Toranas, Brackets and Mughal-Rajput Arches through Time

Culture is a dynamic process which continuously evolves and changes through interaction with other cultures, climate change and political and economic shifts. However, in most cases we do not appreciate the dynamic nature of culture and instead stick to our own ideas believing that they are supreme and pure. By doing so, we don’t appreciate how other cultures and ideas have influenced on our own ideas and vice versa. This leads to conflict and disrespect for others.

Architecture is a tangible way to show how ideas evolved, refined and influenced other cultures in Indian context. Torana is a type of gateway in Hindu-Buddhist-Jain architecture of Indian Sub-continent. But its influence in Islamic and later Mughal architecture is noteworthy.

Toranas in Hindu and Buddhist architecture are believed to bring good fortune and signify auspicious and festive occasions. The earliest architectural evidence of torana dates back to Sanchi Stupa in 2nd century BC. The Sanchi torana is an imitation of timber and brick construction in stone, which was a popular feature in Ancient Indian architecture.

As time progressed, torana was adopted in Hindu temples with makaras (crocodile) sculptures on base at both ends. Makara is a sea creature. It appears as the vahana of the River Goddess Ganga and of the Sea God Varuna.

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Depiction of Varuna God in Rajarani Temple, Bhubaneswar

Makara is also considered as guardian of gateways (torana). An interesting feature of the Makara torana is that it is artfully designed to suggest if the doorway is held afloat, at either end, by the extended snouts of two makaras.

In Gujarat and Central India, depiction of Makara torana was a prominent feature in the 11th century. The best example of it can be found at Sun Temple in Modhera and Kandariya Mahadev Temple at Khajuraho.

In 14th Century AD, Gujarat became a seat of Islamic power under Delhi Sultanate. Several mosques were built of this new faith in Gujarat. One of these is the Jama Masjid in the port town of Khambhat featuring a Makara torana. Most probably it was recycled from an abandoned Hindu temple as in Islam depiction of animals are restricted. However, a century later at Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad we see an earliest form of torana in its true Islamic adaptation.

In Malwa and Bundelkhand, which were already strongholds of Hindu temples, a hybrid variety of slender serpentine brackets evolved in the 15th century. Its best examples are found among monuments of Chanderi.

These brackets formed into ornamental toranas in Gwalior Fort and then adopted in Mughal buildings at Fatehpur Sikri.

At Bundi, in southeast Rajasthan, these further evolved into torana arch.

The earlier variety of Makara torana further evolved into arch in the Mughal and Rajput monuments forming one of the most splendid features of Indian architecture.

Makara Torana and torana inspired arches in Indian art silently tell the story of India, a civilization that is strongly rooted in fusion of ideas representing different cultures and religions.

India as an idea has always been dynamic and open to experimentation. Today when some vested groups are trying to divide us on the basis of religions and castes, the meaningful interpretation of visual history of India can act as a bridge bringing communities together irrespective of their castes and religions.   img_3772-copy

Heritage of Gyraspur – A Forgotten Jewel on Trade Routes

In Indian history, the Guptas were known to have founded India’s classical civilisation. Their rule lasted for two hundred years till the 5th century AD. The seeds sown by the Guptas started wearing fruits from the 7th century onward with the rise of Pratihara power in Central India.

It was the time of pre-Islamic India with temple building activities reaching an all-time high. Trade was at peak with merchants and trade guilds travelling across the sub-continent and overseas. A major chunk of traders were Jains who played a vital role mobilising trade goods and wealth generation. A share of their wealth was spent on building beautiful temples. Hindus lived side by side and also contributed in temple building. Buddhism was at its last leg of presence in India. Several urban centres or to be more specific trading towns had emerged on trade routes. These flourished mainly due to the political stability under the Pratiharas between 7th and 11th century AD.

One of these centres is Gyraspur, a small village today located on a gorge of some low steep hills of Vindyan range near Vidisha. It was situated on Vidisha – Kosambi (near Allahabad) trade route via Eran. Gyraspur derives its name from a festival that was held in the Medieval Period during the 11th month (or gyaras) of the Hindu calendar.

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Among the temples of Gyraspur, the Maladevi Temple (9th century AD) constructed on the slope of a hill overlooking the gorge is noteworthy. The temple built in the Pratihara style (http://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/temples-of-pratihara-period-in-central-india-IDJ478/) is partly rock-cut and partly structural.

The temple has combination of Hindu and Jain deities. Some Svetambara Jains believe that this temple belonged to Malanath, a woman Tirtankara.

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The figure of a goddess resembling Goddess Durga in the door jamb however indicates of its association with Shakti cult.

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The Bajra Math Temple located near the bus-stand is yet interesting monument of the village. Built in the 10th century AD it is an example of triple shrine. Its central shrine is dedicated to Surya and there are images of Vishnu and Shiva as well. However, like Maladevi Temple here too we find images of stand-alone Jain Tirtankaras inside.

The Atakhamba or Eight Pillars are the remains of once magnificent temple. Its pillars are exquisitely carved. Another draw of this temple is the Makara Torana in a typical late Praitihara style.  There are also depiction of Shiva, Vishnu and dancing Ganesh.

The last but not the least is the signature structure of Gyraspur – the Hindola Torana or the entrance arch to either a Vishnu or a Shiva Temple.

To sum up, the architectural ruins of Gyraspur leave us with more questions than answers.

Some of these questions are:

  1. What was the society like at Gyraspur during its hey days?

  2. Why do we see both Hindu and Jain images together in its monuments?

  3. How and why did Gyraspur decline?

  4. What happened to people who lived here and contributed?

These are some of basic questions which can also be applied to other similar heritage towns.