Featured Articles (Click on Image to Continue Reading)...

  • South Asian Arts welcomes submission of well-research academic articles from scholars. Papers should be typed in... [...]

  • Legacy of the rickshaw from 19th century exploitation, to late 20th century expression, to contemporary environmentalism...[...]

  • Monuments of the second phase of the Pallava rock-cut architecture are mostly concentrated in... [...]

  • ‘Organics,’ a group exhibition of works inspired by organic ideas that are distinctive of each artist... [...]

  • Kalarippayatt as an institution has a very long history from medieval to contemporary time...[...]

  • This online journal aims to bring to its readers various aspects of the art forms of South Asia... [...]

Continuity of Nari-Uttana-hasta-pada/ Aditi-uttanapada and Charkhopadaine: An Ethno-archaeological study

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sachin Tiwary

Sachin Tiwary is an Assistant Archaeologist at the Patna Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India

[A revised version of this paper was presented at an international seminar at the University of Lucknow, organised by ISPQS, Pune, IAS, Delhi and IHCS, Delhi on 28th-30th December 2010.]

Mauryan Terracotta Figurine (See Original Image Here)

The term Nari-Uttana-hasta-pada can be a nomenclature in view of the special posture, identified so as both the hands and legs of nude lady are raised upward while the hip (nitamba) is resting on the earth. But the term Aditi-Uttanapada, a female with raised legs, as defined by Stella Kramrisch instead of the usual popular term of Lajjagauri meaning goddess having shame, which by meaning and form does not appear apt, as the representations of Aditi-Uttanapada shows her nude with minimum ornamentation. The main reason behind naming this deity as Lajjagauri is that she is mostly shown headless with a lotus replacing the head. However, some nude figures having head is also described as Lajjagauri. Considering the physical features of such type of deity, the term Nari-Uttana-hastha-pada will be more appropriate than Aditi-Uttanapada and Lajjagauri and other terms. The present paper deals mainly with the living tradition of Charkhopadaine which in form appears similar to that of Aditi-Uttanapada, now Nari-Uttana-hastha-pada , but in ritualistic practice differs from the latter.
Worship of Nari-Uttana-hastha-pada is mainly attached to fertility cult and Charkhopadaine is regarded as a deity of protection against natural disasters which indirectly again leads to surplus production and welfare of the humanity.

The present paper describes the definition, antiquity, iconographic evolution, distribution and different mediums in which the Aditi-Uttanapada or Lajjagauri is found in relation to the living tradition in a tribal society called Chera, which is similar to the former known as Charkhopadaine.

Definition and Antiquity:
The worship of ‘Mother Goddess’ in various forms was popular in ancient world; her images are found both in iconic and anionic forms. Although the identification is uncertain in some cases, she is often known as “Great Mother”, “Virgin”, “Goddess of earth”, “Goddess of Fertility/Progeny,” and so on. (Suresh Vasant, 1995: 301)
The earliest depictions of such icons are found from the pre-historic times in the form of rock paintings like Jaora in Madhya Pradesh (Wakankar, V.S., 1992: 329). Similarly, depiction of nude female figure was noticed in the rock paintings from Australia (Figure 1). Sankalia postulates the inception of the cult of the Earth or Mother goddess in the portrayal of faceless Venus from Willendorf in the European Upper Palaeolithic Mesolithic complex (Sankalia, H.D., 1960: 111-123) and from the headless Cycladia images from Europe. Marshall finds the source of this cult in a Harappan sealing, wherein a nude female figure is depicted upside down with the legs stretched and with a plant emerging from her womb (Marshall, John, 1931: 52), which shows her relation to the fertility cult. The images of Lajjagauri found at Aihole group of monument are perhaps one of the biggest one. (Fig. 2)

Fig. 2 (Photo - Sachin Tiwary)

