Monday, 26 April 2021

The Shalbhanjikas of Mathura Museum

The Mathura Museum is like a candy store for kids who want a sugar rush. And for a newly minted imagehead like you, this is like a time portal where within few hours you can have an idea how iconography evolved over the past two thousand years from depiction of Mother Goddess in the Copper Age to the most scintillating Surya. You have not seen a better and more endowed museum in the country. And you are not even referring to the well-endowed resident Shalbhanjikas. 

Mathura as a city is as old as history. Dynasties have come and gone leaving their signs behind over the centuries. Some great archaeological efforts by stalwarts like Cunningham and the commissioning of the museum by Mathura Collector FS Growse has ensured that extensive excavations have been done in Mathura area and the finds lovingly displayed here.

Salbhanjika from Bhuteshwar Mound in Mathura

There is so much to see here in the sculpture gallery, that it could take a week if you want to go over each exhibit, understand it, get a hang of the flow of time and dynasties and the evolution of style and iconography. And of course, these exhibits are further proof that North India was teeming with temples once upon a time, say, just like Odisha or Karnataka.

This brief post serves as the second part of the post you did on the Three Yakshis of Mathura that were taken to Calcutta’s Indian Museum by Cunningham.

Just like at Sanchi (few in-situ Salbhanjikas on the four torans) and Bharhut (the Stup Complex has been moved to Indian Museum), Mathura saw huge number of Salbhanjikas depicted on the Stupa complexes excavated in the Mathura and neighbouring areas. In the Mathura Museum there is a whole section dedicated to these ladies. Though the exhibits are encased in glass and photographing them takes real effort.

So, the post will not have much prose – it will be all photos of the lovely ladies.

There were Six Bhutesvara Shalabhanjikas of the Kushan period. Three are in Indian Musuem and three are in Mathura.

The Five Shalbhanjikas in Mathura during Growse time - the sixth one was already in Calcutta - two more (2nd and 4th) will be sent to Calcutta

Here the Shalabhanjika holds grapes in her right hand and raises a goblet of the finished product to the amorous couple on the top. 

The lady here is putting on her saree or skirt. It is Saturday night and a new discotheque has opened in town and she has all the intent on painting the town red tonite.

Going through your folder, you are disappointed that you missed clicking the third one. But it is okay - there is no way you will be able to see all that is exhibited in the museum in one go.

Here are the three ladies in the photo from Wiki

Now this is a different looking stone piece. This is a bracket part of a gateway found from Sonkh Tila in Govardhan dated 100 CE. The sculpture here to you looks more realistic. The sculptor has slightly reduced the voluptuosness making the shalbhanjika more real-life and that charming and desirable. The Serpent Hood in her anklet means she belongs to the Naga family.  

A Beautiful Description of a Salabhanjika exhibited in New York’s Met Museum

Tree Spirit Deity (Yakshi)1st–2nd century

India (Uttar Pradesh, Mathura region)

 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 235

This double-sided bracket (vrksadevata) for a gateway (torana) is decorated on either side with a tree-spirit deity known as a yakshi, who holds a flowering tree as a symbol of her fecundity. Her pose is that of salabhanjika ("breaking a branch of the sala tree"): grasping a branch, she thus engages with the fertility of the earth, bringing the tree into flower. Such figures provided an auspicious presence at the entrance to a sacred site.

Another sculpture from Bhuteshwar Mound - not part of the Group 6

Why are you not taking my calls?

Check your log, I have called you like 50 times since yesterday

I have been texting you – I can see you received the whatsapp messages – but why are you not reading them? Have you changed the settings? If you have read them why are the double ticks not blue?

Why are you so busy?

And who is that woman in the background? I can hear someone.

Your sister!

But you don’t have a sister!

Cousin sister?

Don’t lie to me.

Tell me now - where are you? I am coming over right now. I have had enough of you

Most women are nice. This one is jealous, obsessive, paranoid and psychotic with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Darpan-Dharini or is it Mobile-Dharini, Kushan, Maholi Village now being a nuisance in Mathura Museum

Usually the Shalbhanjika is shown coyly standing under the branches of a tree holding the branches. But then if you have Vitamin B12 Deficiency, holding the branches with your arms is a pain as it results in cramps, a medical condition called Pernicious Anemia. So, while the yakshi is put on a diet of proteins and milk, she has a job to do.

