He is the unique gigantic monolithic Sculpture of 6th Century AD created during rule of Sarabhpuri Dynasty that ruled the region after Samudragupta.
He is almost 2.7 metre or 8 feet high and weighs more than 5 tonnes, and is popularly known as Rudra-Shiva. He is found in Devrani Jathani Temple in present Talagaon (21°54'24"N 82°1'33"E) alias Ameri Kampa village on the bank of Maniyari River in Chhatrisgarh. Acording to S N Mishra, the temple was probably constructed by the king Jayaraja (550-560 CE) of Sarabhpuri Dynasty; while. L S Nigam opines that it was constructed during the rule of Prasanna (525-550 CE) or one of his predecessors.
Jana, my better half, found Him on the net, and our tour plan included a whole day with Him in X-Mass vacation 2016. the chief reason of attraction: He is unique, unexplained even to this date, His name Rudra-Shiva is debated, and therefore, He is mysterious.
During archeological excavations at the site (1967-88), He was found in 1988 near the entrance South-East to Devrani Temple lying Head downwards in a 10 x 4 metre trench. Interestingly, there were stone slabs at the bottom on which He was found, and mud had been poured on Him – as if someone had buried Him with some definite purpose. the excavation work was done by the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Madhya Pradesh by G.L Raikwar, Rahul Kumar Singh, A.P Singh and C.L Gupta under the supervision of K.K Chakravarty and V.K Bajpai.
The possibility that He was deliberately buried has led some scholars to believe that He was originally created as a traditional Temple Demon with the purpose of warding off evil eyes when the temple was under construction. Once the construction was completed, He was no more needed, and therefore, discarded. Some archaeologists opine that another similar sculpture should be found – as it was customary to have two Temple Demons.
We reached Bilaspur at 5.30 am on 30th December 2016 from Manendragarh by Bilaspur-Chirimiri passenger which has only sleeper coaches. The night was chill as we were warming up to visit Tala next morning. Our train for Howrah being at 5.30 pm on the same day, we had the whole day in hand. Our booking at the Bilaspur Railway Retiring Room (booked online at IRCTC site) was from 8 am, so we had to wait for sometime to find shelter for our luggage and launch our visit to Tala and to Him.
After freshening up and breakfast, we hired an auto for Rs. 550/- from the auto stand outside the railway station, and started for Talagaon. We packed up snacks and water.
Tala drew academic attention first in 1878 courtesy J.D. Wrangler and His associate Major General Cunningham. the Madhya Pradesh Government declared the temples protected monuments in 1984 long after excavation started. the temples, located within a single complex and situated side-by-side, are in dilapidated state and only the exquisite sculptures remain – though not all intact. Sculptures include gods and goddess, Demi gods, animals, mythical figures, floral depictions and variety of geometrical and non-geometrical motifs.
Legend is that Devrani Jethani temples were built by Sarabhpuri Dynasty for the wives of two royal brothers. Jethani literally means elder sister-in-law, and Devrani means younger sister-in-law. Another explanation of the names is that the temples owe their names to their dimensions. The somewhat larger one was christened Jethani by the local populace while the smaller one came to be known as Devrani – as if they, like two sisters-in-law, were competitive in splendor and glory as in a typical Indian household.
It can be inferred from the period and location of the temples that they had been constructed in Nagar style, though the Shikhara or superstructures of the temples are no more. Besides, the sculptures also defy known paradigm of style – like Gaandhaara or Gupta or Mathuraa. According to one scholar, the style found at Sisdevri ruins of Baloda Bazar Tahsil in Raipur district of Chhatrisgarh is the closest match. Our He is thus one paradigm-defying gem.
We reached Tala in about one hour. From the car park to the Devrani Jethani temples is a short walk. As we entered the temple premise, we were greeted by scattered sculptures. Our first search was for Him, and we went straight to Him. So, our exploration of the Temples started in an unsystematic way as if in rhythm with His paradigm-defying uniqueness.
We found Him in lock and Key behind iron bars in a small cell on the right side of Devrani Temple. We were dejected. We came all the way for Him; how would we meet Him?
Devrani Temple and the little cell with bars on the right
It is very difficult to take shots that way through bars. So, I started taking shots in parts from outside the bar. My initial plan was to take shots thus, and then join them in photoshop. then I thought, why not approach the caretaker with a humble request?
When I requested the caretaker to open the lock, He refused initially, saying that we needed permissions because unlocking was prohibited. However, with repeated requests, and a polite eulogy that only he could let us face Rudra-Shiva and take shots if He so wisHed, he finally relented but with the caution to hurry.
That was enough. the man made our day. For him, we could now be Face to Face with Him.
After meeting Him, and taking shots to my Hearts’ full, I thanked the caretaker and shook his hand. His grin is unforgettable. Sadly, I cannot mention his name to express my gratitude for him; after all, he is a government servant.
1. His unique features
My first impression of Him is that He cannot be the creation of a mere sculptor, but of a Sculptor-Poet. At first glance, He is a form whom I can only regard – “Human-Form-defying-Human-Form.” His Image is like poetry – ambiguous, defying any grand narrative, and it may be interpreted in various ways. No doubt, the Sculptor-Poet was well versed in ancient traditional scriptures; indeed, he poured out his intellect and heart in creating Him.
