Manur-Nagnath: A Forgotten Archaeological Site and the Hidden History of Shaivism

Journey of a medieval Shaiva centre from Pashupata-Kalamukhas to that of Virashaiva-Lingayats. 

Vijay Sarde
| 11 min read
July 03, 2021
Siddheshwar Temple, Maharashtra
Illustrations by Shreyansh

Manur-Nagnath, a village located in the Beed district of Maharashtra, is an archaeologically important site. It is situated at a distance of 52 km from Beed and 70 km from Ahmednagar on a ‘Mankarana’ riverbank. There are several legends about the site, some of which are linked to the Mahābhārata period. Remains of medieval temples, monasteries, and wells are found in this archaeological site. Manur is well-known for its ‘Jahagirdar Matha’ (monastery) which belongs to the Vīraśaiva-Liṅgāyata sect. The monastery is said to be associated with the great 16thcentury Vīraśaiva saint, Manmatha Swami. Records of land grants donated to this monastery can still be seen today. This monastery has a charter donated by Shivaji Maharaj’s grandson, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj.1

Apart from the Vīraśaiva monastery, the archaeological site of Manur village has a 13th century Siddheśvara temple (discussed below), a Nāganātha temple of unknown date that contains Marathi inscriptions from the 17th century as well as several tombs of ascetics, a medieval fortress, and scattered remains of sculptures and hero stones. There is also a monastery-like structure dating to the 13th-14th centuries, found at a short distance from the Siddheshwar temple. A Gadhegal (ass-curse stele) having devanāgarī characters can be found at the monastery, which also has two subsidiary shrines and a hall of several pillars. The pillars themselves are not ornate but the doorframes of the monastery are beautifully decorated.

Manur Nagnath Temple Door frame of c.13th-14th century Matha, near Nagnath temple
Ghadegal A Gadhegal (ass-curse stele) with devanāgarī characters
Although several archaeological remains are scattered in Manur, the site has not received due scholarly attention. An inscription of 13th century CE has been read and studied by Brahmanand Deshpande.2 Apart from this, no other special research has been carried out on the site. This article highlights, for the first time, some important archaeological remains at Manur and explains their significance. It will show the influence of the Pāśupata-Kālāmukha sect in Manur around the 12th-13th centuries and the subsequent takeover of this site as a Vīraśaiva-Liṅgāyata centre.

Siddheśvara Temple at Manur

Siddheshwar Mandir General view of Siddheshwar temple, Manur
There is a 13th century temple of Siddheśvara on the bank of the Mankarana, a seasonal river, to the west of Manur village. This temple—a very important centre in terms of the religious and cultural history of medieval southern Marathwada (as we will see below)—is of tridala type (temples that have three shrines). Since the sphere has completely collapsed, it is not possible to say in what style it was built. Currently, the temple is in a dilapidated state due to rainwater seeping into the walls. Although much of the Nandīmaṇḍapa has collapsed, a magnificent Nandi survives on a raised square platform. Apart from this, some samādhis (tombs), sculptures, satī stones, and hero stones can be seen scattered throughout the temple site. The ground plan consists of garbagṛha (sanctum santorum), antarāla (vestibule), gūḍhamanḍapa (closed hall), and two sub-shrines.

Siddheshvar Temple Inside the Matha, near Siddheshwar Temple, Manur
Siddheshwar Temple Maharashtra Present condition of the Siddheshwar temple, Manur
The interior construction of the temple has fallen into disrepair and the thick coat of paint on the temple walls makes it difficult to identify some of the sculptures. A Śivaliṅgā appears to have been installed in the centre of the garbhagṛha. Several mouldings have been carved on the exterior of the temple. Three sanctums of the temple had nine devakoṣṭhas (niches for divinities) on the maṇḍovara (exterior wall of the temple), three of which are in better condition. There are ardhastaṃbhas having mañjarī (mouldings) on all four sides of the maṇḍovara. This type of ornamentation is commonly seen on temples in South India.

Rare Sculpture of Lakulīśa

There are several different sculptures on the Siddheśvara temple, most of them broken or destroyed. Among these, images of Cāmuṇḍā, Śiva Naṭeśa, Lakulīśa, Keśava, Gaṇeśa, Sarasvatī, Pāśupata-Kālāmukha yogis, and various heavenly damsels (Surasundarīs) are visible. A beautiful āliṅgana mūrti of Umā-Maheśvara and Gaja-Lakṣmī can also be seen.

