Archaeology and Vaishnava Tradition, Part Six

BY: SUN STAFF - 8.1 2019

12th century Sandstone

Part Six of a monograph by Ramaprasad Chanda, published by the Archaeological Survey of India, 1998.

Now to return to ancient Vedisa; besides the two inscribed Garuda columns there are the remains of another Vaishnavite archaeological document at Besnagar. These are the capitol of a column and a makara which originally surmounted the capital now lying by it a few yards off the column of Heliodorus. The makara and the capital are thus described by Professor Bhandarkar: [1]

"Near the second fan-palm were lying and are still lying two sculptures, which cannot be chronologically far removed from Kham Baba (i.e., the column of Heliodorus) itself. One of these is a rail capital. [2] The bell, which forms the lowermost part, is 2' 2-3/4" in height. The upper half of the bell is very much battered and injured. Above is a cable necking, which divided the bell from the abacus. The latter is 9-1/4" high, and is circular in shape. It is divided into two compartments, the lower of which is occupied by the bead and reel ornament, and the upper with honeysuckle patterns alternating with crocodiles.

On the abacus is a rail moulding 2' 3-1/4" square and 1' ½" high, and above it comes another member in the form of an amalaka. It is 1' 1-3/8" high thus bringing the total height of the whole capital to 4' 10", excluding the tenon at the top, which is 7-1/2" long, 5-1/4" broad, and 6" high.

This tenon seems to have been fitted into the mortise of the soffit of the makara pinnacle, the other sculpture lying beside it. [3] The mortise is 9" long, 6-1/4" broad, and 8" deep.

This no doubt appears to be a little too large for the tenon of the rail-capital, and militates, according to Mr. Lake, against the above supposition. But in early Indian architecture the mortise holes were frequently much larger than the tenons, and Sir John Marshall assures me that he has met with many similar instances at Sanchi.

This crocodile again bears such a close resemblance to the similar animals figured on the edge of the abacus of the rail capital, that their connexion can scarcely be seriously called in question. I, therefore, quite agree with Cunningham in holding that it was the pinnacle of this capital.

The greatest height of the makara is 2' 7-1/2"; but the tail is broken, and if we judge by the proportions of these animals on the rail capital its original height must have been about two feet more. Cunningham says:

"There is a mysterious hole at a short distance behind the eye which has puzzled me very much. Perhaps a horn or a fin, which the sculptor has forgotten, was inserted here as an after-thought."

There is not one hole, but two holes, one behind each eye, and it seems more likely that they served as mortises for holding the tenons of the crowning piece."

What Professor Bhandarkar means by "the crowning piece" is not clear. But there is a singular consensus of opinion among such eminent archaeologists as Cunningham, Sir John Marshall and Professor Bhandarkar himself regarding the makara being the pinnacle of the capital. So we have to recognize in the makara and the capital the remnants of a markaradhvaja or a "column with crocodile symbol."

Makara, 14th c. Gilt


In Sanskrit literature Krishna's son Pradyumna, identified with the god of love, is called markaradhvaja or makaraketana, 'one with the crocodile as his symbol.' In some of the sculptures of the Greco-Buddhist school of Gandhara one of Mara's daughters is seen holding a staff with a makara on it (Foucher's L'Art Greco-Bouddhique du Gandhara, Tome II, Premier Fascicule, Figures 400 and 401, facing p. 192), and in Sanskrit Buddhist works like Mahavastuand Lalitavistara Mara is frequently called Krishna-bandhu, "Krishna's kinsman."

We shall see presently that the Pancharatras or Bhagavatas worshipped Pradyumna as the third of the four vyuhas, and in their philosophy he was recognized as the personification of manas or mind. As a garudadhvaja presupposes a temple of Vasudeva, may we not assume that a markaradhvaja in an ancient center of Vaishnavism like Vedisa dating from the time of our garudadhvajas presupposes the existence of a temple of Pradyumna or an image of Pradyumna in the temple of Vasudeva?

The documents dealt with in the next section show that the first two vyuhas, Vasudeva and Sankarshana, were worshipped together in the same period.



[1] A.S.R. , 1913-14, Part II, pp. 189-190 
[2] Ibid, Pl. LIV, a. 
[3] A.S.R. , 1913-14, Part II, Pl. LIV, b.