The remains of Satanwada, Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh

The Silent Pages are often found to be associated with explicit indications about their past, which remain to be deciphered. As often noticed, the names of places do happen to convey a lot about their historical past. The traveler’s curiosity is at times drawn to the seemingly peculiar names of presently insignificant locations on the map. A field survey of such locations leads to important discoveries regarding their past, which also fit in the overall scheme of time. It was first in September, 2007, that I learnt about a village called Satanvadakalan in Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh, which I was supposed to visit a as a part of an administrative training programme. Having been a keen reader of historical texts, the very name suggested that there was something quite ancient about the place. The name sounded interesting and since I was not aware in any way about its historical importance, I made efforts to search on the internet to find some details. But nothing relevant was found which could satisfy my curiosity relating to the historicity of the site. Thus, a big surprise awaited me as I reached Satanwada to stay for a week in October, 2007.

Satanwada (Shivpuri district, Madhya Pradesh) lying on the Mumbai-Agra Highway, 63 miles south of Gwalior and 9 miles north of Shivpuri, and at a distance of 28 kms from the Narwar Fort,  is a site with a rich past, but known today only as a sleepy and insignificant village. The terrain here is generally rocky with interspersing fields many of which have been put under cultivation. The area often faces the scarcity of water, and special arrangements were in place for water conservation in the past, as indicated by the special wells and tanks built in the vicinity.

During my stay, I had the opportunity to roam around the village, and to interact with the villagers. At that time, I was totally unaware about its earlier history. Though I had heard about the National Park of Shivpuri, and that it was earlier included within the princely state of Gwalior, I still did not know much about the actual history or even the significance of other places within Shivpuri. Then it was a chance landmark on the highway which introduced and took me to the Historic Narwar Fort, an account of which I have already related in my earlier blog. The Hill Fort, a reminder of the strength of the earlier ruling principalities, is also an indication of how several historically important places have been left to decay almost unattended and unnoticed. Several other neglected sites around Narwar also need to be fully explored in order to recreate a complete picture of the earlier eras, missing so far from our History Books.

I was pleasantly surprised at Satanwada, when I encountered a vast multitude of archaeological remains, which lay scattered around in sheer neglect. Invaluable statues and carvings which should have found their places of respect in historical museums, were seen lying around either in the debris covered by bushy growth, or as readymade construction material used in the dwellings of people. Another lot remained scattered around to be found by the inquisitive visitor. Even in the state of neglect, the remains clearly demonstrated the historical importance of Satanwada, and also vindicated the origin of its name. The name Satanwada is probably derived from “Santan wada” i.e. the abode of Saints indicating the inhabitation by religious mendicants at the place in the past. It must once have been a holy town and is likely to have been a centre of pilgrimage.


Today, the ancient ruins have well merged into the normal lives of the villagers, who are totally ignorant about their history or events of the past. None is aware about how the past structures came into being, or how they were put to utter destruction. As I visited the ruins, I also realised that the history of Satanwada had not received much attention of avid scholars, and that it was difficult to reconstruct the past in the absence of any significant surviving historical records or popular traditions. Even some inscriptions which have been noticed by earlier visitors at the site, seem to have not been fully studied in the historical perspective.  Something seems to be missing in the context of historical studies regarding the area as the ruins which lie scattered around, seemingly demanding a proper excavation and analyses.

The site has probably not been visited or surveyed by important scholars. Alexander Cunningham, the father of Indian Archaeology, who has written extensively about the Narwar Fort in the vicinity, during his visits in 1864-65, probably did not take any notice of the remains at Satanwada. It was J. D. Beglar, who first realised the historical importance of the place during his visit in 1873-74. But Beglar did not explore the site in much detail, and did not find much in the popular tradition, which would make such an exploration interesting and rewarding. Witnessing the vast multitude of near Satanwara, he mentioned “There is no doubt that these ruins represent the remains of a large place, which once extended from the great pillared hall, spoken of above, a distance of probably 4 miles; no legends or traditions whatever have come to my knowledge regarding the place.”

No other significant scholarly visit seems to have taken place after Beglar for almost 50 years till the next visit in 1923-24, by M. B. Garde, Superintendent of Archaeology, Gwalior State. Garde published a report about the ruins in the Annual report of the Archaeological Department of Gwalior State (1923-24; Samvat 1980). The antiquarian remains at Satanwada listed by Garde are indicated in the table as below.

