Monday, 25 December 2017

Haryana series - Kalayat


Haryana has significantly important historical sites which, when scientifically studied, give us a rich understanding of the geological, social, religious and scientific development of society from pre-historic to historical ancient times.

Given that the sequence of events in the religious epic Mahabharata is set in the area that now constitutes Delhi, western UP and Haryana, and its climax being the Revelation of the Bhagwad Gita at a site believed by the faithful to be in heartland of Haryana, the study of history here is an inextricable combination of archaeology, mythology, sociology and geology. The importance of the area is further accentuated by the fact that several Harappan sites, right from the early Harappan to late Harappan are scattered all around the alluvial plains of the great rivers that flow through it or had flowed through it in the past.

It is required to be careful both for people interested in religious studies, as well as professional historians and archaeologists to be careful in interpreting the beliefs and evidences that emanate from the studies on Haryana. It is important to understand the scientific evidences that constitute the study through literary, socio-religious, geological and archaeological disciplines and view them in an appropriate manner. Often, the societies depicted in a sub-plot in the Epic may belong to a century in the historical age by when they were introduced into the evolving overarching storyline, while they may be described as belonging to a period from a past so long ago that heavily contrasts with established scientific evidence of evolution of human life.

The common view that religious/mythological concepts or beliefs are an axiomatic truth often conflicts with the chronological, evidence based interpretation that a professional / academic view of history demands. However, in near past, due to several archaeological and geological studies there have been several overlaps and some convergence between what earlier was perceived as spiritual / religious mythology (such as the existence of the Vedic river Saraswati) and the recent geological / archaeological studies that establish the existence of a Himalayan mega-river in the area, which no more exists now in that original form.

The site:

Kalayat holds a very important place in development of ancient Indian philosophy; the Sankhya philosophy is believed to have been founded by saint Kapil Muni in the town of Kalayat. Hence it is commonly revered as Kapil Muni Tirth, indicating it’s a place of pilgrimage.

The site is important for two reasons: the temple reservoir, called the Kapil Sarovar and the temple complex itself.

Kalayat is an important site from a geological perspective, because the reservoir of the temple complex, named as Kapil Sarovar has sweet water oozing out of deep channels, and is totally differentiated from the other usual sources of water in the region, which are brackish.

Detailed geological studies state that the sediments in this reservoir are completely different from the other sources, both from a textural as well as chemical perspective. The heavy mineral composition is different than the Sivalik range heavy mineral suite. The studies indicate the source of these sediments was in the Himalayas, deposited here due to the flow of heavily agitated water channel. The characteristics match the Vedic description of the Saraswati as that of a river that roared and carried peaks of mountains with it, thus strongly suggesting the presence of a mega-river that flowed through the year, in the vicinity of the reservoir. Comparative studies in nearby locations like Chavan Giri Kund and Bhor Sadiyan also indicate that the river flew through these areas, and have left a significantly broad paleo-river bed. 

Archaeological studies focussing on this area also indicate the same results, that a major river system existed in the north-western Ghaggar – Hakra plains. The great five rivers that are still flowing in the Punjab, formed part of the same network of rivers, and in the Plio-Pleistocene times the rivers got re-organised due to massive tectonic activity. Thereafter the changed flow was towards the Indus instead of the previous eastward flow of some of the key tributaries of the mega-river.

There are several open questions in the hypothesis that Saraswati was a living river in the Rig Vedic times, because the geological evidence indicates these changes having happened in distant pre-historic times (millions of years ago), while the human evolution with capability of rudimentary social formations are earliest dated to a few thousand years BC,  while great urban civilisations were formed in the Bronze Age, across the world, including the Harappan civilisation in India in and around 1500-3000 BC.

Thus, the placid looking Kapil Sarovar holds several secrets underneath it. The good quality of agricultural plains of the region is attributed to their being laid down by a mighty Himalayan river whose paleochannels and deep sources are still getting recharged. The mega-river is not in existence now but its vestiges in form of buried channels still exist and continue to serve the current society with perennial sweet water.

There are two surviving temples now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, and there is also a third one adjacent to these, that is now subsumed in a freshly reconstructed version. The third one has several icons of the currently common pantheon of Hinduism, as well as a shrine to the patron saint Kapil Muni.

These belong to the Pratihara period and dated to end of eighth century CE. The central temple offers an idea of a medieval temple style of which nothing comparable in other regions remain, with its curved spire (shikhara) and is one of the earliest, if not the earliest surviving brick temple of the Nagara, the North Indian style temple. 

Adam Hardy did an academic study of the architecture of the main surviving temple and in his views, it is of great significance for the history of Indian temple architecture. It offers a view of a medieval temple style of a region where nothing comparable survives. With its curved spire (shikhara), it is also the oldest surviving brick example of the Latina (Rekha Prasada) form of Nagara style. It has three projections on each of the sides except the east where the doorway is placed, each forming a miniature Valabhi type shikhara (Valabhi refer to rectangular building with roof that rises to a vaulted chamber), with distinctive moulded bases differing in height as well as design from the main base of the temple.

It has ghatapallavas in the corners (an important decorative motif consisting of a pot with leaves and flowers, vegetation used as a symbol of life, and from 5th century CE it began to be used in architecture particularly in northern India, both as a base and capital of a pillar).

The verandika and shikhara above the base structure move upward to form five vertical segments: a central spine (the lata), intermediate segments (pratilata) and corners (karnas), and at the corners, four ascending pavilions (karnakutas) remain, with crowing amalakas.

While extensive remains of brick structures do survive in other parts of the country dating from fifth century, Kalayat’s architectural detail is not similar to those as developed into typical Nagara style found later. A similar style predating Kalayat is found in Parasurameshwara temple in Bhubaneswar (Orissa), is said to be part of typical Nagara style, dated to mid-to-late seventh century. It is similar to extent of three Valabhi shrine images projecting from the wall, while the central one rises into the shikhara.

The typical brick Pratihara temples in UP are later than the Kalayat one. Hence Adam Hardy concludes that Kalayat is the earliest form of a Latina temple in its classic form. Nagara style temples are found ranging from NWFP Pakistan to Orissa and with several regional variations, however it is certain Kalayat is a critical piece of historical evidence that enables us to understand a period of which virtually no similar remains survive.

The adjacent temple, which is a single chamber structure comprising of the garbhagriha topped by a sharply rising shikhara, is also under ASI protection, and is inside a walled enclosure. There are painted surfaces inside the chamber. The ceiling of the garbhagriha is not a flat roof but a dome style, with quinches to enable an octagonal ceiling structure to be constructed on a square chamber. There are paintings on the walls and on the ceiling.

Outside the ASI protected area, but immediately adjacent to the main temple, is the functional, significantly reconstructed temple that has now been expanded to host places of worship for a larger number of the Hindu deities. One of the doorways and one entry chamber roof is still preserved though rest of the structure has been insensitively replaced with modern architecture, thus destroying a rare sample of ancient temple architecture.

The modernised temple also hosts a newly constructed shrine to Kapil Muni. Since it is a functional temple I refrained from taking a photograph of it. 

Travel notes:

Kalayat lies about forty minutes’ drive from Kaithal, and is best accessed by private transport. It is a hospitable Haryana village, that seems to be traversing the between ancient and modern time-zones.

Acknowledgements: Manoj Khurana for the entire trip.

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