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Kahilipara hoard of Bronzes


Kahilipara hoard of Bronzes , Assam

The Narakasur hill is situated at a distance of about five miles south of Gauhati, Assam, India. On the southern slope of the hill there is a village , called Kahiliparra, (alos called Odalbakra), which is adjacent to the State Electricity Board’s sub-station. The southern slope of the hill is full of huge boulders, scattered throughout . In a hole, caused by the combination of three huge granite boulders some archaeological objects were found by a local man in 1964. Soon after P.C. Choudhury then Director , Historical and Antiquarian Studies, Assam visited the site, examined the objects and afterwards, published a paper on them. It appears from the note of Choudhury that the total number from the note of Choudhury that the total number of antiquities were thirty0-seve at the time of discovery . In 1967, it was reported that some of the finds were missing. But in our last visit to the side in June, 1971 before these were taken to the Assam State Museum , we could see all the objects. The villagers also denied the report of missing of some objects Choudhury saw these objects under a temporary shed near the site . But now during our visit we found that these were removed and kept in the house of Sri Suryakanta Rabha of the Kahilipara village . CHoudhury in his paper gave only the sketch of the objects and avoided the detailed iconographical description of images, and did not publish any photograph as he gave more importance on the historical aspect and on the inscrified bell. Here an attempt is made to deal with the iconographical details of the images, descriptions of the other objects and to the give some new interpretations of them.

The finds consist of a mukhalinga, two ghantas (bells), a sankha Conch-shell), several miniature shells and twenty-two images of various deities. Except a small image of Manasa, which is carved out of a piece of basalt, all the images are of bronze. Amongst the bronze images, four are cast in round plates. The description of the subjects are as follows :

An image of Indra (Acc No. 3000)

The biggest image of the group is the icon of Indra measure 32x16Cms. Here the deity is seen riding on his vahana, Airavata, facing front. He sits astride on the vahana. The deity has two hands, the right hand being held in varadahasta-mudra, resting on the right thigh, while the left in the abhaya-murda, resting on the left thing. He is decked with a karanda (?) mukuta, kundalas, haras, upavita, keyuras, valayas and nupuras. His paridhana consist of a katimekhala and a kativastrsa. He is flanked by two female chowri bearers. Both the attendants stand each on a padma , so also Airavata. The ankusa which was to be placed in one of the hands of the deity, is placed on the head of the vahana. Below the pitha a male devotee is seen in anjalihasta pose. Behind the deity a round splendid prabha is seen which is arranged on an adhara (frame) above the parbha a chhatra is seen.

According to the Amsumadbhedagama the image of Indra should be two handed, seated on Airavata and attended by two chamara bearers and his consort. In our image Indrani is not present. Other details of ht e icon are keeping with the text.

This splendid image is a very rare work of art. Though the adhara and the prabha with the chhatra of this image are arranged in the style of sculpturers of the Indra image is not found in Bengalnor. In Bihar, None of the authoritative books on Indian bronze images illustrates such figure of Indra. However, the Chidambaram stone image of Indra can be compared with ours. The sitting posture of both the images are quite identical . But that is a four handed image. On the basis of the style , this splendid work of art should be placed in Circa 10th-11th century A.D.

Four images of Visnu

Next in importance is a beautiful image of Visnu. It is 10’ in height and 4’ in breadth. The deity stands on a padma in samapada-sthanaka attitude. He has fopur hands. The ayudhas are as follows : padma in the right front, cakra in the right back, sankha in the left front and a gada in the left back. The person of the deity is decorated with a kiritakiritamukuta. His body is beautified with long kundalas, hara , upavita and vijayanti. He wears a kattivastra and a katimekhala as the paridhana of the lower part of the body. According to the Agni-purana and the Rupamandana . It is Sridhara, the 9th from of Visnu. The Padma-Purana calls it Hrishikesa the 10th form of the deity.

The next image of Visnu is also in samapa dasthanaka attitude. The deity holds in his four hands clockwise: padma (?) cakra, sankha and gada. The front hands stretch forward and hold the ayudhas, while the back hnds hang down and touch the ayudhas placed on the pitha. The pitha is of a puranavikasita-padma (full-bloomed lotus). The deity wears a kiritamukuta on the head and other usual alankaras on the body and vastra to drape the lower part of the body . The adhara behind the deity is quite prominent. Above the adhara a round prabha is arranged. Below the pitha the vahana of the deity is depicted. According to the Angi-purana and the Rupamandna. It is Sridhara image. But according ot the Padmapurana. It should be identified with Hrshikesa, one of the twenty-four forms of Visnu.

