Report of a Tour through the Bengal Provinces/Telkupi

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About four miles north-east of this place, on the south bank of the Damuda river, is the village of Telkupi, containing, perhaps, the finest and largest number of temples within a small space that is to be found in the Chutia Nâgpur Circle in Bengal. They are in three groups, the largest being to the north by a little east of the village and on the brink of the river; a second group close to the village and somewhat to its west, and a third group within the south-east end of the village. I begin with the first group.

No. 1, or the most northerly temple, consists of a single cell; it faces the south; there is no emblem or figure over the entrance doorway; the object of worship inside is a lingam. The floor of the cell is about two feet below the sill of the entrance, which is itself two feet below the present ground-level. The material is cut stone; workmanship plain, but good; no mortar has been used in bedding the stones, which are carefully set dry; there is not much ornamentation, such as there is consisting of plain lines and mouldings; the upper portion of the temple is nearly entire.

No. 2 faces east. Lakshmi is sculptured over the entrance, with two elephants pouring water over her head. The floor within the cell is buried beneath accumulations of earth and sand, which rise to within six inches of the sill of the entrance; this itself is one and half feet below the present ground-level; the object of worship inside is a lingam; the upper portion of the temple is broken; in material and execution it resembles No. 1.

No. 3, similar to No. 2, but buried deeper under rubbish, the sill of the entrance being buried four feet below accumulated rubbish; the floor is buried deep, nearly six feet in earth and rubbish; object of worship inside a lingam; it faces west; the top is gone.

No. 4 faces east; a lotus is sculptured over the entrance; the object of worship inside is a four-armed statue of Vishnu, in good preservation, with the shell, discus, &c. The temple is much ruined; in material, execution, and other particulars it resembles the others.

No. 5 faces east, and is behind No. 4; Ganeça over doorway; resembles the others in details; the top of the temple has disappeared.

No. 6 is a large temple, facing west; it consists at present of a sanctum, an antarala in the thickness of the front wall of the sanctum and the back wall of the mahamandapa, a mahamandapa, an ardhamandapa, and a portico. The sanctum with its tower roof is entire, but the inner roof of the sanctum, being the floor of the upper chamber, is broken; the chamber above the sanctum has no opening, and therefore is, and always was, inaccessible; the roof proper of the sanctum (now broken) was formed of overlapping stones; the original architrave over the entrance no longer exists, having been replaced at some period by a plain one; this, too, failed, and others were successively put in, till, at this moment, there are four door frames, one within another, thus reducing the original width and height of the entrance considerably; the jambs which were afterwards put in are not all entire pillars, but are made up of miscellaneous fragments, put together so as to make up the required height.

The mahamandapa was roofed also by overlapping courses of stones; the square corners were gradually rounded off by successive small portions, till it formed an octagon, over which the circular roof proper rested; the roof has long ago tumbled in, but the corners are yet intact, and the constructive expedient used may be seen in the photograph; the circular roof was further supported, as is done in several instances elsewhere, by four pillars, placed as a square in the centre of the mahamandapa; these pillars are quite plain; the material and execution of the portion external to the sanctum and antarala differ from those of the sanctum, being of plain, indeed coarsely-dressed, granite, while the sanctum is of finely cut and smoothed sandstone; the line of junction, too, of the mahamandapa and of the sanctum is quite distinct, proving clearly that the mahamandapa is a subsequent addition, the original temple having consisted of the sanctum and its attached vestibule alone; which, far from having the manifestly unfinished appearance of the façades of the Barâkar temples, has, independently of the subsequently added mahamandapa, a finished façade, the portion over the entrance being provided with regular freize, and cornice, and mouldings and sculpture, all which would necessarily be hidden by the roof and architraves of the later added mahamandapa.

Externally, the tower is adorned with sculpture and mouldings, carefully and finely cut in the stone itself. At some subsequent period the tower appears to have received externally a coat of plaster, in which was sculptured devices, ornaments, and figures different to that in the stone below, proving clearly that the original stone tower was not covered with plaster when first built. Over this coat of plaster was put on, at a still later period, a second coat, and on this was sculptured figures, ornaments, and devices differing from either of the previous ones. The ornamentation executed in the plaster coat resembles that used in the plaster coating put on the brick temple at Párá, and therefore presumably of the same age, that is, of the time of Mân Singh, to whom, therefore, I ascribe the extensive repairs and alterations executed in this temple, and in others of this group.

