The Mundeshwari Temple is located at Kaura in Kaimur district in the state of Bihar, India on the Mundeshwari Hills. Travelling on the Grand Trunk road between Varanasi and Gaya, one is sure to find boards which invite one to visit the oldest Hindu Temple at Mundeshwari. Mundeshwari temple on a summit of an isolated hill about 600 feet high, at village Ramgarh, seven miles north-west of Bhabua is the oldest monument in Bihar and the earliest specimen of Nagara type of temple architecture in Bihar. While the locals are now quite aware about the existence of the ancient temple on the hilltop at Bhagwanpur in Kaimur, Bihar, most travelers are still not aware about the importance of the temple and the legends associated with it. The temple has been witnessing a growth in the number of tourists every year, now around 12 to 14 lakhs, and there is also an annual celebration of Mundeshwari Mahotsava, which sees several artists of the region participating with full spirit and vigor.
Legends :- There are several legends about the temple which survive to this day, and which can be experienced only after visiting it. Most notably, here one finds a Shiva Linga in the sanctum sanctorum, which changes its colours with changing shades of the Sun. Then there is the demonstration of a particular type of bloodless animal sacrifice in which the goat is not killed but is made unconscious with certain mantras for some time, and then again made conscious. This must be seen before believing. Most interestingly, though the temple is named as Mundeshwari, the presiding deity at the centre of the sanctum sanctorum is that of Chaturmukh (four faced) Shiva Linga, while the idol of Mundeshwari is placed in one of the sub-chambers of the main shrine, near the main linga. The name Mundeshwari is often taken to have originated from Munda, the legendary daitya mentioned in the Puranas, along with Chanda; but the origin is still not clear fully.
The Ruins:- The Mundesvari temple is the earliest specimen of the Nagara type of temple architecture available in Bihar. It is unfortunate that, although a distinct style of temple architecture, known as the Nagara style, was evolved in Magadha with its centre at Patliputra, specimens of it even in Bihar are very rare. The main monument on the hill is represented by the ruins of a Shaiva temple, octagonal in plan, 40’ in diameter externally and 20’ internally, with possibly a pillared porch in front of its main entrance, which no longer exists. The rare octagonal ground plan is similar to the Shankaracharya temple at Srinagar. Gupta style is apparent in the carvings. On the eastern slope of the hills there has been a find of a number of statues and rock-carved figures. It is clear that the hill was once the site for a cluster of temples and the Mundesvari temple was the main shrine.
The temple once had four entrances containing exquisitely carved door frames, bearing, on the lower portions of the door jambs, the usual figures of river goddesses on the eastern side, two figures of Shiva on the western one, a representation of Durga and female figure on the northern side, and the dwarapalas or doorkeepers on the southern. According to Bloch, there were originally only two entrances, that on the east, being the main one; while there was another opening on the west, which was, perhaps, closed when he saw the ruins. On the north and south there were latticed windows according to Bloch. On each of the other four sides of the octagon, on the exterior, there are three carved niches, flanked by decorative pilasters bearing ‘vase and foliage’ designs. The images which were once kept in these niches have since disappeared. Inside the temple is a linga with four human faces, other images and two large stone vessels meant, perhaps, for keeping offerings. The original roof of the temple, which was probably pyramidal in shape, is lost and now replaced by a flat roof of stone flags. In the course of clearance of the debris numerous carved pieces and sculptures were found which can be seen lying in the premises. They include mostly representations of Shiva-Parvati, Ganesha, Mahishsura Mardini Durga, Surya, Kartikeya etc. The absence of Vaishnava figures is rather striking.
Round about the Mundesvari temple there are several half amalaks. The Sikhara of the temple is not in existence but a fragment of the amalaka originally crowning the spire is still lying in the site. The sculptures on the Chaitya-windows, Kirthi-mukhas, lotus medallions, foliated Vase-capitals scrolles, etc., show the clear impress of the Gupta style. The temple has some erotic figures.
Mundesvari is the principal deity in the temple. The deity, however does not occupy the centre of the sanctum sanctorum, but is installed in one of the sub–chambers of the sanctuary. At this centre of the sanctum there is a Mahalingam with four faces but this has not got the honour of being the presiding deity. It is generally held that Mundesvari was originally installed as one of the three images in the three sub chambers of the sanctuary with the Mukhalingam. But Mundesvari image, somehow, came to be preserved while the images of Kartikeya and Ganesha, the two other images in the niches, have been lost. It may be mentioned here that a large image of Ganesa is found half buried in the ruins of a small temple in the way leading to the top of the hill and might have been one of the Parsva-devatas originally enshrined in one of the side chambers of the Mundesvari temple. Further, the image of Mundesvari is not typical of that of Mahishamardini. Mundesvari deity has ten hands bearing the usual weapons of a Mahishamardini but with a difference that she is not in the act of killing Mahisasur, the demon in the shape of a buffalo but she is shown as riding a buffalo representing a demon.