He is two-armed and has a disproportionate stout body – the Bengali colloquial Gantta-Gontta aptly suits Him; His large head is without neck; His hands and legs are rotund, thick, and short in proportion to His head; He has a potbelly with further potential for expansion. He appears like an obstinate dwarf standing in an alpha-male type posture - technically known as Sampada Posture in Urdhvamedhra Mudraa (erect penis) - wearing an expression of disgust and anger for the world around Him. It appears that one of His hands was resting over a club - a part of the handle of the club is probably still there – while, another hand is akimbo. How can He be pleased being locked?
If His angry look justifies His being called Rudra; if presence of snakes over His Head and by His Foot and His being ithyphallic justifies His being called Shiva, then, so many human and animal faces and figures all over Him surely points to His being something more.
Eleven heads adorn different parts of His Body; and including His Head, there are 12 Heads. Of them, four are animal faces, and the rest are human. Counting His head, we have 8 human heads. Now, these numbers – "8", “11” and "12" – all appear to me as Mystic Numbers – and given the fact that Devrani Temple’s base is 75 m x 32 m (= multiple of "8"), and He is about 8 feet high, I indeed find reason to explore the Mystic Numbers. I will come to that.
Let us look at His head and face.
Pair of Snakes forms His turban or hair; a pair of serpent hood figures on either side above shoulders – their tails are not visible; two peacocks form His ears; a lizard/chameleon with tail like a scorpion sting forms His eyebrows and nose, and the tail forms the tilaka; the body of the lizard forms His tear trough and nasal bridge; its head forms the domes and philtrum of the nose; its forelimbs form the ala; a crab forms His chin and the cheliped and pincer of the crab forms the lower lip; open mouth of frogs form His upper and lower eyelids; and two fishes form His moustache. The eyeballs resemble eggs or as spheres, they may be the Sun and the Moon.
The hind legs of the lizard, forming a conic curve of His eyebrows, the round eyeballs and the wide open staring eyes, the fish-moustache and the appearance of scratch or stains on either side of the chin formed by the crab’s legs – together gives a terrible and angry look to the face. One snake slipping down His turban/hair to His forehead adds further life. This terribleness is indeed one good reason to call Him Rudra – as per our common idea of Rudra.
The depiction of the Shoulders is interesting. What are these beasts? Some say that the shoulders depict crocodiles; however, I do not find any resemblance with crocodiles particularly with such distinct ears. their nozzle is somewhat like elephant trunk; however, it is difficult to call them elephants just for that because elephants do not have such set of teeth. It is better to identify them as mythical beings – a somewhat blend of elephant and crocodile.
His Shoulder and Chest
His waistband below the human face on His abdomen, hand and fingernails are snake-like; and He has another giant snake hanging beside His left leg. THis snakes head is erect and stands on the ground as if angered but unable to raise his hood to vent venomous spleen.
He is ithyphallic. the erect phallus is a tortoise raising head out of its shell. The forelimbs of the tortoise form the bell-like testicles. His legs resemble that of an elephant.
His Lower Parts
1.1. Human Faces on Him
Let us now look at the different Faces on His Body. the violence and anger evident in His face is contrasted in the other faces. It creates a visual drama of rasas.
If His face is terrible, the other faces are not. The terribleness is tempered by the content looking belly-face and further by the smiling faces on the thigh and buttock. If His face evokes Biibhatsa-Rasa or Bhayaanaka Rasa or Raudra-Rasa, then it dramatically contrasts with the Adbhuta Rasa of the belly-face and Shrngaara Rasa or Haasya Rasa of the Thigh-Faces. The two human faces on His breast, the two mustached faces, and the two frowning lion faces below His knee evoke Viira Rasa. Alternatively, one may find Raudra Rasa in His face, Viira Rasa in the breast-faces, Adbhuta Rasa in the belly-face, Haasya Rasa on the left thigh-face and Karunaa-Rasa on His right thigh-face, Shrngaara Rasa on the buttock-face, and Biibhatsa-Rasa and Bhayaanaka Rasa on the lion-faces. The faces as part of the whole play on the Whole, and the Whole plays on the Part. Viewing and contemplating on the Whole, our mind indeed is filled with Shaanta Rasa – all passion spent!
The face on the belly has a large rotund appearance. It is expressionless, though the moustache – undifferentiated from the upper lip gives the semblance of a slight smile and expression of content. the size of this face is larger than His head – and I suggest, this is one significant point to understand Him. I will come to that.
The Face on the belly
Profile of two faces on the buttock can be seen. They too – particularly the one on our right side with swelled cheek appear to be smiling.
Face on Buttock and left Thigh
The smiling left thigh-face is more probably woman – the only female depiction in the Idol. These two thigh-faces have hands too – joined as in Pranaama. Unfortunately, the details of the fingers are broken. It is as if they have attained bliss by submitting to Him – and their closeness to the Phallus suggests that their submission is to the Linga. their ears are long – as is often found in depictions of Rshis, great men and the Buddha. they, and the buttock-faces may be ascetics with shaven hairs and elongated ears.
If the thigh-faces are meditating ascetics (male and female), or braahmanas, or bhaktas, or spiritual beings, then we have a subverted hierarchy down His torso as follows:
His Head – Collage of animals – that is, beasts or lower beings at the top
His Breast – Human beings with social power – Raajanya/Kshatriya figures
His Belly - Human being at the centre of His body
His Thigh – Human beings with spiritual power
His Leg (below knee) – Beasts
Animals at top and animals at the bottom complete the circle with human beings between. What was in the Sculptor-Poet’s mind? Was He trying to convey a different vision of the human reality?