Enough literary evidences regarding the antiquity of this cult has been traced and the description given in these literature closely matches with the cult of Lajja gauri. Taittiriya Aranyaka, 1.28.1, describes the goddess as headless (visirsni). According to Sayana, the epithet Visirsni of the goddess Nairti here signifies her as do not possess head (sirorahitam). The Rigveda (VI.59.6) mentions in this context about Dawn as “wandering headless” or “moving having left her head”. This headless Nairti described in the Vedic literature have close resemblance with the unbaked clay figurine of a headless Mother Goddess found at the Chalcolithic site of Inamgaon. (Agrawal, P.K., 1987, 97-99) The lotus part above the neck, instead of a human head finds mention in Vishnudharmottara too (3, 82, 8):

devyascha mastake padmamtatha karyam
                    nManoharam, saubhagyam tad vijanihi .”      
                                          (Sharma, I.K., 1994: 89)
Different names of this cult:
Different scholars have called this cult by various names such as Prithvi (John Marshall, 1911-12: 75), Aditi Uttanapada (Kramrisch Stella 1956: 259-70), Shameless Women (Sankalia, H.D., 1960: 111-123) Lajjahina Gauri (Sircar, D.C.,1980: 9-20), Parvati Uttanahasta/ Uttanapada (Tiwari., J.N.,1985: 195-196)  Sri Lakshmi or Prakriti by C.Sivaramamurti (Suresh Vasant, 1995: 301) and Lajjagauri (Fleet, J.F.) (Sastry,T.V.G.,1993:275).

Ichnographically, the goddess is shown nude having a full-blown lotus-head or human head, with heavy breasts, outstretched thighs, swelling abdomen with a bud like opening to depict the female sexual organ (Nath, Amrendra,2004: 46). Her both legs are spread open in birth giving position. A full blown lotus or lotus bud is in her either hand raised up in trikonabaddha mudra. In the images with human head, she bears a pleasing countenance. There are no signs of pregnancy in these images as pointed out by Bolan, but a careful examination reveals that there are many examples which depict her pregnant. They are found carved in the centre of rectangular stone slabs or terracotta plaques or moulds in metal (Kumar Krishna, 2006-07: 152). She is decked with variety of ornaments, viz. necklace (graiveyaka), waist band (mekhala), armlets (nupura or kara), wristlets (kankana), ear-pendants (kundala), anklets, and rarely a diadem (mukuta or jata-juta). In few later specimens, she wears a loincloth too (Nath Amrendra, 1990: 63). Sometimes, the figure is flanked by miniature figures of Siva-linga, Nandi, Ganesa, lion-head (simha-mukha) and devotees; a variety of objects like shri-pada (a pair of foot prints), trisula, sankha, etc. are also depicted in some images. In three stone images, one each from Darsi, Kundane, Uppalapadu, she is flanked by the figurine of Brahma, Siva-linga, Nandi, Kartikeya and Nrsimha. But in Kesaragutta in Andhra Pradesh, she is sometimes shown holding a linga on right hand above Nandi and head of a lion in the left hand just above the devotees(I.A.R, 1978-79:63).Sometimes, a devotee often in an anjalimudra is shown as in Valabhipur, Bhawnagar District, Gujarat (Sonawane, V.H., 1998: 29). In few stone sculptures such as from Alampur, the figure is framed within plain rectangular rims provided with a water spout (pranala) on one side. (Stella Kramrisch, 1956: 259-70)

Material of this cult figurine:
The icon is found in different varieties of mediums such as stone (limestone, Sandstone, Chlorite Schist, Granite), terracotta, kaolin (Kumara Krishna, 2006-07:152), faience (Janssen Frans H.P.M. 1993:457-472) and metal (Khan, M.N.2002:25-57). These figurines measure from two inches to life size.
Distribution of this icon:     

Northern region
Mathura, Kausambi, Uttar Pradesh (Nath, Amrendra, 1990:43)

Smast, Kashmir, Pakistan (Khan, M.N. ,2002:83-90)
Waynd, Kerala  (Mitragotri, V.R. 1997:), Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Patna Museum, Bihar (P.L.Gupta (ed.), 1965:307), Agiyabir
(Sunga-Kusana period),
Uttar Pradesh,Eastern most examples are from Indian Museum, Kolkata.
Almost each and every shikhara of the temple from Shivasagar group of temple ,
carved aditi-uttanapada image.
Garh Seoni, Chattisgarh (Kumara Krishna., 2006-07:151)
Dhank, Gujarat (Bolon, Carol R. 1997)  Bhinmal, Rajasthan (Sonawane, V.H., 1998:18)
This icon is found mainly concentrated in the regions of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Conceptualising the icon:
Since the icon has been widely believed and worshipped as Aditi-Uttanapada/Nari-Uttana-hastha-pada, it is connected with the fertility cult.  The idea behind this deity is to beget children as well as vegetative fertility and safe maternity of the mother (Sonawane, V.H., 1997:535-537). The clutching of the lotus buds in the palms, fully developed breasts, protrusion of the belly suggesting pregnancy, outstretched legs, and the contraction of the toes show the tension and struggle of the female in the process of giving birth to a child (Suresh Vasant, 1995:303).

