Part 2 of 4
Let us begin by exploring the examples of Ganda-Bherunda from local examples along the western coast of Maharashtra. If you haven’t yet caught up on the background of this motif, head here.
Rajwadi in Sangmeshwar taluka sits at the foot of Bhavanigad hill fort. The temple dedicated to Shiva is also known as Mallikarjuna locally. A perennial hot water spring with sulphur in the environs of the temple has garnered the site its renown as a sacred site. One of the hot water springs that feature in the text Sahyadri-khanda (c. 15th century CE text) (Gaitonde, 1971) may have been the ones from Rajwadi.
Ganda-bherunda, which can also be translated as “hero among Bherunda” at Rajwadi, faces the sanctum occupied by Shiva in the phallic form. The main shrine is a black stone construction, and the exterior structure is a wooden canopy with a ribbed roof covered with shingles as a typical Konkani traditional building. Ganda-bherunda, carved on the wooden canopy, holds wild animals in its talons and beak. Elephants as prey of Ganda-bherunda appear in this rendering. The bird form seems to resemble a peacock rather than an eagle usually associated with Ganda-Bherunda.
The wooden arch with Ganda-Bherunda contains Vaishnavite imagery such as Krishna with a flute and a scene from Ramayana. One may read this embellishment as an artist’s attempt to attribute Vaishnava affiliation to Ganda-Bherunda. Other fantastical animals such as a three-headed cow sucking a calf, wrestlers in a circular formation, birds and war retinue, occupy other arches of the canopy.
Two tiger figures in low relief flank the garbhagriha doorway that opens into the wooden canopy. These beasts devour an elephant while trampling a fish and a turtle, respectively. The tiger motifs are recurring in iconography associated with power and strength.
Since the wooden canopy is a later construction compared to the main sanctum, the commissioner for the temple may have felt the need to replicate the power statement. For this purpose, the established emblem of power – Ganda-Bherunda – may have entered the iconographic scheme at this site. The Ganda-Bherunda motif occupies a larger space as compared to any other motif on the wooden arches. The left corner of the arch occupied by Ganda-Bherunda, is filled with circular floral decorations in all other arches. Alternatively, the placing of Ganda-Bherunda at the site may have further connotations, as will be discussed further.
Tucked in the remote village of Burambad, the temple of Shiva, Amneshwar, is considerably large, built with stone and brick. The outer wall of the temple bears numerous iconographic elements sacred to Brahmanical religion, such as cows and composite beings. The administrative power in the form of a tiger and armed guards sculpted on the walls highlight the political association of the religious building. Ganda-Bherunda, with two faces – one as polity and other as religion – seems to hold at the site. The Bherunda bird holds onto an elephant in each beak on its either side. These elephants, in turn, cling onto a tiger (sharabha?). The successive trampling or attack is common in the Ganda-Bherunda iconography from examples in Karnataka. In a separate depiction on the wall facing north, two birds attack tigers, which in turn prey on an elephant each.
Alongside the Ganda-Bherunda depiction, one sees a tiger engaged in a fight with a serpent. The tails are intertwined, and a gruesome battle scene ensues. A running kama-dhenu with a plume and human head occupies a spot in the iconographic band that runs on the outer wall. Other figures such as Hanuman, wrestlers, bull, and a three-headed cow sucking a calf populate the iconographic scheme at Amneshwar.
The third example of Ganda-Bherunda from Ratnagiri district comes from the Renuka temple at Pedhe-Parshurama near Chiplun. The Ganda-Bherunda motif is a humanoid form with two bird faces in the opposite direction. The iconography depicts Vijaynagar or Nayaka antecedents. The history of the temple building activity at the site puts the construction in the 16th century CE. The current pattern of temples (Parashurama, Renuka, and Gangotri temples) at Pedhe present an obfuscated view of architectural development. The Renuka temple faces the back wall of Parshurama temple, almost highlighting the power-play or regional politics in the region. A commentary on the relative position of the temples and the associated attributes deserves a separate discussion, not under the purview of this paper. The Ganda-Bherunda motif appears on one of the outer pillars, that face the sanctum. The human bodied Ganda-Bherunda depicted in a walking motion holds two elephants by their trunks in both hands while trampling on the bodies of these animals. The depiction resembles Ganda-Bherunda at Belligavi in Karnataka.