Erect Linga and the two faces on the thigh
1.2. Alternative Reading of Him
Are the human and animal faces part of His body, or are they ornamentations and decorations on His armour? What was in the Sculptor-Poet’s mind?
Yes, there are at least some indications that the human and animal faces are not part of His body – they are His armour – Kavaca.
The way the elephant-crocodile’s mouth and teeth hold over the shoulders, make them appear like armour; that is, they are shoulder-guards, gardbrace, or spaulder. These shoulder-guards plus the two human faces on the breasts may together be the pauldron. This idea is reinforced by the fact that the two human faces on the breasts have earrings, and such metallic earrings cannot be part of His body.
This idea of armour is further bolstered by the fact that when we look at the lion faces depicted below His knee, their ears appear like two button-like structures on topside of each.
Lion Faces below the Knee
This alternative reading of course takes away much of His charm; however, fortunately, there are enough indications again, that the human and animal faces are part of His body, and not His armour.
If we go by the idea of armour, how do we explain His face and head then? How do we explain His tortoise phallus and the slipping snake on His forehead? Indeed, if we view Him from the side, we clearly see that the Sculptor-Poet has imagined Him as One from whose body different human beings and animals emerge. In that case, the ornaments worn by the Faces are the external embellishments. In short, the human beings and animals are part of His body; and I will go with this reading.
2. Mystic Numbers "8", ‘11” and “12”
As I mentioned before, there are "8" human faces including His head, a total of “11” heads adorn different parts of His body; and including His head, there are “12” heads.
These numbers cannot be accidental; and I am sure the Sculptor-Poet deliberately used the mystic numbers as integral part of His artistic vision.
“12” definitely represents Kaala-Time – 12 months of a year. This is indeed one strong reason to identify Him as the Mahaakaala, one epithet of Shiva.
“12” might also be the number of astrological signs. Some astrological signs, at least, like crab (Cancer/Karkat), fish (Pisces/Meena), Pair of Male and Female – the thigh-faces (Gemini/Mithun), female face on thigh (Virgo/Kanyaa), Pair of balanced male faces on chest (Libra/Tula); belly-face resembling Kumbha (Aquarius), lions below the knee (Leo/Simha); crocodile on shoulder (Capricorn/Makara), scorpion-like tail of the lizard (Scorpio/Vrishchik) – may be detected. However, we do not find the other signs. therefore, I am aware that this theory of astrology is rather shaky.
“11” is the number of Rudras (e.g. Yajurveda – 1.4.11; 3.4.9; 3.5.2 etc.), and also the number of indriyas including mana. Thus, the “11” heads represent the integrated human being.
The number "8" is the most significant mystic number, and Shiva – like Vishnu – has significant connection with "8"; and in Mahabharata, Shiva and Vishnu are merged in the mystic number "8".
Shiva presides over the “eighth lunation of the dark fortnight (krshnaashtam irataaya ca, 13.14.152c).” He has 8 flowers on His head (vicitramanimuurdhaaya kusumaashtadharaaya ca, 13,014.153d@006_0026).
While doing penance, Krshna passes 8 days speaking on Shiva – that passes like an hour (dinaany ashtau tato jagmur muhuurtam iva bhaarata, 13,015.003d*0140_02). Then on the 8th day, he undergoes Diikshaa (dine 'shtame ca viprena diikshito 'ham yathaavidhi, 13.15.4a). Shiva appears with Umaa and asks Krshna to ask for 8 boons (vrniishvaashtau varaan krshna daataasmi tava sattama, 13.15.51a). Uma refers to Shiva’s giving Krshna the boon of a son named Shaamba (datto bhagavataa putrah saambo naama tavaanagha), and she too grants him 8 boons (matto 'py ashtau varaan ishtaan grhaana tvam dadaami te, 13.16.5c).
One Rshi Jaigiishavya tells Yudhishthira that Mahadeva conferred upon Him 8 attributes of sovereignty (ashtagunam aishvaryam, 13.18.24a), Garga says, “the great God bestowed upon me, on the banks of the sacred stream Saraswati, that wonderful science of the knowledge of Time with its four and sixty branches (catuhshashtyangam adadaat kaalajnaanam mamaadbhutam, 25a).” Now, “64” is “8” x “8”.
In Upamanyu’s narrative, Rshi Tandi praises Mahaadeva as having "8" forms:
“Having created all the worlds beginning with Bhu, together with all the denizens of heaven, that upholdest and cherishest them all, distributing thyself into thy well-known forms numbering Eight (bhuur aadyaan sarvabhuvanaan utpaadya sadivaukasah / vibharti devas tanubhir ashtaabhish ca dadaati ca, 13.16.35).”
Rshi Tandi further praises Mahaadeva as follows: “Thou art the eight Prakritis. Thou art, again, above the eight Prakritis (ashtau prakrtayaSh caiva prakrtibhyash ca yat param, 54a). Everything that exists represents a portion of thy divine Self (13.16.50-55).”
Now, "8" is also the number of Rasas in Bharata Muni's Naatyashaastra – Shrngaaram, Haasyam, Raudram, Kaarunyam, Biibhatsam, Bhayaanakam, Viiram, Adbhutam; and as I have discussed, the "8" human Faces on His body, may represent the "8" Rasas too.
3. He, the unique Purusha in the Sculptor-Poet’s mind
If the beings all over His body are not just ornamentations and decorations of His armour (Kavaca), then they suggest the birth of beings from Him, or His Creative Self.