Iconographic evolution (In General):
From early times to present times, this cult has evolved in different ways as stated below:
1. In her simplest form, she is shown in globular form with lotus as head and spread legs. (Symbolic) (Fig. 3)

  Fig. 3 (Photo - Kumara Krishna)

2. She is shown lying flat on her back with outstretched legs emphasising birth-giving posture. In her two upraised hands, she holds lotus-buds and the most important feature is that in place of the head a full-blown lotus is shown, some time in place of the head or lotus, a stupa like object is depicted. Rest of the characteristics are same as above. (Semi anthropomorphic) (Suresh Vasant, 1995 :303)(fig. 4)

Fig. 4 (Photo - Suresh Vasant)

3. In other examples, the goddess is flanked by a linga, Nandi, Ganesa, lion and the goddess wears moderate ornaments, etc., suggesting her association with Saivite worship (Anthropomorphic). (I.A.R., 1978-79:63-64) (Fig. 5)

 Fig. 5 (Photo - Archaeological Survey of India)

4. Sometime, Brahma, Linga, Nandi, Kartikeya and a lion in anthropomorphic form accompany the goddess, suggesting her affiliation with both Saiva and Vaishnava sects as seen in Ellora group of monument, Cave No.21, (Rameshwar cave) and in Gujarat (Sonawane, V.H., 1997:535:537). (Fig. 6) 

Fig. 6 (Photo - V. H. Sonawane)

Legacy of icon in light of ethno-archaeological evidences:
It is an accepted fact that such images were worshipped by barren women to procure offspring. The peculiar birth giving posture of the goddess in which she is shown seated also signifies the same objective. Even today, this cult is prevalent and the goddess is worshiped in Gujarat and Maharashtra and is known as Lajjagauri. The mother goddess in this nude form is worshiped by women who desire to a mother, by applying butter and kumkum to their Yonis (Sonawane, V.H., 1998:33),  but in Karnataka only kumkum is being applied which shows regional ritualistic variance within the same cult (Jamkhedkar, A.P., 2004:39). The absence of male devotees in the depiction of these images obviously testifies that she was worshipped only by women.
In different part of Southern India like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and other states she is known by different names such Jugulamba, Matangi, Mesko, Nagnakabandha, Renuka, and Yellammanna (Bolon, Carol R. 1997). In Chhattisgarh region, this cult is known as Dhundhi Raksasi. This cult was not only popular within India but also spread to the north-western parts of Indian sub-continent like Pakistan as seen from Kashmir Smast, where during excavation one metal Nari-Uttana-pada-hastha was found and according to Dr. Khan it is known as  Acima or Acirma and this cult is still in worship (Khan, M.N.2002:57-85). Culture could not be separated since this part of Pakistan was under the physical status of ancient Greater India.
Charkhopadaine in Kaimur region
The cult of Aditi-Uttanapada is still living in tribal locality of Kaimur region in Bihar, which is similarly worshipped by the tribal community and is known as Charkhopadaine with varying in physical form and ritual practices. The meaning of the term Charkhopadaine is not clear.
Kaimur (24’540 N.lat, 83’40 E.long.) is an administrative district which is situated in south western part of the state of Bihar in India.  Kaimur district with its headquarters at Bhabhua is one of the most colourful and archaeologically important regions of Bihar. The district has been given the name Kaimur as the Kaimur range of hills have not only guarded its boundaries for centuries but have also played a vital role in its cultural, socio-economic and political history through the ages. The region in which it extends was probably known as Kairadesa after a daittya (demon) of that name known to local tradition as its king. It is probable that the range has been named Kaimur following the local accounts (P.C. Prasad & K. Anand. 1996).               
 The icon in this cult is made out of dung (cow dung or buffalo’s dung), and usually made on the wall of the house in different sizes. They more or less match with Aditi-Uttanapada iconographically during the early phase. But as seen from photographs, it is not noticed that they are not shown always in this form and posture. The face is not depicted always clearly, often made only in outline without any of its facial features; sometime they try to make only the portion below the neck without showing head.

