Dr. A K Chatterjee is a seasoned writer with more than 330 blogs in English and Bengali and 10 books mostly on travel, trekking and temples.
Key words (Vernacular words are in italics)
Monolithic; Lord Shiva; bas-relief; iconic; Saptamurti; Baradevi; sthanak; Jataa-Mukut; Gana; abhayamudra; ashta Shiva; Chandi; Bagheshwari; Shivaratri; Vishwarupa.
India is a land of sculptures, dating from the ancient era to the present day. One of these hundreds of thousands of sculptures is the 5th-6th century CE monolithic stone sculpture of Lord Shiva in seven of His iconic or anthropoid forms (Saptamurti) which can be seen in an obscure small temple in the Mumbai suburb of Parel. The Shiva images are carved in bas-relief technique on a big (3.06 meters tall) piece of stone, which is now located in the premises of Baradevi temple at Parel.
The stone with the images of Lord Shiva is known as "Parel Shiva", "Parel Stele" or "Parel Relief" is dated by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), judging by it's archeological style, as of the 5th-6th century CE, more probably constructed in 525-530 CE.
It was lost with time, only to be found in October 1931 while excavation work was being done for road construction from the Parel area.
The huge block of stone, more than 3 meters in height, was shifted to a small temple in the nearby area and kept there. However, the sculptures with 12 figures (described below) was mistakenly identified by the locals as of 12 goddesses (though the exact reason is not known, as it is clear that the images are of male figures), and the temple came to be known as Baradevi (12 goddesses) temple. An adjacent temple is dedicated to a female deity Chandi-Mata, and sometimes it is a bit confusing which temple is actually the "Baradevi temple".
The relief was declared as a "nationally protected monument" (No. 2/3/75-M or N-MH-M5) by the ASI in 1985
(Reference : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parel_Relief).
A beautiful cast of this panel is kept at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai.
The temple housing the Parel Stele
It is a small non-descriptive cement-built room, with an iron collapsible gate in front which is kept under lock and key throughout the year except the nine days of Navaratri festival in October when puja or ritual offering is done. In other days, there is no such religious activity. However, the sculpture is easily viewed through the gaps of the collapsible iron gate.
During the "Shivaratri" festival, a large number of devotees gather here to worship the Lord.
The Sculpture proper
The monolithic structure is constructed of dark gray "White Granite". It is more than 3 meters in height (nearly 11 feet). There are two sets of figures in it carved in bas-relief style. The first set is of 7 figures of Lord Shiva, as identified by matted hair ("Jataa" or "Jataa-Mukut" in vernacular) on head and the crescent moon on forehead. As there are 7 images here, it is often designated as "Saptamurti" (seven-image) of Lord Shiva.
The second set consists of 5 figures at the base of the stone, presumably of "Gana"-s, who are companions of Lord Shiva.
According to some specialists, this is a variant of the "Vishwarupa" ("Omni-form") concept of the Hindu religion.
The whole stone slab is huge enough to generate the idea that it was probably made for/kept in a rock-cut cave shrine like Mandapeshwara or Jogeshwari.
1st set of figures
There is a central standing figure (in Sthanak Mudra) of Lord Shiva. He is holding a rosary of beads (Akshamala) in the right hand in "Abhayamudra" pose, and a conch (most probably) in the left hand. He is wearing big ear-rings (Kundala), necklaces and a crown of matted hairs (Jataa-mukuta).His eyes are closed as if he is in meditation.
6 figures of Lord Shiva are seen as if emanating radially from the central figure - two on top and 2+2 on right and left sides. These secondary figures have more or less same ornaments, hairstyle and facial expression like the central figure, but there is a big exception. While the central figure along with 5 other figures have two hands each, the figure on the top has 10 hands. The hands are holding some Ayudhas or weapons, but it is difficult to identify those because of erosion.
2nd set of figures
These 5 figures are stalky figures, mostly in sitting posture. They are holding musical instruments like harp, flute etc. These figures are attributed to the status of "Gana"-s, who are companions of Lord Shiva.
Though there are only 7 figures of Lord Shiva here (and called "Saptamurti"), the sculpture is often called "Ashta Shiva" (Eight Shivas).
So, where is the 8th Shiva?
It is said that the whole block of stone resembles a Shivalingam, the aniconic form of Lord Shiva, thus making the number 8 instead of 7.
Temple of Goddess Chandi/Chandika
Adjacent to the temple of Parel Shiva, there is a slightly bigger standard temple with a "Mandapa" in front and a sanctum behind. the sanctum contains a stone idol of goddess Chandi. This idol is painted and dressed in a traditional "Saree".
Old Stone statues behind the Chandi temple
Just behind the Chandi temple there are few highly interesting ancient stone sculptures. There are two stone-built lions with magnificent manes, the style of which are different for the two lion statues (one is curly and the other is straight).
Besides these two lions, there is a monkey holding a parrot in its left hand.
Then inside a small niche on the wall, there is a small (3 feet X 2feet approximately) stone slab with beautiful carving of rows of small human figures.
Beside this stone slab, there is a solitary stone statue of a man with big moustache and a typical Marathi style turban. It seems to be of a dwarpala (gatekeeper) though no doors are there to keep.
Most probably all these stone structures were part of some old temple which is no more.
Though not a part of the Parel Shiva, the temple dedicated to Goddess Bagheshwari (literally "Goddess of tigers") is situated on a small hillock only about 50 meters from the Parel Shiva, should be visited while one comes to visit the Parel shiva.
The cement-built present temple has a Mandapa in front with a sanctum behind. The sanctum contains the stone image of goddess Bagheshwari seated on a tiger.
There is a small temple with an ancient looking stone Shivalingam on the courtyard, and there are two huge "deepastambha" (lamp-stands) in front if the temple.
The Parel Shiva was declared as a "Monument of National Importance" in 1985, and is under the protection of ASI (Archeological Survey of India).
This is an extra-ordinary piece of sculpture, and should receive more attention from all sections of the society.
References : Different internet sites including https://en.m.wikipedia.org>wiki.
* One useful reference is - https://webot.org/info/en/?search=Parel_Relief
Photos : All photos are by the author.
Location of Parel
Parel is a neighborhood of Mumbai.
Its geographical location is 18.99 degrees North, 72.84 degrees East.
© 2022 Dr A K Chatterjee