India

The Heroes of Morgaon

One of my winter pastimes back in the UK is genealogy, specifically researching my family ancestry which thus far has culminated in a family tree with over 15,000 known relatives. It can at times become a little obsessive, and with so many resources now available online I’ve managed to trace some of my direct ancestors back to the early 16th century.

The slightly disappointing aspect to this venture is that once you have traced back beyond the time of printed newspapers and censuses, if the individuals were not of high status and therefore didn’t leave any wills or significant property, it becomes a game of very limited facts; just names, dates of birth, marriages and death, and any children born. The information becomes extremely dry, without any real sense of who they were and what social context they operated within.

Exploring some of the hero stone sites in Maharashtra is very reminiscent of my days spent traipsing around churchyards and cemeteries looking for headstones (if they existed) of my deceased ancestors. In the UK headstone carvings are often limited to just a name and birth/death date with no additional context for the individual. With the hero stones I have started to become so fascinated with, the inverse is often the case. There is an absence of any name or date, but instead the iconography of the images carved on the stones informs us a great deal about the anonymous individuals, their social standing, and the circumstances surrounding their death. I find it an interesting juxtaposition.

Situated 70km south-east of Pune is the small town of Morgaon, home to a number of hero stones clustered around the Madhyameshwar Mahadev Mandir, a temple dedicated to Shiva.

For readers unfamiliar with what hero stones are and the iconography carved on these artifacts, I suggest you first read my account of the hero stones that can be seen at Loni Bhapkar, just 10km south-east of Morgaon. That blog post provides some high level context for hero stones, but I fully realise that even I am just scratching the surface of this subject.

The Madhyameshwar Mahadev Mandir is a very simple structure, difficult to date with any certainty aside from the Maratha dome which may be a later addition. The hero stones here are in three distinct places; lined up either side of the entrance doorway, clustered around the Nandi facing the temple, and even built into the fabric of the front elevation of the temple itself.

Seeing these hero stones incorporated into the temple structure itself may at first seem like a horrific act, but it’s an understandable re-use of available materials that were probably standing or lying around nearby. Ironically, it is an act that may also help preserve some of these stones, as I am now aware of some sites where hero stones have become damaged or pushed and broken in the very recent past. By incorporating the stones into the fabric of the building, they’re certainly not going anywhere.

As has become my process now for documenting hero stones, I have numbered each of the stones before presenting them individually with my own interpretation. For those of you more interested in the temple itself, you can skip down to that section HERE in this post.


Hero 1
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle
Lower Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 2
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle against warrior on horseback
Lower Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 3
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and two attendants
Middle Panel – One hero, four angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle, six enemies depicted
Lower Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 4
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle
Lower Bottom Panel – Hero depicted lying dead, face-down

Hero 5
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle on horseback. Note what appears to be an umbrella above the rider, perhaps denoting an individual of higher status
Lower Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 6
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Bottom Panels – Reason for death – Unknown

Hero 7
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, four angels
Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in an equestrian battle

Hero 8
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, four angels
Bottom Panels – Reason for death – Unknown

Hero 9
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Ganesh and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle

Hero 10
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, four angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle against enemy on horseback
Lower Bottom Panel – Hero depicted lying dead on his side

Hero 11
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with his wife and an attendant
Middle Panel – One hero with wife, two angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle, defending with his wife
Lower Bottom Panel – Our hero and wife both depicted as having been killed

Hero 12
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle against men on horseback
Lower Bottom Panel (buried)- Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 13 – In the fabric of the temple
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Bottom Panels – Reason for death – Unknown

Hero 14 – In the fabric of the temple
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Unknown
Middle Panel – Unknown
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle
Lower Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 15 – In the fabric of the temple
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and two attendants
Middle Panel – One hero, four angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle, against men on horseback
Lower Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 16 – In the fabric of the temple
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle
Lower Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 17 – In the fabric of the temple
Top Panel – Deity being prayed –Unknown
Middle Panel – Unknown
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle
Lower Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 18
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Unknown
Middle Panel – Unknown
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle
Lower Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Heroes 19 and 20
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Hero 19 Middle Panel – One hero, two angels
Hero 20 Middle Panel – One hero, three angels
Bottom Panels – Reason for death – Unknown

Hero 21
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with attendant
Middle Panel – One hero, three angels
Upper Bottom Panel – Reason for death – Died in battle
Lower Bottom Panel (buried)- Reason for death – Died defending cattle

Hero 22
Top Panel – Deity being prayed – Shiva Linga, with Nandi and attendant
Middle Panel – Unknown
Bottom Panels – Reason for death – Unknown

Whilst photographing the Morgaon hero stones I became acutely aware of some differences between these stones and the cluster that exists a very short distance away (10km) at Loni Bhapkar. I have since done some very rudimentary analysis to demonstrate what I mean.

The graph below shows the % distribution at each of the sites for whether the hero is depicted on foot or on horseback, whether the attackers are on foot or horseback, and how many angels are carved alongside the hero. All three of these factors probably give a sense of the social standing of the individual.

They key takeaways for me are as follows :

  • The heroes of Morgaon are 3x more likely to be attacked by enemies on horseback.
  • They are 2x more likely to possess a horse themselves.
  • They are 2.5x more likely to have >2 angels depicted on the middle panel.

The sample sizes involved here is of course quite small and the interpretation of this data could lead one in a number of directions. But assuming the stones at each location have not traveled that far from where they presently reside, there is a significant difference in the stories they have to tell about the individuals.


The interior of the Madhyameshwar Mahadev Mandir is painted a somewhat unusual shade of green and has no ornamental carvings.

What the temple lacks for sculptural elements is compensated for by a number of large murals/frescoes on the walls. Note in one of the following photos a panel from a hero stone (not one we have previously seen) is visible, the the painting has respected its presence.

The presiding deity is a Shiva Linga, it may actually be an example of a naturally formed linga but I can’t be totally sure.

Elsewhere in the temple interior are two further examples of hero stone panels being revealed, both respected by the paintings and fragmentary.

Outside the temple and protected from the elements in a small roofed structure is an image of Vishnu (first image below). I wonder if this was originally the deity of the temple and was moved outside when the temple became a Shiva temple. With the demise of the Yadavas we’ve already seen at places like Mallikarjun that the Bhapkar family had a huge influence over temples in this area, aligning many of them to Shiva worship that was favoured by the family and the Marathas.


Less than 50m west of the Madhyameshwar Mahadev Mandir is the Bhairavnath Gram Daivat Temple. It is extremely similar in proportions, but with a complete absence of any hero stones as this is not a temple dedicated to Shiva. The temple was locked unfortunately.

This concludes my account of the hero stones at Morgaon. Anyone interested in seeing more examples should read my documentation of similar sites at Loni Bhapkar and Kikali. Suffice to say, as my obsession on this topic only appears to be increasing, there will be some additional sites documented shortly.

My warmest thanks to Harshad Bhapkar, who comes from Loni Bhapkar and was able to help me identify the names of these temples.


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KevinStandage1@gmail.com
kevinstandagephotography.wordpress.com

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