Fig. 7                                         Fig. 8
 Fig. 9

Fig. 10

Fig. 11                                                 Fig. 12

Fig. 13 (Photo - Figs. 7-13 - Amitabh Tiwary and Sachin Tiwary)

Why it is made:
It is always made for the safety of the villagers, agriculture and domestic animals. It is made and invoked for the purpose of protection against the heavy rain, heavy fog, and storms and against all adverse natural factors causing disaster. These natural factors cause destruction to the mud house of the villagers and cause loss of agricultural produce and domestic animals.
Who is the maker?:
The image for worship should be made only by women, but every woman cannot make this image. For this some eligibility conditions are fixed such as those described below:
1. The lady (girl or daughter) should have only one brother in her family.
2. Either she is married or unmarried; in both conditions she is able to do this work.
3. During this work she should not be having menstruation.
4. She should make this cult image standing and working in open sky without slippers.
5. It should be made only by women in day time only.
6. One lady/girl either married or unmarried should walk in early morning below open sky without sleeper and cloth. It means that the lady should be nude on the day for some time.
7. Prior to making the icon (Charkhopadaine), the lady/girl prepares five clay lumps, keeping the knife/vegetable cutter (locally known as Pahasul (Photo: 3).
Process of this work:
First of all, they make an anthropomorphic form of a female by using dung and dry it. Then fire is made on a stick wrapped with cloth or paper and the fire is inserted into the vagina of the image and the stick is left as it is. In this way, the entire image of the deity gets burned.
(Stage I & II)
How it has evolved:  
It is not clear how this cult has evolved. But in my discussion with the Chera tribe people, they said that the adverse conditions caused by the natural disasters were due to the internal powers of the goddess and this affects the general well-being of the humans. This ritual is done to induce pain in the goddess which reduces her power and stops the natural disasters.
Actually, this tradition initially was followed only in forest and hilly regions by the tribes but gradually it spread among the Brahmans and other classes of people living in plains as well. So this tradition has come down from hilly areas to the plain region. We should note that this cult is still popular in Chhatisgarh region and the goddess is known by the name of Dhundhi Raksasi. Here, the term Raksasi indicates a female demon with evil instincts. This again has resemblance to the tradition of Charkhopadaine, the goddess having powers of producing evil effects on the people. We should keep in mind that Chhatisgarh mountain region and Kaimur mountain regions are inter-connected. Another commonality in both the traditions is that only women who are not menstruating are eligible to worship.
The only difference between these two traditions is that Aditi-Uttanapada images are made out of stone, terracotta and metal while Charkhopadaine is made out of cow or buffalo dung only.
Apart from the images connected to both these traditions, there are also certain nude sculptural representations of female images depicted in similar position. But the question is whether all these nude female images showing prominent genital organs can be identified as Aditi-Uttanapada/Lajjagauri or not. The problem of identification of these images lies in the methodology being applied - whether they should be identified mainly on the basis of purely iconographic features or on the basis of the context in which they are depicted. But as seen earlier, Lajjagauri is found in various contexts and with different styles of ornamentation and dress. For example, some are shown without head, some with lotus replacing the head and some with head showing all the features; similarly some are shown nude and in some cases a loin cloth or a lower garment is shown covering the genital region. Similarly she is found in different contexts like sometimes depicted on temple pillars, sikhars, jagati portion, rathas, etc. found either alone or in association with Siva-linga, lion, Nandi, Ganesa, Kartikeya and devotees. Can all these images irrespective of the context in which she was depicted can be identified as Lajjagauri or not is a point to be debated. Regarding rock painting, it cannot be said with certainty whether all depictions of a nude female figure with outstretched legs resemble Lajjagauri in form or indicate the prevalence of Mother Goddess i.e. Fertility cult or not.
Lastly, it should be remembered that in spite of the difference in the rituals involved in the worship of Aditi-Uttanapada and Charkhopadaine and the different reasons attributed for its worship, yet the ultimate purpose is the same i.e. to get welfare of the humanity.

See a related article on Lajja Gauri in this journal.
I am deeply thankful to Dr. B. R. Mani (Joint Director General, A.S.I.), and Sri V. H. Sonawane for providing me important photographs and references related to the present study. I am also thankful to Sri Shanker Sharma (Assistant Archaeologist, ASI) for suggesting the new terminology for this icon. I am also thankful to Shri S. Krishnamurthy and my brother Shri Amitabh Tiwari and Aasha Trivedi who guided me in the preparation of this paper.

Citations for images - 

Kumara Krishna, 2006-07, The cult of Aditi Uttanapada in Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent: An assessment in the light of new discoveries, Pragdhara No.17, pp. 151,152.

Suresh Vasant, 1995,Lajja Gauri from Nanded Sri Nagabhinandham, Dr. M.S. Nagaraja Rao Festchrift,Vol.I., pp.301, 302, 303.

