Yashwant. K. Malaiya
Fort Collins Colorado, USA
Kundalpur is a famous tirtha in Damoh district in Madhya Pradesh. It is about 20 miles North East of Damoh. In the past several decades it has become a very popular tirtha that attracts pilgrims from all over India. This article traces the history of its emergence as a major tirtha during the past 300 years.
The nuclear temple in Kundalpur contains a very large and impressive idol about 12 feet tall, which is affectionately termed Bade Baba. There are many legends about the Bade Baba idol and several miracles are attributed to it. The compound of the main temple is enclosed within tall walls like a fortress. There are several other temples within this compound. There are numerous other temples on the same hill, which is covered by a forest of teak trees. The name “Kundalpur” is said to be derived from the shape of the semicircular hill. There are many temples also at the bottom of the hill besides a beautiful lake named Vardhmana Sagar. Kundalpur has a very picturesque and peaceful setting.
There is small cell-like shrine near the lake, which may have been constructed in the Gupta period. It is now under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India. With the exception of his shrine, the Bade Baba temple is the oldest temple in the tirtha. The idol of Bade Baba has been estimated to be from 6th century AD by some scholars.
The history of the main temple is shrouded in mystery. Nothing is known about the name of its builder or the exact time it was built. There are several legends about the rediscovery of the idol. One fascinating legend is that the idol was discovered by a trader from Patera (nearby village about 2 miles from Kundalpur). He was divinely instructed to load the idol on a bullock-cart so that he can take it to Patera, but along the way he should not look back at the idol. However while passing over a hill, the trader could not control himself and turned back to take a glance. The idol then refused to budge and hence since has stayed on the hill.
A legend of historical significance is recorded in the Shri Bharatvarshiya Digambar Jain Directory published in 1914 AD 1. The work on the directory was initiated in 1907. This account represents the earliest of the modern publications about the Kundalpur tirtha. The account mentions that a Bhattaraka named Mahendrakirtiji was visiting Hindoria (about 11 miles from Kundalpur). He wanted to visit the ruins of Viratanagar nearby. He lost his way and found himself in Patera. The Bhattarakaji had taken a vrata that he would not eat until he had had a darshan of a Jina idol. At that time there was no temple in Patera. He has to fast for two days. The third night he saw in a dream that in a cave on a mount, there is an immense idol. The next morning he asked the shravakas in the villager, but they know nothing about such an idol. Luckily an old Adivasi, who used to wander around in the forests, remembered having seen this place and took the Bhattarakji there. The Bhattarakji was delighted. He has the forest growth and the rubble cleared and entered the temple, which had become like a wild cave. Thus the ancient temple ws brought to light again.
Sometime shortly after the discovery, the Bundela king Chhatrasal, who was hiding out in the forests from the Mughal army, visited the temple. He was impressed by the temple and the discourses of the Bhattarakaji. Later eventually he established his capital at Panna. He then had the temple restored and he donated chhatra, chamar and other implements to the temple. Maharaja Chhatrasal had an annual fair started at Kundalpur. Thus Bhattaraka Mahendrakirti and Maharaja Chhatrasal are jointly credited with restoring fame to Kundalpur.
This account in the BDJ Directory is supported by significant historical evidence. In the main temple there is no inscription on the pedestal of the idol of Bade Baba. However on the left side of the door there is an inscription which has 10 verses followed by some prose. An translation is given here.
Om Namah Siddhebhyah.
Year of Samvat 1757, magh sudi 15, on Monday.
1-2: In year 1757 of Vikrama, Magh sudi 15 Monday, during Magha Nakshatra, the temple of Lord Vardhaman, the teacher of the world, was completed.
3-4: In Mulasangh- Balatkaragan,-Sarasvatigachcha, in the anvaya of Kunadakunda, lord of the monks, there was great monk Yashakirti, wise, ocean of virtues, who was worshipped by the entire sangha.
5. His successor was Lalitakirti, wise, learned in the Jain scriptures, having retired from world, wearing the garb of the Jina, whose feet were worshipped by the Indras.
6. His successor was Dharmakirti, the author of Ramadevapurana, steadfast in Jain Dharma, embodiment of knowledge, who gave valuable discourses.
7. His successor was Padmakirti, brilliant like the sun, deep like the ocean, who had conquered his senses, who was like a bridge to cross the worldly ocean.
8. His successor was Surendrakriti, who was virtuous, who had traversed the forest of words, (i.e. literature) who was a great tapasvi with kindness in his heart.
9-10. His pupil --- (the name is not clearly read) had the auspicious temple of Lord Mahavira restored using funds raised from shravakas, as asked by his guru Surendrakirti on seeing the ruined but beautiful shrine; so that the Dharma will be renewed and will grow.
