Introduction

The study of Indian art, architecture, sculpture and temple structure found prominence in the works of eminent scholars like Rowland (1970), Coomaraswami (1972), Ray (1974), Saraswati (1975), Agarwal (1995), Deva (1995) and in the context of Assam, we find the glimpse of sculptures in the laudable works of Nath (1978), R.D.Choudhury (1985), N.D.Choudhury (1985), P.C.Choudhury (1987), Sarma (1988), Kakati (1989), Dutta (1990), Sarma (2001), Deka (2004), Bordoloi (2007a, 2007b), Das (2007) and Patowary (2008). So far, detailed study of sculpture in the archaeological context of particular sites in Assam has not been undertaken. Moreover, the studies are descriptive in nature and there are other aspects also which needs consideration. The present study is restricted to five archaeological sites of North Guwahati in Kamrup district, Assam, and the recording of the sculptures and engravings observed in the vicinity of the above mentioned sites. The sites need further protection and conservation as the engravings and sculptures are facing natural as well as anthropogenic threats.

In the present paper, the term “rock engraving” is used to mean those impressions or incisions made on the rock surface of the sites which are found in the form of line, dot or cut marks and are two-dimensional in nature. By the term “sculpture” is meant those stone carvings which are found on the surface of the rocks in the sites as well as those stone carvings which are found lying in the vicinity of the sites, i.e., both the type of sculpture are three-dimensional in nature. The sculptures have been categorized into two types – rock cut sculptures and rock sculptures. Rock cut sculptures are those which are found static on the rocks of the sites and rock sculptures are portable or movable ones lying in the sites.

Methodology

The area for the present study is North Guwahati in the district of Kamrup in the Indian state of Assam. North Guwahati is situated in the northern direction of Guwahati city on the northern bank of the river Brahmaputra. North Guwahati is a historically and archaeologically rich place with the presence of temples, like Doul Govinda, Dirgheswari, Aswakranta, Manikarneswar, Rudreswar; inscriptions like Kanai Boroshi Bowa, stone-built bridge called Sil- Sako and Vaishnavite monastery called Auniati Satra. Moreover, the place names like Rangmahal (palace for recreation), Rajaduar (king’s gate) suggest the existence of an administrative centre in the past. It is a part of greater Guwahati. Greater Guwahati is a Master plan for expansion of the Guwahati city in order to deal with rapid urbanization and related urban issues. Both caste population and tribal population are found in North Guwahati. Therefore, the North Guwahati area has been selected for the present study keeping into account the rich tangible cultural heritage it endows.

Even though the area is rich in archaeological heritage, the study has been delimited to those five archaeological sites which are protected and preserved by the Directorate of Archaeology, Assam under the Assam Ancient Monuments and Records Act, 1959. The sites are Dirgheswari, Kanai Boroshi Bowa, Aswakranta, Manikarneswar and Rudreswar. Dirgheswari site is located in Rangmahal, Kanai Boroshi Bowa in Rajaduar, Aswakranta in Majgaon, Manikarneswar in Rajaduar and Rudreswar in Silsako area of North Guwahati. All the sites hold religious edifices which are at present dedicated to particular Hindu God and Goddess. Aswakranta site contains two religious edifice called Kurma Janardan temple and Anantasaye Narayan temple.

The study is based on primary data collected through field visits by applying Exploration method. Field visits were made in dry and winter season from the month of November to March. The engravings and sculptures noticed in the above mentioned sites were recorded. Non-Participant Observation method was used to collect data on the religious edifices. Unstructured Interview method was also used to gather information about the sites from the priests of the respective religious edifice. GPS device was used to record the coordinates and elevation of the sites for preparation of a GIS map of the sites and the area under study. Four of the sites have been plotted with cooordinates recorded through Global Positioning System (GPS) device over satellite image of Geater Guwahati with an inset Digital Elavation Model (DEM) map of Assam (Fig. 1). Documentation format for Archaeological/Heritage Sites/Monuments of Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) was employed to collect data on the sites. Secondary sources of data collection were books, research papers, articles and Ph.D. theses.

