The ruins of Tilkeshwar Sthana Temple, DARBHANGA, BIHAR

The History of Mithila consists of several silent pages, many of which still remain shrouded in mystery. The geographical area including the northern part of the state of Bihar (India) and certain parts of the territory of Nepal, which is demarcated by the Gandak river on its west, Kosi river on its east, the Ganga on its south and the mighty Himalayas on the north, has been historically referred to as the land of Mithila. The land is of considerable historical importance since it has witnessed the development of the highest levels of philosophy in ancient times. The philosophical discourses which originated mostly in the land of Mithila, are still contained in the Upanishads and other sacred texts of the time, and have guided the growth of Hinduism in its various forms over the centuries. The historical remains of the earlier times however are met with much difficulty. The absence of significant ruins at the various sites described for their magnificence in historical documents, is explained with a variety of reasons. The most important reason has been the regular flooding of the area by several rivers since times immemorial. Added to the floods is the constant change in the courses of several rivers passing through the lands.

Antiquities dispersed in the Kosi flood-plains

The Kosi river, which has a large floodplain is often referred to as the “sorrow of Bihar” on account of the widespread destruction caused by its annual floods. Importantly, amidst the large floodplains of the Kosi river, are located several ancient villages and places of historical importance. The regular floods over the centuries have ensured that only traces of what once existed now remain. Moreover, the streams of the Kosi have been changing courses from time to time, and are known to have submerged several areas which were once populated and buzzing with activities. At present, a large area in the districts of Darbhanga, Madubani, Saharsa and Supaul in Bihar, is flooded annually by the waters of the Kosi and its tributaries and other rivers nearby. The remains of ancient settlements and temples are often reported from the most obscure of places. Any such site which gets reported deserves a proper excavation and detailed study in order to bridge the gaps of our understanding of this very important historical region. But unfortunately, most of these remains and ruins are lying unattended and common people are totally oblivious of their historical importance. Several such sites being remote and often inaccessible, have not received the due and adequate attention of historians.

The temple at Tilkeshwar Sthana is one such temple has not been noticed and studied properly by historians of repute.  It was not visited by A. Cunningham, who had documented most of the nearby archaeological sites between 1862 -1880. The site was not found to be mentioned in the list of the Antiquarian Remains of Bihar (D. R. Patil, 1963), which has attempted to contain an exhaustive list of such ancient and medieval monuments, even though the site has an inscription. Thus, the confusion about several aspects of the history of Tilkeshwar Sthana still exist. Geographically, the present temple lies on the extreme end of Darbhanga district, and is at a small distance from the neighbouring Saharsa district. It is not connected even today by any all weather road. The area in which the temple is located is prone to annual flooding, and the temple is built upon a slightly elevated level ground. The temple town of Mahishi (often identified to be the same as Mahishmati described in the Digvijayas of Adi Shankaracharya) in Saharsa district of Bihar, is not very far. According to a local tradition, this temple site is supposed to have been visited by the Adi Shankaracharya around the 7th / 8th century, who was then on his way to meet the scholar Mandana Mishra, then residing at Mahishmati i.e. present village of Mahishi.

Visit to Tilkeshwar Sthana in February, 2011

The Tilkeshwara Sthana Temple as in February, 2011

In February, 2011, during my posting in Darbhanga, I happened to visit the temple by sheer chance. It so happened that during the visit for inspection of Kusheshwar Sthana Police Station along with its outpost at Tilkeshwar Sthana, I was informed about the existence of an ancient and important Shiva temple at Kushweshwar Sthana. I visited the Kusheshwar Sthan Shiva Temple located adjacent to the police station. The temple is believed to be quite ancient and is visited by large number of pilgrims. I then proceeded partly by road, partly by boat and partly on a motorcycle to visit the police outpost at Tilkeshwar Sthan. Though Kusheshwar Sthan is presently more famous and is approachable by road in the dry months, the village of Tilkeshwar Sthan is not connected by any road link and virtually lies on an island surrounded by river channels. The mode of visiting the site depends on the season that one would be making the journey in.  After the rains for almost 3 months i.e. between July to October, the site is easily approached by boat from Satighat, 5 kms before Kusheshwar Sthana on the Biroul to Kusheshwar Sthana road.