The sthanaka posture and the style of holding the ayudhas of this image can be compared with those one from Nalanda, illustrated by Banerjes. As in our image , in the case of the Nalanda image of Visnu also both the front hands stretch forward and the back hands touch the ayudas placed on the pitha. Both the images from Kahilipara or Narakasur hill can be attributed to the 9th century A.D., from stylistic point of view.

The next image of Visnu is also in the same posture. Its style of holding the ayudhas is same as that of the previous image of the deity. But in this case we do not see adhara behind the deity . However ,a prabha of plam leaf-tree shape is arranged. No attendant, nor the vahana is depicted in this case. Stylistically, the image should date in the 8th century A.D. This image is quite similar to a visnu image from Deopani, now in the State Museum, Guwahat. At Davaka near Nagaon also an image having the same feature is noticed. The last image is mutilated. The pitha of the deity, the ahdra and the ayudhas of two hands are broken and gone. However , it can be easily made out that the deity is in samapadasthanaka attitude. The prabha arranged behind the head of the deity still exists.

Two images of Surya

There are two Surya images in this group of sculptures. The first measures 8’x5’ . Here the deity is made to stand in samapada-stha naka attitude on his conventional ratha (chariot) drawn by seven horses. The god holds two padmas in both the hands in his usual way . The head of the deity is decorated with kiritamukuta (?). He wears, as alalkara in his body, keyuras, haras, valayas and upavita. A   katimekhala and a vastra are seen around his waist and things. Whether he wears a pair of boot is not clear. But the boots worn in North India style are supposed to be hidden by the figure of Aruna, in case of eastern India Surya image. Uch may be the case in our image. To the right of the deity Pingala and to the left Danda stand and attend upon the god. Aruna sits on the middle horse just in front of the deity. The onventional wheel of the ratha is not shown here. There is a prabha each behind the heads of the deity, Danda and Pindala . But in this cases a chhatra, seen on the prabha of a Pala sculpture, is omitted and the adhara is also not clearly visible. The image seems to be little crude in execution. However , it is a rare piece of bronze sculpture.

The next image of the deity does not depict the figures of Danda, Pingala, Aruna and horses which are represented in the previous case. Here the deity stands in samapada-sthanaka attitude on a simple pitha and holds two padmas in his usual way . The padma of right hand, however, is broken. He wears the usual alankaras. The kativastra worn by the deity is peculiar. Reaching the ankles of the deity , it spreads outwards over the knees horizontally. Around the things a khadgabhanandha is seen . The boots worn by the deity are quite clear. Behind the god a round prabha is arranged beautifully . Stylistically, both the images can be placed in 8th – 9th century A.D.

According to the Brhatsamhit, Matsyapurdna. Amsumadhedagama, and uprehedadama, an image of Surya should be   two handed and hold padmas. The second and fourth texts and also the Visnudharmottara suggest that the image should be placed on a chariot drawn by seven horses and driven by Aruna. The Visnudharmottara and the Matsyapurana state the deity should be attended by Pingala and Danda. All these texts suggest that Surya should wea northern Indian dress, i.e., a coat of mail and a pair of boots It shows, the sculptor of the first image followed the instructions laid down in the texts. But in the second case, it seems, the sculptor did not prefer to depict the chariot , horses, Aruna etc.

An image of Ganesa

The group includes only one Ganesa image. Here the deity is seated in maharajalila posture i.e. putting the right leg vertically and left leg horizontally on the asana. The deity has four hands. He holds in the right front hand an unidentified ayudha, in the right back hand a dhatura puspa, in the left front hand an unidentified ayudha and and in the left back hand a trisula. The vahana of the deity is exhibited below. Behind the deity a prabhavali is shown. The image from Paharpur , reproduced by Dikshit is quite similar to ours.