In such circumstances, the Yakshi kicks the trunk of the tree resulting in the tree growing leaves and flowering. This is called Ashoka-Dhohada. You are not sure if only the Ashoka trees get this preferential treatment at the hands…er…foot of Salbhanjika.  

Ashoka-Dhohada, Kushan Period, Provenance – Manoharpura, Mathura, now glass encased at Mathura Muesum


Centre for Art and Archaeology

The Six Bhutesvara Yakshis 

Mathura – A District Memoir by F. S. Growse

Related Posts in this Blog

The Three Yakshis

The Scorpion Woman

The Vishnu of Mehrauli

If you liked the blogpost then

Please visit Justrippingg's Facebook Page for updates

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Kaman – Chasing Ghurid Mosque in Braj

Gone Temples in Jatland

You got to know of Kama through one of your favourite blogs. Looking at the temple pillars in the arcades of Qutb Complex, you have always wondered about the fate of the temples. Then you found this totally exquisite idol of Sankarshan, a Vishnu avatar, in the National Musuem and finally Delhi’s timeline into pre-sultanate times began to unblur.

Chaurasi Khambha - Ghurid Mosque in Kaman, Rajasthan

Vimal Kund, Kaman, Bharatpur, Rajasthan


Never seen a God with that much Swagger and Attitude 

What a God what a God what a mighty good God – Just look at Him, isn’t he the most flamboyant God (Salt N Pepa) 

The long braided hair, the polished yellow stone, this is like the most handsome Vishnu you have ever seen.

Narvarah, Pratihar, 8th Century, from Kaman Rajasthan, Bharatpur Govt Museum, Rajasthan


In your travels across the country, it is quite clear that whatever little time everyone was not fighting, was spent in construction – forts, palaces, temples, mosques, tombs, water tanks and havelis. Some substantial construction happened across the centuries and across dynasties. Delhi too would have seen construction from Mauryas (you are pretty sure there were stups here) to Guptas and leading upto 12th century with contributions from Pratiharas, Tomars, Chauhans and Gahadvalas.

Varun mentions four Ghurid Mosques in his scholarly worded blogpost (you keep returning to it) – Qutb, Ajmer, Kama and Khatu. Khatu, slipped through your fingers last Diwali. Of course, since you have found some more in Mandu and Dhar. Few years ago, you had finally managed to visit Kama to see the Chaurasi Khamba Mosque on your way to Deeg and Bharatpur. Then, the Bharatpur Museum was still undergoing renovation and you do not remember going inside. Bharatpur, the seat of Jat power keeps pulling you back and last year you again found yourself in the city of Lohagarh.

The Bharatpur Museum after many years of renovation looks like new. You absolutely love what they have done with the place. Apparently, now they have unearthed their images treasures and displayed them in the decorated verandas with some informative signage. Two sculptures catch your eye. One is a grand Post-Gupta stele of Uma Maheshwar and the other is a swashbuckling sculpture of 8th Century Pratihar Varaha. The signs mention the ‘Find Spots’ as Kama. Now this is INTERESTING. So now we can put a face to the temples that went into making of Chaurasi Khamba too.

Kama forms part of Braj and would have been a sacred town like the nearby Nandgaon. Originally the town was called Brahampore, but Raja Kama Sen, maternal grandfather of Krishna, changed it to Kama. Kama is included among Bans, like Brindaban and Mahaban and is also called Kamban. The gazetteer reports that the town is visited by thousands of Vaishnav Hindus pilgrims during the month of Bhadon called the Banyatra.

The Gazetteer further mentions that the town has a curious old temple consisting of 84 pillars called Chourasi-Khamba and that its pillars can never be correctly numbered.

