Visit to the Lost Ancient City of Padmavati

The Pawaya Brick Temple

Padmavati may not be a familiar name today, but, to the Indologist, the very name serves as a reminder of the glory of the ancient Nagas who had flourished in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. Padmavati was their magnificent capital city wherefrom they succeeded in the creation of a stable empire which included areas from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh to Ujjain and Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh. The Naga power grew after the fall of the Kushanas who earlier ruled from Mathura. Historians like K.P. Jaiswal credit the Nagas as being one of the first dynasties to raise the banner of independence against the Kushana rulers who had foreign origins. It was due to their efforts along with that of other Indian dynasties of the time that a phase of Hindu revivalism was initiated, which continued and strengthened during the rule of the Imperial Guptas. The Prayag pillar inscription of Samudragupta indicates that the Nagas of Padmavati under Ganapati Naga were defeated by the Gupta army, marking an end of the dynasty. The Nagas have been mentioned in the Vakataka records as the performers of ten Asvamedha yagya’s on the Ganga, symbolising a revival of the ancient Vedic culture. Whether the Dasaswamedha Ghat existing today at Varanasi, has the origin of its name as a tribute to this activity of the Nagas, is not fully confirmed in the absence of historical sources. But their contribution in the ancient history of India is now quite well recognised from various sources apart from their coins which have survived in abundant numbers.

The ancient city of Padmavati is mentioned in several classic Sanskrit texts including the PuranasMalati Madhava Prakaranam of Bhavabhuti, Harshacharita of Bana (7th century A.D.), and Sarasvatikanthabharana of Raja Bhoja (11th century A.D.). Bhavabhuti’s description of the scenic city located between the Para and the Sindhu rivers forms a very useful geographical indicator for locating the city. Padmavati is also mentioned in the Kokkala Grahapati inscription of Khajuraho (1001 A.D.), which mentions that the city had rows of tall mansions and strong horses which left streams of dust as they galloped around. The glory of the magnificent ancient city of Padmavati may have been lost in the tumults of history. But visiting Pawaya in Madhya Pradesh still transports one’s imagination back to those ancient times. Pawaya, a remote and non-descript village about 70 kms from Gwalior, houses the remains of one of the most magnificent cities of ancient India. As even though lost for all practical purposes, the memory of the city remains immortalised in the romantic saga of Malati and Madhava, which is one of the most popular works of Sanskrit drama, composed in the early 8th century A.D.

Different Views of The Pawaya Brick Temple

Romance in Padmavati :  

The Legend of Malti Madhava

Bhavabhuti’s melodramatic and romantic love story of Malati and Madhava strikes a chord of resemblance with the earlier legend of Madiravati, derived from Gunadhya’s Brihat katha and preserved in the Katha-sarita-sagar. But the chief factor which differentiates it from the earlier story is its setting in Padmavati, located at the confluence of the Para and the Sindhu amidst the Vindhya Mountains. Padmavati in the early 8th century still seems to have been a flourishing city having magnificent features including tall towers, temples with tall shikharas or pinnacles, large gateways, beautiful gardens, clear lakes and a possible University.  The city gardens included the famous Madan Udyana which had shady trees of KadambVakula and others which emanated effervescent perfumes breathing romance in the air. The clear lakes were full of blooming lotuses which added to the beauty of the city. Pristinely beautiful rivers including Sindhu (Sindh), Parvati (Para), Madhumati (Mahuar) and Lavana (Nun) were located in the vicinity if the city with densely forested hills including the Sri Parvat on their banks. The scenic surrounds of the city were comparable to those at the banks of the Godavari in South India. The isolated temple of Karala Devi, where the tantric cults were practised by a group of Kapalikas, was located near the city’s cemetery and was surrounded by forests. The confluence of the Sindhu and the Para in the city was a popular bathing destination which was also visited by the characters Madhav, Makrand and their loved maidens who often frolicked in theclear waters. There was a waterfall on the Sindhu which seemed to rush into the Patala (underground) as it made a musical humming sound in the romantic atmosphere. The holy site of Swarnavindu dedicated to Lord Shiva was located at the confluence of the Sindhu and the Madhumati, where the image was believed to have been ever-existing and not consecrated by any mortal. The play showcases Indian city life in the early 8th century A.D. and displays the various hues and emotions which were then current.

The plot of Malati and Madhava originates on the fulcrum of an old promise made between two close friends Bhurivasu (father of the heroine Malati and now minister to the King of Padmavati) and Devarata (father of the hero Madhava and now minister to the King of Vidarbha), who in their student days had resolved to marry their siblings upon attainment of marriageable age. This was known to another co-student and friend named Kamandaki, who had now become a Buddhist priestess with considerable influence in Padmavati. However, with the passage of time even as Malati attained marriageable age, Bhurivasu did not have the courage to carry forward the resolve made to his friend, as the hand of Malati was asked by one Nandana, who was a favourite of the King. Devarata then sent his son Madhava from Kundinapur in Vidarbha to Padmavati, to apparently study logic and Philosophy, but with the inward intent of reminding Bhurivasu of his promise. Bhurivasu found himself in a very peculiar situation where he could neither oppose the King’s desire, nor did he want to sacrifice the prospects of realising his plighted word. So he hit upon a plan of entrusting the match making of Malati and Madhava to Kamandaki, with a view to present the king one day with a fait accompli, wherein he would be seen to be having no hand whatsoever. Kamandaki not only worked for execution of this match but also planned to marry Makrand, Madhav’s close associate with Madyantika, sister of Nandana. Reading the story of Malati and Madhava transports one back to that age of innocence and love, when ladies like Malati and her companions Lavangika, Madyantika etc. roamed around freely in Indian gardens like the Madana udyana, where the hero is shown as presenting her with a wreath of Vakula (Moulshri) flowers.

