Nagas in the Sculptural Decorations, Part Two


BY: SUN STAFF - 30.6 2020

A three-part study of the iconography of Nagas in Orissan art and architecture by Sasanka S. Panda.

Learned scholar Dr. Satya Narayan Rajaguru has categorised the Nagas into three groups.[38] He has put the Naga in the purely reptile shape (snake) in the first category, while the Naga gods and goddesses under canopies of one or more hoods are in the second category. A beautiful image of Nagaraja, locally called Yogi Sundar, sitting on coil of a snake, whose five hoods act as an umbrella over his head, was reported by the late Maharaja Pratap Keshari Deo of Kalahandi during his exploration in the Jumlagarh-Maraguda area on the Sunabeda plateau on 12th and 13th January, 1969. In his language, 'I presume it to be an image of a Naga king. From the posture of the image it looks as if the person is sitting on a throne of coiled serpent and holding a sceptre.[39]

This image is shifted from the Maraguda site and is now kept in the Khariar Museum. It is of the height of around three feet and breadth of two feet. It has got a robust figure, full of musculine vigour and has a pleasing countenance in his face. He is adorned with Kundalas in both ears, Keyura, Katibandha and Hara (beaded string of pearls) going around his neck. His hair is tied in a knot above his head. A Yajnopavita is hanging from his left shoulder on the body. His left hand is on the thigh of his left leg which is kept folded on the seat, while the right leg is hanging below. His right hand is on the right thigh holding something like a Vijapuraka or a citrus on the palm. It seems to be the image of a Naga king sitting in Lalitasana. (Plate-8)

Although the Nagavamsi rulers of the erstwhile princely state of Kalahandi claim their descendancy from the Naga family of Chotanagpur, learned scholar J.P.Singh Deo [40] thinks that they belong to the same lineage as the Chhindaka Nagas of Chakrakota (present Bastar region of Chhatisgarh State). By 1300 A.D. when the Naga rule came to an end in Chakrakota, due to proximity they came to Kalahandi and founded a new kingdom. Another strong argument in this line is the commonness of the family deity of the Nagavamsis of Kalahandi, goddess Manikesvari, who was also worshipped as Manikyadevi. A powerful Chhindaka Naga king has mentioned himself as 'a worshipper of the heavenly and holy lotus feet of Manikyadevi.' Maharaja Jagadekabhusana was also a devout worshipper of goddess Manikyadevi, as known from his Jatanpal Inscription[42] dated 1218 A.D., Dantewara Inscription dated 1224 A.D. and Bairamgarh Inscription.[44]

A large number of independent images of Naga gods and goddesses have been shifted from Ghudar village and fitted to the cave temple in the Kumda Pahad of Titilagarh. A detailed report has been published in a research article of this scholar in the "Orissa Review" fourteen years back. The report states, "There is a place called Surujmuni gudi to the south-west of Ghudar village. A few yards away from this site, many loose sculptures were lying buried in a mound amidst paddy fields. In 1986, twelve images were shifted from this place to the Cave temple of Lord Siva on the Kumda Pahad near Titilagarh town. All the twelve divinities are associated with the Naga cult, being those carved under either three, five, seven or nine-hooded snake canopies."

There is the figure of a two-handed standing male, of the height of about two feet and a half, holding a big staff (Danda) in the right hand, which is placed on the ground and a Kamandalu in the left hand, which is hanging below. He has Kirita Mukuta on his head and wears a garment around the waist, which hangs up to the knees. (Plate-9) There are two male figures, both similar in iconography, seen to be seated in Yogasana, one under five-hooded and the other under seven-hooded snake-canopies. Both have flat Karanda Mukuta on their heads and both hands are folded near chest in obeisance. They wear Makara Kundala, Hara (necklace) and Rudraksa-beaded wrist bands and armlets in place of the Keyura. The height of both the sculptures is two feet around in each case. (Plate-10)

There is another figure, that of a female with prominent breasts, seated cross-legged in Yogasana under a five-hooded snake-canopy and wearing a Karanda Mukuta. Both of her hands are also seen folded in obeisance just below her breasts in the central portion. Another female, seated in Yogasana under five-hooded snake canopy is seen, but in this case her right hand is placed on the knee with palm open in Varadamudra and the left hand is raised holding a round-shaped thing, most propably a vase. She wears Yajnopabita, Hara (necklace) and a Karanda Mukuta. This sculpture is of the height of around two feet.