Figure 1 

Satellite image of Greater Guwahati marking four archaeological sites.

Findings

Dirgheswari site: Coordinates – N 26° 14’37.0” lat. E 091° 44’57.8” long., 99 mts ams.

Dirgheswari site comprises of one monument which is in use as temple dedicated to Goddess Kali. On the left hand side from the entrance of the site, face of Shiva was observed engraved on a big rock. As the engraving was located at a height of the rock, the measurement could not be taken. Altogether approximately seventeen series of dot marks were seen in linear pattern in the entire site and the length and number of such marks varied in each rock. Again, near the entrance in the left hand side, on a rock some line marks were perceived resembling a temple with a shrine at the centre. One chess board (square shaped) measuring 2 ft × 2 ft was noticed above a rock and by its side another chess board (rectangular shaped) measuring 1.4 ft × 10 inch was observed. Two tusked elephants were seen to be engraved facing south-east direction, the smaller one measuring 1.8 ft × 11 inch and the comparatively bigger one measuring 3 ft × 2.2 ft (Fig. 2). Another four engravings of temple like structures were noticed facing south-east direction. One pair of foot impression with flower petals on its surroundings was observed by the side of the antarala (the corridor that leads to the garbhagriha or inner sanctum) which is believed to be the foot impression of Goddess Durga by the local people (Table 1).

Figure 2 

Engravings of tusked elephants in pair at Dirgheswari.

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. God and Goddess Shiva 1 North west–South east Not feasible for measuring
2. Dot marks Linear 17 series (approx.) Mostly North west–South east Maximum 7 ft (approx)
Minimum 3 ft (approx)
3. Human and floral Foot impression with petals of flower encircling it 1 pair North east–South west 8 inch × 4 inch
4. Religious edifice Temple like structure with a shrine at the centre 1 North west–South east 2.9 ft × 8 inch
North west–South east 9 inch × 4 inch
Temple like structures 4 North west–South east 1.6 ft × 1 ft
North west–South east 2 ft × 1.3 ft
North west–South east 1.11 ft × 1.2 ft
5. Geometric Chess board 2 South west–North east 2 ft × 2 ft
South west–North east 1.4 ft × 10 inch
6. Faunal Elephant 2 North west–South east 3 ft × 2.2 ft
North west–South east 1.8 ft × 11 inch

Table 1

Rock engravings from Drgheswari.

Among the rock cut sculptures of Dirgheswari site, six Ganesawere found of which two are located on a rock on the right side from the entrance, one big Ganesa was found again on the left hand side from the entrance (Fig. 3), another one by the side of the sculpture of a sage and is located on the left hand side from the entrance and two were found side by side at the back of the garbhagriha. Just above the hill where two medium sized Ganesa was perceived, one shrine resembling a yonipitha (genital organ of Mother Goddess) was noticed with the remains of a ratha type garbhagriha surrounding the shrine. By the side of the big Ganesa, one sculpture of Yama sitting on an animal, probably a buffalo was noticed. On climbing upwards one sculpture of hanuman was seen on the left hand side from the entrance. Just below the sculpture of the sage which is believed to be of sage Markandeyaby the local people, one shrine resembling Shiva linga (phallic pillar of Shiva) was seen. Two unidentified deity were found on the same piece of rock on the right hand side from the entrance. Three series of steps were found, two outside the temple boundary having fourteen and twelve steps and the other series inside the temple boundary with approximately eight steps (Table 2).

Figure 3 

Rock cut sculpture of Ganesha from Dirgheswari.

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. God and Goddess Ganesa 6 South west–North east 10 ft × 6.6 ft
Yama on an animal probably a buffalo 1 North east–South west 3.4 ft × 2.7 ft
North east–South west 4.1 ft × 3.1 ft
Hanuman 1 North west–South east 2.6 ft × 2 ft
North west–South east 2 ft × 1.9 ft
North west–South east 1.11 ft × 1.6 ft
North west–South east 5.7 ft × 4.7 ft
North west–South east 6.8 ft × 3.8 ft
2. Deity Sage(Markandeya) 1 North west–South east 1.1 ft × 8 inch
Unidentified 2 North west–South east 1.9 ft × 1.7 ft
North west–South east 1.10 ft × 1.6 ft
3. Shrine Resembling Shiva linga
Shape resembles Yonipitha
1
1
North west–South east
South west–North east
2.9 ft × 1.11 ft (interior)
5 ft × 5 ft (exterior)
2 ft × 1.7 ft (interior)
6 ft × 6 ft (exterior)
4. Others Descending steps 3 series (with 14, 12, & 8 stone steps) North west–South east 10 ft, 8 ft, 6 ft (approx.)

