La dinastia Kalacuri e il tempio delle 81 dee di Bherāghāṭ

  • Chiara Policardi University of Milan


At the heart of Madhya Pradesh, in Bherāghāṭ, near Jabalpur, rises a temple with characteristics unusual for the Indian architectural landscape. Located on the top of an isolated hill overlooking the river Narmadā, it is circular and hypaethral, namely open to the sky. The entire interior perimeter of the circular walls is sectioned by a series of niches that house sculptures of goddesses. These face towards the courtyard, where there is a small shrine in traditional style, with śikhara and maṇḍapa, dedicated to Śiva.

This temple is not an isolated case, since some similar architectural structures, circular and open-air, have been found in different places of India, in an area that extends from Madhya Pradesh to Odisha, with evidence as far south as Kāñcīpura in Tamilnadu. These are dedicated to a group of goddesses or semi-goddesses called yoginīs, whose cult flourished around the 7th-8th century in traditions centered on the god Śiva and closely associated with the tantric phenomenon. These female figures, subject of Indological studies only since relatively recent times, play a decisive role in various texts of the ancient Śaiva tantric literature. However, the cult was not confined to esoteric domains, but from the end of the 9th century it assumed importance in the wider Hindu religious landscape, even in court contexts. Thanks to sovereign patronage, a number of stone sanctuaries dedicated to yoginīs were erected between the 10th and 13th centuries; these are for us monumental attestations of the importance and breadth of the phenomenon.

The paper deals in particular with the yoginī temple of Bherāghāṭ, which, although belonging to the peculiar architectural typology, appears as a unicum under different respects. Various inscriptions indicate that it was commissioned by a king of the Kalacuri dynasty, and it was probably a royal chapel, a cultual place especially reserved to members of the ruling family. Indeed, the shrine represents a shining example of the typical alliance between yoginīs and royal power.


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Author Biography

Chiara Policardi, University of Milan

Chiara Policardi is currently postdoctoral researcher at the University of Milan, with a research project called “Of Deities and Animals. The Rise of Therianthropic Deities in Gupta India”. In her PhD thesis she dealt with yoginīs of mediaeval Śaiva traditions, investigating, in particular, the peculiar therianthropic representation of these figures, which usually combines an animal face with a feminine body. She has recently published the monograph Divino, femminile, animale. Yoginī teriantropiche nell’India antica e medioevale (Alessandria, 2020; in Italian). Indeed, her main research interests concern, in general, on the one hand Hindu feminine deities, on the other hand the important and multifaceted role of animals in Hindu culture, which finds a particular expression in composite animal-human deities.

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