S.No. Antiquitarian Remain Garde’s description
1 Old Shiva Temple Half a furlong to the north-east of the village is an old Siva temple with plain walls of fairly large sized blocks of stone, and a carved doorway. The sculpture on the doorway is rude and indicates a late date (15th or l6th century) for the existing temple. But there are some fragments of carving (e.g. an amalasila) belonging to an 11th century temple lying about near this building which appear to show that the present temple has been built on the site of an old temple of about the 11th century. An old well about the same date (11th century) is seen in front of the temple.
2 Carved memorial pillar On the west of the village half buried in the boundary dam of a paddy field is a carved memorial pillar, only the top of which is now exposed to view.
3 Stone inscription in Hindi In a wall of a house on the north-west outskirts of the Tillage is a stone inscription in Hindi (not yet copied) which goes back to the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan.
4 Carved Nagadevatas on Stone On the eastern outskirts of the village is a small tank on the bank of which stands a stone slab on which a pair of serpant gods (Nagadevatas) are carved in relief.
5 Vishnu Temple (10th/11th Century) Nearby is the remnant of a Vishnu temple of about the 10th or 11th century. The doorway and four pillars of the Mandapa carrying the beams of the ceiling are all that has survived.
6 Temple Close by is the site of another temple.
7 Old well carved Sculptures In a modern room which is only a few feet to the west of the Vishnu temple are stored some fragments of old well carved sculptures. Some similar fragments are also lying outside this room.
8 Carved pillars and architectural pieces belonging to old temples are seen built up in modern houses and platforms and a few are also lying strewn about on the northern outskirts of the village.
9 A memorial pillar carved in the usual way is lying prostrate about 300 yards to the north-east of the village.

Garde also described some other monuments near the village of Satanwada, including Jharna which lied in the jungle towards the end of the fourth mile from Satanwada, on the Satanwada-Narwar Road, with two natural springs of pure water. About half a furlong towards the south-west of the road, near the upper spring lies a huge pile of carved stones which once composed a large temple or perhaps temples as old as the 11th or 12th century, which are no more standing.  At Pipriah, half mile from the Jharna, were found standing two life size statues of Hanumat and a 3 feet statue of Trimurti at the site of an old temple.

I have since tried to lay my hands on a better description of the site, but have not succeeded so far. From the descriptions of Garde, it is clear that many of the ruins at Satanwada can safely be regarded as belonging to the 10th/11th centuries. It is likely that the ruling classes of Narwar and Gwalior had invested in the constructions of these wonderful series of temples, the ruins of which bear testimony to the efforts of the unsung sculptor. During my survey of Satanwada, I could identify some of the above antiquarian remains, and also came across some others which probably had escaped the notice of Garde, as related below. As I did not have access to Garde’s list during my visit, some remnants mentioned by Garde that escaped my notice may be waiting to be discovered during further visits and exploration.

The ruins of Satanwada as witnessed in 2007

As one takes a tour of the village on foot, one is sure to encounter several ruins of the erstwhile remains, such as this sculpted fragment of the earlier temple, which was lying on a pavement.

As I entered the village, I was delighted by the passageway which struck immediately as representing some ancient remains. Beautiful sculpted stone fragments have been used in several public buildings in the village. The passageway or the entrance to a part of the village seems to have been one of the entrances to the village in the earlier times. Immediately before the passageway is a structure, which is used as a shade for relaxation by the villagers. While elderly persons used the structure since it afforded shade from the harsh sunlight, the newer generation found it useful as a playstation, and hid behind the pillars in a game of hide and seek.

As one moves on the fringes of the village, one witnesses the ruins of an ancient temple structure, presently lying as a heap of stones, amidst the shrubs. The temple may have fallen on its own, or may have been desecrated by some invader. Whatever may have been the reason of the fall of the temple, it is clear that the temple was not repaired thereafter, and has been left in the state for years together. Proper excavation around the site may provide further clues about the structure’s history.

At one end of the village lies an ancient temple site, where stands a temple named as “Prachin Mandir Thakurbaba”, referring to its having been a Vishnu Temple. The existing temple seems to be a recent construction, which however has used materials from earlier temples. Damaged pillars of the earlier temple can be seen lying in the vicinity. The temple is still in worship. The exact date of construction of the temple is not known, but the villagers insist that it has existed since ancient times, and have no idea of its history.