No. 7, a small temple, single cell, faces north; over the entrance Ganeça; the object of worship inside is a two-armed statue, holding a lotus in each hand, being the usual form of statues of Aditya, or the Sun: he has a high head-dress, bound by a fillet, flying horizontally outwards at the sides; four subordinate figures on each side, and two flying figures at the two upper corners, complete the sculpture. The temple, in material and execution, resembles No. 1.

No. 8 is a large temple, facing east: this, like the others, once consisted of the cell alone, but has had a large and very massively built and heavily roofed mahamandapa added on afterwards, the junction being quite distinct. In style, also, the tower and the mahamandapa differ, the tower being plainly, but tastefully, ornamented with sculpture and mouldings, the other being quite plain; the figure of Ganeça is sculptured over the entrances both of the original sanctum and of the later mandapa; the temple therefore was, and has always been, Saivic.

The cell has an inner low roof, as usual, of overlapping stones; the mahamandapa has a roof of overlapping stones also; the object of worship in the cell is a lingam.

The mahamandapa appears somewhat too large for the sanctum behind, and the apparent inequality is increased by the massive heavy style of the former contrasting with the lighter tower behind; altogether, the composition has not been so happily designed as it might have been, though it is probably better than the combination noticed in temple No. 6, the disproportion there being greater.

A wall of plain rough cut granite runs from the back of the temple No. 6 to the façade of No. 8, and is continued beyond the façade on the other side; this wall is pierced with a small true, arched opening; the wall at the opening is raised higher than elsewhere, and the projecting high piece is curved on top, as is often done in buildings in Lower Bengal. The occurrence of the true arch proves the wall to be a post-Muhammadan addition; and as it resembles in details of material and execution the mahamandapa of the temple, I regard both as of the same date, built most probably by, or in the time of, Rájá Mân Singh.

No. 9 is a small temple, facing north; a lotus is sculptured over the entrance; the temple consists of only the cell or sanctum, which enshrines a four-armed Vaishnavic statue; the roof of the temple is very heavy, being plain pyramidal in form, cut up into few and massive steps, and resembling the roof of the temple of Kalyâneswari at Devisthan; the sculpture and lines of the doorway are very shallow, and quite unlike that of the other temples described: the shallowness I take as a proof of its late age. The enshrined statue inside does not face the door, but occupies the eastern side of the cell; either, therefore, the statue has been removed, or the entrance has been changed. As there is a small niche in the west wall, it is not improbable that this niche is the present representative of the old doorway, which once existed on this side; this would make the present entrance on the north a late alteration, an inference justified by its shallow carving; the roof of the temple internally is of overlapping stones.

No. 10 is a large temple, faces west, and consists of the sanctum and its attendant portico, vestibule, mandapa, &c. The mandapa had three entrances, of which the north one is now closed; a lotus is sculptured over the outer entrance, but the object of worship inside is a lingam; the sanctum is surmounted, not by the usual graceful tower, but by an almost straight-sided spire, the native ugliness of which is heightened by its surface being cut up into seven spaces by plain projecting bands. The roof of the mahamandapa is a low pyramid, like that of the Kalyâneswari temple, or of temple No. 9, divided in three steps by bands and recessed mouldings. The temple is apparently much more modern than the other temples here, except perhaps No. 9, and may date at earliest to the same period as the additions and alterations in the other temples noticed before, but is probably still later. The spire resembles the spire of the temples at Baijnâth.

No. 11 is a small temple, facing east; Ganeça sculptured over entrance; within, are an argha without the lingam, and a statue of Aditya, the last being evidently an intruder. In material, ornamentation, and execution the temple resembles No. 1. The upper part of the tower is broken.

No. 12 resembles No. 11; it faces east, and enshrines a lingam and argha; Ganeça over entrance.

No 13 resembles Nos. 11 and 12; has Ganeça over the doorway, which faces west.

This is the last temple, still in tolerable order. Besides these, which may fairly be considered as standing, there are numerous ones, more or less ruined, some being broken down to the level of the roof of the sanctum, others still more, while of many a confused heap of cut stone is all that remains. There were still others whose only remains are a number of lingams, arghas, and cut stone in the bed of the river. One temple disappeared into the river in the interval between my first and my present visit to the place—a period of little over five years only.