A similar male seated figure with all the same attributes is there, the only addition being Makara Kundala hanging from his ears and instead of right hand, left hand on the knee in Varada. There is another sculpture of the height of about two feet, of a male, seated cross-legged in Yogasana under a five-hooded snake-canopy. His right hand is in Varadamudra and the left hand is folded, the palm being placed just below the chest portion. He has Karanda Mukuta on his head. Two sculptures similar in iconography, both of the height of about two feet, seated cross-legged under five hooded snake canopy and in both cases both of their hands raised-up seen to be holding long stalks of lotus. Both wear Karanda Mukuta, Makara Kundala, necklace, waist-band and Yajnopabita. A male figure seated in Yogasana under a seven-hooded snake canopy and wearing Kirita Mukuta. Makara Kundala and Hara is also housed in the cave temple. His right hand is placed on the right knee with palm open in Varadamudra, while the left hand is raised up.

Besides all these sculpture, two more sculptures of Ghudar, now housed in the cave temple at Kumda Pahad, are of considerable importance. One is a four-handed male divinity, now existing from knee-portion above with a height of about two feet, seen under a five-hooded snake canopy. Objects in his hands are not clear. Another is the combined image of a couple, both seated in padmasana, the female to the left of the male, under one seven-hooded snake canopy. They both are wearing Karanda Mukuta on their heads and Makara Kundalas in their ears. All these Naga sculptures of Ghudar deserve serious study by scholars and researchers."

Independent images of the Naga divinities in such a large number are not found anywhere else in Orissa. It seems probable that before carving out an independent kingdom in the present Kalahandi region, the Naga kings were ruling in a small principality around Titilagarh.[45]

Another very important cult image related to the Naga worship is that of Astika - Jaratkaru. Although this image is found in many places of Orissa (Mantri, Ayodhya, Domogandra and Tundara), the Astika-Jaratkaru image kept at present in the precinct of Banesvara Siva temple at Deogaon near Banei in the Sundargarh district is the only of the its kind in entire western Orissa. It is the usual sculpture depicting the Naga goddess Jaratkaru, sister of the Naga king Vasuki and her son Astika; a female figure sitting on a pedestal in Lalitasana, holding a young man on her lap, as if he is but a small child. There is the emblem of a coiled snake in the central portion of the pedestal. Two worshippers seated in kneeled-down position with their hands folded in obeisance are in the proper right side of the pedestal. One tree (Holy fig tree) is over her head. (Plate-11) This image can be dated to the 8th-9th century A.D. iconographically.[46]

The Naga-worship prevailed in Orissa from around 1st-2nd century A.D. down to the mediaeval period.[47] Learned scholar Thomas E.Donaldson[48] opines that this concept of Astika-Jaratkaru was particularly popular from the 11th through the 13th century, though a few earlier images exist. In Orissa Manasa-Astika-Jaratkaru images are generally found in or near Siva temples, suggesting the close relationship of this cult with Saivism. We find reference in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana (Krsna Janma Khanda, LI-63-73) stating Manasa as the daughter of Siva.[49]

The third category of Nagas mentioned by Rajaguru[50] is therio-anthropomorphic. In such form, the Naga is depicted in the upper part (up-waist) as human and below waist as a serpent. It is stated as 'Mermaid' type by Vogel.[51] Such Naga figures as decoration on the outer temple wall appears for the first time in the Muktesvara temple at Bhubaneswar. The Muktesvara temple is dated to the 10th century A.D. tentatively.[52] But it appeared much before in the outer wall of the Jagamohana hall of the twin temples at Gandharadi in Baudh district, which belong to the later half of the 8th or first half of the 9th century A.D. The Naga images are carved profusely on temple walls and pillars at Ranipur Jharial, Belkhandi, Budhikomna, Sauntpur, Patnagarh, Deogaon (Tarbha) as well as on doorjambs of the Garbhagrha at Vaidyanath and Charda.