River Sindh at Padmavati

The duo fell in love as a result of the efforts made by Kamandaki and her accomplices. Highlighting the practice of the tantra cults in those days, the heroine Malati is shown to have been twice saved from being sacrificed by the Kapalikas represented by one Aghoraghanta and his female disciple Kapala Kundala. Malati was first saved from being sacrificed by the hero Madhava who in the process killed Aghoraghanta, who had assembled along with Kapala Kundala near the temple of Karala Devi for the purpose.  The temple is described as situated at a distance from the town near the forest and not far from the cemetery where Madhava was roaming in utter frustration making efforts for selling human flesh to pishachas (goblins).  Madhava’s marriage with Malati materialises after much drama, and after deceiving the appointed groom Nandana. But Madhava becomes sad and laments as his beloved gets kidnapped by Kapal Kundala, who had vowed revenge for her teacher’s killing. Madhava on his return to the park and not finding Malati makes his lamentations along with his friend Makrand, who on seeing his pitiable state is almost prepared to give up his own life by drowning in the river, when Saudhamini, associated with Kamandaki delivers the news of Malati’s rescue from the hands of Kapala Kundala. The story thus has a happy ending.

The description by Bhavabhuti of the city of Padmavati and its surrounds, even today would seem like an ultimate flight of fantasy if one has not visited Pawaya. Interestingly, the geographical setting of Padmavati and its historical remains so far excavated still convey an idea of the legendary city which had motivated the poetic imagination of Bhava Bhuti way back in the 8th century. The glowing allusions occurring in the Malati-madhava and elsewhere, to its lofty mansions, temples, towers, gardens and festivals appear to show that it retained its prosperity and importance for a few centuries after the downfall of the Nagas and the Guptas. However, the city at the centre of the romances of Malati and Madhava was almost obliterated by the beginning of the 17th century, with only traces of its erstwhile magnificence having survived in ancient literature. The cruel hand of time has now reduced the place into a tiny village of dilapidated houses.

Identification of Historical Padmavati

Different Views of The Pawaya Brick Temple

Padmavati was at first identified with some unknown city in Berar by HH Wilson, far to the south of the Narmada, and afterwards with Bhagalpur on the Ganga. Cunningham referred to information from the Vishnu Purana which indicated the reign of nine Nagas in Padmavati, Kantipuri and Mathura, and tried to locate the site within some moderate distance of Mathura. He, therefore rejected Wilson’s identifications and identified Padmavati with the town of Narwar, situated about 150 miles to the south of Mathura. He based his conclusion on the discovery of the Naga coins at Narwar, and on its situation in the vicinity of the four rivers as referred by Bhavabhuti, since the river Sindhu of the drama was identified to be the same as river Sindh on which Narwar is situated. Para was identified with river Parvati which flows about 7 km north of Sindh and river Lavana with river Lun or Nun which rises near Paniar and falls into Sindh at Chandpur-Sonari. River Madhumati was identified with present Mohwar or Madhuwar which meets Sindh about 12 km above Sonari. The identification of these four rivers in the immediate neighborhood of Narwar with that of the drama made him conclude that Narwar was the ancient Padmavati. Cunningham also surmised that Nalapura may also have been a synonym of Padmavati as Nala or the water lily is frequently used as an equivalent of Padma or the Lotus. Cunningham’s identification, however, though much nearer the truth than Wilson’s, still missed the exact place: for the discovery of the Naga coins could prove nothing more than that Narwar formed part of the Naga territory. While he lost the precise details of the geographical position of Padmavati, he is entitled to the credit of having rightly identified the four rivers Sindhu, Para, Lavana and Madhumati in Bhavabhuti’s description, with the modern rivers Sind, Parbati, Nun and Mahuar respectively.

The search of the actual location of Padmavati intrigued historians for quite some time before being identified by Mr. M V Lele, and confirmed with proofs by M B Garde in the Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India for 1915-16. Mr. M V Lele, had identified it with Pawaya (Pawaia of the Gwalior Gazetteer maps), then a tiny village about 25 miles to the north-east of Narwar and some 12 miles by cart track from the Dabra Station on the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. The position of this village agreed so well with all the details given in Malati-Madhava, that there remained no doubt as to the correctness of its identification with Padmavati. M B Garde carried out excavations at Pawaya in 1924-25, 1933–34 and 1941. He credited Mr. M.V.Lele with the identification of ancient Padmavati, as coins of several Naga kings who ruled between 210 to 340 A.D., were also found at Pawaya. He rejected Cunningham’s identification with Narwar primarily on the ground of its distance of not less than 25 miles from the confluence of the Sind and the Parbati, referred by Bhavabhuti to be within the town of Padmavati. Further, no traces of any brick or stone monuments referable to the pre-medieval period could be found so far at Narwar, while the archaeological remains at Pawaya, showed that it was the site of an ancient city which was in existence at least as early as the 1st or 2nd century A.D. and continued to be in more or less a prosperous condition until at least the medieval period.