Uma Maheshwara Uma-Maheshwar Alingan Murti, Siddheshwar temple, Manur
The presence of the image of Lakulīśa (a form of Śiva) on the Siddheśvara temple is significant and it indicates the influence of the Pāśupata-Kālāmukha sect. This rare image is placed in the southern niche of the outer wall of the main shrine. Another small image of Lakulīśa with a laguḍa (a club) is carved on the uttarāṅga portion of the main garbhagṛha. The first image of Lakulīśa is in the padmāsana and is depicted with uṣṇīṣa, yajñopavīta (sacred thread), and four arms, the upper arms of which are completely broken. Most of the portion of the front hands is also broken from the elbow. It seems that both front hands should be placed on the knees. He is shown ithyphallic and sits on a beautiful padmapītha. He is also depicted with his four disciples Kauśika, Gārgya, Mitra, and Kāuruśya. Two of them on either side of Lakulīśa are shown in the namaskāra mudrā. The other two disciples are shown seated on knees on either side of the padmapītha. These two images are badly mutilated.

Lakulisa Maharashtra Siddheshwar Temple Lakulish with his four disciples
Lakulisa Manur, Maharashtra Another small image of Lakulish, Siddheshwar temple, Manur
Icons of Lakulīśa are rarely observed in Maharashtra. The oldest image of Lakulīśa in Maharashtra is at Mandhal in the Vidarbha region, dating back to the 4th-5th century CE. Apart from this, there is a standalone image of the later period at Bhadravati in the Chandrapur district.3 Among the images on the structural temples, four images from the Khidreśvara temple at Khidrapur4 and the image from the Saṅgameśvara temple at Sangameshvar in Ratnagiri district can be mentioned. A possible image of Lakulīśa is also depicted in one of the niches of the Śiva temple at Umarga in Osmanabad district— however, scholars are not unanimously agreed on its identification. The image of Lakulīśa from Manur is the only known and well-identified image from the structural temples of Maharashtra to be depicted on devakoṣṭha, as one of the important deities.

The Historical Importance of the Site

From the archaeological remains at Manur, it appears that the site was a famous Śaiva centre in the medieval period. A devanāgarī inscription of 1248 CE found at Manur mentions that the Yādava prince, Kanhardeva, was appointed as Mahāmaṇḍaleśvara of this region. It also mentions the construction of an unknown temple,5 which may likely be the Siddheśvara temple. Several sources suggest that some Yādava rulers were followers of the Pāśupata-Kālāmukha sects and gave grants to them. Yādava king, Seuṇacandra II, a follower of the Pāśupata sect, received grace from a Pāśupatācārya named Sarvadevācārya. In the year 1191 CE, Bhillama V, the founder of the Yādava dynasty, had also given a village as a grant to a Kālāmukha ascetic, ‘Siddhant Chandrabhushan Pandit’.6 Inscriptions related to the Pāśupata-Kālāmukha have been found at multiple sites in South Marathwada during this period: Tirtha, Bhandarkavathe, Mardi, Darphal (Solapur district), Ganeshwadi, Kolhapur, Hottal, Ardhapur, Tadkhel, Kardkhed, and Sagaroli.7 All this shows that the Pāśupata and related sub-sects were deeply rooted in South Marathwada. 

Kalamukha-Pashupata Ascetic Pashupata-Kalamukh Yogi, Siddheshwar temple, Manur
Kalamukha Pashupata Ascetic Another Pashupata-Kalamukh Yogi, Siddheshwar temple, Manur
However, after the rise of the Vīraśaiva sect in Northern Karnataka, the sects of Pāśupata-Kālāmukha merged into the new-born sect. Several Pāśupata monasteries in Karnataka and South Marathwada came under the control of the Vīraśaivas. This transition seems to have been organic, as the Vīraśaivas accepted the Guru traditions of the erstwhile Pāśupata-Kālāmukha as their own.8 The same change is likely to have taken place in Manur as well. The transition from the Pāśupata- Kālāmukha sects to the Vīraśaiva-Liṅgāyata sects can be seen in the archaeological remains and the ongoing religious traditions of Manur. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Vīraśaiva-Liṅgāyata sect flourished in South Maharashtra from the 13-14th century onward, and Manur must have been an important centre of Vīraśaiva-Liṅgāyata, as it still is.9 Kapildhar, another site in the Beed district, also emerged as an important centre for the Vīraśaiva-Liṅgāyata sect. There is also evidence of an independent Śaiva sect called ‘Nāganātha’ or ‘Nagesh’ in Manur during the 17th century CE.             

Virashaiva Ascetics Tombs of Virshaiva Ascetics, Nagnath Matha, Manur
Overall, the Siddheśvara temple and the surrounding remains of the Manur-Nagnath village are very important from the cultural, historical, and archaeological points of view. They constitute a valuable archaeological record of the journey from Pāśupata-Kālāmukha to Vīraśaiva-Liṅgāyata. Unfortunately, all this evidence is on the verge of extinction. The ruins of the Siddheśvara temple and other sculptures need to be preserved as soon as possible.

Vijay Sarde is an archaeologist based in Pune. He holds a Phd from Deccan College, Pune, specializing in early Natha archaeology in Maharashtra. 

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