In both northern and southern sides of the Jagamohana halls of both the temples (Siddhesvara Siva and Nilamadhava Visnu) at Gandharadi, built on one common platform, Nagastambhas are flanking both sides of the gavaksa window. The base of this stambha is designed as double gajakranta (lion on elephant) motif at the base. Naga is in the right side, while Nagi is in the left. Both Naga and Nagi are in an ascending order. They are human up-waist and serpent below waist, coiling on the Stambhas. Nagi is holding a water jar in her left hand, while an indistinct object (possibly a danda) is in her right hand. A seven-hooded snake-canopy is over her head. The Naga is holding a garland in both his hand. He has a Yajnopavita on his body. (Plate-12) There is possibility of the existence of another temple (the third one) at Gandharadi, as a loose Naga image under seven-hooded snake canopy is found here. (Plate-13)

Fragments of such Naga/Nagi Stambhas are found amidst temple ruins at Belkhandi also. But unlike the snake pillars of Gandharadi, the coil of the snake is seen winding around a round pillar in its upper portion with the anthropomorphic up-waist portion of the serpent in human form appearing near the bottom portion and suggesting a descending movement. Here the Naga/Nagi is seen holding a vase in both hands, balancing it to the left side of the body and the three-hooded canopy over the head suggests an early representation of its Naga form. (Plate-14)

Nagastambha is abutting both sides of the Raha on the brick-built Indralath temple at Ranipur Jharial in Balangir district. Nagi up-waist human is carved on the upper Jangha, her serpentile form below-waist, coiling the Stambha up to the base of the lower Jangha of the temple. This Nagastambha serves as an offset. Both hands of the Nagi are placed in front of her chest, possibly holding a vase. (Plate-15)

Nagas are carved on the temple pillars at Patnagarh and Sauntpur in Balangir district, Tarbha-Deogaon in Sonepur district of Orissa and Pujaripali in Raygad district of Chhatisgarh state. The uniqueness of these pillars is that in the middle portion of the shaft, in between the crouching and roaring lions, just in the centre of the square-shaped pillar a rectangular niche is carved out on it in all four sides. In one of the carved niches of the first pillar of the Jagamohana hall of Kosalesvara Siva temple at Patnagarh, a human form below-waist serpent is seated on his own coiled snake-body and has folded both and hands in obeisance. This Naga figure is seated under the canopy of a three-hooded snake which is over his head. (Plate-16)

An exactly similar Naga seated figure, also under three-hooded snake canopy is found carved on temple pillars found amidst Sauntpur temple ruins also.53 (Plate-17) In a village, named Siletmunda, near Tarbha, a Panchayati Samitee (Block) head-quarters of Sonepur district, loose sculptures and temple pillars of an early temple are kept in an open-air temple called 'Pantheigudi'. A broken temple pillar having carving only in two out of four sides is found amidst the temple ruins at Siletmunda. These carvings depict a seated male figure in Yogasana under the snake-canopy and one maithuna couple engaged in love in a seated position. Here the Naga figure is completely human and might be that of a Naga god. This might be a piece of the sculptural decoration, not a temple pillar (as only two sides are carved), and fitted originally in the capital on the Kanika design of the temple in its original form.

Present Sonepur town, the ancient city of Suvarnapur was the seat of administration of the first Somavamsi king Mahabhavagupta Janmejaya I some time in the second half of the 9th century A.D. Since then it was a famous trade centre due to riverine traffic on river Mahanadi.

Although not a single monument of such an early period exists at Sonepur, loose sculptures found here and there certainly testify to the fact that there existed early temples belonging to the period from 9th to 14th century A.D. This scholar has located many loose sculptures, kept here and these at present in various temple complex at Sonepur.[54] Among those sculptures three broken Naga sculptures are found, which deserve attention of researchers. In front of the temple of Paschima Somanath there is a big banyan tree. Amidst its thick roots above the ground, amidst other loose sculptures, there is the broken piece of a temple pillar, having the figure of a Naga, existing above the waist portion, under a seven-hooded snake canopy. The Naga male is wearing ornaments like necklace, earrings and head-gear as well as a Yajnopavita. Both his hands are broken. It is of the height of around fifteen inches. (Plate-18)

Some loose sculptures are kept on a platform in front of the Ramesvara Siva temple at Sonepur. The most important among these sculptures is a broken male figure now upwaist existing, under a seven-hooded snake canopy. This figure has Jatabhara on his head. It is of the height of around fifteen inches and breadth of twelve inches.