It appears that the banks of the river extended up to, and beyond, a long line of rocks that now jut out in the bed of the river parallel to the line of bank, and a hundred yards off. The builders that chose the site of the temple appear evidently to have done their best in selecting what appeared a safe spot on the river banks, as the line of rocks must then have formed an indestructible natural revetment of the river face, but they did not reckon on the river cutting its way behind the invincible revetment, and rushing through their temples; they erred in not ascertaining, with all possible care, the highest flood-level of the river—an error but too common among the engineers even at this day. In ordinary years, the flood seldom reaches the top of the high banks, and inquiry, unless very carefully made, would fail to show that in certain years the flood rushes with mad fury, four feet deep, through the very court-yards, and into the cells of the temples on the highest spots, while the temples lower down are buried the whole depth of the entrance doorways.

Temple No. 10 is traditionally said to have been thus buried in sand almost up to the eaves of the tower roof, and the heaps now lying outside are pointed out as the identical sand dug out of the mandapa, the cell, and the courtyard of the temple. I made enquiries regarding the flood-level, but found only one man in the village that was of sufficient age when it occurred, to remember it, and willing to inform me. I have heard engineers make disparaging comments on what they consider the excessive waterway given to the bridge over the Barâkar, a tributary of the Damuda, but let them enquire of old people regarding the flood of that year on which the calculations of the waterway of the bridge are based, and they will find that the bridge is none too large. If the modern pushing batch of young engineers, who have duly served through their "articles," were as particular in ascertaining the highest known floods of the rivers they presume to bridge, as the "old fogies" that designed the Barâkar bridge, we should hear of fewer bridges washed away every year. Throughout the length and breadth of Chutia Nâgpur and Bihâr (the Bihâr old district) I have, from personal enquiry, ascertained that that year (I forget the year now) on records of the flood of which the Barâkar bridge waterway was calculated was a year of such a terrific flood, that even people who remember it will not, when desired to point out the highest flood-level, point to the flood mark of that year, But to the next highest. Let them, however, be asked point-blank about the flood of that year, and the inquirer will then see that his informant did not point out the highest known flood-level, from an impression that it was such a very rare occurrence as to be very unlikely to happen again; but what has happened once may happen again, at however long an interval, and for works intended to be permanent should, if possible, be provided against.

Besides the temples, there are numerous miniature temples,—things that, if Buddhist, would be called votive stupas or votive chaityas, but being Brahmanical, must, I suppose, be called votive sivalas; some are miniature single-cell temples (solid of course), others are pillars, most probably sati monuments, and sculptured on one face with the lingam and argha, or other devices. None are inscribed.

One half-ruined temple now stands on the very brink of the perpendicular wall of clay, which here forms the river bank, and must tumble in next rains. In my last visit I saw some wells exposed by the river cutting away the earth on one face of it; these wells were built of brick set without cement; at intervals bands of bricks set on edge formed the well ring, instead of being set on their beds as usual; in these bands the bricks were set with narrow intervals between them, and not touching at their inner edges. I was inclined to think that they were the foundations of temples, but am now of opinion they were wells, the rings of bricks on edge, set with narrow slits between them, being obviously meant to allow of a free percolation of water into the well; and although now, wells in the positions I saw would be superfluous, or rather absurd, they were perhaps not quite unnecessary when the river ran a hundred yards further off, and was difficult of approach by reason of the rocks, which rose from the bed and formed a revetment not easily descended.

Of the other groups of temples, the temple nearest to the group described is almost entire and in excellent order; the top of the tower is crowned as usual by the amalaka, over which rises an urn-shaped stone finial, as in the temples at Barâkar; this temple is deserted. Lakshmi, with elephants pouring water over her, is sculptured over the entrance, and in the interior is a finely executed statue.

To the right and about 1,000 feet south is another temple, also with Lakshmi over the entrance; a four-armed statue of Vishnu is enshrined in the sanctum.

About a quarter mile east of this, another temple, also single-cell, faces north, and has sculptured over the entrance a figure seated, with an elephant raising his trunk over the figure's head; it is difficult to tell whether the figure is male or female; it holds a lotus in one hand; the statue inside is of Vishnu, four-armed, in the Narasinha incarnation.