An image of Manasa

The image of Manasa is the only stone image in the group . It is chiseled in a piece of basalt measuring 3 ½ x 3’’ . The deity here is made to sit in lalitasana posture. She has two hands. The right hand being held in the varada pose resting on the knee, while the left hold – a sarpa. She wears the usual alankaras and vastra. To the right of the deity a bearded male figure is seen seated in utkatika postue. This figure may be identified as Jaratkaru. To the left is seen a female figure in the same posture. Behind the head of this figure there is a three- hooded sarpa. This figure may represent a Nagini. Behind the head of the deity there is a canopy of seven hooded sarpa. This image, stylistically, should be placed in 10th / 11th century A.D.

Quite a similar  image of Manasa, from Bengal is displayed in the Dacca Museum. The only difference is that the silapatta of the image from Bengal is pointed and decorated, while the silapatta of our image is not pointed and is undecorated. The  reason of not habing a pointed silapatta in our image may be that  the image is very small. Bhattasali. Has quoted a bhayana from the Tithyaddi Tattvam, according to which an image of Manasa should hold a sarpa.

An image of Tara

This small image of Tara is seated on a padma in lalitasana posture. The body of the deity is slightly bent towards the left. She has two hands , the right hand being held in varada-mudr resting on the right knee, while the left hand holds a lotus stalk and plays abhaya-murds. Whether the right hand holds a lotus – stalk while displaying varada mudra is not clear. But on both the sides of the head of the deity two padmas are nicely depicted. The stalk of the padma to the left is clearly seen held by the left hand of the deity. The deity is decorated with karandamukuta, Kundalas, hars, valays etc. She wears long kativastra of thin fabric. The deity possesses youthful beauty.

This image of Tara can be compared with the image of Tara from Khadiravani , Bengal illustrated by R.D. Banerji. Like ours , this figure is also seated on a padma in lalitasana and the head of the deity is flanked by two bloomed padmas. But this image unlike ours dhyana-mudra with both the hands and it has a long silapatta. It is a stone image. The image of Lokanatha (12th century AD) from Kurkihar, now in the Patna Musum, also sits in similar posture and on either side of its head a Padma is seen as in our case. But the difference is that it is a male figure, while ours is a female figure. Stylistically, our image also can be placed in the same period to which the image of Patna Museum belongs.


This female deity is seated cross-legged in yogasana posture. She has eight hands, two front hands being held in anjali pose. The there right back hands, are as follows 1. raising upwards holding an akasamala 2. is he bhumisparsa-mudra (?) 3. in the dhyanamudra resting on the lap. The three left back hands, again are 1. raised upwards holding probably a padama on which there is another object damaru (?) 2. resting on the left knee holding on unknown a yudha and 3. in the yoga posture resting on the lap . She is decorated with a jatamukuta , kundalas, haras etc. She wears a kativastra looking like a sari. Behind the deity a prabha and above it a chhatra design are shown. The vahana of deity is not shown. This art price should date around 10th century on stylistic ground.

The deity may be identified as Chunda, a Buddhist goodness.


The second is a seated male figure. The deity sits in virasana posture. The right front hand holding some unidentified ayudha rests on the raised knee, while the left front hand simply rests on the left knee which is horizontally placed on the asana. The ayudha of the right back hand may be a cakra. The left back hand seems to holds a gada. To the left of the deity and to the right there are two female figures attending  upon the deity. The vahana of the deity is not shown. On either corner of the adhisthana an unknown animal, possibly a lion is seen. The deity can be identified as Avalokitesvar. This image may, stylistically, be placed in about 10th century A.D.

Two unidentified image

There are two images of some deities whose precise identities are not known.

The first is female figure. It stands on padma I dvibhunga posture. The face of the figure is badly corroded. The right hand of the figure hands down holding some unknown ayudha, while the left hand holds a nilotpala. Above the head of the figure, there is a canopy of hooded sarpa. The long kativastra looking like a sari worn by the figure is clearly visible.

The second is a sthanaka figure (Plate No 10) . Whether the figure is a male or a female is not quite clear. Because , the figure seems not to have breasts . If these are worn off is not clear. On the other hand , it wears a long kativstra which look like a sari. The a yudhas held in both the hands are not at all clear. There must have been a long prabha behind the head of the figure. It is evident from its remnants. There are another two images of little importance . The first is mutilated female figure hebind, whose head there is a prabha, which resembles a palm leaf. This little figure must have been some attending figure of some deity. The legs of the figure , which is in dvibhanga are missing . The next seems to be a crude standing female figure Stylistically, this crude image belongs to a late period.

