Mundeshwari Temple: The Oldest Functional Hindu Temple in the World

The Mundeshwari Temple in Bihar, India is considered as the oldest functional Hindu temple in the world, dating back to 108 CE according to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Shakti, and also houses idols of Ganesha, Surya and Vishnu.

The temple is located on the Mundeshwari Hills, near the Son River, in the Kaimur district of Bihar. It is a protected monument since 1915 and attracts many pilgrims and tourists throughout the year. The temple has a unique octagonal shape and is built in the Nagara style of architecture. The main shrine has a four-faced lingam representing Shiva as Viniteswara, while the goddess Mundeshwari or Durga is installed in a niche on one wall. The temple also has a circular yoni-pitha with eight petals.

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.

It was a nice drive with green paddy fields on the sides of the road

At the foothill, we paid INR 20 (USD 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.

A view from the top of the hill
The Temple

Mundeshwari temple on a summit of an isolated hill about 600 feet high is the earliest specimen of Nagara type of temple architecture in Bihar. On the eastern slope of the hills there has been a find of a number of statues and rock-carved figures. It is clear that the hill was once the site for a cluster of temples and the Mundeshwari temple was the main shrine. They include mostly representations of Shiva-Parvati, Ganesha, Mahishasura Mardini Durga, Surya, Kartikeya etc.

The temple is unique with its octagonal plan similar to the Shankaracharya temple at Srinagar, bold masonry and beautiful carvings. The eight sides represent the eight cardinal and intermediate directions. There are some fine latticed stonework 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 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.

Chaturmukhi Shiva linga Source: Kaimur district website

Photography inside the temple is not permitted.

Mundeshwari 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 Mundeshwari 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. 

Maa Mundeshwari (Source)

The idol of Mundeshwari is not typical of that of Mahisha Mardini. Mundeshwari deity has ten hands bearing the usual weapons of a Mahisha Mardini but with a difference that she is not in the act of killing Mahishasura, the demon (Daitya) in the shape of a buffalo but she is shown as riding a buffalo representing a demon.

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.

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 Mundeshwari 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.

The Legend

The temple has a rich history and legend associated with it. It is believed that the temple was built by King Surath of Mithila, who was advised by a sage to worship Shiva and Shakti for regaining his lost kingdom. The sage also told him to build a temple on a hill where he saw a divine light. The king followed his instructions and built the temple on the Mundeshwari Hills. He also installed a chakra or discus on the top of the temple, which is said to have miraculous powers.

The name Mundeshwari is often taken to have originated from Munda, the legendary Daitya mentioned in the Puranas, along with Chanda; but the origin is still not clear fully. According to some local legends, there was a certain Munda, whom people generally call a Chero Raja, who had a brother named Chanda, and both lived in the Golden age. These brothers who, according to the Markandeya Purana, were the chief military commanders (Senapati) of Shumbha and Nishumbha, two great Daitya kings, were killed by Devi Durga, who on that account is also called Chamunda, a title it is said, composed of the two Daitya’s names.

Another legend says that the temple was built by Parashurama, an incarnation of Vishnu, who wanted to atone for killing his mother Renuka at the behest of his father Jamadagni. He performed a penance on the Mundeshwari Hills and worshipped Shiva and Shakti. He also created a lake near the temple, which is known as Parashurama Kund.

The Unique Ritual

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 History

There was an inscription on a stone slab at the temple, which had broken into two pieces, one of which was found in 1892, and the other in 1903 by Bloch in the course of clearance of the debris. Both the pieces are now in the Indian Museum, Kolkata. It was edited by Rakhal Das Banerji, an archaeologist and officer of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1907 and by Nani Gopal Majumdar, another archaeologist and officer of ASI in 1920. The inscription refers to King Udayasena and to the date 30 of an unspecified era.

Banerji took the year 30 to refer to the Harsha era commencing from 606 AD, and assigned the epigraph to 636 CE, which was also included as the date in the original Gazetteers of Shahabad in 1906 and 1924. Dr. Banerji’s view was however not shared by others. Mr. N G Mazumdar studied the paleographic peculiarities of the inscription and referred to the year 30 to the Gupta era 318-19 CE and held the date of the inscription to 348-49 CE. Dr. Devadatta Ramakrishna Bhandarkar, an archaeologist and epigraphist with ASI, also considered the inscription to be much earlier than the fourth century CE.

BHU historian Dr. Jahnawi Shakhar Roy found a Ceylonese seal while walking on a field adjacent to the hill near Mundeshwari temple. The pyramid-shaped stone seal with inscriptions in Brahmi script along with photograph also find mention in one of Roy’s articles in a Numismatic Society of India journal published in 2004.

The discovery of a royal seal of the Sri Lankan ruler Maharaju Dutthagamani at the site in 2003 has taken back the history of the region by several centuries. Dr. Roy sent the seal to the Sampoornanand Sanskrit university at Varanasi for deciphering. The linguistic experts there concluded that the seal belonged to “Maharaju Duthgamini”, who according to “Mahavansh Granthawali” in Buddhist literature, belonged to Anuradhapur dynasty and ruled Ceylon between 104-77 BCE.

Chinese visitor Huen Tsang wrote (636-638 CE) about a shrine on a hill top flashing light, at about a distance of 200 li southwest 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).

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.

According to modern scholars, the inscription which has a reference to Udaysena, who is believed to be a satrap of Pataliputra in Shaka Samvat year 30 whom the Kushanas had made the ruler. The Hindu Saka calendar began in 78 CE with the Saka Era. Shaka Samvat year 30 when juxtaposed with the Gregorian calendar coincides with 108 CE by that account. Further, the script also corresponds to the Shaka times, and prior to the Gupta age. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) now dates the temple to 108 CE.

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.

P.C. Roy Chaudhury, State Editor of the District Gazetteers

The temple has witnessed many changes and invasions over the centuries, but it has never stopped functioning as a place of worship. It is said that rituals and ceremonies have been performed here without a break since its inception. The temple celebrates many festivals throughout the year, such as Ramnavami, Shivratri and Navaratra. The devotees offer prayers, flowers, fruits and sweets to the deities and seek their blessings.

The Mundeshwari Temple is not only a religious site, but also a cultural and educational hub. It has many inscriptions, sculptures and paintings that depict various aspects of Hindu mythology and history. It also has a museum that displays some artifacts and relics found in and around the temple. The temple also organizes various programs and events to promote awareness and appreciation of its heritage and significance. We couldn’t visit the museum as it was closed on that date due to elections.

The Mundeshwari Temple is a must-visit destination for anyone who wants to experience the ancient glory and spirituality of India. It is a place where you can feel the presence of God and Goddess in every corner and every stone. It is a place where you can learn about the past and connect with the present. It is a place where you can find peace and harmony in yourself and in nature.

12 thoughts on “Mundeshwari Temple: The Oldest Functional Hindu Temple in the World

  1. Nilanjana Moitra

    Nice post. I never knew of such a temple. I, also, never thought of knowing the oldest functional temple. Am glad to know it now and also the rituals of non-violent sacrifice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice to know about the temple atop a hill and this captured my attention ..Unique Ritual
    This temple is known to the world for its mysterious animal sacrifice, called Ahinshak Bali (meaning: non-violent sacrifice! Wish all temples follow suit

    Liked by 1 person

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