Prose part 1: When Dharmasagar, having finished his life in Mandirtila (?) village, went to heaven and some of the vedis in the shrine were not yet finished; then his pupil, the learned Brahmachari Namisagar had the vedis etc finished and had this dated inscription installed.
Prose part 2: The shrine has been built during the rule of Chhatrasal, the ruler of rulers, the descendant of the Gaharvar kings of Kashi, glorious like the sun, conqueror of great rulers, with strong arms and who can discuss the scriptures of the six philosophies. May it be auspicious.
The first line of verse 10 has not been clearly read. The reading in the BDJ Directory 1 is “(shu)chi brahma …ra” where as in other readings 2 it is “suchandra …”. We thus do not know the exact name of the person who initiated the work, except that he was a pupil of Bhattaraka Surendrakirti. It is possible that the inscription was “Brahma-Dharmasagar”. “Brahma” was a popular short form of brahmachari. It was a common term for scholars who were pupils of bhattarakas.
The valuable gifts of Chhatrasal including chhatra and chamar made of gold and silver were plundered during the disturbances of the Ghadar of 1857AD. Some of the brass utensils including a massive ghanta (gong) bearing his name were still present in the storage some time ago 1.
The Bhattarakas mentioned in the inscription belong to the Chanderi Patta of Balatkaragana-Sarasvati Gachchha 3,4. The seat at Chanderi (Dist. Guna) was established by Devendrakirti in Samvat 1473. At that time Chanderi already had been a major Jain center for many centuries. Around this time the local administration of Chanderi had come in the hands of a Khandelwal Jain family from Rajasthan. This family continued to have the hereditary chaudhari title right until the end of the Maratha (Scindhia) rule. The bhattarakas of Chanderi generally came from the Parvar community who are numerous around Chanderi 5. The Chanderi seat has been referred to as the Jerahat seat by Dr. Joharapurkar 6.
The lineage of the bhattarakas of the Chanderi seat is given below. Note that Devendrakirti was one of the several pupils of Bhattaraka Padmanandi of Delhi Patta.
Devendrakirti (Chanderi Mandalacharya)
Bhattarak Surendrakirti was tenth in line from Devendrakirti. He had presided over sevaral pratishthas. Several available contemporary inscriptions of sam. 1744 and 1746 mention him. Pandit Phoolchandra Siddhantashastri has written that Surendrakirti may have been the last bhattaraka of Chanderi 7. However he points out that the Bhattaraka seat at Sironj, a branch of the Chanderi seat continued for another century 8.
Bhattaraka Mahendrakirti of Kundalpur & Hirdaynagar
Bhattaraka Mahendrakirti mentioned in the BDJ Directory account is a historic person. Several idols in the region mention him as the presiding Bhattaraka. He is specially associated with the Pateriaji Tirth temple 9 where idols installed by him in sam. 1839 and 1844 are present. The temple at Pateriaji is also thought to have been his residence, at least for some time. There was a gaddi (seat) in a room of the temple signifying official residence of the Bhattaraka. According to the legends, some miraculous events at Pateriaji are associated with him. During the pratishtha of sam. 1939, a kunda (well) was dug according to his instructions. The water of that kund had miraculously turned into ghee. A column near Pateriaji temple is said to have been blessed by Mahendrakirti. It is believed that embracing the column cures fevers.
In Chhatarpur, three brass idols of sam 1835, a Parshvanath idol in the crown of goddess Padmavati, a meru with 16 Jinas and a manastambha, mention installation by Mahendrakirti 10.
It is clear that Bhattaraka Surendrakirti was the reigning Bhattaraka when the temple at Kundalpur was rediscovered and rebuilt. Thus Mahendrakirti cannot be the Bhattaraka who discovered the temple. It may have been Bhatttaraka Surendrakirti himself who had discovered the Kundalpur temple, or it may have been one his pupils, perhaps Brahma Dharmasagar.
The Kundalpur region was once in the domain of the Kalachuri kings. Jainism was quite popular during the long Kalachuri rule, many Jain idols from the Kalachuri period have been found. However after the Kalchuri rule, very few Jains stayed in the region. Jain temples were abandoned and forgotten. After the Kalchuris, the power passed to the Gond kings. The Bundela king Chhatrasal wrested this region from the Gonds. Before his death in sam. 1787, he bequeathed a two-thirds of his lands to his two sons and and one third to the Peshwa (leader of the Maratha confederacy). As a result around sam. 1787 the region came under Maratha rule. Many of the administrators who came with the Maratha forces were from the Jain communities of the Bundelkhand region. Enforcement of a single administration over a wide geographic area encouraged many Jains to emigrate to Damoh-Jabalpur region.
