Temple architecture

Annapurna icons at a temple in drought-prone UP region – The New Indian Express

The Jarai Math temple, located in the town of Baruasagar in the Jhansi district of Uttar Pradesh, is a temple of the Gurjara-Pratihara period from the 9th to 10th centuries CE. The temple has unique features including the presence of numerous Annapurna images and the fusion of Hindu and Jain iconography. We will deepen them after a description of the architecture and icons of the temple.

The Jarai Math follows the panchayatana (staggered). The central temple consists of a garbhagriha (shrine), a antarala (hallway) and a mukha mandapa (gantry); the last did not survive. Of its four subsidiary shrines, only two have survived. The subsidiary sanctuaries and part of the shikhara (tower) of the central temple were rebuilt during the Bundela period (17th century CE) in the Mughal style with pyramidal roofs.

The cult image inside the garbhagriha is mutilated, but the temple was dedicated to a goddess. This is evident from the images of various goddesses carved all around and an image of a 16-armed goddess on the lalata bimba (crest figure). It is suggested that the temple was dedicated to the goddess Jara, hence the name Jarai Math. Jara is mentioned in the mahabharata in connection with the birth of Jarasandha. It is said that she was a demon and a grihadevi worshiped by households by painting her images on the walls. People who did not worship him had to face destruction and other difficulties in their lives. It is generally believed that the demon Jara was deified and attained goddess status in due time. Reminiscences of the same can be seen in the Jara-Jivantika cult prevalent in Maharashtra.

the grand sapta-shakha (seven bands) gate of the garbhagriha is beautifully carved with various figures and icons on its seven tiers of lintels. The highest level has dancers placed in narrow niches. The lower level has Ashta-dikpalas (eight directional guardians), four on each side, and a lotus pedestal in the center. Two Varahi figures, each holding a child and seated facing each other, are placed on the lotus pedestal. The level below has Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and two interesting Annapurna icons at the terminals. On the left terminal are depicted two females standing face to face. The woman on the left holds a spoon in an alms pose while the woman on the right holds a bowl to receive alms. Generally, in the iconography of Annapurna, it is Shiva who is represented receiving alms from Parvati. The female figure receiving alms in this sculpture may be a Shakti of Shiva, probably Bhairavi. Bhairava is closely associated with Shiva-Bhikshatana iconography, of which Annapurna is also a part. The sculpture on the right terminal shows Parvati and Shiva in their usual positions and postures. It has an interesting feature: a bird sits above the spoon held by Parvati, and another bird is in the bowl held by Shiva. This suggests that the bird is part of the alms in this case.

The fourth level from the top has six goddesses: Lakshmi, Ambika, a mutilated figure of a four-armed goddess, Saraswati, Chakreshvari and another disfigured four-armed Devi. Ambika holds a child and sits under a mango tree. Chakreshvari sits on a lotus pedestal holding four chakra (disk). Ambika and Chakreshvari are Jain goddesses, and their presence suggests a fusion of Jain and Hindu iconography. The reason behind this may be that the sponsors of the temple were of divergent religions and included their respective icons in the overall scheme of this gate. The level below has Navagrahas (nine planets) on the left and Saptamatrikas with Vinadhara-Virabhadra and Ganesh on the right. In the center lalata bimba is a mangled figure of a 16-armed goddess.

The sculptural panels of the door bands are dominated by the Annapurana icon, carved seven times, four on the left jamb and three on the right side. These seven panels have a variety of differences. While the main theme remains constant, Shiva receiving alms from Parvati, in some panels he is shown without clothes and in some with clothes to varying degrees. In a few panels, Shiva is accompanied by a dog, suggesting his Bhairava aspect.

The presence of the multiple Annapurna icons above the temple gives food for thought. Legend has it that once Parvati got angry with Shiva, leaving the whole world devoid of food and grain. However, Parvati could not bear the grief of seeing her subjects crying and begging for food. She became Annapurna and opened a kitchen in Varanasi to distribute food. The world was restored to its previous state once Shiva came to this kitchen begging for food and received alms from Parvati.

Baruasagar is part of the Bundelkhand region and droughts, reduced/delayed rainfall and famines are not new to this region. According to one report, Bundelkhand experienced a major drought every 16 years during the 18th and 19th centuries CE. The situation may not have been much different during the 9th and 10th centuries AD when this temple was built. Temples were the social institutions of this period and the carvings that covered them were a means of spreading a desired message to the masses. These multiple Annapurna sculptures were part of this device to spread the message of food distribution in troubled times.

Saurabh Saxena

Founder of Puratattva, a documentation of heritage sites