This dissertation examines how temple and monastic architecture and the patronage of new religious traditions and their iconographies worked together to help construct and protect ritual authority and royal identity in the Eastern Kalacuri Dynasty. Through analysis of monuments, sculptures, and inscriptions, I propose two new interpretive categories, “functional lineage” and a “multi-centered mandala”, to explain the changes in patronage and cultic associations evident in the Eastern Kalacuri kingdom.
I focus upon key monuments and sculptures created in the tenth century that hold religious, historical, and strategic significance for the Eastern Kalacuris, including: temple and monastic architecture at Gurgi and Masaun, the yogini temple at Bheraghat near the dynastic capital of Tripuri, and Vaisnavite imagery from the sites of Bandhavgarh and Bilhari. The patrons of the monuments were Kalacuri royalty, Saivite acaryas associated with the state cult, and political ministers serving within the Eastern Kalacuri Mandala. These patrons supported various sectarian traditions, including the two forms of Tantra; the Mattamayura branch of Saiva Siddhanta, considered to be a moderate form of Tantra, and yogini traditions frequently associated with Vidyapitha or Kaula Tantra traditions. This study examines ways in which these religious methodologies were employed through their monuments to demonstrate and protect royal sovereignty in the Eastern Kalacuri kingdom and enable the dynasty to expand from the capital north towards the Gangetic Plain.
Key contributions made by this study include: analysis of the transition of the Eastern Kalacuri state cult from Pasupata to Mattamayura Saivism, through sculptures and monuments, a detailed analysis of the dynasty’s employment of yoginis for protective and inflictive purposes, and analysis of politically charged iconographies in monuments commissioned by Vaisnavite ministers of the state, through which they assert their own authority alongside that of the Eastern Kalacuri monarchs. As part of this study, I am presenting and analyzing previously unpublished works, including monuments and sculptures from Bandhavgarh, Madhya Pradesh, yogini sculptures from across the Eastern Kalacuri lands, and early goddess sculptures from Bheraghat, Madan, and from other yogini sites across central India.
This study creates new interpretive categories in its analysis of Eastern Kalacuri monuments and state formation. I propose that in this new Tantric state, the transition from Pasupata to Mattamayura Saivism and matrka to yogini veneration demonstrates a “functional lineage” in state patronage. I argue that through their monuments and inscriptions, the Eastern Kalacuris meet several criteria for effective statehood and religious efficacy. From this evidence, I propose a new state model, which I designate as a “Multi-Centered Mandala,” in order to explain the effects of Eastern Kalacuri patronage in the tenth century. These findings contribute to our broader understanding of the mechanisms that enabled pre-modern Indian states to establish and protect their kingdoms. It also demonstrates the fluid and dynamic nature of Indian statehood, challenging established state models and underscoring the critical role that artistic patronage plays in state formation and protection.