Besides the above two Naga sculptures, an exquisitely carved figure of a Naga is kept in the present Natamandira of the Suvarnameru temple at Sonepur. It seems to be the portion of a Naga-column which once upon a time was adorning the temple wall. It depicts the figure of a Naga, up-waist human and below waist in the serpentine form, seen holding a garland in his hands. His body is adorned with ornaments like hara, keyura, kankana and kundala. A gentle smile makes his face extremely handsome. The peculiarity of this Naga figure is that there is no snake-hood conopy over his head. His head is simply covered by a 'Pagadi' type cloth, forming the head-dress. (Plate-19)

A Naga male figure, up-waist human and below waist serpentine in form, under a five-hooded snake-canopy is found in the proper left side of the left doorjamb of the Garbhagrha of the Somesvara Siva temple at Ranipur Jharial. Both his hands are kept in his chest-portion, probably holding a vase. (Plate-20)

A peculiar rectangular stone-slab, measuring 30" x 18", is found in the Jagannath temple at Kukurjangha village, which is situated at a distance of 8 kms from Jharsuguda town, a district head-quarters of a district of the same name. This stone-slab is having the carved figures of a Naga couple, up-waist human and below waist in serpentine form. The Nagi figure is bald-headed, while a small Mukuta is on the head of the Naga. In between this Naga couple, there is a diminutive Naga figure, also up-waist human and below-waist in serpentine form. As crescent moon and round sun symbols are carved on the top-portion of this stone-slab it seems to be a Sati stone pillar. In that case it might be related to a king belonging to the Naga dynasty, who was ruling this region sometime in the remote past. (Plate-21)

In the Jagamohana hall of the Kosalesvara Siva temple at Vaidyanath in the Sonepur district, fragment from the anartha-paga of the Kalesvara Siva temple is fitted to the base of a modern pillar. Kalesvara Siva temple, once standing on the embankment of Tel river, collapsed during high flood in August 1967. This fragment, once forming part of the exterior decoration (anartha-paga) of the Kalesvara Siva temple, consists of an urdhva-garbhika flanked by a Naga couple. Both the Naga and Nagi are under canopy of seven-hooded snake. Their faces are illumined by a soft smile typical of the 10th century A.D.[55]

In a Caitya medallion motif carved in the first bhumi of the gandi portion of the western outer wall of the brick-built Patalesvara Siva temple at Budhikomna, seated figure of a Naga, up-waist human and below waist serpentine under a five-hooded snake-canopy occurs. Both his hands are folded in obeisance in front of his chest portion.

The inner door of the Jagamohana hall of the Kosalesvara Siva temple at Vaidyanath, which was once upon a time connecting the vestibule, has life-size images of Ganga and Yamuna as well as two dvarapalas at the base, flanking the door in both sides. Intertwined bodies of serpents as well as Naga and Nagi under three-hooded snake canopy are carved in both extreme sides of the door lintel. The Anantasayana Visnu panel once adorning this gateway is broken into pieces now and lay scattered in the temple precinct. Similarly in the Anantasayana Visnu panel fitted to the dvaralalatavimba of the Kapilesvara Siva temple at Charda, near the head portion of Lord Visnu, goddess Laksmi is seated holding a lotus in her right hand. Behind her, there are two other seated females, both under three-hooded snake-canopy, holding Padma and Gada respectively. They might be representing the ayudhas (weapons) of the Lord. In the extreme proper right corner, a Naga figure with folded hands in obeisance, up-waist human and below waist snake is seen under a three-hooded snake-canopy. Like in the head-portion of Visnu, in the feet-portion also, (in the extreme proper left portion of the dvaralalatavimba) a Nagi figure, up-waist human and below waist snake is depicted with both her hands folded in obeisance, under a three-hooded snake-canopy.[55] In the Anantasayana Visnu panel fitted to the dvaralalatavimba of the Garbhagrha of the Ramesvara Siva temple at Sonepur also. In the feet-portion of Lord Visnu, a front-faced seated figure of goddess Sarasvati on her vahana Hamsa (swan) and holding a Vina in her hands is carved under a five-hooded snake-canopy.

As discussed earlier, the Naga cult was prevalent in India right from the Indus Valley Civilisation period or even earlier. It sustained as an independent cult of the primitive people of India for a pretty long period, but gradually assimilated itself to various major religions like Vaisnavism, Saivism and Saktism, Buddhism and Jainism.[57]

In Vaisnavism, the great serpent Sesa is known as the manifestation of Visnu and Visnu reclining on the body of Sesa, contemplating the creation of the Universe, is a common representation in the dvaralalatavimba of many temples of the upper Mahanadi valley of Orissa from 9th century A.D. onwards. Such panels are found to be fitted to the dvaralatavimba of the gateways to the Garbhagrhas of Kosalesvara Siva temple at Vaidyanath (now broken and removed), [58] Kapilesvara Siva temple at Charda, Siva temple at Kagaon, Ramesvara Siva and Subarnameru temples Sonepur, Radhakrushna, Kutha Jagannath, Bad Jagannath and Berhampura temples at Sambalpur.