Birth from body-part may not conform with our common idea of birth; however, in ancient mythical narratives we have different birth-myths – that is, narratives of birth – in which one is born of head, breasts, ears, nose and leg (specifically, thigh) of another or male or God. Such birth-myths are transcultural. One will remember Athena’s birth from Zeus’ forehead.
For example, Mandhatri was born in the stomach of the high-souled Yuvanaswa (Shaanti-Parvan-29); Kshupa was born from Brahma’s nose when Brahma (who had conceived the foetus in his brain) sneezed (Shaanti-Parvan-122); Nishaada was born from Vena’s right thigh (Shaanti-Parvan-59); and Dharma was born from Brahma’s right breast -
stanam tu dakshinam bhittvaa brahmano naravigrahah /
nihsrto bhagavaan dharmah sarvalokasukhaavahah // (1.60.30)
Now, in Him too, there are Beings springing from those organs - breasts, ears, nose and leg (specifically, thigh), indicating His fertility as creator of beings.
Numerous Faces all over the body imply numerous eyes. I cannot but find some resemblance with the RgVedic Purusha -
“A thousand Heads hath Purusha, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet.
On every side pervading earth He fills a space ten fingers wide.” (RV- 10.90.1)
At Rk 10.90.7-8 of RgVeda, the Rshi says –
“they balmed as victim on the grass Purusa born in earliest time.
With Him the Deities and all Sadhyas and Rsis sacrificed. (7)
“From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up.
He formed the creatures of-the air, and animals both wild and tame. (8)”
Similarly, we find “creatures of-the air, and animals both wild and tame” all over His body.
In the RgVedic Purusha, human beings are born from His mouth, arms, thigh and feet -
“the Brahman was His mouth, of both His arms was the Rajanya made.
His thighs became the Vaisya, from His feet the Sudra was produced.” (RV-10.90.12)
Our Him, though not exactly the RgVedic Purusha, surely had been the Sculptor-Poet’s one inspiration in imagining Him.
Surya is born from the RgVedic Purusha’s Eyes (10.90.13), and here, His eyes really resemble Surya.
Another affinity I find with the RgVedic Purusha, is in the depiction of His belly. the RgVedic Rshi says about Purusha -
“This Purusa is all that yet hath been and all that is to be;
the Lord of Immortality which waxes greater still by food.” (10.90.2)
He “waxes greater still by food” – as evident from the depiction of His belly-face. Food and stomach are of much significance. His mouth as crab adds to that significance.
In Upanishadik Philosophy, Anna (Food) and Praana are the two highest Gods. For example, the Rshi of Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad says - “Food and Life are the foremost Gods” (annam caiva praanash ceti; 3,9.8), and the Rshi of Chaandogya Upanishad says - “Everything is established in food” (anne hiidam sarvam sthitam; 1,3.6).
How to be the “eater of food” is one central concern of Upanishads (Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad. 1.3.18, 1.4.6, & 2.4.24; Chaandogya Upanishad. 1.3.7, 1.8.4, 2.8.3, 3.8.1, 3, & 4.3.8; Taittiriiya Upanishad. 3.7.1, 3.8.1, & 3.9.1; Kaushitakii Braahmana Upanishad .2.9).
One will notice that His stomach’s face is larger than His head. Vyasa describes Maheshvara as one with vast stomach and vast body (Drona Parvan-202). This description conforms to Him.
Food and ‘eating’ as metaphor for power is prominently evident in the Indra-Vrtra myth of Shatapatha Braahmana that gives a very mystic description of Indra-Vrtra combat in terms of ‘food’. Vrtra, once an ‘eater’, becomes victorious Indra’s ‘food’. On Vrtra’s plea, Indra does not kill Vrtra, but divides him in two. From that part of Vrtra which belonged to Soma Indra makes the moon, and that which is demonic, Indra puts into creatures as their stomach. “And whenever these creatures get hungry they pay tribute to this Vrtra, the stomach (SB 188.8.131.52).” Yajnavalka, in Shatapatha Braahmana, sees Vrtra in the waxing moon.
Here, His stomach resembles the Moon – and may signify the enemy within - Hunger.
Shiva as Mahakala is Kaala-Time, and the conception of Kaala is expressed in food-Imagery:
“When this has been effected, the condition reached is said to be of high Knowledge. Then Time swallows up this Knowledge, and as the Sruti declares, Time itself, in its turn, is swallowed up by might, or energy. Might or energy, however, is (again) swallowed up by Time, which last is then brought under her sway by Vidya. Possessed of Vidya, Iswara then swallows up non-existence itself into His Soul” (12.225.12-14)… “Without doubt, Time assumes diverse shapes. It has neither beginning nor end. It is Time which produces all creatures and again devours them.” (12.230.19)
The large belly-face, therefore, points to His being the great devourer – Kaala-Time.
3.1. Can we identify Him with Rudra?
The animal and human faces all over His body suggests multiple eyes. Indeed, in Atharva Veda, like the RgVedic Purusha, Rudra is “thousand eyed” (Atharva Veda – 11.2.3, 17).
Our He clearly appears in conformity with Pashupati – Lord of animals. In Atharva Veda, Rudra is different from Pashupati (Atharva Veda- 11.6.9); however, in Yajurveda, Rudra is “overlord of animals” (e.g. Yajurveda – 6.2.3). the identification of Shiva, Rudra and Pashupati as One is later; however, the oneness is established in later tradition of Hinduism.