As I approached the police outpost at Tilkeshwar Sthana, the adjacent temple which is a recent construction, was immediately noticeable even from a distance. There are hardly any other significant constructions of brick and mortar in the vicinity. Being on slightly higher ground than the neighbouring areas, the temple is saved from submergence in the floodwaters. It seems that its peculiar location may have been the reason for the selection of the site in the first place, when the temple was erected there. In other seasons, several channels of the Kosi contain some water in this riverine area. These channels need to be crossed either by boat or may be some other media depending on the fordability.

One has to leave the vehicles on the channel crossing itself and then venture into the riverine island. The boat we used for crossing the channel was unique and of an ingenious type. It was sliding on a rope tied at both ends of the channel. Motorcycles are available on the other side of the river, as they are often carried on boats. With these motorcycles one can reach the Temple of Tilkeshwar Sthana after a very bumpy ride in the uneven flood lands. The villagers who stay nearby usually stay in thatched huts, and stay there only for a part of the year when the lands are not flooded and cultivation can be done. On an enquiry, the Tilkeshwar temple was stated to be very ancient and visited by a large number of pilgrims, and inspired me to take a detour from usual work and make a visit.

The ruins

Door frame
The Main Lingam

A visit to the temple made it imminent that the temple at Tilkeshwar Sthana was very important from the historical viewpoint, since it housed several archaeological remnants, and contained an inscription which I could not immediately decipher, since the script appeared to be ancient. From the first impressions that formed in my mind after a brief perusal of the inscription and sculptures on the doorframe and the adjacent ruins, the temple site was suggestive of having been quite important and famous in earlier times. It made me wonder as to why the temple was located in such a place. I tried to find out whether the annual flooding was an ancient phenomenon and had it been so, why would the builder have chosen such a location. If indeed the annual flooding was an ancient feature, then the builder should have made the temple elsewhere for the convenience of the devotees. However that the builder chose to construct the temple there itself signifies that some rare merit must have been associated with the site. The name of ‘Tilkeshwar Nath’ used for the installed lingam of Lord Shiva seems to have been an ancient one. The exact myths behind the site need further exploration.

Ruined Statue

The Gazetteer informs that there are a number of sacred sites (sthans) such as Kusheshwarsthan (ten miles north-west of Hasanpur Railway Station), Khudneshwaristhan (At and P.O. Morwa, Samastipur Subdivision), Tilkeshwarsthan (ten miles from Kusheshwarsthan), Kaileshwarsthan (five miles west of Madhubani town), Bageshwaristhan (Darbhanga), Durgasthan (Khojipatti, Darbhanga), etc. Big melas and fairs are organized at these sacred sites. Important Traditional Fairs have been regularly held on the occasions of Shivaratri and in the holy month of Shravan at both sites of Tilkeshwar Sthan and Kusheshwar Sthana since unknown antiquity. These fairs have been an important aspect of the folk culture of Mithila, and still attract a large number of visitors from far off villages. The Kusheswarsthan mela, has been mentioned the most important among the seasonal fairs. The congregation on the occasion of Sravan is the largest. The Sravan mela is held on every Monday and continues on the successive four to five Mondays. About 20,000 visitors then (1964) assembled at Kusheshwarsthan. The Gazetteer then mentions about the mela on Mondays in Shravan at Tilkeshwarasthan Shiva temple, ten miles form Kusheswar Asthan. It informs that about ten thousand people then visited the temple.