The lone witnesses of the presence of the ruins are the villagers, who have extensively made use of materials from the ruins for manufacturing their household and other village infrastructure. The Villagers have made use of beautifully carved columns from temples to build their resting places and seats. The houses have used their brick and stone remnants, from which sculpted images jut out to tell their story to the visitor. Most houses in the village have extensively used stone as the building material. Several remains of the earlier temples can be seen as having been used in the construction of houses and other public facilities. Some stones used in the houses clearly seemed to have been collected from the ruins of the earlier structures, but however, fresh stone cutting was also seen in progress at one site. Thus one cannot say for sure as to how much of the earlier remains have actually been utilised in the houses constructed.

But, the remains of the earlier temples are to be met with at almost every important place in the village. The platform built around a tree has used remains from the ruins. Panels from temples and pillars can be clearly distinguished. Near this platform was another, which was being used for drying of grain.  A peep below the polished stone platform displayed fragments of sculpted materials used in previous buildings.

Not very far from the platform lied the original temple site, with perhaps remains scattered all across the ground, and with even a part of the building still standing and being worshipped.

Some fragments in the village have been collected and consigned in smaller structures, which are collectively regarded and worshipped.

Some houses in the village are quite old, and may even date to more than 400 years, and have used stone, which is decorated with carvings as the chief building material. A study of such old houses and their histories will be interesting indeed.

Just besides the main highway, near the Forest Office, lies a Jain statue, which has been supported on a cemented pedestal. It signifies the Jain influences in the region in the earlier days. No details could be gathered regarding the statue or its placement during the visit.

Searching for the History of Satanwada

The exact history of how the temples of Satanwada were lost in public memory is not exactly known. In the absence of any references in surviving historical records or in traditions, the erstwhile stories of its past have been lost, and the antiquarian remains have become a part of the everyday lives of the residents of Satanwada, who seem to be living totally oblivious of it. The vast remnants which lie scattered across the village do remind the occasional visitor about its erstwhile splendour, but do not have many connoiseurs. The iconoclastic zeal of the destroyer’s hammer is however at display on most of the surviving remnants, which is also corroborated by references found in the historical texts of those turbulent times. To look for what had happened in Satanwada, which led to the destruction of what once seemed to have been a temple town and the abode of saints, it is important to study the references about the histories of the Forts of Gwalior and Narwar, which may have housed the ruling principalities of Satanwada. The history of Satanwada must thus have been related.

The History of Narwar illustrates that it had been ruled by the dynasties of the Ancient Nagas (0-225 A.D), Toramana (260-301 A.D), Harsha, Kacchwahas and Pariharas (Pratiharas) till it was firstly captured and made part of the Delhi Sultanate by Iltutmish in 1232 A.D. The history of Gwalior and its surroundings including Narwar had remained turbulent ever since the onset of the 11th century. The area in the vicinity of Satanwada and Narwar faced a series of attacks starting from the times of Mahmud of Ghazni, till Sikandar Lodhi in the early 16th century, which was followed by the rule of the Mughals.

The successive destruction of the sites in the vicinity may have been a result of any of such successive raids, the exact historicity of which is difficult to identify.  A study of the turbulent phases of medieval history of the region, as illustrated by the historians of those times, indicates it to be highly probable that the earlier inhabitants of Satanwada may have been forced to abandon the site owing to its destruction by the invading forces. The turbulence may have existed over a long period due to which the records of the past splendour of the site were lost in public memory. The site may have been quite deserted for some time only to be re-inhabited at the onset of the 16th century, with a population having perhaps not much knowledge of the past happenings.  The variation of the earlier name may just have survived.