There is, besides these, a broken temple of Vishnu Chaturbhuj. This temple is valuable, from having lost its front, while the other parts are to a great extent almost uninjured, and therefore capable of illustrating effectually the constructive features of this class of temples. See photograph.

Two temples and several statues stand in the east end of the village, not worth detailed description.

Besides these, there are, further south, several detached temples; one of Vishnu or Siva, and close to it a temple to Buddha, with the ruins of a large monastery, in the shape of a large brick mound, close to it: this is, I believe, the only Buddhist temple in the place; it may, however, be Jain, for the sculpture over the entrance, the only clue now visible as to its purpose, is too small and too weather-beaten to show distinctly whether it is, or is not, Jain.

Near these, but standing by itself, on and near a somewhat large mound, is a temple that appears to have been once larger; the entrance of the temple is profusely ornamented with minute sculpture; there are four lines of figures on each side; the first row or line consists of the incarnations of Vishnu, the next of bearded sages, the third of obscene figures, most probably scenes from Krishna’s life; the last row is of fancy animals; the temple was clearly Vaishnavic, and Krishna is sculptured over the entrance; he is represented seated on a throne or seat, one leg resting on the ground, the other tucked up and doubled in front, as in sitting cross-legged.

There are, besides these remains, numerous mounds, both of brick and stone, but more of brick; it appears that such brick temples as once existed have all tumbled down, as not one is now standing; some of the mounds are more than 25 feet high; there are also numerous tanks.

Tradition says that the temples here were all built by mahajans or merchants, not by Rájás, and this confirms my inference that the place, as before suggested, rose to importance because it lay on one of the great traffic lines, and at a principal obstacle, viz., the Damuda river.

There are no inscriptions; only two characters were found after much fruitless search—these probably date to the tenth century.

Telkupi is traditionally said to be so named from the circumstance that Rájá Vikramâditya used to come here to rub oil (tel) on his body previous to bathing in the Chhátá Pokhar at Dulmi; natives of Lower Bengal and of these parts, in short of the whole Bengali-speaking districts, invariably rub oil on their bodies previous to bathing; but though the Chhátá Pokhar at Dulmi is nearly 80 miles distant, that does not seem to have ever been looked upon as any way rendering the story ridiculous; however the name may be derived, the place is now, and probably always has been, considered particularly holy, especially by the aboriginal Sântals.

A favorite national song describes in plain, but obscene, language how young girls come here during the great annual mêla, and permit the improper attentions of unknown young men; Colonel Dalton, in describing the customs of the aboriginal tribes in his province, has noticed the improper freedom permitted to young girls before their marriage, but he has not, I believe, noticed the custom, which I was assured by the Sântals themselves (not alone of the vicinity, but even of districts south of Puralya) prevails; this custom is nothing less than a modification of the Babylonian mylitta; every young Sântal woman must, I was told (and I was particular in asking), once in her life before marriage permit the improper intimacy of a man, and this place, "Telkupi ghât," as the song has it, is the great place where such improprieties are especially practised. The people of the vicinity said that it was the only place where a young girl was bound to permit once the impropriety, by whomever attempted, of her own nation; but people living further off did not seem to consider that this was the only place, though they admitted that it was one of the places, there being others also on the banks of the Damuda river. The girl may, or may not, afterwards marry the man she consorts with here, but the man is not by any means bound to ask her in marriage; the custom is said to have arisen in this way.

On a certain occasion during the annual mêla, a young girl permitted the improper attentions of a young man, and soon afterwards found herself in an interesting condition; vainly she entreated the young man to marry her, and hide her shame; he would not, and her parents came to find it out, and killed her (some say she was not killed). From that day, girls were allowed to do what they liked during the fair at Telkupi, and that which was originally only a permissive custom, has now petrified into a compulsory observance!

The aboriginal races of India are generally, I believe, admitted as Turanian, and there is good reason to believe that the Turanian races formed the substratum of the population of Babylon: the Sântals of India, and the lower classes of the people of Babylon would, therefore, be branches of the same race, and the prevalence among the former, even at this day, of a custom, however modified, which we know prevailed in Babylon, may be more than an accidental coincidence: the speculation is, however, too wide for me to venture on.