Tradition thus attests the importance and antiquity of the site and the ruins of the old temple are scattered around the recently constructed temple which lies on a high mound. Brickwork and other fragments of the earlier building can be noticed while visiting the temple. Remnants of a statue of Uma-Maheshwara in the usual posture were found lying in the courtyard, along with remains of other ancient statues including Shivalinga. Though lying unattended in the open courtyard, the statues were still being worshipped by the visiting devotees as was amply displayed by the coats of vermillion and other materials of worship.

Apart from the main temple, there are two more smaller temples containing images some of which seem to have been lifted from the ruins of the earlier temple. The main structure houses the main lingam, which is revered as Tilkeshwar nath. The doorframe used in the temple is from the earlier temple. Whether it originally formed a part of the main temple or was used in some adjacent temple is not clear, and will be discussed in light of the inscription separately. The temple receives a constant crowd of visitors from nearby villages, and is very crowded during the important days of the religious calendar.

History of the Tilkeshwar Sthana Temple

Witnessing the ruins of the important historical site made me wonder about the neglect of our heritage which lie scattered in different parts of the country. I wanted to know more about the History of the Tilkeshwarsthana temple and about the author of the inscription. The residents and visitors whom I met at Tilkeshwar Sthan temple could not satisfy my curiosity. However, I was informed that the inscription was in ‘Mithilakshara’ or the Mithila script, and that it had been copied by some scholar who had earlier visited from Darbhanga. No further details were then available. After conclusion of the visit, I began on my quest for learning more about the Tilkeshwar Sthana temple from available documents and other possible sources, and it still continues. A proper study of the temple seems to have the potential to reveal more details about the early history of this flood prone region, upon proper excavation and study. Here I would like to share the references which I could find about the temple and its inscription from certain sources that I could lay my hands upon. I will also briefly describe the temple as it exists today, along with a brief history of the Karnata rulers of Mithila, in whose reign the temple is believed to have been erected.

In the search for references about the historicity of the temple I firstly consulted the Darbhanga Gazetteer (1967), which mentioned “There is a Shiva temple at Tilkeshwarasthan, ten miles from Kusheswar Asthan. A mela is held in the month of Sravan and on every Monday people assemble there to worship Shiva. About ten thousand people visit the temple.”

The ruins of the erstwhile Temple and its door panel suggested that in remote antiquity the place must have been very important. The features of sculpture associated with the place were not to be found even at Kusheshwar Sthana Temple nearby which definitely appeared to be a more modern construction with very little remaining from its ancient edifices. The temple of Tilkeshwar Sthana contained some specimens of sculpture dated to the 13th century A.D.

Some of the figurines sculpted in the door panel are reproduced below for appreciation.

The Inscription

The Inscription in situ

The Mithilakshara Inscription at Tilkeshwar Sthana on the front door panel is supposed to be dated during the Karnata rule. Till the time of the visit I was not aware about the significance of the inscription. I tried to find something about the inscription from various sources. Going through the Gazetteer of Darbhanga (P.C. Roy Chaudhury, 1964), I found that the subject had not been addressed in detail. Referring to the important inscriptions of Darbhanga, the Gazetteer (Appendix-1) mentions about the Tilkeswar Temple Inscription and informs that it refers to the name Karmaditya, a minister of the Karnata king. (See note on the Karnata dynasty below) The inscription or its timing have however not been discussed in detail in the Gazetteer. However, the inscription has been dated in the period of the Karnata rulers which was in the course of further reading learnt to be approximately during the years 1097 to 1325 AD.