Identification of Padmavati (Source : Annual Report, ASI , 1915-16)

The identification of Pawaya as Padmavati is now established as it fully satisfies the geographic description given by Bhavabhuti. It stands on the confluence of the Sindh and the Parbati, just in the fork formed by the two rivers. About two miles to the south-west of the village is a picturesque waterfall in the Sindh which is undoubtedly the same waterfall alluded to in the Malati-Madhava. About two miles below Pawaya, the Mahuar joins the Sind and near the confluence is a platform supporting a linga. Although the platform is seemingly much later than Malati-Madhava it does mark the site of Suvarnabindu Siva referred to in the work. The river Nun flows at a distance of not more than four or five miles from Pawaya. Numerous Naga coins have been recovered from Pawaya, which are found in the early brick ruins at the place, indicating that it was for a long time under the rule of the Nagas. Due to its later occupation by the Gupta dynasty, Pawaya has traces of Gupta and pre Gupta art among the ruins of a Naga capital.

Apart from the historical remains and geographical features confirming Pawaya as Padmavati, Garde also quoted a tradition then current among the peasants of Pawaya who had preserved a story of their village as having been the ancient city of Padmavati, which they believe was the capital of a large ancient kingdom. The names of two kings called as Dhundapala and Punnapala were also preserved in the tradition. Though nothing was known about the dynasty of Dhundapala, he was believed to have been a universal or Chakravarti ruler, who on  one warm day while seated at the court, ordered for the chastisement of the Sun, as he perspired and felt offended by the raging Sun. This was not taken kindly by Vajaga Devi, the guardian deity of the city, who cursed the subversion of the city. Long afterwards, the city was said to have been revived under the Paramaras, of which Punnapala was a prominent king, also believed to have founded the fort and the stone ghat on the confluence of the Sind and the Parbati. Though the legend was not supported by any historical authority, it did indicate the position of Pawaya as the remnant of the ancient Padmavati. Garde found another proof as the village was also alternatively called as Padam Pawaya. Pawaya thus appeared as a corrupted abbreviation of Padmavati, similar to nearby Surwaya, about 40 miles from Pawaya, which was referred as Sarasvati in an inscription dated V.S. 1341. The prefix ‘Padam’ appeared to have been added to Pawaya in memory of the original longer name.

Visit to Pawaya

I was first attracted towards the legend of Padmavati after reading Cunningham’s Report of the Narwar Fort, which I visited in October, 2007. As I made my itinerary for places to be visited in Gwalior and Morena, Pawaya was the first on my list, more so since I had learnt that it lay at a distance of about 75 kms from Gwalior and that the last stretch was quite inaccessible. Moreover, this was one of the sites with remains of the Gupta age and other facets to be explored. Before starting for Gwalior, I read the history of the Nagas and the Narwar rulers, along with the work of Bhavabhuti, in order to appreciate the site better. A mention of my plan to visit Pawaya was met with a sense of surprise by even those who seemed to be quite informed about the history of the Chambal region, and so also was the response of the driver who had to accompany me for the trip. I finally planned to visit the ruins at Pawaya during my visit of Gwalior on 21st February, 2015.

Proceeding about 45 kms from Gwalior on the highway towards Datia/Jhansi, one needs to turn right towards Bhitarwar at Dabra, which is an important town on the railway line. The distance shown to Pawaya at that point on the Google Map was around 22 kms. However, as I proceeded further no motorable roads appeared traversable in sight, and I missed the nearest approach to Pawaya. Locating the exact approach to Pawaya from Dabra on the Gwalior-Jhansi road was a difficult task as no one I encountered on the way seemed to have any idea about the name or location of the village. More so, the curious looks that one received from them only further reiterated the actual loss of an ancient site from popular memory. On the road to Bhitarwar from Dabra, some people could give directions to reach the Dhoomeshwar Temple.  I had learnt from my readings that this temple was built in the early 16th century by the mighty Bundela ruler of Orchha, Bir Singh Deo, and was located at a distance of around 3kms from Pawaya. Thus I set out to reach the temple first, and thence explore the way to reach Pawaya.

Back View of Dhoomeshwar Mahadeo Temple

The road from Dabra to Bhitarwar was found in an extremely pitiable condition and after a lot of bumpy travelling on the zig zag road, I finally reached the Temple of Dhoomeshwar Mahadev, situated on the banks of the river Sindhu near the waterfall described in the Malati Madhava. The Dhoomeshwar temple was visible from a distance, and the ruins of Pawaya could be gauged due to the presence of some Mohammedan tombs in the fields in the vicinity. The temple retains a part of its original beauty as executed by the Bundelas, and has been transformed in several parts by regular white wash and paint to maintain it as usable by the modern devotees and visitors from around who still seem to frequent it in significant numbers. The atmosphere around as it was about noon, was very calm and serene. As I moved towards the river from the temple while taking photographs to capture the visit, the February Sun seemed in its full glory. Some village women were washing clothes and bathing in the river which was having a swirling flow due to a sudden decrease in elevation at the point where it turned towards a platform which looked of the same age as the temple, if not earlier. The position of the platform was very scenic and must have been the site for many a pleasant evenings.