I.A.R., 1978-79.

Sonawane, V.H., 1997, A rare Lajjagauri plaque from Tarsang (Gujarat), Facets of Indian Civilization, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, pp.535-537.

References cited:

Agrawal, P.K., 1987, Vedic Godddess Nrriti and the Inamgaon headless figurine in Dr. Bhagawat Sahai (ed.), History and Culture, B.P. Sinha Felicitation Volume, Ramanand Vidya Bhavan, Delhi pp.97-99.

Bolon, Carol R. 1997, Forms of the Goddess Lajjagauri in Indian Art, Delhi, pp.VII-XI.

Gupta, P.L. (ed.), 1965, Patna Museum Catalogue of Antiquities, Patna, p.307, No.145 Antiquity No.7716.
Jamkhedkar, A.P., 2004, Symbols Images and Rituals of the Mother in Vakataka Period, Lalitkala: 30, p.39.

Janssen Frans H.P.M., 1993, ‘On the Origin and Development of the so called Lajjagauri’, South Asian Archaeology, 1991, Berlin, pp. 457-72.

Khan, M.N., 2002, Lajjagauri seals and related antiquities from Kashmir, Smast, Gandhara; South Asian Studies, 18, pp. 57-85, pp.83-90.

Kumara Krishna, 2006-07, The Cult of Aditi Uttanapada in Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent: An Assessment in the light of New Discoveries, Pragdhara, No.17,pp. 151,152
Marshall, John, 1911-12, A.S.I. A.R., Excavation at Bhita, p.75 

Marshall, John, 1931, Mohenjodharo and the Indian civilization, I, London, p.52.

Mitragotri, V.R. 1997. ‘Mother Goddess of Churdi Goa and some parallels’, in J.P. Joshi(ed); Facets of Indian Civilization: Recent perspectives, II. New Delhi.

Nath Amrendra, 1990, “Lajjagauri and her possible genesis”, Lalit Kala, No.25, p.43. figs.1 and 3.

Prasad, P.C. & K. Anand. 1996, Pre-Historic Rock Paintings in Bihar Proceedings of the Indian Art History Congress, 4th Session, 26-29,Paper Presented by A.K. Prasad in Annual Conference of iAS. ISPQS & IHCS held at Srinagar (Garhwal) in October 1997

Sankalia, H.D., 1960, “The nude Goddess or shameless women in western Asia, India and South-eastern Asia”, Atribus Aside, XXIII, PP.111-123

Sastry,T.V.G.,1993,”LajjaGouri from Alampur and its Symbolism: In A.V.N. Narasimha Murty and I.K.Sharma Shrinam Chandrika: Oruganti Ramchandraiya Festchrift Delhi: p.275.

Sharma, I.K., 1994, Parasurameswara temple at Gudimallam, Dattson, Nagpur, Appendix IV, P.89.
Sircar, D.C.,1980, ‘ Aspects of the cult of the Indian Mother Goddess’, Journal of the Indian Museums, 36, pp. 9-20.

Stella Kramrisch, 1956, “An image of Aditi Uttanapada”, Artibus Asiae, XIX,    pp. 259-70.

Sonawane, V.H., 1997, A rare Lajjagauri plaque from Tarsang (Gujarat), Facets of Indian Civilization, Aryan Books Intenational, New Delhi, pp.535-537.

Sonawane, V.H., 1998, ‘Some remarkable sculpture of Lajjagauri from Gujarat’ Lalitkala No. 23, p. 18, 29, 33.

Suresh Vasant, 1995,Lajja Gauri from Nanded Sri Nagabhinandham, Dr. M.S. Nagaraja Rao Festchrift ,Vol.I., p.301, 302, 303.

Tiwari., J.N.,1985, Goddess cult in Ancient India, Delhi, pp.195- 196.

Wakankar, V.S.,1992, Rock Paintings in India, Ed. Michel Loblanchet, Rock Art in the Old World, I.G.N.C.A; New Delhi, P.329, fig.8(J).

I.A.R., 1978-79, pp.63-64.

Sachin Tiwary can be contacted at sachintiwary@rocketmail.com.

Visitors to this Journal...

Organisational Membership -

Association for Asian Studies, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA


This Journal on Facebook

This Journal on Linkedin

South Asian Arts - A Journal of Cultural Expressions in South Asia on LinkedIn

  © Blogger templates Newspaper by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP