By Monidipa Dey,
Recently there has been news of an interesting find of the remains of a 5th century CE Gupta period temple by the Archaeological survey of India during a monsoon routine cleanup activity. Bilsarh, in Etah-Uttar Pradesh, where the remains were found has been a protected site from the colonial times and is a known Gupta period settlement.
The antiquity of the Bilsarh village goes long back into history, and as Dr. Vasant Sawarkar (Superintending Archaeologist of the ASI’s Agra circle) said the entire village is situated on an ancient mound. The part where the temple ruins were found is with the ASI, and the site holds four pillars. Of the four pillars two are circular, free standing, and located at two different corners; while both have inscriptions in Gupta Brahmi lipi that have been deciphered as from Kumaragupta’s time and papers published on them. What interested Dr. Sawarkar were however the other two pillars standing half buried at another corner, owing to their close proximity to each other.
These two pillars were flat rectangular pillars, placed parallel and facing the same direction, and the front faces showed images of the yaksas, ganas, and various geometrical motifs. Since these two pillars were not free standing, it appeared to Dr. Sawarkar that they could be a part some underlying architecture, which led him to start the digging. Soon stairs were found and it became clear that the two rectangular pillars, which now revealed more figures and various decorative motifs, were the pillars that once stood at the entrance of a temple. The 5th stair revealed an inscription in sankha-lipi or shell script, which after comparing with older inscriptions was found to read as Sri Mahendraditya… which was the title for King Kumaragupta I of the Gupta dynasty whose ruling period was from 415- 455 CE (ref: Radhakumud Mukherji – The Gupta Empire). Sankha lipi is an ornate spiral script popular during the 4th-8th centuries, with multiple papers on reading this lipi written by Prof. B. N. Mukherjee of Calcutta University in the 1980-81 (ref: Richard Salomon, A Recent Claim to Decipherment of the “Shell Script”, 1981). Interestingly Prof. Mukherjee’s deciphering of a shell script on the back of a horse (the inscription, which has both Brahmi and sankha lipis, extends from neck of the horse to its tail and is now housed in the Lucknow Museum) from Khairigarh (Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh) in 1980 is similar to the shell script found on the temple stairs of Bilsarh, and reads Sri Mahendraditya, ie., the honorific title of Kumaragupta. This Khairigarh horse was a part of the asvamedha yagna (as derived from the Brahmi script on its neck part), which Kumaragupta was said to have performed (supported by numismatic evidences).
Currently the ASI is focusing on preserving the site and building shades to protect the new finds, in order to allow people interested in history and heritage to learn more of India’s ancient past.
(The author is a well-known travel, heritage and history writer. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)