River Sindh at Padmavati : Nauchauki and Waterfall

After visiting the surrounds of Dhoomeshwar Temple, as I reached Pawaya, I learnt that there was another shorter way to reach Pawaya, which had been missed due to lack of any directions on the road, as well as due to lack of any guidance from the locals we encountered enroute, as I had traversed a distance of extra 15-17 kms, which could have been saved. Garde has mentioned that a board of the Archaeological Department was in place on the Dabra-Bhitarwar road shortly before the Nun river in 1952, about 7 kms from Pawaya. However, no such information was seen during my visit in 2015, and thus I moved ahead towards Bhitarwar and traversed about 15 more kms before reaching the turn for Dhoomeshwar Temple, from where Pawaya was another 15 kms. But the satisfaction derived from reaching Pawaya and having an opportunity to photograph some of its ruins made up for all the effort as I was on a site which is seldom visited but chronicles one of the most interesting and silent pages of Indian History.

The Pawaya Brick Temple

The approach to remains of the Pawaya temple platform, from Dhoomeshwar entailed crossing the river Parbati (still without a proper bridge), and required good driving skills. The excavated side is situated in a suburb of the ancient city of Padmavati, about 1 km from Pawaya on the north-west and beyond the Parvati river. To reach the excavated temple site, I had to ask several villagers, of whom none seemed to initially know about what we were looking for. After a lot of asking and telling them that the site was protected by the Archaeological department, it was conveyed that there was a platform, which belonged to an earlier temple and which was no longer being used. The onlookers seemed surprised as to why would someone be interested in visiting the desolate platform where nothing actually existed that could seemingly interest. However, as soon as I crossed the river which was still fordable, the mound on which the temple stood was visible. On reaching the platform, a man was seen approaching from a distance. He later introduced himself as the private chaukidar of the place, who was a temporary employee paid at times by the department for the safety of the excavated remains. On  being asked about the frequency of visitors to the place, he mentioned that a very few number of visitors at times reached the place with much difficulty after reading about the place in tourist guide books. But the numbers were very few indeed, since there was hardly any publicity about the site, and even the villagers including him did not know much about its historical importance. Further, the bad roads have made the approach almost inaccessible for any non-adventurist tourists who visit such sites for pure fun and outing. The Dhoomeshwar temple is ideal for such local religious tourists who still visit the place in significant numbers on festive occasions.

Antiquities discovered at Padmavati

The ruined site of Padmavati covers an area of around two square miles. Brick walling is found under ground at several places in the area, and a drive through Pawaya exposes one to several ruined elevated mounds with ancient bricks jutting out from them due to the effect of rains. There is an immense scope still remaining for the spade of an archaeologist to make new and worthwhile discoveries, here at Pawaya. The ruins have also long served as readymade quarries for obtaining building materials by nearby villagers. Garde in his report made for the Gwalior Session of the Indian History Congress held in 1952, has mentioned that parts of the Pawaya fort dating back to the Muhammadan period and all the houses at Pawaya and the adjoining villages of Panchora and Chhidori on the other side of the Sind, were constructed out of bricks quarried from the ruins. Many a structure in the ancient ruins must thus have been destroyed in the past centuries, though there may be manifestly many more which have still survived. During the rains, when the surface earth is washed off, small copper pieces of ancient coinage are still found in the ancient ruins. Garde could collect about 30 Naga coins from the villagers in a single day’s halt.

Story of the Excavations at the Temple Mound

Unexcavated Mounds at Padmavati

The surrounding field was covered with brick bats when the site was first taken up for excavations. The excavations were carried forward in 4 instalments in the years 1925, 1934, 1940 and 1941.

Condition of the ruins around 1915-16:- The Gupta age temple platform at Pawaya which today is the chief tourist attraction, had still not been discovered when Garde wrote his report on the identification of Padmavati for the Annual Report of the ASI in 1915-1916. The Palm capital, now in the Gujari Mahal Museum at Gwalior was found near the temple platform which Garde then called as the ‘brick mound’. The ‘brick mound’ was found to have been tampered at the top, at the point where a small pit and traces of a later platform in which lime mortar and plaster had been used, were visible, indicating that the site had been used for residential purposes in later times. The lower portion of the mound still appeared to be intact. Garde rightly guessed that the mound had possibly been disturbed earlier for purposes of quarrying for building material like other places in Pawaya, and that the existing edifice was only the lower portion of the original. Halfway up the same mound was found lying, a four-sided bracket capital. One of its sides was plain and a dwarf (kichaka) with hands raised was found on each of the three remaining sides. The necks of the dwarfs were adorned with necklaces somewhat in the Gupta style. At that point Garde approximated the remains as representing a Buddhist stupa or a temple with a torana and a column connected with it.

In the field at a short distance from the ‘brick mound’ (Gupta temple) were found fragments of some figural and foliage sculptural remains dating back to the Gupta age. The peasants of Pawaya had collected some broken images mostly in the Gupta style on a kaccha platform towards the north of the village. Among them was the lower portion of a sculpture of the Saptamatrikas and another of Nandi with a human body and a bull’s head. Under a tree was lying a votive stupa of a seated Buddha, with the Buddhist creed in characters of the 7th or 8th century A.D. on the pedestal. Garde mentioned that these fragmentary relics covered a period from the 1st to 8th centuries, while the standing remains at Pawaya dated from a later period. Most prominent among the standing remains then was the fort with a stone ghat, built just in the fork of the Sind and the Parbati.