The shift in trading activity may have caused decline of Chanderi as a commercial center, which may have caused the decline of the prestige of the Chanderi seat. In any case, increasing numbers of Jains settling in Damoh-Jabalpur region caused rekindling of religious activity in the region.
While Bhattaraka Mahendrakirti may not have been the person to discover or rebuild the Kundalpur temple, it does seem that he was responsible for transforming Kundalpur into a major tirtha. He probably spent prolonged periods in both Garhakota (formerly called Hirdaynagar named after Bundela ruler Hirdeshah, son of Maharaja Chhatrasal). The BDJ Directory gives a complete list of temples at Kundalpur with the names and towns of the builders. It mentions that some of the builders at Kundalpur lived in Hirdaynagar. Thus it appears that both Kundalpur and Hirdaynagar were both in the domain of Bhattaraka Mahendrakirti. In Kundalpur, traditionally the first temple on the hill visited is called the Chhaigaria temple. It was built by Maniram Chhaigaria of Hirdaynagar. Pt. Mohanlal Kavyatirth 11 estimated that it might have been built about 250 years ago. It contains two charana-padukas in addition to 9 idols 1. Maniram Chhaigaria also built another shrine containing another charan-paduka. It is believed that the charan-padukas represent the bhattarakas who administered over the Kundalpur region. It is likely that one of them belongs to Bhattaraka Mahendrakirti.
None of inscriptions mentioning Mahendrakirti give the name of his predecessor, with the exception of a vijay-meru at Kundalpur dated sam 1842 1. It mentions bhattarakas Mahendrakirti and Surendrakirti. It appears that Mahendrakirti was successor of a Bhattaraka named Surendrakirti. There are two inscriptions mentioning a Bhattaraka Surendrakirti of sam. 1833, one in Chanderi, the other in Kundalpur 8. Both are identical metal idols of Lord Chandraprabh. It is unlikely this Surendrakirti was the same Surendrakirti mentioned in Br. Namisagar inscription of sam. 1757, because that would make his duration from sam. 1744-1833, an unusually long duration. It seems that the Surendrakirti of sam. 1833 was actually Surendrakirti of Chittor-Amer-Jaipur seat 12. Manju Chaudhari, a Parwar shravak born in Bundelkhand, had risen to become representative of the Maratha Bhonsle court of Nagpur in Orissa in sam. 1807 13. In sam. 1836 he had invited a Bhattaraka Surendrakirti to Katak where he had composed Jyeshta-Jinavar-Puja-Vrata-Katha. This Surendrakirti is considered by Dr. Jyotiprasad Jain to be a Bhattaraka of Chittor-Amer-Jaipur seat.. It is possible that Bhattaraka Mahendrakirti was a pupil of this Surendrakirti, who had arrived with his guru but had stayed in Garhakota-Kundalpur area to fill the vacuum created by the decline of the Chanderi bhattarakas. Nothing is known about any successors to Bhattaraka Mahendrakirti. Further research is needed to identify the predecessor and the successors of Bhattaraka Mahendrakirti with certainty.
It should be noted that another Mahendrakirti belonged to the Chittor-Amer-Jaipur line of Balatkargana-Sarasvatigachchha was inaugurated Bhattaraka at Delhi in sam. 1792. He was succeeded by Kshemendrakirti in 1815. This Mahendrakirti cannot be thus the Mahendrakirti of Kundalpur and two Bhattarakas are distinct.
Bhagbali Pande of Chhatarpur
Four very early shrines of the post-reconstruction period at Kundalpur were built by legendary Bhagbali Pande of Chhatarpur 11. Three of the temples contain undated idols of local sandstone, and one of them contains an idol installed by Jivaraj Papdival. One of his temples is on the west side of the lake near the Jal-Mandir. No detailed information about Bhagbali Pande is available. While I have not come across an inscription mentioning him, some old manuscripts still preserved in Chhatarpur mentioned that they were written for him. According to the tradition he was an accomplished scholar and author. His title Pande (Sanskrit Pandit) reflects his scholarly background.
Several miracles are mentioned about him 10. It is said that he could make his palki move without any kahars (palanquin bearers). One time during a drought he had caused rain to happen using the power of his mantras. Kamal Kumar Jain 10 mentions that a memorial platform in Chhatarpur named after Chhatrasal; built by Chhatrasal himself was founded during the time of Bhagbali Pande. He is also said to have been respected by Chhatrasal’s court. Bhagbali Pande and an associate named Balkishun lived in Chhatarpur on Dera Pahari, where five temples built by him still stand. The traditional accounts of Bhagbali Pande would suggest that he was somewhat like a bhattaraka, however no information has been found that would associate him with a known bhattaraka seat.