Table 2

Rock cut sculptures from Dirgheswari.

One sculpture of an unidentified deity was found lying outside the jugmohol (recently constructed concrete space in between mandapa or prayer hall and antarala). Another partly broken sculpture resembling a tiger was seen outside the antarala of the temple. Inside the boundary of animal sacrificial place one sculpture resembling a flower showing beautifully carved petals with upper portion being flat and one pillar like sculpture with animal motif on its both the sides and one full pot being carved at the centre was observed. The sculpture resembling a flower is nowadays utilized during animal sacrifice for keeping the swords used in sacrificing animals during Durga puja (honoring the deity) and Kali puja (Table 3).

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. Deity Unidentified 1 South–North 2.8 ft × 1.8 ft, thickness- 1.2 ft
2. Faunal Tiger 1 South east–North west 3 ft × 2 ft, thickness- 8 inch
3. Floral Resembling flower petals 1 East–West 2 ft × 2 ft (approx.)
4. Faunal and pot Probably part of a pillar with two animals on the sides and one pot at the centre 1 East–West 4.6 ft × 1.6 ft (approx.)

Table 3

Rock sculptures from Dirgheswari.

Kanai Boroshi Bowa site: Coordinates- N 26° 12’36.5” lat. E 091° 44’31.4” long., 62 mts amsl.

Four inscriptions were found in the Kanai Boroshi bowa site. Two inscriptions were found on the same piece of rock at greater height. The other two inscriptions were found over two different rocks of which one was observed at a lesser height near water body. Below the third inscription, one sign was found (Fig. 4). The measurement of the first and second inscription could not be taken because of the height at which both are located. Therefore, approximate measurements have been given. One labyrinth was noticed by the side of the fourth inscription and below the labyrinth four signs or symbols were seen which were not discernable (Fig. 5). One female figurine was seen engraved on a rock and by its side one sign was engraved (Fig. 6). On another flat rock one chess board, one square with a circle inside and one bow was perceived. A total of sixteen dot marks were observed in the site on the rocks of varied shapes and sizes in linear pattern (Table 4).

Figure 4 

Inscription with symbol at Kanai Boroshi Bowa.

Figure 5 

Labyrinth with signs from Kanai Boroshi Bowa.

Figure 6 

Engraving of a female figurine from Kanai Boroshi Bowa.

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. Geometric Labyrinth 1 South east–North west 2.11 ft × 1.11 ft
Chess board 1 South east–North west 1.5 ft × 1.5 ft
Square with a circle inside 1 South east–North west 8 inch × 8 inch
Bow 1 South east–North west 9 inch × 3 inch
2. Human Female figurine 1 North–South 2.5 ft × 1.2 ft
3. Dot marks Linear 16 series _____ _____
4. Signs _____ 5 South east–North west 3 inch × 3 inch
South east–North west 6 inch × 5 inch
South east–North west 8 inch × 4 inch
South east–North west 8 inch × 7 inch
South west–North east 1 ft × 4 inch
5. Inscription _____ 4 West–East 2 ft × 1 ft (approx.) (11 lines)
North–South 2 ft × 1.4 ft (approx.) (7 lines)
South west–North east 2 ft × 4 inch (1 line)
East–West 3.7 ft × 5.0 ft (3 lines)

Table 4

Rock engravings from Kanai Borosi Bowa.

One rock cut sculpture of Ganesa was seen below one inscription facing eastern direction. Recently one small temple has been constructed encircling the sculpture of Ganesa. By the side of Ganesa, on another rock, one rock cut sculpture of Goddess Kali was noticed (Table 5).