Excavations of 1924-25 : – Trial excavations were first made at Pawaya in 1924-25 for 6 weeks, in which 100 coolies were employed. The spot selected for the excavation was the same ‘brick mound’ which later led to the discovery of the Gupta age temple. On opening the mound by means of radiating trenches on all four sides, the retaining walls of the big lower platform were revealed. One can surely imagine the amount of speculation and excitement that it must have led to in those times. The uppermost platform was also revealed during the excavation, but the middle platform was still not known. The excavating team could not definitely gauge the purpose of the structure as yet, since even though it looked like a Buddhist stupa in appearance, a well sunk in the centre of the top of the platform and carried right down up to the ground level did not lead to traces of any Buddhist relics. However, an interesting discovery was made this year in the form of fragments of a big lintel of a Torana gateway of the similar type as used in the Stupa at Sanchi, but here with sculptures from Hindu mythology indicating the existence of a Hindu temple on the top of the platform. This was only to be reaffirmed by later excavations. The site was then dated as not later than the early Gupta period on the style of the sculptures and the carvings. Several  pieces of stone sculptures including the water spout in the form of a crocodile’s head which still remains in situ on the eastern face of the brick platform, torso of a female (Height 1’8”x Breadth 13.5”x Thickness 1”), lower part of a pot bellied figure sitting cross legged on a pedestal (Breadth 2’2.5” x Height 2’1” x Thickness 16”), a Triratna or Trisula (Height 2’3”x Breadth 2’1.5” x Thickness 7.5”), end of another lintel with both faces carved with female’s hand holding a twig of a mango tree, conventionally carved lion piece, dwarf bracket lying on top of mound, several other small pieces of stone sculptures and different terra cotta figurines were revealed during this excavation.

Crocodile Water Outlet

Excavations of 1934 : – Some excavations were again carried out in Pawaya in January-February, 1934, but it was only limited to exposing the east face of the temple mound. Some insignificant fragments of stone sculptures and terracotta figures were also recovered.

Different Views of The Pawaya Brick Temple

Excavations of 1940-41: – The largest excavations at Pawaya were thereafter conducted between January and April, 1941. The middle platform was discovered during this excavation. Further it was found that while the top and middle platforms were part of the original structure, the lower platform was actually added later. The purpose of addition of the lower platform seemed peculiar since it was of plain design and was not intended to structurally support the original building which was already in good shape when the third platform may have been added. The bricks of the lowest platform were also found to be better baked indicating a time gap between their constructions. It is hypothesised that the earlier temple which already existed during Naga rule may have been modified during the later Gupta occupation. However, as their foundations were not much different, the time gap must have been presumably less. Interestingly, a few letters found incised on a piece of brick which was of the size of those of the lower platform were assignable to the 5th century A.D., thereby corroborating the transformation of the monument during Gupta rule. That the site was in use for some centuries before that time was confirmed by the discovery of coins of 2nd century B.C., picked up from fields around. Further, a sculpture of Vishnu of Gupta style recovered in the excavations of 1941 also indicated that the temple was dedicated to Vishnu. Good terracotta figurines recovered during these excavations indicated that the art of plastic modelling had developed well in those times.

Important Antiquities of Pawaya

The 4th century Brick Temple Platform – This temple platform which was discovered in the excavations as mentioned above probably represents the remains of the biggest brick temple of the Gupta period. The temple during its existence must have been one of the most magnificent hindu temples of the age, and only confirms the existence of such temples whose Shikharas reflected in the waters of the Sindhu and the Para as referred by Bhavabhuti. The surviving base consisting of three platforms is about 32 feet in height. There are ordinary passages built into this plinth which lead a visitor inside onto the first storey of the temple. The first tier above the plinth is built with pilasters all around, all of bricks. Above this tier are two more tiers. There may have been more tiers as the structure looks pyramidal in shape however those have not survived now. Stairs on two sides lead to the second tier. The remnants of an artistic torana or gateway have been found right at the spot along with remains of the Palm pillar capital. The shrine is surrounded on all sides by wide open space which must have served as the Pradakshina Path or circumambulatory path.

View of The Pawaya Brick Temple

The very size of the base of the erstwhile temple does indicate that the temple must have received a significant number of visitors in the ancient times and that it must have been popular. There must have been some significant legend attached with the temple which seems to have been in use right since the 2nd century B.C. Garde has dated the temple as belonging to the 3rd or 4th century A.D., judging from the decorative pilasters and arches on the faces of the middle and top platforms, whose forms were visibly later than those of pillars and chaitya arches found in cave architecture of the 2nd century A.D., but are definitely earlier than those prevalent in the Gupta architecture of the 5th century A.D. The date is confirmed by the style of the carvings and of the terracotta figurines recovered during the excavations, most of which appear to belong to the earlier monument.

It is estimated that the Padmavati temple represents one of the early stages of temple architecture in ancient India, in which the Sabhamandapa (or hall) and Sikhara (spire) had yet not fully evolved. The temple was estimated to have been a Vishnu Temple due to a stone image of Vishnu recovered during the excavations, which seemed to be of the principal deity. But this conjecture is not supported by other finds among the Saiva representations which are as numerous as the Vaishnava finds. The fragment of the lintel of the doorway seems to again suggest that the temple may have been a Vishnu temple. It also indicates that the gateway of the temple was similar to the gateway of the stupas at Sanchi, and that the main entrance to the temple was from the eastern side, and that the palm capital must have crowned a monolithic pillar which stood in front of the temple.  Another capital of Aditya-Upendra-Indra also must have stood not at a far distance, since it was discovered in a nearby field.