From the book Monuments of Bharatpur by Anil Kumar Verma

Of course, Bharatpur is an erstwhile Jat ruled state and along with Dholpur, has lots of childhood memories from your mother’s side. Geographically, Bharatpur lies between the Braj heartland of Mathura and the Mahabharat’s Matsya region of Bairat or Viratnagar. Bharatpur has lots to see and explore and though you have visited several times a lot still remains unexplored in the three districts of Bharatpur, Dholpur and Karauli.

On the old Mathura highway, you turn right towards Nandgaon from Kosi Kalan. This is Braj and just like Mathura you are sure this too was all stup and temple country. ASI lists locations of several mounds in this general area that have been excavated by ASI. Stupa complexes turned into mounds as Buddhism declined. Temples had no chance since this would have been the route to Deccan for the armies of the newly established Delhi Sultanate.

And this is where the country road is taking you to – to the initial handiwork of the Sultanate. You have still not been able to visit Braj during the Holi celebrations and Nandgaon and Barsana will have to wait. Crossing into Rajasthan you enter the small town of Kaman. Driving through the village streets you can see the town has some interesting havelis. It is late April and hot. You will like to get down to real business. Havelis will have to wait for next time.


Gems that we are fast losing

Kama does have interesting buildings

Map of Kaman with the outcrop that houses the Chaurasi Khambha

You arrive at this open ground which looks like a stadium for public events and is probably the only open area in the whole town. On one side is an interesting looking seemingly British era Baradari-Resthouse structure with arches and thick brick walls. Spending few moments here as it gets even hotter you are on your way to Chaurasi Khambha on the other side. Now that you are looking at the google satellite map, this part of the town seems to be sitting on top of an outcrop.

The Kama Fort

Possibly British era building

This outcrop overlooking the Kaman town would have made perfect sense to build the original temples. Though not as extensive as in Mathura and its suburbs, Kaman being on the outer limits of Braj, would have received some attention from the temple makers after the slow decline of Buddhism in the area in the post Gupta period starting with the Gurjars and then Pratiharas. Your guess is that there would have been a group of about five Vishnu and Shiv temples, with at least two of substantial size here.


Sometimes, one image is enough to let you imagine the grandeur and scale of a temple. Looking at this exuberant image of Uma and Maheshwar, the lovestruck spellbound couple, PDAing unabashedly – not able to keep their hands off each other, sitting in the lalitasan posture, it is clear that the temple builders of Kaman were at the top of their game. On the top is Brahma and Vishnu along with Ganesh, Kartikeya and Nandi at the bottom. The detailed imagery includes some charming Gandharv couples; a wholesome stele altogether.

Uma & Maheshwar at Bharatpur Govt Museum - Provenance Kaman - Post Gupta Period

This image along with Varah when juxtaposed with the ornate pillars, it is clear that the temple construction skills had clearly evolved when compared to their Mehrauli counterparts. You always wonder about this band of craftsmen plying their trade across the country, learning, evolving and in turn readying the next generation of craftsmen.  


A Facebook Post that you did earlier on the Uma Maheshwar Stele

Kaman in Bharatpur was a mini Mehrauli. If not 26 temples, there would have been at least 10 temples here. The gandeur of the Mehrauli temples can be gauged from the Sankarshan image in National Museum. 

How did the temples in Kaman and the neighbouing areas of Deeg, Kumher, Weir and Karauli look? Well they were as grand as the Mehrauli ones.

This stele recovered from Kaman is ‘lush, overtly sensuous, masterfully rendered and vibrantly expressive. The image is remarkable for its prodigious size and superb execution’ – Cynthia Packert Atherton in Sculpture of Early Medieval Rajasthan.

The details are mindboggling – three headed Brahm, Vishnu seated on Garud, sitting Nandi, Ganesh, Kartikey riding a big peacock, attendees worshipping the lings and Gandharvs playing instruments, Shiv’s elaborate Jatamukut, curious Vasuki, the serpent.

Just like Mehrauli, except the pillars (Cunningham says the pillars survived because of conquerors’ cupidity) which have been used to build a similar Ghurid hypostyle mosque (similar mosques are seen in Khatu, Ajmer, Mandu and Dhar), nothing survives from those glorious temples. Except the most awesome Narvarah and this doting pair of lovebirds.