The Bade Baba Temple
The massive idol of Lord Bade Baba in padmasan is carved of red sandstone. The essential components of the idol, the simhasan, the chhatra, the two indras bearing chamar, two flying gandharvas bearing flower garlands and the Lord Jina himself, each are carved out of separate block of stone. On both sides of the idol are two massive Parshvanath idols in kayotsargasana. Building this temple must have been a major engineering accomplishment.
The Bade Baba idol does not have a lanchhan (mark) that would identify him as a specific Tirthankara. There has been a common convention that an unmarked idol is regarded to be of Lord Mahavira. The idol was assumed to be that of lord Mahavira right after discovery, as the inscription by Brahmachari Namisagar indicates. About three decades ago, Niraj Jain observed that the carving right below the ears of the idol actually represents locks of hair 14. The simhasana (seat) is flanked by a yaksha and a yakshini on the two sides. The yaksha with a bull-like head is easily identified as the Gomukha yaksha and the yakshini bearing a chakra is clearly Chakreshwari. Both of them are associated with Lord Adinath and not Lord Mahavira. Based on the locks of hair, Gomukha yaksha and goddess Chakreshwari he concluded that the idol is obviously of Lord Adinath. It is now accepted that idol is indeed that of the first Jina.
When the temple was discovered, significant parts of the structure must have fallen, partially blocking the entrance. With Maharaja Chhatrasal’s support it was reconstructed with a tall shikhar and a raised enclosed courtyard (baradari) in the front. A few years ago, the plaster of the main shikhar was temporarily removed for restoration. That revealed the construction if the three storied shikhara. It was made up of blocks of stone. The shikhar had a rectangular shape, somewhat similar to the temples of Devgarh.
The courtyard of the temple is on a raised platform, however the floor of the garbhagrah (main chamber) is approximately the same level as the ground level of the compound. Thus one has to climb a few steps to go up to the platform and then climb down a few steps to enter the garbhagrah. It has been a mystery why the courtyard is built on such a high platform. The answer to the mystery has been found recently. The temple is undergoing significant reconstruction and in the process the sides of the platform have been exposed. It appears that the platform consists of the rubble, presumably from the original construction. We can thus conclude that during Chhatrasal’s reconstruction, the large amount of rubble in the front was built into a platform, and an enclosed compound was built on the top.
Because of numerous miracles reported at Kundalpur, it was regarded to be an Atishaya Kshetra. A few decades ago it has been identified as a Siddhakshetra also 2. Tiloyapannati mentions Kundalgiri as the nirvana site of Kevali Shridhar Swami:
kundala girimmi charimo kevalananeesu siridharo siddho ||1479||
There has been a small charan-chinha (footprints) installed in front of the main temple under an old chhatri, but no attention had been paid to it. In 1967 AD, Pandit Jaganmohanlal Shastri and others carefully examined the charana-chinha and found the inscription “kundalagirau shri shridhara svamy” on it. After this discovery, Kundalpur came to be regard as a Siddhakshetra.
Several gajarath pratishthas with festivals have been held at Kundalpur. There are many idols that were installed in years sam. 1861, 1888, 1889, 1935, 1948 and 1958. These are likely to have been installed locally at Kundalpur. There are about twenty idols at Kundalpur installed by Jivaraj Papdival in year 1548. There were installed under supervision of Bhattaraka Jinachandra at Mudasa. From Mudasa they had been taken all over India and are now found in thousands of temples. Jinachandra’s predecessor Shubhachandra was a guru-bhai of Bhattaraka Devendrakirti of Chanderi, both being pupils of Bhattaraka Padmanandi 15. In the past, idols and property of several temples in the region had been transferred to Kundalpur including one from Raneh (sam. 1995), one from Salaiya and two from Hatta 11.
For a long duration the tirtha was administered by the shravakas of nearby town Patera, led by Badkur Ramlalji. In the twentieth century, better transportation allowed the shravakas of Damoh to get involved. A committee has since then administered the tirtha. Seth Vrindavan Nathuram of Damoh was successful in restarting the annual fair in sam. 1957, after the government-imposed ban since sam. 1928 1. Late Seth Lalchand Jain and Rajaram Bajaj of Damoh were prominent leaders in the early part of the 20th century 8. The tirtha-kshetra once owned several villages, however in 1959AD the zamindari system was abolished. Still the tirtha has continued to prosper. Because of the tranquility of the tirtha, it has been a favorite retreat of scholars like Brahmachari Gokulprasadji and Pandit Jagannmohanlalji. Acharya Vidyasagarji along with a part of his large sangha, has spent several chatrumas periods at Kundalpur, attracting large number of pilgrims. New dharmashalas and a new lecture hall have been constructed and some projects are in progress.