Brick Designs of The Pawaya Brick Temple

A reading of the Malati Madhava also makes me to hazard the guess that this may be the same as the Karala Devi temple. The text indicates that the Karala Devi temple was quite near to the Shamsan ghat i.e. cremation ground. The cremation ground might not have been very far from the temple site since the Parvati river flows nearby. There are also indications that while the temple of Karala Devi was at a distance and isolated from the main township of Pawaya, it was indeed one of the most frequented and popular temples. Further excavations at Pawaya may further confirm the nature of the temple.

Panels near the doorway at The Pawaya Brick Temple

Garde has described that the temple was constructed in two stages. The original temple was probably constructed in the second half of the 3rd century A.D. or in the first half of the 4th century A.D., in the reign of one of the Naga kings who seems to have been represented by an almost life size stone statue found in the excavations. The latter addition was probably made in the 5th century A.D. It is difficult to exactly say why an ornamentally constructed temple was afterwards encased within a box of plain masonry, since it doesn’t seem to have been done as necessitated by the exigencies of engineering.

Fragment of Sculpture lying at The Pawaya Brick Temple

During the operations of excavation a portion of the lower platform was removed in order to find out the complete design of the face of the middle platform. Later, this portion was kept open for visitors and a door was constructed with flights of steps constructed at the appropriate places, and thus I was fortunate to enter the temple premises from this very opening possibly made during the excavations in 1941. Garde has cautioned that these were measures taken by the Archaeological department and should not be taken as original features of the excavated temple. As one enters from the opening, one can seen two panels in the platform which perhaps may have held stone or terracotta images in the past. Remnants of some lifesize stone sculpture were still seen lying in situ. No information was available at the site regarding the origin of these sculptures. I was left guessing whether they were the same as those mentioned in the excavation reports of 1924-25 and 1940-1941, or whether they were discovered and placed there later.

Map of Padmavati (Source – Padmavati, M.B. Garde, Indian History Congress, 1952, Gwalior)

Among the Stone sculptures, the following are the most important:

  1. Yaksha Manibhadra
  2. Palm Capital
  3. Double Faced Sun Capital
  4. Vishnu
  5. Naga Image of Possible King
  6. Piece of huge lintel of a gateway dating back to Gupta age.

All of these with the exception of the statue of Manibhadra are dated in the Gupta period. All are now preserved in the Gujari Mahal Museum.

Yaksha Manibhadra (Now at Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior)

Yaksha Manibhadra Image (1st/2nd Century A.D.) : When Garde surveyed Pawaya around 1915-16, lying scattered among the ruins were various sculptures ranging in date from the 1st or 2nd century A.D. to the late Gupta period. The most interesting of them was the image of Yaksha Manibhadra, now housed in the Gwalior Gujari Mahal Museum, which was then found lying in a field at a short distance from the gate of the fort, which was turned up by the plough in or around 1911-12. The pedestal of the image has an inscription in Sanskrit in the Brahmi characters of the 1st or 2nd century A.D. This date is also brought about by the style of the sculpture. The inscription in 6 lines records the installation of the image of Manibhadra on the 12th day and of the 2nd fortnight of summer in the year 4, during the rule of King Sivanandi, by the members of an assembly, devoted to the deity. King Sivanandi to whose reign the inscription refers itself is not clearly known. K.P. Jayaswal has suggested him as having been one of the ancient Nagas who ruled Padmavati and nearby areas just before the advent of the Kushanas in the 1st century A.D. The detailed history of the Nagas is discussed later in this article.

The sculpture is of white sand stone and represents an image of Manibhadra, standing on a pedestal, with height from neck to foot as 4’10”, and dresses with a waist cloth and a scarf. The head however, is missing, and in other aspects also the image is somewhat mutilated. The right hand is broken off from the elbow and a portion of the arm is also chipped. From the position of what is left, it appears that the hand was raised upto the shoulder. The left hand is lowered and is grasping a money bag. Only a small portion of it is broken. A well defined fold of flesh is portrayed around the throat and another fold below the chest, in a conventional manner. The scarf or the upper garment has one of its ends wrapped around the left arm and the other end crosses the fore-arm and hangs behind in folds. The sacred thread passes across the belly. The ornaments comprise a rich necklace, an armlet on the right arm, and a bracelet on the left wrist. This image has survived as a relic of the Yaksha worship prevalent in those early times.

Palm Capital

Palm Capital of Padmavati : Another interesting sculpture which was discovered before the report of 1915-16 is a monolithic palm-capital, now housed in the Gwalior Gujari Mahal Museum. Once a capital of some high pillar standing at Pawaya, it was found lying at the bottom of the eastern side of the temple platform mound. The sculpture is of white sand stone fairly well polished on the surface. The capital is shaped as a cylinder tapering towards the top, covered with three courses of palm leaves, with a closed bud at the top and bunches of fruit in the intervals between the leaves. The top-bud and the uppermost course of leaves point upwards while the other two courses point downwards. A lion rampant is seated on a leaf in the lowermost course. The capital is in a mutilated condition, the preserved portion measuring 5’3” in length. The pointed top of the bud, many of its leaves, the head of the lion and the base of the capital were found as broken away. The base was however, sufficiently preserved to show a circular mortice indicating that the capital must have once crowned a pillar. Pieces of a similar palm capital were found at Vidisha, which are also preserved in the Gwalior Museum.