In RgVeda, at the Rk 1.64.3, the Rshi Nodhas Gautama describes the Rudras as -
“Young Rudras, demon-slayers, never growing old, they have waxed, even as mountains, irresistible. they make all beings tremble with their mighty strength, even the very strongest, both of earth and Heaven.”
So, even if the Sculptor-Poet originally conceived Him to ward off evil; that too goes well with Him as “demon-slayer” Rudra.
At Rk 1.114.1, Rshi Kutsa Angiras regards Rudra “strong” and “the Lord of Heroes with the braided hair”, and at Rk-5, the Rshi prays to Rudra as -
“Him with the braided hair we call with reverence down, the wild-boar of the sky, the red, the dazzling shape. May He, His hand filled full of Sovran medicines, grant us protection, shelter, and a home secure.”
Our Him sculpted in red sandstone fits with the colours and with the “dazzling shape.”
At Rk 2.1.6, Rshi Grtsamada Saunahotra (later Grtsamada Saunaka) regards Rudra as “the asura of mighty heaven” and “the Lord of food.” I have already discussed how our He is Lord of food with a gigantic belly.
However, the description that most aptly fits with Him, is the one by Rshi Grtsamada Saunahotra at Rk 2.33.9, in which the Rshi regards Rudra as -
“With firm limbs, multiform, the strong, the tawny adorns Himself with bright gold decorations: the strength of Godhead never departs from Rudra, Him who is Sovran of this world, the mighty.”
The “firm limbs” and “multiform” undoubtedly goes a long way to establish Him as Rudra; and as we shall see, Mahabharata further provides us with information on how Rudra and Shiva become one in their “multiform” aspect.
There are other affinities too. Our He is turbaned with serpents, and in Yajurveda, Rudra is “turbaned wanderer on the mountains” (Yajurveda – 4.5.3h). Our He appears dwarfish (despite the 8 feet size of the sculpture), and in Yajurveda, Rudra is “short” and “dwarf” (Yajurveda – 4.5.5h)
Now, Rudra is not all-destructive; Rshi Vasistha Maitravaruni regards Him “beneficent Rudra” (RV- 7.40.5). Rudra is also fertility God. For example, Rshi Bharadvaja Barhaspatya regards Him as “rain-pouring Rudra” (RV- 6.66.3).
As we shall see, the animals on Him – frog, fish and tortoise – are fertility symbols.
Just as our He is ambiguous, we find the same ambiguity in Rudra’s Birth Narrative.
Apparently, Rudra indicating Raudra Rasa is opposite to Karunaa-Rasa; however, Rudra’s birth is through Karunaa – and that shows the unique message of Vedic Philosophy – that, opposite is born in opposite to co-exist.
The Yajurveda narrates Rudra’s origin thus –
“The gods and the Asuras were in conflict; the gods, in anticipation of the contest, deposited in Agrni their desirable riches (thinking), 'This will still be ours, if they defeat us. Agrni desired it and went away with it. The gods having defeated (the Asuras) pursued (Agni) desirous of recovering it. they sought violently to take it from Him. He wept; in that He wept (arodit), that is why Rudra has His name.” (1.5.1)
In Shatapatha Braahmana, Rudra’s birth is as follows –
“By His mind He (Prajaapati) entered into union with Speech (Vaak): He became pregnant with eleven drops. They were created as those eleven Rudras: He placed them in the air.” (6:1:2:7)
“He said to Him, 'Thou art Rudra.' And because He gave Him that name, Agni became suchlike (or, that form), for Rudra is Agni: because He cried (rud) therefore He is Rudra. He said, 'Surely, I am mightier than that: give me yet a name!'” (Shatapatha Braahmana-6:1:3:10)
There is again a different version in Mahabharata. Krshna tells Arjuna –
“Salutations unto Naaraayana …From His grace hath arisen Brahman and from His wrath hath arisen Rudra (krodhaavishtasya samjajne rudrah samhaarakaarakah” (CE 12.328.16c).
In the unique Vedic Philosophy, thus, Rudra’s Birth Narrative carries the message that tear and anger are the two sides of the same coin. Nothing bears testimony to this more than our real life experience.
In the Taittiriya Samhita 4.5.8, both Soma and Rudra are ‘the dread’ and ‘the terrible’ (ugraaya ca bhiimaaya ca); both are ‘slayers’ (agrevadhaaya ca dhuurevadhaaya; hantre ca haniyase ca); both are nature manifest as trees and greenery (vrukshebhyo harikeshebhyo); both are ‘in’ the tender grass, in foam, in the sand, and in the stream (sashpyaaya ca phenyaaya ca; sikatyaaya ca pravaahyaaya ca); both are the source of health, the source of delight, the maker of health, and the maker of delight (Sambhave ca mayo bhave ca; Sankaraaya ca mayaskaraaya ca); both can ‘cross’ over (prataranaya) and back (uttaranaya); both are manifest in ‘crossing’ (ataryaya).
Our Him was probably not sculpted to be the central deity; however, even if He was sculpted to be at the door of the Devrani Temple, indeed He is Rudra, because He helps in “crossing over” – which is one significance of Tiirtha (Pilgrimage).
4. Animal Symbolism
Now let us try to understand the animal symbolism on His body.