The inscription has been mentioned by Prof. R K Choudhary in the “Select Inscriptions of Bihar (1958),” but it has not been discussed in detail. It has been mentioned only briefly. It has been stated that it is also known as Havidih inscription of Karmaditya, and that it records the erection of an image of Haihatta Devi at the instance of Queen Saubhagya Devi in La-San. 212. The contents have been given as follows, a reading of which indicates that the timing of 212 La. Sam. is only an approximation of the actual reading.:-

The Contents of the Inscription (Select Inscriptions of Bihar)

In the “History of Mithila (1956)” Upendra Thakur, has also briefly mentioned about the inscription. It has been mentioned that Karmaditya Thakkura was probably the minister of peace and war in the time of the Karnata ruler Ramasimha, who was fourth in descent from Nanyadeva, the founder of the Karnata dynasty. The sources for this identification have been mentioned as Candesvara Krtya Chintamani and the Maithila Panji Prabhandha. The inscription of Karmaditya dated LS 212 has been mentioned as unnoticed, and it is mentioned that the Tilkesvara temple bears the name of Karmaditya. While the exact origin of the Lakshmanasena Samvat is still not clear, several inscriptions in the Mithila region are dated in the L.S., indicating that Lakshmansena must have dominated the affairs of Mithila at some time in history. However, the known Lakshmansena was a ruler of Gauda in Bengal in much later times, though his influence was felt in the Mithila regions as well. The origin of the era however is generally taken as between 1107 to 1119 A.D. (Ref Page No. 249, History of Mithila. This will take the age of the temple of Haihatt Devi in L.S. 212 to be read as of 1107 / 1119 + 212 = 1319 / 1331 A.D. This however contradicts the age of Ramasimhadeva (1218 -1276 A.D), of whom Karmaditya mentioned in the inscription, was a minister.

Age of the Site

The date of the temple site is thus not fully settled. It is not fully clear whether the inscription on the door frame was actually a part of the initial temple. It may have been a part of an adjacent Haihatt Devi Temple, and the remnants having fallen in ruin would have been included as a part of the later constructions of main temple of a higher antiquity. Even today the modern temple of Tilkeshwar Sthan, built upon the earlier ruins has adjacent temples devoted to other deities. The Queen Saubhagya may have directed for the erection of a temple to the Haihatt Devi in the near vicinity of already famous Tilkeshwarsthana temple. However this is only a hypothesis which can be confirmed only after proper excavation in the vicinity, and after more research. The ruins of the statues lying in the courtyard of the temple are very similar to the ones found at Konch in Gaya and can be dated in the later Gupta or Pala times. If the tradition regarding the visit of the Adi Shankaracharya to the temple site on the way to Mahishi is taken as correct, then the site seems to have been already in existence in the 8th century. The mystery thus remains to be resolved.

The worship of Haihatt Devi was found as being continued at a village called Nawada near Bahera in Darbhanga. The Nawada durga sthan is quite famous and attracts a large number of devotees from nearby villages. A large fair is held during the navratras.

Interestingly some unverified information was found on the internet regarding the age of the inscription. A search on Google brought me to an unverified deciphering of the Inscription which while describing the Maithili language mentioned that  “The oldest example of this Mithilakshar or Tirhuta script is a Shiva temple inscription in Tilkeshwarsthāna (near Kusheshwarsthāna, in Darbhangā district), in which it is mentioned in Eastern Māgadhi Prākrit that the temple was built on “Kāttika sudi” (Kārtika Shukla pratipadā, or the first tithi in the bright half of the Hindu lunar month of Kārtika) in “Shake 125” (AD 203) on the day after Diwāli.” I since tried to find out the exact source of this statement which has been seemingly reproduced by several other sites without verification of the credentials. So far, I have not come across any such reference which would indicate the stated antiquity of the inscription. The above information had really excited me since if found to be true, it would require for a fresh outlook to understand the history of temple construction in the Mithila region. But it seems to be incorrect, as the texts including the Gazetteer have traced the inscription to the rule of the Karnatas.

To sum up, it can be stated that the exact origin and the time of the temple site still remains not fully established. More research and discoveries may settle the issue in the times to come. The site needs to be widely publicised to attract the importance that it deserves. It is undoubtedly important from the traditional standpoint, but its historicity has rather been quite unnoticed.

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