Mundeshwari Devi Temple is located at Ramgarh village of Bhagwanpur block in Kaimur district in the Indian state of Bihar on the Mundeshwari Hills. It is an ancient temple dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva and Shakti. It is believed that rituals and worship have been performed here without a break, hence the Mundeshwari temple is considered as the oldest functional Hindu temple of India. The temple is an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected monument since 1915.
I have driven from Ranchi to Prayagraj several times. A large part of the travel is via National Highway (NH 2). While driving through Mohania, I saw the Mundeshwari Dwar but never took a detour to go there before. This time, while travelling to see my ailing father-in-law, who stays in Prayagraj, my son Judhajit and I decided to visit the Mundeshwari (also spelled as Mundeshvari) temple during the return leg of our journey.
This temple is located on the summit of Piwara hill, with a height of about 608 feet (185 metres). The hill, also known as Mundeshwari Hill, belongs to the Kaimur Range, the eastern portion of the Vindhya Range. The temple is located at around 14 km from the Kaimur district headquarter, Bhabhua. The temple is, also, around 35 km from Mohania on NH2, from were we took the detour. The branch road is generally nice and smooth. There was not much of a traffic as it was a polling day in that area.
At the foothill, we paid ₹20 ($0.27) as the car entry fee and started driving up the hill, full of green trees and foliage. It was a nice drive up the hill, with a few hair-pin bends and steep slopes.
We parked our car on reaching the gate of the temple premises, washed our hands, feet, and face there before climbing up the temple hill. After buying some puja samagri, we climbed up the stairs to reach main the temple. Due to polling for the state legislative assembly, there was no rush at the temple.
The temple is unique with its octagonal plan, bold masonry and beautiful carvings. There are some fine latticed stone work on the northern window and the temple door facing the porch, is a fine specimen of architecture with various figures of dancers and musicians. The rare octagonal ground plan is also seen at the Shankaracharya temple at Srinagar. The eight sides represent the eight cardinal and intermediate directions.
The temple once had four entrances containing exquisitely carved door frames, bearing, on the lower portions of the door jambs, the usual figures of river goddesses on the eastern side, two figures of Shiva on the western one, a representation of Durga and female figure on the northern side, and the dwarapalas or doorkeepers on the southern. The original roof of the temple, which was probably pyramidal in shape, is lost – probably collapsed – and now replaced by a flat roof of stone flags. At the entrance to the temple, the door jambs are seen with carved images of Dwarapalas, Ganga, Yamuna, and many other murtis (images).
We worshipped and prayed inside the temple. The selection of the date was accidental but it helped us. The day was after the auspicious Navaratra period and it was the polling date in that area, which made our visit calm and peaceful.
Photography inside the temple is not permitted.
Mundeswari is the principal deity in the temple. The deity, however, does not occupy the centre of the sanctum sanctorum, but is installed in one of the sub–chambers of the sanctuary. At this centre of the sanctum there is a Mahalingam of Lord Shiva with four faces but this has not got the honour of being the presiding deity. It is generally held that Mundeswari was originally installed as one of the three images in the three sub chambers of the sanctuary with the Mukhalingam. The colour of the stone this Chaturmukhi Shiva linga has been constructed with a special stone, which changes its colour along with the position of the sun and stone.
A large image of Ganesha is found half buried in the ruins of a small temple in the way leading to the top of the hill and might have been one of the Parshva-devatas originally enshrined in one of the side chambers of the Mundeshwari temple. Further, the image of Mundeshwari is not typical of that of Mahishamardini. Mundeshwari deity has ten hands bearing the usual weapons of a Mahishamardini but with a difference that she is not in the act of killing Mahisasur, the demon in the shape of a buffalo but she is shown as riding a buffalo representing the demon.
In the course of clearance of the debris numerous carved pieces and sculptures were found which can be seen lying in the premises. They include mostly representations of Shiva-Parvati, Ganesha, Mahishasuramardini Durga, Surya, Kartikeya, etc. The statue of Vishal Nandi on the west side of the main entrance.
Round about the Mundeswari temple there are several half amalaks. The Shikhara of the temple is not in existence but a fragment of the amalaka originally crowning the spire is still lying in the site.
An amalaka is a segmented or notched stone disk, usually with ridges on the rim, that sits on the top of a Hindu temple’s shikhara or main tower. According to one interpretation, the amalaka represents a lotus, and thus the symbolic seat for the deity below.