Uma Maheshwar, Post Gupta Period, 9th century (?), Kaman, now in Bharatpur Government Museum, Rajasthan


Chaurasi Khambha in Kama, North Side

The open North wall of the Chaurasi Khamba

Chaurasi Khamba, Kaman - Mihrab niche and Minbar

Chaurasi Khamba, is a small structure compared to Qutb or Ajmer or the ones in Mandu and Dhar. The mosque uses the same hypostyle template as that of the other Ghurid Mosques. Dismantled temple pillars are arranged in colonnades that run on the three sides with the west facing Qibla wall having an ornamented mihrab and a minbar. A video of the mosque you watch on youtube, the minbar is referred to as the seat of King’s throne! But then you too would have wondered the same few years ago!

The platform in the north west corner - Chaurasi Khambha, Kaman

On the northwest corner of the prayer hall, there is a raised chamber for the royal family or women. Qutb possibly too had this chamber but is ruin now. The only Delhi mosques to have this feature that you know of are the Begumpur and Wazirabad mosques. The north colonnade is two levelled with the outer part raised, probably meant to discourage entry except from the eastern doorway. Also, since the structure is small, no wall is erected on the north side to allow the place to be naturally lit and airy. From what you remember, the other mosques are walled in all other locations.  

The pillared colonnades of Chaurasi Khambha

The structure overall is compact and nicely put together. The standout feature are the pillars that are quite profusely decorated and more attractive than at Qutb. However, the structure is not as high-rising nor the ceilings as attractive as at the Adhai Din Ka Jhompra in Ajmer where the ceilings are eye-poppingly detailed and columns rise high. Yes the architectural ambition here wasn’t that great compared to Qutb or Ajmer since Kaman was not a huge centre to attract the faithful.


ASI Jaipur Circle: Description of Chaurasi Khambha

Kaman was ruled by the Surasena rulers under whose patronage both Brahmanism and Jainism prospered at Kaman. The old mosque, now known as Chausath (?) Khambha was built from the material of the Hindu temples. There are bas-reliefs here of the Navagrahas, the incarnations of Vishnu and the wedding of Siva-Parvati, the last being of high artistic quality. The figures of Kali, Ganesa, Vishnu and Narasimha are found sculptured on the pillars of this mosque.  Three rows of eight such pillars form three aisles. All the pillars are square, and the lower half of many of them is quite plain. Around the entrance doorway of the quadrangle, there is an Arabic inscription in large letters. All the roofs are flat, except a small compartment in front of the mihrab, which has a dome formed in the usual trabeate system. From the style of the carvings on the pillars, it appears that these belonged to the Saiva and the Vaishnava temples. This is also confirmed by a pillar on which are inscribed  the words “namah Sivaya”. The temple is datable to circa eighth century A.D.

Coming back to the exuberant Uma Maheshwara and Varaha images, it is clear that the temple building had acquired high sophistication in terms of both deity and pillar sculpture. And just like the Sankarshan of National Museum, you wonder how these few lucky ones now displayed in Bharatpur Museum survive? And again, you can just guess – maybe some idols were spirited away before the demolition and which were recovered during excavations while most were destroyed and some stolen in the intervening years.


Chhatris like this are decaying across North India

And so the mission comes to an end. Now of the known seven Ghurid Mosques (Qutb, Ajmer, Khatu, Kaman, Mandu (Dilawar Khan Masjid), Dhar’s Bhojshala and Lat ki Masjid, only Khatu remains unvisited unless others surface!

Vimal Kund in Kaman

It is time to leave Kaman town for Deeg. On the way out, you see the sign for a Kos Minar and the Vimal Kund. Now just like it always happens, every town in India has its own suprises. Walking through the gated complex you emerge looking over a huge kund. The quietness reminds you of Machkund in Dholpur and to some bit Pushkar.