Four images on bronze plates (medallions)

Of particular interest are four images cast on four bronze plates. One of these round plates contains a high relief of a bust of human figure which is shown to have sprung up from the neck of an upturned buffalo head with horns. The head of this bust wears a mukuta which looks like a cap or a helmet. Two kundalas are also seen clearly on the ears of it. From its association with a buffalo head, it may be suggested that the icon is that of the buffalo demon, i.e. Mahisasura. But the presence of the third eye on its head proves that it represents Devi Durga B.N. Mukherji has not forehead of the goodness Durga, hence he prefers to identify it with Mahisasura, which is wrong.

The next  plate contains in the same way a figure of a female deity. Here the deity stands in samapada-stha naka attitude on the back of a buffalo. The deity is four armed. She holds the reins of the vahana on which she stands with the right front and a cakra with the right back hand. With her front left hand she holds a gada (or a danda ?) while with the left back hand she hold a trisula. The mukuta (jata ?) worn by the deity is peculiar. She is decked with all the usual alankaras that are worn by a female deity. The kativastra or sari worn by he deity has some designs. A line of letters which are now obliterated to the left o the deity on the plate is seen. D. Chutia , however, recently has deciphered the letters and expressed his opinion that the icon represents Yakshini Devi. According to the Kalika-Purana (sl 62 p 163) , buffalo is the vahana of Katyani. Mukherji, thinks that the figure may represent Mahisamardini or Yami. It appears Chutia’s view is more convincing.

The third plate contains a male figure of some female deity in high relief. As in the former cases, here also the deity is made to stand on an animal in samapadasthanaka attitude. The animal may be identified as tiger. The deity in his four hands hold the following ayudhas clockwise . an aksamala, a khadga, a cakra and a sankha. The jata on the head of the deity is clearly shown. His eyes are big. He has usual alanka ras including an upavita on his body. The erect penis (urdhava-linga) of the god is nicely depicted. As in the former case, here also some engraved letters are  there on the plate. Most of them are worn out. Stylistically, they belong to 9th-10th century . The inscribed letters on the plaque, read as the image of Vanahari was (is) donated by Rajyapala of Nabhasa.

The fourth plate shows a male deity in the same style. Here the deity stands on an ass (?) He is two armed . With the right hand he hold a long danda and he hold the reins of the vahana with his left hand. The deity wears a jatamukuta on his head and the usual alankaras and vastra on the body. Here also two lines of writings are found on either side of the deity. But they are not recognizable. Mukherji however, gives a reading of it and says that it seems to refer to ‘Vijayaka Haradeva”. The icons may have Saiva affliation. But the ass is not the mount of Siva.

All these four images are peculiar and such figures are extremely rare. Identities of these images excluding the first, are not clear. They are very crude in execution and it seem that the sculptors, who executed these images, were ignorant of the textual injunction. To our knowledge, such cast figures of deities on plates are found in Bengal, nor in Bihar. Stylistically, they should belong to c. 9th -10th century. The holes on the borders of these plates indicate that they might have been suspended on some temple walls. It is clear that figures represented in the oval or round medallions or plaques bear Vaisnava, Saiva and Sakta affiliations. These must be the works of tribal artists.

A mukha – linga

In addition to these images, another attraction of the group is mukha-linga. This is the only bronze mukha-linga found on Assam. So far, . The height of it including the pitha is 3 ½. The linga stands on the centre of an astadala – padma, which is placed on the yonipitha. Four faces are depicted on the linga. Four sarpas, each in between two faces of the linga are depicted.

A ghanta and a sankha

The   ghanta found in the group is very important, because it bears two lines of inscription. The height and the circumstance of the bell are 10” and 1’4” respectively. P.C. Choudhury has read the inscription which is engraved on the ghanta as follows : Sri Kumar Devarajeva Sayatmana Devasuraja (Devayuvaraja) hastyantaka daghyakabhuttacyapujaiyam (iba) tena (yena)  devatakaryyadikantaisa ghanataka data …” The  English rendering of the writing is that “ Sri Kumar who was like Indra and was  the killer of the elephants belonging to the king of Devas and Asuras, meaning Indra again (kings and princes ) was or became the protector of this worship of his (Indra). This bell was given by him (Kumara) for use of the worship of the deities. The script of the inscription seems to be of eastern variety descending from the kutila type of Brahmi. Many letters are similar to those of Hayundhthal copper-plate inscription of Harjjaravarman (9th century A.D) of Kamarupa.