This temple is known to the world for its mysterious animal sacrifice, called Ahinshak Bali (meaning: non-violent sacrifice). Here no animal gets killed while sacrificing. I was confused as well as amazed, when I saw it on the board there. This type of sacrifice is not seen anywhere else.
On enquiry, I came to know that in this temple instead of killing the animal, the priest lays down the animal and keep a flower on it, while chanting mantras. As the flower is kept, the animal falls into unconsciousness and doesn’t get up till the time the flower is there. After the pooja or rituals get finished, the flower is removed, and the animal wakes up again. How and why this happens is a mystery. Though the devotees, who visit this place believe it a blessing from Maa Mundeshwari.
The information plaque erected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the site indicates the dating of the temple to 625 CE. Local folklores say that Chanda and Munda who were full brothers and chieftains of great demon Mahishasura were rulers of the area. Mahishasura fought decisive battle with Goddess Durga as mentioned in Durga Shaptshati. Munda made goddess Mundeshwari Bhawani temple while his younger brother Chanda made Chandeshwari temple at top of Madurana hill near Chainpur.
Since 1915, the Archaeological Survey Of India had adopted the monument and taking care of it consistently. They conducted numerous excavation on this site, during which many ancient idols of Ganesh and Shiva were found; together with some parts or ruin of the temple. Approximately, 97 such pieces, which were found in that excavation then kept in Patna Museum and the National Museum, Kolkata, for their watch and safety. There is a small museum there also, which we could not visit as it was closed, due to the polling.
After a study of broken Mundeshwari inscription of Brahmi script and its two parts found in 1891 and 1903 by Bloch (Now joined and kept in National Museum, Kolkata), Dr NG Majumdar and Dr KC Panigrahi stated to be the temple to be earlier than the 4th century CE.
Chinese visitor Huen Tsang wrote (636-638 CE) about a shrine on a hill top flashing light, at about a distance of 200 li south west to Patna — the location is only of Mundeshwari. Li s a traditional Chinese unit of distance. The li has varied considerably over time but was usually about one third of an English mile and now has a standardized length of a half-kilometer (500 meters or 1,640 feet).
But recovery of a royal seal of great Shri Lankan emperor Maharaju Dutthagamani (101-77 BCE) from the place in 2003, changed the history. It established that a royal pilgrim group or monks from Shri Lanka visited the place during their journey to Sarnath from Bodh Gaya through famous Dakshinapath highway sometime between 101 to 77 BCE and lost the seal here.
The existence of Naga (serpent) on four faced shivalingam, Naga janeu (sacred thread) on Ganesha idols not found anywhere in India and also on broken pieces scattered around the hill clearly indicated that it was a construction by rulers of Naga dynasty (110 BCE to 315 CE) who used serpent as their royal sign.
After revelation of new facts, Bihar State Religious Trust Board (BSRTB) organized a national seminar of eminent experts at Patna in 2008 and the date of Mundeshwari inscription was unanimously fixed 108 CE.
The findings also established that here was a religious and educational center spread over the hillock and Mandaleshwar (Shiva) temple (present temple residing Shiva in middle of sanctum sanctorium) was the main shrine. The temple of Mandaleshwari (Parvati, better half of Shiva) was on southern side. The temple was damaged and the idol of Mandaleshwari (degenerated Mundeshwari and later connected with the mythical demon Munda, mentioned in Markandeya Purana) was kept in the eastern chamber of main temple.
Bihar Government special officer and gazetteer, and author P C Roy Choudhury mentions “It is also remarkable that this temple appears to have been left unmolested when Muslim rule under Sher Shah was set up in this area. The neighbouring Chainpur fort was one of the citadels of Sher Shah and the Muslim pockets in the neighbouring villages suggest that a much larger Muslim population had lived in the area when Muslim rule was predominant. The ravages to Mundesvari are not man-made but due to the passage of time.”
The temple may already have been in a ruined state owing to disrepair over time, and thus may have escaped the attention of invaders, and survived.
While returning from the temple, we had a very delicious vegetarian lunch at Kaimur Zaika Restaurant in Bhabhua. The popularity of the temple is growing every day. It is worth visiting for every curious tourist. The way to reach the temple is accompanied with natural beauty, village aesthetic, historical essence as well as sacred zest.