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. God and Goddess Ganesa 1 West–East 6.0 ft × 4.5 ft
2. God and Goddess Kali 1 West–East 2.9 ft × 2.2 ft

Table 5

Rock cut sculptures from Kanai Borosi Bowa.

The only rock sculpture noticed lying near the entrance of the temple was probably a part of a pillar with floral and human motif which was facing the eastern direction (Table 6).

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. Human and floral Probably part of a pillar 1 West–East 1.5 ft × 1.0 ft

Table 6

Rock sculpture from Kanai Boroso Bowa.

Aswakranta site: Anantasaye Narayan Coordinates – N 26° 11’ 16.7” lat. E 091° 43’23.4” long., 86 mts amsl.

Kurma Janardan Coordinates – N 26° 12’35.7” lat. E 091° 44’32.0” long., 50 mts amsl.

As mentioned earlier, the Aswakranta or Aswaklanta site consist of two religious edifices, the Kurma Janardan and Anantasaye Narayan, both dedicated to God Vishnu. One unidentified sculpture of a deity was perceived in a rock shelter on the way to Kurma Janardan temple of Aswakranta site at the foot hills of Janardan hill.

One unidentified partly broken sculpture of a human figure without the head portion was noticed at the back of the garbhagriha of Kurma Janardan temple. Four ruins, one was probably a part of a door frame with some floral motifs at the edges (Fig. 7), one probably a part of a pillar, two probably were parts of a platform were seen lying by the side of the kurma Janardan temple of Aswakranta site (Table 8). One part of a door frame or probably a pillar with floral motifs and human figure was found standing vertically, another part of a door frame with floral motif was found lying horizontally near Anantasaye Narayan temple of Aswakranta site (Table 7).

Figure 7 

Ruins of a door frame with floral design at Aswakranta (Kurma Janardan).

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. God and Goddess Unidentified deity 1 North east–South west 3.2 ft × 2.10 ft

Table 7

Rock cut sculpture Aswakranta (Anantasaye Narayan).

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. Human Unidentified human figure without head portion (in Kurma Janardan temple) 1 North west–South east 3 ft × 1.8 ft
2. Floral and human Part of a door frame or probably a pillar with floral motifs and human figure standing vertically (in Anantasaye Narayan temple) 1 North–South 5.11 ft × 1.6 ft
3. Floral motif Another part of a door frame with floral motif lying horizontally (in Anantasaye Narayan temple) 2 North–South 4 ft × 1.8 ft
Probably part of a door frame with floral motif on the edges (in Kurma Janardan temple) North–South 2.9 ft × 1.3 ft
4. Others One part of a pillar lying horizontally (in Kurma Janardan temple) 3 North–South 4.3 ft × 1.9 ft
One part of a platform lying horizontally (in Kurma Janardan temple) North–South 2.4 ft × 1.7 ft
One part of a platform lying horizontally (in Kurma Janardan temple) North–South 2.4 ft × 1.9 ft

Table 8

Rock sculpture from Awsakranta (Kurma Janardan).

Manikarneswar site: Coordinates – N 26° 12’26.4” lat. 091° 44’52.4” long., 86 mts amsl.

Manikarneswar site contains one sacred monument dedicated to God Shiva (Table 9). Only one rock cut sculpture of Ganesa was found on the way to the temple on the right hand side on the bank of river Brahmaputra (Fig. 8).

Figure 8 

Rock cut sculpture of Ganesha from Manikarneswar.

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. God and Goddess Ganesa 1 North east–South west 4 ft × 3.2 inch, thickness – 10 inch

Table 9

Rock cut sculpture from Manikarneswar site.

One unidentified sculpture with two deities together was found near the entrance of the Manikarneswar site. One part of a pillar with creeper floral motif and a human figure was also noticed. Another part of a pillar was observed with human motif. All these sculptures were found under one shed near the entrance of the temple (Table 10).