Fish bear the significance of Maatsyaavataara; it is also metaphor for power. The tortoise bears the significance of Kurmaavataara. The lions bear the significance of Nrsimha Avataara. Other than that, alligators, crabs, and fishes – are signs of fertility; they indicate life of river, and the river’s life (= Biodiversity in modern parlance, and with perennial source of water) not only protects environment but also human life. Who knows not that river is the Mother of Civilization?
In Mahabharata, I find, alligators, crabs, and fishes are hailed as God’s blessings as also indicative of good governance – proper implementation of Raajadharma.
For example, in Mahabharata, Narada praises King Suhotra’s reign, and says –
“The deity of the clouds showered on his kingdom large number of alligators and crabs and fishes of diverse species and various objects of desire, countless in number, that were all made of gold. The artificial lakes in that king's dominions each measured full two miles. Beholding thousands of dwarfs and humpbacks and alligators and makaras, and tortoises all made of gold, king Suhotra wondered much.” (Drona Parvan-56)
Krshna too praises King Suhotra’s reign and tells Yudhishthira after the war –
“The rivers, during the sway of that king, bore golden tortoises, crabs, alligators, sharks, and porpoises, for the adorable Indra, O king, had showered these upon them.” (Shaanti-Parvan-29)
However, river can also have her destructive aspect when flooded. In rhythm with this reality, crocodiles and tortoises are also war imagery and metaphors. For example,
“And the loud uproar made by the elephants and the chargers of those kings rushing to the combat, mingled with the leonine shouts of the combatants …And the uproar of that ocean having arrows for its crocodiles, bows for its snakes, swords for its tortoises, and the forward leaps of the warriors for its tempest, resembled the din made by the (actual) ocean when agitated.” (Bhiishma Parvan-44)
“Sword” itself can assume a phallic symbol; and sword as tortoise provides us with another significance in understanding His tortoise-phallus.
The animal symbolism in the animals depicted on Him, therefore, establishes Him in both His creative and destructive aspect – like Rudra. That is to say: if He is Rudra, He is not so only for His destructive aspect, but creative aspect too – an aspect manifest in Shiva.
I have mentioned that the fertility symbols are related to proper implementation of Raajadharma; implying King’s role as Dandadhara. He is thus Dandadhara too.
Why does a Lizard form His Nose?
The nose relates to Praana – we breathe through our nose. The Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad connects lizard/chameleon and Praana in a mystic mantra in which lizard/chameleon assumes the symbolic representation of Praana of all beings:
“This Prajapati (Hiranyagarbha) has sixteen digits and is represented by the year. the nights (and days) are His fifteen digits, and the constant one is His sixteenth digit. He (as the moon) is filled as well as wasted by the nights (and days). Through this sixteenth digit, He permeates all these living beings on the new-moon night and rises the next morning. Therefore, on this night one should not take the life of living beings, not even of a chameleon, in adoration of this deity alone (tasmaad etaam raatrim praanabhrtah praanam na vicchindyaad api krkalaasasyaitasyaa eva devataayaa apacityai; 1.5.14)
Crab is a recurrent metaphor for one who brings about one’s own destruction. For example, Kanika in His advice to Dhrtaraashtra says -
“He who trusteth in a foe who hath been brought under subjection by force, summoneth his own death as a crab by her act of conception.” (Adi Parvan- 142)
For example, Sudeshna (King Viraata’s wife) tells Draupadi –
“Even as a person that climbs up a tree for compassing his own destruction, even as the crab conceives for her own ruin, I may, O thou of sweet smiles, bring destruction upon myself by harbouring thee.” (Viraata Parvan-9)
“Home-keeping men of little understanding have to put up with termagant wives that eat up their flesh like the progeny of a crab eating up their dam.” (Shaanti-Parvan-139)
His mouth as Crab therefore, opens up multiple layers of meaning.
Through mouth, one takes food – and taking food implies survival of the one who takes the food, but destruction of the one or thing who is taken as food.
Vyasa says about Shiva, “the mouth which that God has is in the ocean.” (Drona Parvan-202). Food and mouth therefore, suggests the simultaneity of Creation and Destruction. Crab as His mouth reinforces that symbolic meaning of the simultaneity.
4.3. Tortoise and the Phallus
In Mahabharata, Shiva is called - uurdhvaretaa uurdhvalinga uurdhvaShaayii nabhastalah (13.17.45c). Shiva in Purana as “Ithyphallic Yogii” represents both “chastity and sexuality” (Brahmanda Purana - 2.27.12; Padma Purana - 5.5.45).
His phallus as tortoise is the most fitting imagery; and this is one reason for me to believe that the Sculptor-Poet had surely Mahabharata in mind.
Shiva is ithyphallic; however, Shiva’s Kaama is tamed, that is, He can withdraw at will. Now, in Mahabharata, tortoise is a recurrent symbol of controlled Kaama.
For example, Krshna says to Arjuna –
“When one withdraws his senses from the objects of (those) senses as the tortoise its limbs from all sides, even his is steadiness of mind.” (Bhiishma Parvan- 26)
For example, Brhaspati tells Indra –
“When one draws away all his desires like a tortoise drawing in all it limbs, then the natural resplendence of his soul soon manifests itself.” (Shaanti-Parvan-21)
“When a person succeeds in withdrawing all his desires like a tortoise withdrawing all its limbs, then his soul, which is self-luminous, succeeds in looking into itself.” (Shaanti-Parvan-174)
Fish and tortoise are also auspicious signs on palms. For example, Vyasa says about Karna –
“The son of Radha then, pursuing Yudhishthira, the son of Pandu, cleansed himself by touching him in the shoulder with his own fair hand (the palm of which was) graced with the auspicious signs of the thunderbolt, the umbrella, the hook, the fish, the tortoise, and the conchshell, and desired to seize him by force.” (Karna Parvan-49)
Now, Tortoise is also the symbol of creation and destruction/dissolution.