Siddh Peeth Shri Vimla Devi

Daily Life at Bimal Kund, Kaman, Rajasthan

Moments like this and the travel adrenaline seems to seep out leaving you languid. You will spend some time to allow the harsh afternoon to mellow down watching the monkeys do their monkey business and thinking of the Kishori who played Raas Leela with Krishna in these waters and to who Krishna gave the boon that this kund will now be known as Vimala Kund and whoever bathes here will get seven times more merit than Pushkar!

This is Braj and and every story here has the sweet fragrance of Lord Krishna’s association.

And as always, since this is the Neighbourhood of Matsya, the Pandavas too stayed here.

A beautiful summer house with an exquisite marble pavilion on the way to Deeg

The sun is about to go down. You need to get to Bharatpur before it gets dark. This is the twilight zone – neither in Rajasthan or UP and that is how it has always been. 

It is time for Bharatpur to bask in the sunshine now.

Another Ghurid Mosque Unearthed - Surprises Continue - This time in Bayana

It is certain that if you start reading Cunningham’s reports, one, you will lose all track of time and two, there will be surprises.

So here is Cunningham describing Kaman’s Chaurasi Khambha and then surprised by the design of north wall, compares the mosque’s plan with Ukha Masjid, about 100 kms south of Kaman in Bayana. Ukha apparently is another Ghurid mosque built in the same timeline.

Baha Al-Din Tughrul was sent south by Muhammad ibn Sam (Ghori) probably with architectural plans and express instructions to demolish temples and erect mosques that share template with Qutb mosque. As Cunningham says, this route to Bayana meant everything was easy prey. After commissioning the Kaman mosque, Tughrul settled in Bayana where he would have built the Ukha Mosque, a minar and Eidgah and his own township called Sultankut in the period 1195-1210.


Finally after some looking around you find A. Cunningham's report of his tour in Eastern Rajputana.

Reading Cunningham's report on a monument you are writing about reassures you and almost makes you joyous. And the joy doubles, when your findings find his concurrence! So, yes the North Wall was always open while the South wall was always closed - he doesn't mention reasons but you have mentioned your conjecture! Apparently, the mosque here shares the design with Ukha Masjid in Bayana (here we go again - another Ghurid Mosque in close proximity!) 

You like Cunningham's no nonsense mincing no word narratives. Since Kaman lies on Delhi Bayana route, so the temples here had no chance and were an early prey to Mohammedan Conquerors. According to the inscription here on the gateway (you are not sure if the inscription is still there or in some museum), Iltutmish erected the mosque.

In the Eastern wall, he also found an inscription of the old Surasena Rajas of Mathura and he dates the temples to 8th Century. To you, it is some mason's idea of leaving clues in case people are dumb enough in the future who can't even figure out that these are temple parts. The detailed 37 line Sanskrit inscription was recently discovered and alludes to a Vishnu Temple - did the Narvarah belong to this temple? There is also an inscription of Firoz Tughlaq.

In the report, Cunningham calls it Assi-Khambha and even Chausanth Khambha - apparently the locals keep finding new pillars! Though, according to him there are 200 pillars, some double-tiered. You have conjectured that there were about five temples here. 

Cunningham calls the place Kadamba-Van, the holy grove or forest of Kadamaba trees. Of course, Kadamaba tree is associated with Lord Krishna, arguing that Kaman is contraction of Kadamaba-Vana.


Sarson Ke Khet by Varun Shiv Kapur -

Ancient Delhi by Upinder Singh

Report of a Tour in Eastern Rajputana in 1882-83 by A. Cunningham - Preface - Page IV and Page 54

The Architecture of Baha al-din Tughrul in the region of Bayan, Rajasthan by Mehrdad Shokoohy and Natalie H. Shokoohy, Muqarnas Vol 4 (1987), pages 114-132, available of

Mathura - A District Memoir by FS Growse - page 79-80

A Gazetteer of Eastern Rajputana – Bharatpur, Dholpur and Karauli


Related Posts on this Blog 

Bhojshala of Dhar

Lat Masjid of Dhar

Case of Vishnu Idol

If you liked the blogpost then
Please visit 
Justrippingg's Facebook Page for updates

Please follow Justrippingg on Instagram