Sutradhara’s tales: Temple fragments expose Pune’s Yadava era footprints

BySaili K Palande-Datar
Mar 31, 2021 04:31 PM IST

Pune being a city of confluences of rivers and streams was no exception and the “sacred headquarters”

Even a good story teller finds it difficult to weave a seamless story of Pune when textual records stay unbearably silent for centuries. Yet, the city sometimes cannot bear the untold story and exposes the ancient remnants of a settlement to reveal hidden chapter of Pune’s past.

Remains of the Yadava period as seen near the Narayaneshwar temple in Pune. Local historian Pandurang Balkawade shifted the remains to a museum of the Bharat Itihas Samshodhak Mandal.
Remains of the Yadava period as seen near the Narayaneshwar temple in Pune. Local historian Pandurang Balkawade shifted the remains to a museum of the Bharat Itihas Samshodhak Mandal.

Our journey so far tells us that the original settlement of Pune city situated at the confluence of various streams meeting the river Mutha. Streams such as Ambil Odha, Middle Odha and Nagzhari, flowing from the Katraj hills meet the river and their deposition on the either sides helped create safe mounds for habitation. It is around these areas one finds the original settlement of Pune growing in early medieval times.

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People tend to associate sacred importance to places of transition or transcendence, both in the physical and spiritual world.

The concept of sacred tirtha originates from such ideas and one sees birth of a Tirthakshetra.

Pune being a city of confluences of rivers and streams was no exception and the “sacred headquarters” of Rashtrakuta and Shilahara dynastic copperplates slowly take shape in the form of a sacred complex on banks of Mutha during the Yadava period.

The Yadava dynasty, one of the most prominent early medieval dynasties of Maharashtra, ruled during the 12th century to 14th century CE from the capital of Deogiri, present day Daulatabad.

It was the first dynasty which predominately used the Marathi language in their epigraphs and governance. This era saw a significant rise of Vaishnava Bhagwat sampradaya in the Deccan, and most Yadava kings claimed Vaishnava affiliations. The earlier predominantly Shaiva Maharashtra saw an extraordinary syncretism of Shaiva and Vaishnava cults and rise of several sects such as Varkaris, Nath, Datta Sampradaya and Mahanubhavas. Hemadri a polymath and prime minister who served three Yadava kings, was author of “Chaturvarga – Chintamani”, an encyclopaedic socio- religious treatise which laid a new way of religious life.

In his “Tirthakhanda” chapter, he identified many important sacred tirthas and pilgrimages to these sacred sites became part of religious practice.

Text of “Bhima Mahatmya” informs us of a rather interesting mythology of origin of river Mula and Mutha. It narrates the story of king Gajanak who was performing penance on the Bhimashankar mountain in service of lord Shiva. Lord Indra felt insecure about his position due to an anticipated Shiva’s boon to king Gajanak. He ordered two apsaras (celestial damsels) to create an obstacle in Gajanaka’s penance.

Gajanaka, realising this conspiracy, cursed the apsaras and turned them into rivers. When the two apsaras apologised and asked for reversal of course, they were told that the confluence with the river Bhima will release them of the curse and they would be back to their original form. Such associations with the bigger sacred landscapes highlights the importance of Pune as a sacred place and helps realise the merit of pilgrimage.

If we traverse the banks of river Mutha around Shaniwarwada today, the remnants of the Yadava period ghat leading to the river can be seen. Near the present Thorla Shaikh Salla Dargah, one comes across fairly well preserved stone staircase built with T-shaped dressed stones. For lack of datable markers it was not paid attention to, until recently.

The retaining wall of the bank came crashing down a decade ago, and two incredible marvels of the Yadava period were exposed in the form of intricately dressed stones of two temples, known as Narayaneshwar and Punyeshwar. The memory of existence of these two temples was documented in Purandare Daftar, but it was only this revelation which provided us with real evidence.

Local historian Pandurang Balkawade was instrumental in cleaning and shifting the remains to a museum of the Bharat Itihas Samshodhak Mandal in Pune where they are available for public viewing.

The remains though, are not enough to give us a complete idea of the two temple structures help us arrive at following conjectures.

The temple of Narayaneshwar was located near the banks opposite Shaniwadwada, next to the present Shivaji bridge and temple, given that Punyeshwar was located near Kumbharwada and the old Kumbhar Ves near the municipal corporation bridge.

Both the temples were built in highly ornamental carved stones in dry masonry, colloquially known as hemandpanti style. These temples technically could be of Bhumija or Nagara mode, which was the prevalent style during the Yadava period. The Narayaneshwar temple doorway elements reveal that it was a probably a Vaishnava temple or a combined Shiva-Vishnu temple.

The doorway of this temple has five shakha or decorative strips which are carved with Dashavtaras, or the 10 Vishnu incarnations. The Vaishanva dwarpalas are seen along with Garuda, a handsome Vamana, and vidarna Narasimha slaying Hiranyakshapu.

The important evidences of existence of Narayaneshwar temple are seen embedded in structural elements of Thorla Shaikh Salla Dargah in the form of ornate central pillars of sabhamandapa and corbelled roof, even today.

A highly ornate doorway at Dhakta Shaikh Salla Dargah stands testimony to temple of Punyeshwar. Overall, the sculptural quality of fragments indicates presence of fully developed temples with classical artistic Yadava expression.

The location of Kumbharwada and Ves (gateway) might have been the boundary of the sacred Yadava era settlement during this period and one can witness few Yadava period herostones located there, even today.

A few temple remains of a doorway and a broken lady figurine are seen at the Baloba Munja shrine near Surya hospital. A few more herostones from this era are scattered around the lanes of Kasba peth. The tale of these unknown heroes is for some other time.

In the year 1994-95, a handsome sculpture of lord Vishnu was found by Dr Padmakar Prabhune near the Vaikuntha cremation grounds on the banks of river Mutha. This one-metre tall samabhanga sculpture has two arms, one in varada mudra and one akimbo. Shankha and chakra are seen on the shoulders and the icon wears a tall karandaka mukuta crown.

The sculpture has a distinct south Indian influence and may belong to the late Yadava or Vijayanagara period. It is presently placed in a museum at Deccan College.

These remains, however, do not shade light on the makers of the handsome monumental marvels. The sacred core of the Yadava era in Pune, however, could not stand against the whirling political winds from the north and were lost permanently from the map of Pune. The violent tale of the political and cultural upheaval of Deccan and Pune is for forthcoming columns!

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