Eran (Sanskrit:ऐरण ) is a small village situated on the south bank of the river Bina, a tributary of the river Betwa, about 100 km north east of the ancient sites of Vidisha, Sanchi and Udayagiri. Eran is probably one of the most ancient towns in India, coins and epigraphs found here give us it’s ancient names of Erakanya, Erakaina and Airikina and it was no doubt a significant stop on the ancient route from Vidisha to Mathura.
Excavations between 1960 and 1965 have revealed settlement deposits dating back to the second millennium B.C. However, the most significant archaeological finds from Eran has to be over 3,000 coins, dating from 300 B.C. through to 100 A.D. The most prevalent type of coins unearthed were square ones, and has contributed to archaeologists believing that Eran was once one of the ancient mints for Indian kingdoms along with Vidisha, Ujjain and Tripuri.
The principal Hindu monuments that can be seen at Eran today are all located in one small complex west of the town. There are the remains of four to five temples here, the main temples standing in a line on a north-south alignment at the far end of the entrance.
Undoubtedly the most iconic image from Eran, and rightly so. The colossal Varaha at Eran is believed to be the earliest known example of its kind, measuring approx 11 feet high, 5 feet wide and 14 feet in length, and wonderfully decorated with 1,185 figures of sages arranged in twelve rows.
These carvings cover the body, legs, throat, forehead and neck of the Varaha, but the details extend far beyond that. Hanging from the right tusk of Varaha is Bhudevi, in the ears are Vidyadharas (celestial musicians), together with a garland consisting of 28 circles, 27 of them containing an image of male and female figures, the last remaining circle housing a scorpion.
On the chest and throat of the Varaha are four rows of male figures totalling 96 figures in total, each one holding a water pot in one hand. Set in the upper middle of this panel is a single image of Vishnu, the arms sadly now broken off.
Also on the front chest is a Toramana inscription. This confirms that the Hunas had invaded the north west and displaced the Gupta Empire, which ties down a date for the colossal Varaha to around the early 6th century.
Notice how the Varaha’s tongue is sticking out slightly, and on it is standing a small goddess who has been interpreted as Saraswati (or Vedic goddess Vac).
And don’t forget to look down ! Carved on the floor between the boars legs is a depiction of the ocean, with serpents and sea life.
It’s a magical image, I won’t even start to disclose how many photographs I took of this 🙂
The boar today stands in the open, but it would have once been housed in a small temple, the ruins of which Cunningham first recorded in 1847 and again in 1871. We know there were walls and a mandapa, the remains of which have now been cleared away from the boar, but the footprint of the structure suggests a rectangular temple similar to the Varaha shrine at Khajuraho.
Some distance in front of the Varaha platform is a large stone slab, 6 feet in length and aligned with that temple. On the stone is some large shell script which remains undeciphered. Many believe this to have been the original temple entrance.
This houses the impressive image of Vishnu, 13 feet high and located in the temple sanctum.
It’s an evocative image, another excuse for my camera to work overtime 🙂 The way Vishnu is framed by the doorway is just so perfect.
This is the best preserved temple at Eran, and although the roof and walls are missing the decorated sanctum doorway is intact. The door jambs have images of Yamuna and Ganga, river goddesses that are typically found higher up in door jambs from the Gupta period. This has led some experts to believe that the doorway and front mandapa was installed during the Pratihara period, which would date those structures to the 8th or 9th century.
Just like the colossal Varaha, this is a statue that I can’t help returning to and photographing again !
Little remains of this temple structure now, aside from a damaged statue of Narasimha, broken at the knees, resting on a carved slab. Nearby is a pedestal with remains of the feet, originally this statue would have been over 7 feet tall.
It strikes me that this would be a great opportunity to get him upright again with a little bit of effort and renovation. It seems a shame that this statue is left on the ground when we have both the Varaha and Vishnu statues alongside and correctly in-situ.
Also known as the Buddhagupta pillar or Bhima pillar, it stands 43 feet high with a capital in the shape of a reeded bell.
Above this is an abacus with lions, and finally two male figures, 5 feet high standing back to back with a wheeled halo between them.
One of the figures is overseeing the temples, the other overlooking the ancient town a little distance away.
On the south side of the pillar is a Sanskrit inscription dating the dedication to around 484 A.D.
Other sides of the pillar have some interesting carvings as well.
Just in front of the presumed original entrance of the Vahara Temple with the shell script lies what is believed to be the remains of a torana (Hindu arched gateway). Cunningham searched for broken parts of the pillars, but only found a few broken statues and most of the torana pillars had long gone.
Just in front of the Narasimha Temple is a curious structure consisting of four pillars set in the middle of a rectangular plinth. On further inspection these would appear to be random pieces of temple architecture that have been collected and placed in this way. Certainly from Cunningham’s map of the temple site there is no evidence of a temple existing exactly where this ‘structure’ is.
These show some equisit carvings, I guess having them still on site for people to see but fixed in this way is perhaps the best way of preserving them.
Eran is a wonderful place to visit; a cluster of immensely interesting temples set within a compact site, located in a relatively remote location. I’d be surprised if you find anyone else there if you visit, and it makes the whole experience all the more special because of that.
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