Friday, April 22, 2016

The Story of the Ashok Dham temple

The Story of the Ashok Dham temple also called as ‘Indradamaneshwar Temple’ in Lakhisarai district of Bihar is quite interesting. Once destroyed, lost and fully forgotten in or around the 12th/13th century A.D., it remained in the silent pages of History, till one fine day when on 7th April, 1977, it was discovered by one Shri Ashok. The site thus began to be called as Ashok Dham. The villagers around were totally unaware about the historical importance of the site and bewildered by the size of the Shiva Lingam and the remains around, they initially took it as a miracle. The news of the sudden discovery spread like wildfire and the site regained its prominence of the long forgotten yesteryears. Referring to passages in the Ramayana, the site was associated as having been visited by Lord Rama. From the Buddhist remains around it is also believed to have been visited by the Buddha. Now named after Indradumna who is believed to have been the last Pala ruler, supposedly defeated by Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khilji in the 12th century AD, its story is like the saga of revival of a lost historical religious destination.
Hari Manjhi of the Patna Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India, assisted by Sunil Kumar and T K Srivastava, conducted scientific clearance work at Ashok dham, Lakhisarai in 1986-87. In the course of clearance a panchayatana temple was exposed. The subsidiary shrines, at the four corners of the temple, could not survive. On plan it resembled the Latin-cross with usual transepts. The floor of the temple was of baked bricks (32x24x6cm) set in lime and brick-jelly mortar. The original shrine chamber was 7.78m square, the walls 1.50m wide and made of large sized bricks laid in mud mortar. During the course of the work, fragmentary stone slabs, pillars and sculptures in basalt were found. The remains at the site were placed by the ASI between the 10th and 12th centuries AD, on the basis of the sculptures.
A modern temple has been recently constructed on the directions of an architect hailing from Maharashtra. Inaugurated in 1993 by the Shankaracharya of Puri, the actual construction could commence only in 2002, and concluded quite recently, finally resulting in the erection of an imposing structure over the main Shiva lingam. Though the modern construction is imposing and quite befitting its original historical glory, it sadly has not fully preserved the original design, which can now only be visualised. The site though has indeed gained popularity and is now visited by a large number of pilgrims from the neighbourhood as well as from other parts of the country. The ruins of the ancient temple are now placed at one corner of the premises of the modern temple and do provide useful insights about the original structure. The ruins contain beautifully carved inscriptions, etched on stone in the bygone eras by unknown sculptors.
Further the temple also has a small museum containing several sculptures found during the excavation. It needs to be expanded for proper display of the precious surviving pieces of the art of those times. At present the sculptures are stacked in a small chamber with no natural light, making photography difficult. Developmental activities at the temple are being taken care of by a trust. I could interact with some trustees, who also presented me with a token containing the image of the Modern Temple. It was a very pleasant visit.
There are several more Silent Pages waiting to be fully discovered in the district of Lakhisarai. Several sculptures are routinely discovered in the vicinity of the Ashok Dham and Jai Nagar areas in the district. Home to prehistoric early men as evidenced by the stone-age tools found on the nearby hills, the site had been an important centre in ancient times being situated on the way to Mudagiri (Monghyr), and on the banks of the Kiul and the Ganga rivers. The site had become quite prominent during the Pala rule, as evidenced by the extensive remains at several sites including Ashok Dham and Jainagar. In 1953-54, an image inscription of a chief named Yasahpala was found at Lai near Lakhisarai, dated in the year 32, apparently of the regnal reckoning of the chief’s overlord, who, there are reasons to believe, was the Pala king Palapala.
Though several sites of Lakhisarai have been described in parts by chroniclers including Buchanan, Cunningham and others for their historical remains, the full understanding of its past history still awaits further excavation and research.
More details to soon follow at my blog
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