According to Dr. K C Panigrahi, sometime a Superintendent of the Eastern Archaeological Circle, the presiding deity of the territory was originally a Narayana or Vishnu and, in 348-59 AD, another new deity Vinitesvara was set up. The Narayana image has disappeared and the Vinitesvara is the Mukhalimgam. This was set up in 348-49 AD by Dandanayaka Gomibhata.
A painting of the Temple Ruins was made by Thomas Daniell around 1790-1808, which shows the condition of the hill in those days. The temple was not very accessible even after independence, as is seen in older photographs. With a road having come up recently, the access has become much easier, and there is also a proposal to build a ropeway to the temple from the plains, which will make the journey even more interesting in the future.
Local Traditions:- Buchanan’s account is of particular importance because of the tradition that was mentioned to him regarding the temple. He has mentioned “There was a certain Munda, whom people generally call a Chero Raja; but the pandit of the survey says that he was a Daitya, who had a brother named Chanda, and both lived in the Golden age. These brothers who, according to the Markandeya Purana, were the chief military officers (senapati) of Shumbhaand Nishumbha, two great infidel (daitya) kings, were killed by Parvati, who on that account is called Chamunda, a title it is said, composed of the two infidels’ names. It is further said that the proper name of Chayanpur is Chanupur derived from one of the brothers who resided there, while a small temple named Mundesvari, and situated on a hill about five miles east from Chayanpur, was built by the daitya Munda.”
Early documentation of the History and conditions :- Buchanan was one of the first to notice and document the ancient ruins on the hills; but as he mentions, he could not conveniently see the ruins probably because of the 600’ height of the hill. His account is therefore based on the sketches or drawings of the painter sent by him for the purpose. The Bengal List gives very sketchy information based on Buchanan’s account only. Neither Cunningham nor any of his assistants surveyed or explored the ruins. Bloch’saccount in his reports for the years 1902 to 1904 adds some more information, which is drawn upon both by the District Gazetteer and M H Kuraishi’s List. Thereafter Panigrahi has thrown some more light on the history and architecture of the temple on the hill.
The Mundeshwari Inscription :- There was an inscription on a stone slab at the temple, which had broken into two pieces, one of which was found in1892, and the other in 1903 by Bloch in the course of clearance of the debris. Both the pieces are now in the Indian Museum, Kolkata. It was edited by R D Banerji in 1907 and by N Majumdar in 1920. The inscription refers to King Udayasena and to the date 30 of an unspecified era. It records erection of a matha of the god Viniteshwara and an endowment to provide for the offerings “from the store room of Sri Mandaleshwara Swami Pada of the temple of Sri Narayana”. The reference to Sri Narayana was not satisfactorily explained either by RD Banerji or by N Majumdar. According to Bloch, the inscription refers to the erection of a temple of Narayana close to the temple of Viniteshwara, thus suggesting evidence of another temple on the hill; but of the existence of such a Vaishnava temple, there seems to be no indication at present, since the carvings among the ruins are primarily, if not exclusively Shaivite in character. The donor of the record is taken to beBhagudalana by Banerji; while Majumdar takes him as Gomibhatta, the dandanayaka. The reading of the inscription as well as the dating, are still open to question. The inscription as well as the ruins, are generally believed to belong to the fourth century. Prof Banerji took the year 30 to refer to the Harsha era commencing from 606 AD, and assigned the epigraph to 636 AD, which was also included as the date in the original Gazetteers of Shahabad in 1906 and 1924. Dr. Banerji’s view was however not shared by others. Mr N G Mazumdar studied the palaeographic peculiarities of the inscription and referred to the year 30 to the Gupta era318-19 AD, and held the date of the inscription to 348-49 AD. Dr D R Bhandarkar also considered the inscription to be much earlier than the fourth century AD.