Remnants of two other copper bells (ghanta) are found along with these objects. The finds include also a big sankha, which is slightly damaged.

Now the question comes as to why and how this collection of protable images and other objects of worship were founded together in a hole caused by three huge boundlers. Whether they are imported or indigenously made. It is not quite easy to answer these questions with conformity.  

We have  already said that geologically find spot of the objects is quit unfit for the erection of a temple . From the purport of the inscription of the ghanta, it is eident that Sri Kumara, who is identified with Kumara, successor of Palaka mentioned in the Hayaunthal grant of king Harjjara arman of Kamarupa, donated the ghanta for the worship of Indra. On this basis, Choudhury wants to prove that the image of various deities found along with the image of Indra centred round the latter, in other words, the image of Indra was installed in some temple as the chief deity and other images were kept in the same temple and were worshiped as the subordinate deities. But it seems, Choudhury’s view is not fully convincing . Because, these image may not belong to the same period from stylistic point of view. Secondly , the images of Tara and Chunda , Buddhist deities, were definitely not worshipped in a Hindu temple. Moreover, these images have varied physiognomy, indicating that they were executed in different periods in different places. However , it may be said that some temple was definitely dedicated to Indra where the present image of Indra was kept . The ghanta was also kept in the same temple. We can suppose that the big sankha also belonged to the same temple. It may be mentioned that in the Vidic period Indra was a very important deity. But in the later periods his position was lowered and was treated as Dikapala only. Therefore , though the present image of Indra was worshipped as the chief deity in some temple, yet it seems not likely that the other deities centred round him. Because, the importance of Indra had already been reduced. Though Hiuen Ts’iang mentioned about the existence of Deva Temples in Assam we cannot say that all the temples housed Indra as the presiding deity. The Buddhist pilgrim might have meant Brahmanical gods by the term ‘Deva’.

Our conjecture is that the finds might have been collected by some person, who  was interested in the metallic art of image and due to some political or religious upheavals of eternal invasion they were kept hidden under the boulders. Assam in the Ahom period fell victiom to many external invasions, particularly from the Muhammedans from the west, by whom most of the Hindu temples were largely destroyed. The legend of the renegade Kalapahar and his atrocities are still prevalent in Assam . Therefore, it is highly that during the Muslim inroads or Burmese depredations in the Ahom rule. The collector kept these images and other associated objects in the hidden place to save them from the iconoclasts, with the hope of recovering them after the panic was over.

The person who collected these objects was interested specially in the metallic art which were easily portable and other associated objects of worship as these were easy to carry. The miniature stone image of Manasa which looks like a metallic image, was probably collected by the person out of interest. The sankhas and the big ghanta (bell) might have belonged to the Indra temple where the present Indra image was installed.

All the images, excluding the figures of four platyes and the crude female figure, bear the characteristic features of the Eastern school of sculpture of the Pala period. These are similar to the metallic sculptures of Bengal and Bihar. We can say that are imported into Assam from those States. We must remember that at that time part of Bihar and Bengal was included in Kamarupa. We can assume that the image of Tara and Chunda were imported, as is evident from the comparision of the images of Tara and Chunda ours with the Bihar and Bengal sculptures, as shown above. This view is substantiated by the fact that Buddhism was not accepted by the Hindu people of Assam, though its smell was in the air of the State. The Visnu images particularly, those in good condition have strikingly similarity with those from Bengal and Bihar. Bronze sculptures representing various deities of our collection also have great deal of similarity with the Pala School of Bihar and Bengal . However, the round or oval shaped medallions depicting crude figures of  the divinities are extremely rare. No scholars have published photographs of sculpture having similarity with ours. This clear that these were the products of tribal artists which prove that as early as 9th / 10th century, some tribal people living in forest accepted Hinduism. So these are very important works of art. The miniature figure is (acc. No. 3017) also under heavy folk or tribal influence.

It is true , whatever may be the cause of hiding, that such an instance of a hoard of metallic sculptures along with other objects of worship is rarely found. The entire hoard some years back, was removed to the State Museum , where they are on display . Subsequently, another hoard of metallic sculptures were discovered at Hahara. This hoard includes a good number of bronzes belonging to late period much late than Kahilipara sculptures. Few of them, however, belong to early period also. This hoard is also on display in the Assam State Museum.


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