Dasavatar at Ancient Pathari


Dasavatar sculptures in the pillared hall, Pathari, Bhopal State
Lord Narasimha, Kalki-avatara, Kurma-avatara and Lord Buddha (l to r)

Jan 06, 2014 — CANADA (SUN) — The village of Pathari, once situated in the ancient state of Bhopal, is today located in modern Madhya Pradesh. History records the presence of religious settlements at Pathari from as early as the Gupta period, and over the ages an expanse of temple ruins came to surround the place. Among them is the Gadarmal Temple complex, which houses the ruins of a group of beautiful Dasavatar sculptures.

The Pathari ruins were documented by historian Joseph David Beglar, who contributed a photographic survey of the site to the Archaeological Survey of India's c. 1872 monograph. The images shown here, along with descriptive text, are from the Beglar collection housed at the British Library. Shown above is the image of Lord Narasimhadeva, destroying the demon Hiranyakashipu.

Kurma Avatara and Nagakanya in the pillared hall

The Dasavatar sculptures photographed by Beglar are located in a pillared hall at Pathari, as described in his "Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa, 1871-72" (A.S.I. Vol VII, Calcutta, 1878):

    ''Close to the embankment and north-east of the great temple stands a group of ruins, consisting of the ruins of several temples and pillared halls; the principal one appears to have consisted of a court-yard surrounded on three sides by pillared halls...The statues inside are numerous; there are, in fact, all the ten avatars of Vishnu except the fish; the tortoise incarnation is remarkable... it represents a pole on the back of a tortoise with a rope wound round it, the ends of which are held on opposite sides by human figures; it is a representation of the churning of the sea when Vishnu assumed the form of a tortoise...

    The statue of the Buddha incarnation...is remarkable; it represents a man standing, holding an alms-bowl in his hand, and with a canopy over his head of the extended hood of a naga; this is a very unusual way of representing Buddha, and as such worthy of notice.''

Entrance porch and doorway of Gadarmal Temple

Among the most substantial ruins at Pathari are those of the Gadarmal temple complex. The temple is situated about two miles to the southeast of the modern town.

Shown above is the entrance porch of Gadarmal temple, which is dated to the 8th Century A.D. A series of courtyards surround the main temple, which has seven subordinate shrines placed symmetrically around the central structure. The tower was already well in ruin when Beglar photographed it. The central shrine, oblong in shape once housed a brahmanical image, possibly a linga.

Lord Varaha, Kalki and Kurma-avatara

In the image above, Lord Kurma (Vishnu's, tortoise avatar) is on the right. The negative was damaged in this portion of print. Lord Varaha, the boar incarnation is on the left, and Lord Kalki is at centre.

Torana in front of the Gadarmal Temple, Pathari

In "Report of a Tour in Bundelkhand and Malwa", Beglar describes two temple gateways (toranas). As the images show, both stone gates were seriously askew when the shots were taken, nearly 140 years ago.

    "The main temple stands within a court-yard (which was probably once inclosed by walls) with seven other subordinate temples, disposed round it symetrically; this inner court has a gateway of a very unique style and exquisite beauty, and beyond this gate exists another, which probably formed the entrance to an outer court-yard."

Front view of Gadarmal Temple and Torana


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