-east of Kolhapur and well laid out on Google Maps.

Gallery

References

  1. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. Vol. 6 Inscriptions of the Śilāhāras
  2. Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency Vol. 24 – Kolhapur
  3. ASI Mumbai Circle. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from http://www.asimumbaicircle.com/m_kolhapur.html
  4. Gupta, S. P., & Asthana, S. P. (2009). Elements of Indian Art: Including Temple Architecture, Iconography & Iconometry. New Delhi: Indraprastha Museum of Art and Archaeology.
  5. Nivedita, S., & Coomaraswamy, A. K. (n.d.). Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists.
  6. Shilahara Dynasty. (2017, March 26). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shilahara
  7. Virabhadra. (2017, March 28). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virabhadra

Link | Dudhai: An Obscure Chandela Site

A wonderfully detailed article about the history of Dudhai, explained through its monuments.

“The definitive history of the town can be traced from the Mughal period when it attained certain importance. Abul Fazl mentions that Lalitpur and Dudhai were parganas under the Chanderi Sarkar which in turn was one of the Sarkar under the Malwa suba.

The first scholarly reference of Dudhai comes from Alexander Cunningham in his survey reports. He visited the town in 1874-75 and described its monuments in details. He tells that the village was situated on the ridge to the north of the Ram Sagar, a large artificial lake. He further tells that with construction of roads connecting with other villages, the people of Dudhai who earlier emigrated had started to return. He also touched upon the legends and traditions on the history of the place.”

(Via. Dudhai – An Obscure Chandela Site | Indian History and Architecture)

Link | The Jagannath Temple in India

A short overview of the grand temple, covering legends, the structure, and festivals.

The Jagannath Temple was built during the 12th century AD. Its construction began during the reign of Chodaganga, a king of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty, and was completed during the reign of his successor. Subsequently, the Jagannath Temple developed into an important center of pilgrimage.

Alternatively, in the legendary account of the temple’s construction, its foundation is attributed to a king of the Malava Kingdom (a kingdom mentioned in the Mahabharata) by the name of Indradyumna.

Read the full article at: The Jagannath Temple in India: Home to a Trio of Deities and Numerous Religious Festivals | Ancient Origins