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. God and Goddess Unidentified two deities together 1 East–West 5.10 ft × 3 ft
2. Floral and human Probably a part of a pillar with floral motifs and one human figure 1 South–north 4.3 ft × 1.7 ft
3. Human Probably a part of pillar with human motif 1 North east–South west 1.9 ft × 9 inch

Table 10

Rock sculpture from Manikarneswar site.

Rudreswar site: Coordinates – N 26° 12’34.4” lat. E 091° 48’27.2” long., 62 mts.

Rudreswar site contains one brick built temple dedicated to God Shiva. Here, one rock sculpture of a bull without the head portion near the entrance of the temple was perceived (Table 11). Along with this, one unfinished structure and one part of a post was seen (Fig. 9).

Figure 9 

Rock sculpture of a bull withpart of a pillar and unfinished structure at Rudreswar.

Sl. No. Motif Type Number Orientation Measurement (in ft.)

1. Faunal Bull without the head portion 1 East–West 2 ft × 1.1 ft
2. Others Unfinished structure 2 East–West 1 ft × 7 inch
Part of a post East–West 1 ft × 6 inch

Table 11

Rock sculpture from Rudreswar.

Discussion

From the above findings, it can be said that rock engravings have been found from two sites, namely, Dirgheswari and Kanai Boroshi Bowa. From Digheswari site, twenty-eight (28) numbers of engravings has been recorded, whereas, from Kanai Boroshi Bowa site thirty (30) engravings have been recorded. The engravings found in Dirgheswari site comprises of six (6) motifs like God and Goddess, floral, faunal, religious edifice, dot mark and geometric. Among these motifs, incidence of religious edifice was highest, i.e., five (5) in number. But the incidence of dot mark was even higher (seventeen series). The orientations of the engravings were mostly found to be north west–south east, i.e., facing south eastern direction. The measurement of the smallest engraving which is a religious edifice was found to be 8 inch × 4 inch, whereas, that of the largest engraving was 3.0 ft × 2.2 ft and it belonged to an animal (elephant). The motifs of the engravings found in Kanai Boroshi Bowa site were five (5) in number, they were, geometric, human, dot mark, sign and inscription. Number of signs or symbols was found to be highest i.e., five. But here also the incidence of dot marks is seen to even higher i.e., sixteen series of dot marks were found. Measurement of the engravings ranges from 3 inch × 3 inch (one sign) to 3.7 ft × 5.0 ft (one inscription). In Kanai Boroshi Bowa, the orientations were mainly found to be south east–north west i.e., facing north western direction.

With exception to Rudreswar site, rock cut sculptures were perceived in all the sites under study. Rudreswar, being located in the plains has no rocks in its surroundings. The highest numbers of rock cut sculptures have been recorded from Dirgheswari site (sixteen) and least number is recorded from two sites, Aswakranta (one unidentified deity) and Manikarneswar (one Ganesa) that is with one rock cut sculpture from each site. The motifs of rock cut sculptures from Digheswari site were-God and Goddess, shrine and deity. Number of rock cut sculptures belonging to God and Goddess motif was highest (eight). Six (6) rock cut sculptures of Ganesa were found. The orientation of the rock cut sculptures in Dirgheswari site were mostly found to be in the north west-south east direction, that is facing the south eastern direction. Measurement of the rock cut sculptures ranges from 1.1 ft × 8 inch (one sage) to 10 ft × 6.6 ft (one Ganesa). Next highest numbers of rock cut sculptures were recorded from Kanai Boroshi Bowa site. Two rock cut sculptures of God and Goddess motif was found. One Ganesa and one rock cut sculpture of Goddess Kali measuring 4.5 ft × 6.0 ft and 2.9 ft × 2.2 ft respectively were found. The orientation of both the rock cut sculptures was west- east, which is facing eastern direction.

