Nilkantha Temple at Kāliñjara

Author : Shri Vijay Kumar
Chief Editor – Indian Journal of Archaeology (IJARCH)

The famous Nīlkantha temple is situated in Kāliñjara, a small town in the south-western corner of District Banda, U.P. This temple is dedicated to Lord Śiva. It is in fact a part of the Kāliñjara fort. This temple has been attracting a lot of scholars since early times. The fort was first visited by Cap. W. R. Pogson and in 1828 A.D., he wrote about Nīlkaṇṭha temple in his book ‘A History of The Boondelas’.

He also wrote about ‘Kāliñjara Mahātmya’ in this book. It was then visited by Maisey in 1848 A.D. and he described the antiquities of whole Kāliñjara fort including this temple in detail. After Maisey, Cunningham visited the fort and wrote about the antiquities found in this temple. Later, Fuhrer described the antiquities of this place. Krishna Dev also visited this place. Then in 1976 A.D. Krishna Kumar documented all the antiquities of the fort but did not publish any exclusive account of this temple. After this Sushil Kumar Sullere visited this place and described the antiquities in detail.

In 1991 scholars and enthusiasts organized a seminar on Kāliñjara and this led to a visit to this place by a large number of eminent archaeologists and historians. Its proceedings were published in the form of the book ‚Kāliñjara, A Historical and Cultural profile‛8. After this Rajendra Yadav visited this place and wrote many articles about the antiquities of the fort and the temple. He first published the results of his researches in 20029. Later he wrote about the rock-cut caves of Nīlkaṇṭha in detail10. This place was again visited by Mr S.A.N. Rizavi and he published the account of the history of this fort and its antiquities. He listed the inscriptions found in the temple11. In the year 2015 this author visited this place. I was helped in the exploration work by Mr Arvind Chhiraulia of Kāliñjara and his team consisting of Mr Bhagwan Deen Kushwaha, Mr Bablu Arjaria, and Mr Chhunnu Kushwaha. Mr Kallu Yadav steered the whole team through the difficult terrain safely. Mr B.D. Gupta was continuous source of inspiration for the entire team. Mr Umashankar Pandey and Mr Gudda Sharma, both of Banda, accompanied us during the work and provided their moral support to all the team members. Professor Amar Singh generously helped the author in the study of the temple.

The Nīlkaṇṭha temple is dedicated to Lord Śivā. Originally it was a painted rock shelter which was, probably during Kusāna period, turned into a shrine dedicated to Śivā. The painted rock shelters have been normally located near water springs at the toe of the scarp of hills. Some painted rock shelters have still survived the building activities by humans living on Kāliñjara hill. Some rock shelters are still extant, of which the first is below Ranī Tunga, second is below Panch Beehar outside second enclosure of Nīlkaṇṭha temple and third is near Pātāl Gangā. It appears that large numbers of rock shelters which were being used by primitive man as a religious shrine were later converted into temples dedicated to different deities. The description of the first two rock shelters will be given in the last chapter where scarp of the hill has been described. It remained popular during Pratihār period also, as is clear from the sculptural pieces and structural fragments found in and around this temple. It is interesting to study the development of iconography of Śivā.

The evolution of the cult of Śivā has a very complex history. Harappans had some sort of cult of phallus worship as is evident by archaeological finds. The most obvious reference to phallus worship in Rigveda is in the verses condemning Śiśnadevata. The phallus cult has been mentioned in the negative sense. The Vedik ṛishīs are always condemning the tribes who were worshipers of phallus symbol. Some of the Vedik hymns also mention a fiend with three heads and six eyes, an apparent parallel with the later Trimūrti of Brahmā, Viśnū and Maheśa and three-headed Bhairava. It appears that the phallus cult recommended the methodology of renunciation of the world for attaining salvation. Because in later times Śivā himself is always called Mahāyogī, i.e. the great yogī, who was doing meditation and severe penance continuously. In modern times, according to the popular belief, penance is done for the complete suppression of carnal desires. But during medieval age as the iconography of Lakulīśa indicates, the ascetics having virility also practiced yoga without completely suppressing their libido. This philosophy has been further elucidated by the doctrine of Nathpanthīs who maintained that the litmus test for a man to find out whether he has reached the state of emancipation or not is by checking whether he can control his ejaculation even when bodily being aroused. The same sentiment is reflected by meditating Urdhwaretā, deity having three lion-heads depicted on the famous Paśupati seal found in Harappa. In fact as Buddhism evolved into Vajrayāna, its proponents started openly saying that copulation with a female is sure way of attaining the supreme state of salvation. It appears that this line of thought developed as a diversion from ascetics who believed in complete suppression of bodily desires as recommended by some sects such as Jains and Baudhs etc. The two styles of control of senses had existed since earliest times while Vedik philosophy represented a third school of thought which believed in a happy and prosperous life with abundant progeny. They never talked of asceticism. They never talked of salvation. In fact in Vedas early prototypes of ascetics known as kesins and munīs were not painted in good light. The Vedik Rudra had a different personality. He was the god of storms and pestilence and his sons were Marut ganas.

© IJARCH, Vijay Kumar