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Friday, January 16, 2009

Madan Mohan, the pawned deity


Bishnupur (Viṣṇupura for you and me) in Bankura district boasts one of the finest collections of terracotta temples in West Bengal. Amongst them Madan Mohan may not be the most spectacular, yet it has a curious little story attached to it.

When this image greeted me at the entrance I instantly knew that I was going to like this place.


Madan Mohan was perhaps some kind of local divinity who later became incorporated into/conflated/homologized with Kṛṣṇa. The strangest thing was that I already knew a Madan Mohan temple in North Calcutta. It turned out that this is not a coincidence at all. Early into the last century the temple in Bishnupur was in dire need of money and they pawned (!) their central deity to the wealthy and mighty Mitras of North Calcutta. The Mitra house still stands, although the owners have been evicted for some reason. One of the upper floors, obviously a former living room, is now converted into a place of worship. Every evening devotees come and sing bhajans in front of the image (this is a Kṛṣṇa playing the flute accompanied by Rādhā by the way). Presumably the Bishnupur temple is not interested in honouring their debt anymore, since now they have a perfect copy of the original enshrined in their Madan Mohan.


And here is the inscription (in śārdūlavikrīḍita) on the Bishnupur temple:

śrīrādhāvrajarājanandanapadāmbhojeṣu tatprītaye |
mallābde* phaṇirājaśīrṣagaṇite māse śucau nirmmale |
saudhaṃ sundararatnamandiram idaṃ sārdhaṃ svaceto'linā |
śrīmaddurjanasiṃhabhūmipatinā dattaṃ viśuddhātmanā ||

*The Mallas of Viṣṇupura had an era of their own starting with 694-5 CE, the coronation date of their first (legendary) king. The date is written with numerals at the bottom (1000 Malla era), that is 1694-5 CE. Phaṇirāja is of course Śeṣa, who is a thousand-headed serpent, hence: 'In the year of the Mallas numbering the head of the Serpent Lord'. I'm not sure I understand ceto'linā.


Here are a couple of images from the Mitra house, now known as a 'temple'. These pictures were taken two years ago just before Durgāpūjā, hence the clay idols in the making in the courtyard of what must have been a very imposing residence in its time.


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3 Comments:

Anonymous H.I. said...

> I'm not sure I understand ceto'linā.

I should think that ceto'li = manobhṛṅga,
cittabhṛṅga, cittabhramara. Surely the
metaphor is a somewhat common one? I think Then the temple is offered together with
the king's generally rather unsteady, bee-like, mind to the deity.

5:44 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

Thanks for the comment.

Perhaps I should have been clearer: I understood the compound, after all, I transcribed it as such, but I wasn't really sure how the meaning should be construed, especially against viśuddhātmanā (his mind is unsteady [_yet_] his soul/intentions are pure?). Also, 'sārdhaṃ sva-' seemed a bit unwieldy.

9:13 am  
Anonymous H.I. said...

I wasn't really sure how the meaning should be construed, especially against viśuddhātmanā (his mind is unsteady [_yet_] his soul/intentions are pure?).

Nothing contradictory nor really problematic/unusual there, I'd say.

Also, 'sārdhaṃ sva-' seemed a bit unwieldy.

The reader would be even more likely to
misunderstand or feel doubt if he hadn't used sārdham, which makes it clear how this instrumental, which is not in sāmānādhikaraṇya with the other instrumentals, is to be construed.

5:45 pm  

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