Vyaasa tells Shuka –
“Like a tortoise stretching out its limbs and withdrawing them again, the great entities, by dwelling in numberless small forms, undergo transformations called creation and destruction.” (Shaanti-Parvan-247)
Thus, His phallus as tortoise – depicting Him as ithyphallic – not only signifies Controlled Kaama, but also signifies His potency of creation and destruction/dissolution.
5. Multiple Brains
Let us imagine our human body as a Rashtra – the different organs as different administrative units, and each cell as a worker/employee.
Like every system, this human body system is also a power-system – involving hierarchy. So, who is the Central Government in this system?
While predominant Western philosophy teaches us that brain is the centre, our Upanishadik Philosophy teaches us that Hrdaya (heart) is the centre. The higHest principle of Buddhi as per Saamkhya Darshana (and as stated in the Gita) is in fact more related to the heart than brain. Or, better to put it thus that Buddhi stems from harmonious existence of the different components of the Self with heart as the centre.
Modern scientific knowledge has learnt to acknowledge that the brain, which we call brain, is not the only brain and therefore, not the only decision making or controlling organ.
Vertically split, we have in fact three Brains – the reptile brain or R-Complex (centre of reptile-like behaviour manifest in instinct and desire to control – the Pravrtti in raw), the mammal brain (centre of emotional behaviour and Pravrtti manifest as emotion), and the cerebrum – the brain unique to human – which has two parts, the Left-Cortex and Right-Cortex. So, our brain is in actuality four brains, and together they form the Central Government. According to Paul MacLean, “each of the four is like a separate brain, each having its own special intelligence, its own subjectivity, its own sense of time and space, and its own memory, motor, and other functions.”
In certain situations, our heart can function independently without instruction from the brain, and so our heart too merits to be called brain.
As if that is not enough, our enteric nervous system is also capable of taking independent decisions without the intervention of the brain, and therefore, it too merits to be called brain.
In the opinion of Kalen Hammann, “virtually all human-caused problems, from individual tragedies to global disasters, stem from a single cause. The different parts of our brains stop working together. We get disconnected.”
Looking at our Him, I find this wisdom of the brains depicted in Him. His belly-face is the largest, implying the centrality of Jiiva-Dharma, because with hunger in the appetite every luxury of brain and heart vanishes. It is remarkable that in Mahabharata, Vyasa regards Jiiva-Dharma (survival) as the highest and most important of all manifestations of Dharma.
6. Who is He?
No doubt, His form jolts our conception of the human form, and the insects and reptiles on His face and head even repulses.
Interestingly, in Puranik Narratives of Mahabharata, we have description of human forms that do not conform to our known human form; that I have regarded –
“Human-Form-defying-Human-Form”. For example, Karttika’s companions given to Him by Brahma, are such “Human-Form-defying-Human-Form”.
“Some had Faces like those of snakes... Some had large limbs protruding stomachs …the necks of some were very short and the ears of some were very large. Some had diverse kinds of snakes for their ornaments... Some had mouths on their stomachs …and the mouths of many were placed on other parts of their bodies. …Some had noses like those of tortoises, some like those of wolves.” (Shalya Parvan -45)
Doesn’t our Him conform to that? the Karttika theme is further reinforced by the presence of peacocks on Him.
Vyasa describes to Arjuna, Shiva’s companions as Human-Form-defying-Human-Form -
“That Lord hath for His companions celestial beings of diverse forms, some of whom are dwarfs, some having matted locks … some with short necks, some with large stomachs, some with huge bodies, some possessed of great strength and some of long ears. All of them, O Partha, have deformed faces and mouths and legs and strange attires. That Supreme Deity, called Mahadeva, is worshipped by followers that are even such.” (Drona Parvan-202)
Shiva’s Ganas are also described as Human-Form-defying-Human-Form -
“And the Faces of some were like those of mighty snakes …And the Faces of some were like those of … tortoises and alligators …and elephants ... Some had …a 1,000 eyes, some had very large stomachs …!” (Sauptikaparvan-7)
So, is our He a companion of Karttika or Shiva's companion/Gana?
NO! Not necessary to think so.
If Shiva’s companions are Human-Form-defying-Human-Form, Shiva Himself is so.
In Sauptikaparvan (section-7), we find a eulogy to Shiva in Ashvatthaamaa’s voice – in which He is described as one with multifarious forms -
“I seek the protection of Him called Ugra, Sthanu, Shiva, Rudra, Sharva, Ishana, Ishvara, Girisha …whose form is the universe, who hath three eyes, who is possessed of multifarious forms … who swells with energy, who is the lord of diverse tribes of ghostly beings, and who is the possessor of undecaying prosperity and power; of Him who wields the skull-topped club, who is called Rudra, who bears matted locks on His Head, and who is a brahmacari.”
Vyasa says, “Brahmanas versed in the Vedas say that He hath two forms. these are the terrible and the auspicious. these two forms, again, are multifarious.” (Drona Parvan-202)
Our Him is therefore, no doubt Shiva’s Form-defying-Form.
