Shaivite central

heritage

Shaivite central

Susheela Nair visits Tala in picturesque Chhattisgarh and discovers the extent to which life in this non-decrepit village seems to have been influenced by Lord Shiva.

Thinking of Chhattisgarh, beautiful images come to my mind — India’s biggest waterfall in Chitrakote, the oldest tribal community of Bastar, and the deepest cave with the oldest stalactite and stalagmite formations in Kutumsar.

The Southern region resonates with the call of the wild in Kanger Valley National Park and the exuberant dancing and perfect artistry of the tribals. The landscape is a breathtaking splendour of gurgling rivers, rushing rivulets, swathes of paddy fields, and lush dense forests of sal, teak, sirsa and tamarind.


Though the Northern circuit is not as picturesque as the Southern Region, we opted to explore the “road less travelled” and embarked on the Bilaspur-Raipur highway. We cruised past arid environs interspersed with the Flame of the Forest trees.

The blooming reddish–orange flowers were a welcome relief to the monotony of the bleak surroundings. Traversing 85 km and a short detour, we reached Tala, a non-decrepit village dotted with the ruins of two temples called Deorani and Jethani, built by two Sarabhpuriya queens during the fifth and sixth century AD. Equally reputed is the iconic image of Rudrashiva. If J D Wangler, an associate of Major General Cunningham, the first Director General of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), had not stumbled upon the ruins of these two temples on the banks of River Maniyari, 30 km from Bilaspur, they would have remained in obscurity.


Mutilated statues, broken limbs, defaced doorways, wrecked pillars, rocks strewn in reckless abandon greeted us. Sadly, the ASI signboard was defaced and there was no ASI guide at the site.

So, we had to listen to the banter of a local person who pretended to be an authority on the place. All the temples are dedicated to Shiva and we found a striking similarity in their design and layout. Located adjacent to each other, they owe their names to their dimensions. The larger one was christened Jethani (elder sister-in-law) by the local populace while the younger one came to be called Devrani. Today the Jethani Temple is in ruins with a few vestiges of exquisitely sculpted idols.


The Devrani Temple sports sculptures in dull red stones sans the central idol in the sanctum sanctorum. The entrance of the temple is flanked by carved images of yakshas and gandharvas and two immense monolithic pillars. The doorway is lavishly embellished with scrolls interspersed with birds, twisted garland of floral strands and amorous couples.

Despite the ruins, Tala is still a living religious site. The residents of Tala and its neighbouring areas throng here to perform the Mahamrityunjay Jap for Lord Shiva.
During excavations in 1987-88, a unique sculpture was unearthed from around the Devrani Temple.

 

Due to its resemblance to the Rudra and the Aghora forms of Shiva, it was named the Rudra Shiva. The gigantic statue is a bizarre collage of a number of human and animal figures, measuring 2.54 m in height and 1 m in width. It exudes strength and manliness. The sculptor has ingeniously chiselled the image of Shiva through animals like crocodiles, lizards, fish, crabs, peacocks, tortoise, snake, seven human faces and two lion faces, etc.

This is acclaimed to be the only one of its kind in India and it does not find a mention in our mythology. Just a hop away from the temples is a small museum maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The sculptures and the style in which they have been executed prove beyond doubt that Tala was primarily under Shaiva influence, with occasional Tantric leanings.

Intriguing statue


We had a peek at the Rudra Shiva statue kept in an enclosure to prevent any damage. The shoulders of Rudra Shiva are fashioned out of animal heads, a strange cross between an elephant and a crocodile. Seven human heads are engraved in various parts of the body. A bigger face forms the abdomen. These three faces sport moustaches.

 

A pair of human faces sculpted with round eyes and moustache peep out from the chest.
Two snakes make the headgear. They are tied around like a turban and the hoods crossing each other, giving a bow-like impression. Two serpent hoods are found above each shoulder. The ears are adorned by peacocks.

The nose is made of a descending lizard and so are the eyebrows. Eyelashes are either in the pattern of an open mouth of a frog or the mouth of a roaring lion. The upper lip and moustaches are made of two fish, and the lower lips and chin are shaped like a crab. Crocodiles have been depicted as shoulders.


Each thigh consists of a pair of heads of which two smiling faces are carved on the front sides while the other two are carved on both sides. Heads of lions are engraved on each knee. The waist band is also designed like a snake and the fingers end with snake heads. A snake is shown entwining the left leg. Probably, the legs are also framed like that of an elephant.

As we returned from Tala, the unique statue continued to baffle us as much as the art lover and the historian. Like them, we too were wondering why the artist created a bizarre statue with a deadly combination of human and animal figures. Sadly, Tala is woefully lacking in amenities and needs to be spruced up to attract more tourists.
 

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