Fragment of Lintel of Doorway (Now at Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior)

Fragment of Gateway Lintel: Discovered during the excavations of 1924-25, near the temple platform, both faces of the lintel are beautifully carved, depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, and a dance accompanied by music. The mythological subjects represented include the sacrifice of the demon king Bali, the taking of the three strides by Vishnu, the churning of the oceans by gods and demons, and the six faced Kartikeya standing surrounded by attendants. On one face the central scene depicts Bali’s sacrifice in a three storeyed Yajnasala or sacrificial hall. On the ground floor of the hall are shown the sacrificial fire, the beast to be sacrificed tied to a post, and Bali accompanied by queen and priests, sitting beside the fire. In the right corner is carved Bali pouring water on the hand of Vishnu in his Vamana (dwarf) avatar. Inset in panels on the two upper storeys, are ladies witnessing the sacrifice. In the panel flanking the right which is half broken, is the figure of Vishnu who has assumed a huge form and is taking the three strides. In the upper left corner of this panel is seen the moon-god in a chariot drawn by stags. The panel flanking on the left contains a charming scene depicting a woman dancing amidst a troupe of woman companions playing on different instruments such as Vina, violin, flute, drum and cymbals. The scene full of life serves as a tribute to the sculptor’s excellence in art of those times.

Aditya Upendra Indra (Now at Gujari Mahal Museum, Gwalior)

Capital of Aditya-upendra-Indra: The capital of aditya-upendra-indra also must have stood not at a far distance from the temple platform, since it was discovered in a nearby field. The two faces standing back to back may have represented the morning and the evening sun which have a halo or wheel in between. A similar capital is seen at the top of the Gupta pillar still standing at Eran.

Vishnu Idol –The Vishnu idol is four armed, with the head and crown as damaged. This is guessed by Garde to have been the image of the principal deity. Though housed in the museum, I could not notice this during my visit.

The Naga sculpture: The Naga sculpture is a life size figure, now badly damaged with the face, hands and legs having broken off. A serpent which held its seven hoods as a canopy over the head of the statue is also badly mutilated. The dress consists of a close fitting waist cloth and a folded scarf tied round the waist. The ear rings and necklace traces of which are seen clearly indicate that the statue represents a distinguished personage probably a Naga king who was the builder or donor of the temple. Though housed in the museum, I could not notice this during my visit.

Image of Naga  (Source – Padmavati, M.B. Garde, Indian History Congress, 1952, Gwalior)

Pawaya Terracotta

Terracotta found at Pawaya are considered among the most beautiful from the artistic point of view. These are among the best examples of the Naga and Gupta art. These mostly consist of remains of images in form of heads of various human figures and thus the most noticeable features are their hair styles and expressions. There are also many images of animals and birds. All these terracotta are displayed in the Gujari Mahal Museum at Gwalior.

Other Historical Remains at Pawaya

Muhammadan Tomb

The Muhammadan occupation of Pawaya is evident by the presence of the remains of at least 5 maqbaras and a mosque apart from less important ruins standing within a mile’s distance of the village and appearing to be of the early Mughal period. The largest building above ground is the fort believed to have been erected by Safdar Khan, a governor of Sikandar Lodhi in 1512 A.D. It is picturesquely situated overlooking the Sindh river and covers the eastern portion of the ancient city site. A bathing ghat probably built along with the fort, lies all but buried in silt near the spot where Madhava and his friend Makaranda had a dip in the waters of the confluence of the Para and the Sindhu. A modern temple known as Satesvara Mahadeva stands on the sloping ground a short distance from the ghat. Outside the entrance of the fort is a small modern shrine sacred to a Goddess. Some fragments of old sculptures were seen stacked nearby by Garde, who estimated it to be same as the Karala Devi temple mentioned by the ancient poet. A short distance to the north-east of the fort there are the ruins of a small mosque and some tombs, on the top of a mound which overlooks the river Parvati. This was estimated by Garde as being the spot where the Vihara or Buddhist monastery referred to in the Sarasvati-kanthabharana stood. The same work mentions that a holy grove known as Phanipati (i.e. Naga) vana lay beyond the river Sindhu, and that a tall hill or mountain stood yonder. Garde guessed that the mountain could be the Sonagir hill nearby which is still used as a site for Jain pilgrimage.

Dhoomeshwar Mahadeo Temple

Built by Bir Singh Deo in the early 17th century, the Dhoomeshwar Mahadeo temple about 3 kms from Pawaya is magnificent building of stone, brick and mortar, set on a high stone plinth and approached by flights of steps from three sides. The temple faces approximately east and comprises a sanctum, an antarala, a sabha mandapa and an entrance porch. The mandapa is divided into a nave and two aisles and is a two storeyed building surmounted by a dome. The cell is crowned by a spire, and the porch by a roof in the Bengal style.

 Dhoomeshwar Mahadeo Temple

Sindhu Waterfall referred by Bhavabhuti

In the bed of the stream below and overlooking the waterfall is a solid building locally known as Nauchauki, traditionally believed to date from the time of Prithviraja Chauhan, though seemingly built at the same time as the Dhoomeshwar temple. The platform offers a panoramic view of the pleasant surrounds and may have served as a pleasure spot for the ruling principalities of Padmavati. The waterfall has already been described as one of the characteristics of Padmavati in Malati Madhava Prakaranam.