According to some scholars, the inscription which has a reference to Udaysena,is associated with a satrap of Pataliputra in “shak samvat” year 30 whom the Kushanas had made the ruler.Shak Samvat year 30 when juxtaposed with the Christian calendar coincides with 108 AD by that account. Further, the script also corresponds to the Shaka times, and prior to the Gupta age.
Buchanan also knew of an inscription on a loose stone at some distance from the temple referring to the name Mundeshwara; but it is not clear whether he is referring to the same inscription as reffered by Bloch. This is a point which is to be verified by the drawing of his inscription taken by Buchanan.
Historical Timeline as understood presently:- Dr. K C Panigrahi appears to have correctly related the three names in the inscriptions, namely Narayana, Vinitesvara and Mandalesvara. According to the commonly accepted story, which was also mentioned by Buchanan and Martin, Munda the brother of Chanda, had established the Goddess Mundesvari. The real history of the shrine was apparently forgotten and the people came fondly to believe that the Goddess was established by Munda.
According to Panigrahi, this temple had seen “three periods of religious history viz.
(i) When it was a Vaishnava temple of the God Narayana,
(ii) When it was converted into a Shaiva temple of Viniteshwara, a name of Lord Shiva and
(iii) When it was last converted into the temple dedicated to theGoddess Mundeshwari, perhaps under the Chero kings, who were Saktas.
The earliest sanctuary was of the 4th or 5th century AD, the existing ruins representing mostly the second period of its history, belong to the 7th century AD.
Kuraishi adds that midway “along the road to the temple is a large oval shaped boulder, about 10 feet in diameter, the upper surface of which is smoothed and carved with a 6 armedYaksha figure, in relief, flying away to the left, with a large elephant in two of his hands raised overhead.” To the left of the Yaksha, he says, are traces of a small female figure seated on a stool, and below him a fox or a jackal. Below the figure are a few letters of inscription in Gupta characters. The figure appears to be much older than the Mundeshwari temple. Short records in Gupta characters containing only names of pilgrims are also reported by Kuraishi to exist on the hill; but the actual names of the pilgrims are not mentioned, nor are these short records referred to elsewhere.
Munda was a Chero king and Francis Buchanan and Martin were wrong in thinking that he had established the image of the Goddess Mundesvari. The aboriginal tribes in this part of the country are more prone to worship the female deities and there can be no wonder that Shaktism flourished with the Chero kings and the deity of Mundesvari, representing Shakti, came to be worshipped as the principal deity of the temple, where she was a minor image at one time. The history of the temples in India shows that very few images installed in the central position have been subordinated to other deities fixed in the niches.
Recent Discovery at the Site :- Interestingly, a few years back noted BHU historian I S Roy found a Ceylonese seal while walking on a field adjacent to the hill near Mundeshwari temple. The pyramid-shaped stone seal with inscriptions in Brahmi script along with photograph also find mention in one of Roy’s articles in a Numismatic Society of India journal published in 2004.
Maharaja Dutthagamani (101-77 BC), a powerful independent king of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), had constructed a great stupa and a large assembly of priests attended its consecration ceremony in the Mundeshwari hills. According to experts, the seal acted as passport for Ceylonese pilgrims and ensured safe passage during their long journey through various kingdoms to Buddhist pilgrimage centres in India. Experts believe that earlier routes to Buddhist centres at Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh and Kapilvastu in Nepal were via Mundeshwari temple in Bihar’s Kaimur district.
The discovery of a royal seal of the Sri Lankan ruler Maharaju Dutthagamani (101-77 BC) at the site in 2003 has taken back the history of the region by several centuries. In the year 2003, a man called Jahanvi Shekhar Rai discovered a seal near the shrine which he sent to the Sampoornanand Sanskrit university at Varanasi for deciphering.The linguistic experts there concluded that the seal belonged to “Maharaju Duthgamini”, who according to “Mahavansh Granthawali” in Buddhist literature, belonged to Anuradhapur dynasty and ruled Ceylon between 104-77 BC.
Survival of the ruins
P C Roy Choudhury mentions “It is also remarkable that this temple appears to have been left unmolested when Muslim rule under Sher Shah was set up in this area. The neighbouring Chayanpur fort was one of the citadels of Sher Shah and the Muslim pockets in the neighbouring villages suggest that a much larger Muslim population had lived in the area when Muslim rule was predominant. The ravages to Mundesvari are not man-made but due to the passage of time.”
The temple may already have been in a ruined state owing to disrepair over time, and thus may have escaped the attention of invaders, and thus survived. The popularity of the temple is growing every day. It is worth visiting for every curious tourist.