Three motifs of Ganda-Bherunda in Konkan discussed here, adorn the temples in Ratnagiri district[i]. The selected examples occur in an original context. These iconographic examples depict a range of iconographic variations and associations with Ganda-Bherunda. The one at Amneshwara temple in Burambad is ornate, with two avian faces in opposite directions and holds a string of wild animals in its talons. The two heads face opposite direction, and the bird has its wings half-spread, thus concealing the full span of its wings. The avian features of a sharp beak and feathered appearance are unmistakable. At the temple of Rajwadi, the Ganda-Bherunda occupies a corner on the wooden canopy. The ornate details depict a feathered body and vulture-like beak with a crest on its head resembling that of a peacock. The third and probably the earliest of these is the Ganda-Berunda from Renuka temple in the vicinity of Parshurama temple near Chiplun. The temple with Nayaka-style iconography depicts Ganda-Berunda with a human body and avian heads. The avian features in this specimen are obfuscated due to coats of paint and currently appear fish-like heads. It is the stance of the figure and trampling of the elephants that helps with the identification of Ganda-Bherunda. It is, however, problematic to pin down these representations as being a vulture or an eagle in their avian form. K. N. Dave (1985: 397-399 c.f. Slouber 2017) describes Bherunda either as a stork, eagle, or a bearded vulture. Following the suggestion of Rosen-Stache (1976), the description “bird” fits the most for the extant specimens discussed here.
Approximate dating of Ganda-Bherunda motifs
The Ganda-Bheruda from Konkan considered for this paper are dated between c. 16 – 18th century CE, except for a Ganda-Bherunda motif in Kasba Sangmeshwar (mentioned in the penultimate section of the paper). The Shiva temples of Rajwadi and Amneshwar in Sangmeshwar Taluka are linked loosely with the political or administrative power in the area. The temple at Rajwadi bears Peshwa-Maratha style lion/tiger in profile as the royal emblem. The temple relates to Bhavanigad fort in the area through oral narratives and fragments of the history of its construction. The present building of Amneshwar temple, was commissioned by Govind Ballal Kher (later Govind pant Bundel), a minister at the Peshwa court. The decorative elements at Amneshwar echo the iconographic style characteristic of c. 18th century CE Maharashtra. The depiction of Ganda-Bherunda on the prakara wall of the temple is of particular interest. Ganda-Bherunda at Pedhe appears with c. 16th century CE likeness that of Nayakas of Keladi. The goddess temple at Pedhe with Ganda-Bherunda on its pillar is one of the oldest architectural elements extant at the site. The shrine dedicated to Bhargava Rama or Parshurama now occupies a larger footprint, built from inam grant to Paramhans Brahmendra in c. 1700 CE. Ganda-bherunda at the site is a mere remnant of a dominant motif used and circulated by the Keladi Nayaka rulers.
The villages of Burambad and Rajwadi continue to harbour an esoteric charm owing to the secluded location. These temple sites are accessible with proper directions from the locals. The closest medieval town of renown in the area is Kasba-Sangmeshwar. As compared with the buzzing metropolis at Kasba, Burambad and Rajwadi seem to be smaller settlements in the 14-18th centuries CE[ii]. The temples may have had a specific clientele. The relic association with Bherunda that has survived to this day is indicative of a sophisticated body of practices in the area. The temple at Pedhe, on the other hand, may have been a quaint site until the construction of Bhargava Rama temple. The proximity with Chiplun of some political renown could have led to the Ganda-Bherunda motif carried as is, from the Kadamba and Keladi area of Goa and Karnataka respectively.
[i] A few other Ganda-Berunda motifs are identified, dated to pre-British era. Additionally, three occurrences of Ganda-Bhreunda iconography are documented on temples after the renovations in 1990’s.
[ii] Mavlangkar kulavrittanta (Clan-history of Mavlangkar family), and excerpts from Sirdesai (2018)
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