Vyasa explains Shiva’s various names thus –
“… since also He is the lord of all creatures, therefore is He called Pasupati. And since His phallic emblem is always supposed to be in the observance of the vow of Brahmacharya, and since He always gladden the world, therefore He is called Maheswara. the Rishis, the gods, the Gandharvas, and Apsaras, always worship His phallic emblem which is supposed to stand upright……And since with respect to the past, the future, and the present, that God has many forms, He is, on that account, called Vahurupa (many-formed). …And since He always increaseth all kinds of wealth and wisheth the good of mankind in all their acts, He is for that reason called Siva. He possesseth a thousand eyes, or ten thousand eyes, and hath them on all sides. And since He protecteth this vast universe, He is for that reason called Mahadeva. And since He is great and ancient and is the source of life and of its continuance, and since His phallic emblem is everlasting, He is for that reason called Sthanu. And since the solar and the lunar rays of light that appear in the world are spoken of as the hair on the Three-eyed one, He is for that reason called Vyomakesa. And since, afflicting Brahma and Indra and Varuna and Yama and Kuvera, He destroyeth them ultimately, He is for that reason called Hara. …He who adoreth any image of the phallic emblem of that high-souled God, always obtaineth great prosperity by that act. Downwards fiery, and half the body, that is auspiciousness is the moon. …With that other terrible form He as supreme Lord devoureth everything. And since He burneth, since He is fierce, since He is endued with great prowess, and since He devoureth flesh and blood and marrow, He is for tHis called Rudra. “(Drona Parvan-202)
Shiva is the God who subverts establisHed and conventional Structure and Form. His occasional assumption of Human-Form-defying-Human-Form and companions who are “Differently Formed” (I make tHis coinage in tune with “Differently Abled”) – signify His preference for the socially marginalized and ostracized.
Our Sculptor-Poet’s prioritizing animals over human beings – in disrupting the hierarchy in evolutionary scale, where animals come at the top and bottom entwining human beings (- that I discussed at 1.1 above) – is perhaps a very scientific and philosophic vision that human being is only an animal species in the overall nature’s scheme of beings.
Our He – in His human-form-defying-human-form and being “Differently Formed” – therefore, embodies Shiva and specifically symbolizes Shiva’s role in subversion of power. For example, in Mahabharata, we always find Shiva arming and empowering the small-fish in the scheme of Kshatriya Maatsyanyaaya. When the Pandavas are small-fish (having lost to Kauravas), Shiva arms Arjuna with the Paashupata; when Jayadratha (after His failed abduction of Draupadi) is humiliated by Pandavas and therefore, is small-fish to Pandavas, Shiva grants Jayadratha a boon that ultimately culminates in AbHimanyu’s death; when the Kauravas are devastated in KuruksHetra, Shiva arms Ashvatthaamaa to annihilate the Panchalas.
The repulsion that we may initially feel on seeing slimy animals forming His face and head is perhaps our Sculptor-Poet’s desired effect to tightly slap our content cheek of considering human beings superior to other Animals – while, it is for those animals that human beings survive. To me, He is our Sculptor-Poet’s message on environment; and I find tHis similar to Vyasa’s idea of the superiority of Jiiva-Dharma over other manifestations of Dharma.
In view of all above discussion, and keeping my mind open to all possibilities, my opinion on the sculpture is that, He is an interpreted form of RgVedic Purusha, in which the Sculptor-Poet imagined Shiva-Maheshvara as the Purusha in His three aspects – Mahakala, Pashupati and Rudra. I thus find no reason to differ with the popular idea that He is Rudra-Shiva; however, I would like to add only one epithet to that and regard Him –
Rudra Shiva Purusha
Having said all that about Him, nothing will be said if I say nothing about the anonymous Sculptor-Poet who created Him. Ultimately, He remains not only as His immortal creation, but also as the symbol of the Shilpii’s freedom of expression. And in tHis regard, I consider Him not only modern but also Pre-“Post-Modern”.
The way our Sculptor-Poet imagined His face is collage-art, rather “Concept-Collage”, which, even the so-called modern mainstream culture of our time is occasionally hesitant to accept as an artistic form of expression unless nudged by post-modern democracy. And Here, our Sculptor-Poet, surely aware that tradition was not on his side or aid to encourage him to create such a sculpture, dared to interpret tradition and create Him. He dared to experiment with collage-art with animals with none other than Shiva’s face and head. Most importantly, He had the boldness to place the animal kingdom at the top of hierarchy in the kingdom of human beings. This may be surely taken as his environment consciousness.
Of all the scriptural references I have given above, I certainly do not believe that our Sculptor-Poet had read all those scriptures to create Him; however, whether he had read them or not, his Cultural Memory must have played role because a Shilpii-Kavi knows to read culture and tradition – not just ‘read’ (like we read newspapers); and for Shilpii-Kavi like him, cultural memory is accessible in its deeper layers..
My Pranaama to the genius anonymous Sculptor-Poet …
Om Namah Shivaya …
How to Meet Him?
1) Talagaon is 90 km from Raipur on NH 130 on Raipur-Bilaspur Road. Right turn after Maniyari River Bridge from Bhojpuri Village. the village proper is located on Bhojpur-Dagauri road.
2) Talagaon is 29 km by road South-West from Bilaspur railway station
3) Nearest Rail Station to Talagaon is Dagri; from there – 7.5 km
4) No eatery in Talagaon; so, better to carry food and water
5) Auto fare from Bilaspur railway station – Rs. 550/- (back and forth plus waiting charge)