The Indian Analyst

A Pearl in Murky Waters


 By Usha Kris

If you happen to be in Mumbai, footloose and fancy free, with a mind to ferret out the little known details of history waiting to be noticed, buried in the confusion of the bursting city, make a trip to Parel village to see the the Siva Heptad–Yes, the name ‘village’ still exists, and those living in Mumbai will guide you. I myself knew no details to speak of, other than one arresting photograph of the exquisitely carved image that existed and the face that the later period temple dedicated to Chandika Devi, presently popular, adjoins it. These were my only cues. No one was quite able to understand my search for this Siva stone sculpture, its location unknown to anyone I knew in the city. The search led to a place known as BarhMata in Parel village, and there if you ask for the Chandika Devi temple, where this unique 6th Century Siva has been safely imprisoned in a small room with a rusty grill gate. 

Accompanied by Michael, we began this curious search at a temple mentioned by his carpenter for a start. Intuitively, I knew that this was not the place. It looked too popular for one thing. But then this was the best place to ask, and that I did. Promptly the poojari said that there IS a Chandika Devi temple near a particular shop in Parel village, and next to that is a Siva image. We took a taxi and as we turned into a little street, typical of any village in India, there in sight was the Chandika Devi temple. There was no poojari in sight, and a couple of boys were playing marbles and an old man was sleeping on the stone bench. As we circumambulated the temple, 2 stone lions gazed menacingly. A stone panel of deities mutely watched from near by.

In a little room, built recently, the massive heptad stood held in place by 2 large metal clamps. I gazed at the image through the rusty steel grill door and took some photographs as well. Curious faces looked out of doorways and verandas as we took pictures and asked questions. Not many came by apparently to see this magnificent Siva. This is not surprising, as no one knows about it! 

seems that in the 6th century, artisans carved this 11 1/2 -foot by 6 1/2-foot stone into 7 images of Siva (explaining the title heptad). The seven Sivas were sculpted to perfection. The Ganas, devotees of Siva, are at his feet. They are seen holding musical instruments: one has a sarangi, another an old version of the vina, and the third is a flutist. The vina resembles a harp that is played even today in Burma, and is known as the Burmese harp. Behind them are 2 dwarapalas. The drum is noticeable by its absence. This stone relief eleven and a half foot high and six and a half feet wide, was being brought down a muddy hill during a torrential downpour during the monsoon. Unable to maneuver this large stone downhill carefully, it had sustained some damages, making it unworthy of worship. Hence, it lay abandoned, and in 1931, it was housed in a hastily built room. The main figure of Siva is at the top with his crescent moon in his locks. The other 2 figures, also standing , one below the other, along with two figures on either side make up the seven. The only full figure in a dhoti is at the centre bottom, standing tall, to be the form at whose feet the pooja would have taken place. 

Haras was the first eye-witness to publish his findings within 5 days of its discovery. He said that in this heptad, Siva is considered to be a Maheshamurthy, the full manifestation of Siva, as the cause of creation, protection and destruction of the world. Stella Kramrish says “ The image at Parel is based on the meaning of lingum, of Yaksha and yoga power. It visualizes Siva not with the cosmic suggestiveness of the Nataraja image. This shows Siva in his everlasting activity beheld from without. The image from Parel shows Siva realized from within his state of power.” Siva has aikiam or self-unification with the highest factor of time, Sadasiva, which is the freedom of eternity symbolized by the highest part - the domed, cylindrical, unadorned- part of the Linga.

I have been there twice, but did not encounter a poojari whose attendance was marked by fresh flowers and incense. Will I go back again this year? For sure. This time I shall lie in wait for the priest to tell me what he knows…..

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