One loose panel is found at Tentelkhunti, one fitted to the outer wall in the Residential Office-chamber of Collector, Balangir (being shifted from Ranipur Jharial), and another fitted in the southern outer wall of the Jagamohana of Kusangei temple at Kusang. Two Anantasayana Visnu panels (also called Sesasayi Visnu) are worshipped as independent central deities in the Anantasajjya temple at Sambalpur and in a temple at Bhatra, a village situated at a distance of 5 kms from Sambalpur town on Sambalpur-Cuttack road.

A unique rock-cut image of Bhu-Varaha[59], one of the ten incarnations of Lord Visnu, is carved on a huge monolithic rocky elevation of around ten feet in height and twenty-five feet near the south-eastern embankment of Samiabandh reservoir at Ranipur Jharial. In this rock-cut sculpture, the left leg of Varaha is slightly raised and placed on the chest of Adisesa, whose figure is depicted as human above and snake below waist. A five-hooded snake canopy is over the head of Adisesa. He is seen with folded hands in obeisance to the Lord, worshipfully looking up at the great deliverer of the earth. This serpent Adisesa is accompanied by his wife, a Nagini, also up-waist in human form under a five-hooded snake canopy, and below waist in snake-form, seen to be enter-twined with the snake-form of her male counterpart. Her right hand is firmly placed on the ground with the support of which this Nagini is sitting. Her left hand is raised up. This image of Bhuvaraha or Adivaraha is carved in accordance with the iconography, prescribed in the Vaikhanasagama.[60]



38. Rajaguru, S.N.; Naga Itihas (Oriya Book), 1958, p.37.
39. Deo, P.K.; Forgotten Forts in Kalahandi District, JUMLAGARH- MARAGUDA Complex (Part-II), The Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol.XVI, No.3, p.5.
40. Singh Deo, J.P.; op. cit, P.267.
41. Sahu, N.K., P.K., Mishra, J.K. Sahu; History of Orissa, Cuttack, 1981, p.194.
42. Hiralal, Inscriptions in Central Provinces and Berar, Nagpur, 1932, p.164.
43. Epigraphia Indica, Vol.X,p.40.
44. Hiralal, op.cit., p.169.
45. Panda, Sasanka Sekhar; Post-Gupta Ruins Around Titilagarh, Orissa Review, Vol.XLVI, No.2, September 1989, pp.11-24.
46. Panda, Sasanka Sekhar; Antiquities Around Banei, Orissa Review, Vol.LI, No.10, May, 1995, p.22.
47. Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol.I, No.1, April 1954, p.5.
48. Thomas E. Donaldson, Hindu Temple Art of Orissa, Vol.III, Leiden, 1987, p.1079.
49. Ibid, p.1080.
50. Rajaguru, op.cit.
51. Vogel, op.cit, p.44.
52. Panigrahi, K.C.; Archaeological Remains at Bhubaneswar, Calcutta, 1961, p.116.
53. Panda, Sasanka Sekhar; Kosalesvara Siva Temple of Patnagarh, The Orissa Historical Research Journal, Bhubaneswar, 1990, Vol.XXXVI, Nos.1 and 2, pp.72-73.
54. Panda, S.S.; Early Sculptural Art of Suvarnapura, The Orissa Historical Research Journal, Bhubaneswar, 1999, p.60, p.63 & pp.67-68.
55. Donaldson, Thomas E.; Hindu Temple Art of Orissa, Vol.I, Leiden, 1985, p.509.
56. Panda, Sasanka Sekhar; Ancient Siva Temples of Vaidyanath and Charda, Orissa Review, Vol. , pp.9-19.
57. Basham, A.L.; The Wonder That Was India, London, 1954, p.17.
58. Das, Dipakranjan, Temples of Orissa - A Study of A Sub-styles, Agam Kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1982, p.74 (Plate-16).
59. Panda, Sasanka Sekhar; Some Archaeological Remains of Balangir District, The Orissa Historical Research Journal, 1995, Vol.XXX, Nos.1-4, pp.58-59.
60. Rao, T.A. Gopinatha, Elements of Hindu Iconography, Vol.I, Pt.I, 2nd Edition, Varanasi, 1971, p.132.