On the other hand, rock sculptures have been recorded from all the five sites under study, highest number was found in Asawakranta site (seven) and lowest in Kanai Boroshi Bowa site (one). The motifs of the rock sculptures from Aswakranta site were human, floral and some ruins were perceived showing no definite motif. The rock sculptures were mainly found to be facing the southern direction. The measurement ranges from 2.4 ft × 1.7 ft to 5.11 ft × 1.6 ft. Types of the rock sculptures were mainly parts of pillar or door frame. Next to Aswakranta site was Dirgheswari site with four rock sculptures having deity, faunal and floral motifs. The measurements were found to be ranging from 2 ft × 2 ft to 4.6 ft × 1.6 ft with south-north, southeast-northwest, east-west orientations. Types were one tiger, one unidentified deity, one part of a pillar or door frame and one flower. Next to Dirgheswari was Manikarneswar and Rudreswar site. In Manikarneswar, three rock sculptures were observed belonging to the God and Goddess, floral and human motif. The types were two unidentified deities together, one part of a pillar with floral and one human figure and one part of a pillar with human motif. The sculptures were seen facing different directions like west, north and south-west. Like Manikarneswar, Rudeswar also showed three rock sculptures of faunal motif but the other two rock cut sculptures did not show any particular motif. The types were- one bull without the head portion, an unfinished structure and one part of a post. The measurement ranges from 1 ft × 6 inch to 2 ft × 1.1 ft. The orientations of the rock sculptures were found to be east- west that is facing western direction. The motif of the only rock sculpture of Kanai Boroshi Bowa was floral and human motif with west-east orientation and measuring 1.5 ft × 1 ft.

Tentative Chronology

So far the chronology is concerned, no absolute dating on the sites and monuments under study has been done. Dating based on the typology of the sculptures and architecture has been made. Choudhury (1959: 25) placed the monuments of Assam that are found scattered throughout the land within the time frame 5th–12th century A.D. Except the Kanai Boroshi Bowa site, all the other sites under study, namely, Dirgheswari, Aswakranta, Manikarneswar and Rudreswar contain monuments which are in use as temples constructed by the Koch and Ahom kings during their reign. Hence, the monuments are historical but the amorphous nature of the shrines and antiquity of the sites and may push the dates behind. It was observed that the principal shrines of Dirgheswari, Manikarneswar and Kurma Janardan temple of Aswakranta lack anthropomorphic form, although they are dedicated to specific Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The shrines are crude stone structures lying in the deep interior and down the present day temples. It seems these shrines existed since the ancient period tentatively during second and third century AD and were a part of the cultural practices of the group of people that resided in the nearby areas.

Comparable findings

A number of scholars have highlighted on the rock sculpture and iconography of the region but no work focusing on the rock art and engravings of the region have so far been reported. Chodhury (1959: 69) have reported on different engraved motifs like rosettes, geometric designs, swords, animal and human motifs on the monoliths at Jamuguri in upper Assam. Other works pertaining to rock art and engravings are not available except some on the megaliths and rock surfaces by British scholars like Hutton (1923). Bezbaruah (2014) has reported on the engravings of bird, animal, man riding animal and loop design from Manipur besides grooved megaliths from Meghalaya and rock cut sculpture of Unakoti from Tripura. However, a number of scholars worked on sculpture, architecture, temple structure, etc in the plains of Assam. Rock cut sculptures of Ganesa are also reported from Pandu, Umananda, Urvasi and Kamakhya in the heart of Guwahati city, Karbi Anglong and Dah Parvatiya of Tezpur (Saraswati: 2007). Rock cut figures of Vishnu, Siva, stupa cut on boulder and similar other rock sculpture of Surya pahar of Golapara in Assam have been reported by Saraswati (2007: 429).

Conclusion

The engravings found in the sites of Dirgheswari and Kanai Boroshi Bowa might be earlier in date than the rock-cut sculptures found in the sites under study. The purpose of such engravings with varied motifs is not yet known. The rock cut sculptures were probably made during or after the construction of the present day temples because the motifs of such rock cut sculptures were mainly Gods and Goddesses. For example, the rock cut sculptures of Ganesapossessed sacred thread with parasu (a weapon) on hands. The rock sculptures found in the sites might have been some broken parts of that particular temple or of an earlier temple of the respective sites or might have been brought from nearby places with the tendency of preserving them for site beautification purposes or for utilising in the day to day practices of the temple sites. Further research on the above sites will bring more information on the archaeological perspective of the area.

Competing Interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.