Bhavabhuti’s referred Waterfall on the River Sindh at Padmavati

Site of Suvarnabindu referred by Bhavabhuti

The confluence of the rivers Sindhu and Madhumati lies halfway between Pawaya and Sonagir. The sacred spot Suvarnabindu is still marked by a Shiva Lingam on a platform. A small platform supporting a stone lingam and probably marking the site of Suvarnabindu in the Malti Madhava is located 2 miles to the east of Pawaya on the confluence of the Sind and the Mahuar. I could not visit this site of Suvarnabindu during my visit since the road conditions were too bad to cover it in the short duration of my visit.

History of Padmavati

The Khajuraho inscription assigns the foundation of Padmavati sometime between the Krita and Treta yugas to a king of the Padma dynasty, which appears to be mythical. Some coins of the 2nd century B.C. have been picked up from the ruins. But the history of this place can certainly be traced back from the 1st century A.D., which is the time of the oldest inscription recovered from the pedestal of the Yaksha Manibhadra image. Towards the end of the 2nd century A.D., when the power of the Kushan empire declined, the Nagas regained independence and ruled at Padmavati during the 3rd and 4th century, wielding considerable power and influence. Their kingdoms extended as far as Mathura in the North and Vidisha in the south. They are said to have performed ten horse-sacrifices. A detailed discussion on the History of the ancient Nagas has been appended with this article.

Bhava Naga who ruled around circa 305-340 A.D. had made matrimonial alliance with Vakatakas and was the maternal grandfather of Rudrasena I. The Vayu Purana tells us that nine Nagas ruled at Champavati or Padmavati and seven Nagas at Mathura, but does not mention any names. The Vishnu Purana simply states that Nagas ruled at Padmavati, Kantipuri and Mathura. Of these Kantipuri has been identified as the modern village of Kotwal or Kutwar situated about 75 miles to the north-east of Padmavati and almost the same distance to the south of Mathura. These three places are too near each other to be capitals of three different Naga dynasties. The coins found at Mathura and Kantipuri mostly belong to Ganapati Naga while the coins found at Padmavati represent more than 9 names of different Naga kings. These facts perhaps indicate that in this part of the country there was a single Naga kingdom with its capital at Padmavati and that Mathura, Kantipuri and Vidisha where Naga coins have been found were only important places in the Naga territories.

The ruins of Padmavati viewed from The Pawaya Brick Temple

Ganapati was the last Naga king, who was defeated and uprooted by Samudragupta. The Naga dynasty came to an end about the middle of the 4th century and their kingdom at Padmavati became part of the Gupta empire. If, as is possible, Bhavabuti’s description of the city of Padmavati was in Bhavabhuti’s time, Padmavati was still the capital of a kingdom and a place of cultural and religious importance in the 8th century. It had perhaps a University which could attract students from distant provinces such as Vidarbha. Buddhists lived there side by side with the followers of the Shaivite sect of the Kapalikas. It is still regarded as a holy place and is referred to as Padmavati Kshetra by local priests in religious ceremonies.

Muhammadan Tomb

During the medieval period, Pawaya was under the sway of various Rajput and Muhammadan dynasties who ruled over Narwar. But no relics have survived or excavated so far to tell us the history of Padmavati during the period between the 5th and 16th centuries.  In 1506, Sikandar Lodhi conquered Narwar and Pawaya became the headquarters of a district. Safdar Khan who was perhaps the first Governor of Pawaya built the present fort at Pawaya in 1512 A.D. and called it Askandarabad (After the name of his master), as is recorded in a Persian inscription found at Pawaya, mentions Garde. The remains of a number of maqbaras and mosques seen in the neighbourhood of Pawaya are the vestiges of the regime which seems to have continued for quite some time. Jahangir conferred this tract to the Bundela king Bir Singh Deo of Orchha, who was his fast friend. It was Bir Singh Deo, who built the present temple of Dhoomeshwar Mahadeo, which stand on the bank of the Sindh river near the water-fall alluded to by Bhava Bhuti. From the middle of the 18th century, Pawaya was included in the dominion of the Scindhias and is now in Gwalior district of Madhya Pradesh.

Board of the Archaeological Department


The site of Padmavati, which once served as the capital of the mighty Naga dynasty, has been largely forgotten by tourists as well as locals. The site of the ancient citadel is now almost occupied by the present village Pawaya and the ruins of a Muhammadan fort. But the surrounding area is studded with brick bats, potsherds and other indications of ancient habitation from which it is clear that the boundaries of the ancient city extended for some distance to the west, and to the north even beyond the river Parvati. Since the bricks have been quarried for generations, and since ruins of brick structures where pits are taken are exposed in many places, the village is also locally known as Pol Pawaya or hollow Pawaya. Although the ancient structures have been largely tampered with and mostly for purposes of quarrying bricks for newer constructions, several remains which still lie concealed underneath, hold a lot of promise for further excavations. A proper excavation of Pawaya is sure to deliver riches and a better understanding of the history of the Nagas and the Guptas apart from other dynasties  of ancient and medieval India.

Panel of  Dhoomeshwar Mahadeo Temple


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