Accordingly, a reference is being made to the history as documented in some medieval texts to search for an answer to what may have happened at Satanwada which destroyed the town fully, and left it in ruins. As mentioned in the Tabakat-i-Akbari, Gwalior was attacked by Mahmud of Ghazni in A.H. 413 (1021 A.D), who made terms with the Hindu King of Gwalior and from thence proceeded to Kalinjar. In Taju’l Ma’asirHasan Nizami mentions about the siege of Gwalior in 1196 A.D. by Mahmud Ghori, who retreated to Ghazni only after receiving tribute from the King Solankh Pal and freeing the neighbouring country of the enemies of religion in “compliance of the divine injunction of holy war”. Referring to the capture of Gwalior by Iltutmish in AD 1232, Cunningham has mentioned about the probability of Narwar having served as a shelter of the last Parihar (Pratihara) Raja who had escaped from Gwalior. From the tradition of the Kacchwahas it is believed that Narwar must have fallen into the hands of the Parihar Prince of Gwalior in AD 1129.  Minhaj-us-Siraj in his Tabakat-i-Nasiri has mentioned about the exploits of Illtutmish, who in 1232 A.D. (A.H. 630) captured the Fort of Gwalior, and thereafter invaded Malwa, Bhilsa and Ujjain, where several ancient temples were destroyed. At Vidisha a temple which had taken three hundred years in building, and was about one hundred and five yards high, was demolished. At Ujjain, the temple of Mahakal, along with the image of Vikramaditya, believed to have been the founder of the Indian era, was demolished.  From a reading of the accounts it seems probable that Satanwada may have suffered its first round of destruction during the reign of Illtutmish, who is credited with the destruction of important temples in the vicinity.

It is however also certain that 19 years after attack of Iltutmish in AD 1251, Narwar was in the possession of a Hindu ruler called Chahada Deva, who is said to have strengthened the fortress, and who lost the fortress to Nasir-ud-din Mahmud of Delhi. Regarding Chahada Deva, whose coins are dated in AD 1246 to 1254, there are indications of his having belonged to a dynasty other than the Pratihara.  Ferishta has also given an account of the siege of Narwar, where the host was defeated with great slaughter after a few months siege. In Tabakat-i-Nasiri, while referring to the 6th year of reign of Sultan-i Mu’azzam Nasiru-d dunya wau-d din Mahmud (Hijra 649 – 1251 A.D), Siraj has mentioned about the royal march towards Gwalior, Chanderi, Bazawal, and Malwa. He has mentioned the same Jahir Deo as the greatest of all the Ranas of the country and neighbourhood, who had five thousand horse and two hundred thousand thousand infantry. The defeat of Jahir Deo led to the capture of fort of Balwar and its plunder. Ulugh Khan exhibited great energy in the campaign, and great plunder and many captives fell into the hands of the victors. Referring to the same event, while talking about the exploits of Ulugh Khan @ Ghiyasuddin Balban, Minhaj Siraj has stated that this Jahir, Rana of Ijari, was an active and able man, who had earlier in the year 632 H. (1234), repelled and defeated the Sultanate army returning from Kalinjar under the command of able General Malik Nusratu-d din Tabasi. Jahir Deo has been identified by Cunningham as being the same as Chahar Deo of the coins found in Narwar, implying to have been a ruler of Satanwada.

In AD 1439, the fort still belonged to the Delhi Sultans, but it was besieged by Dungar Singh, the Tomara Raja of Gwalior, who retreated due to the rapid advance of Mahmud towards Gwalior. Shortly later it fell into the hands of the Tomara Princes, as their genealogy is recorded on the Jait-sthambha or Victory Pillar which is still standing outside the city of Narwar. The Fort was held by the Tomaras till 1506, when it was captured by Sikandar Lodhi. As mentioned by Cunningham, the almost entire disappearance of the Hindu remains at Narwar is attributed to Sikandar Lodhi in 1508 AD. Ferishta has related that this bigoted iconoclast remained at Narwar for six months breaking down temples and building mosques. As such the final destruction of the remains at Satanwada along with Narwar can be attributed with certainty to the reign of Sikandar Lodhi.

The Position of Satanwada

Unfortunately even though Satanwada’s historical remnants serve as a grim reminder of its magnificent past, no memories or traditions have survived. It is then that one needs to make multi directional efforts for the rebuilding of histories of such places, which have nothing left in popular memory. Today, the village is nowhere on the tourist map. The actual historical importance of the site still awaits discovery. As such one may find it strange that despite the extensive remnants, Satanwada is not famous for its historical background.

In all ages, humans have shared a similar set of emotions, many of which are found expressed on stone. The innate strength of the bygone era is still revealed by the remnants, which serve as a reminder of the earlier phases of human inspiration and activity. Satanwada is a living example of how the silent pages often strike the traveller with a sudden but full vigour, in places the origin and importance of which is lost to public memory, but is eminently displayed by the surviving ruins of the erstwhile magnificence.  

A proper site survey in the future may enlighten us further, and a chance inscription may be waiting to be discovered amidst the vast remains, but till then our knowledge can only be built upon the general historical trends of the region. 

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