Conflict Resolution and Legal Decisions in Temple Management: An Evocative Portrait from the Rashtrakuta Era

Two inscriptions from the 10th Century Rashtrakuta Era reveal an extraordinary world comprising temple management, business, religious harmony, and the state of the Hindu society.
Conflict Resolution and Legal Decisions in Temple Management: An Evocative Portrait from the Rashtrakuta Era

JUST ONE INSCRIPTION OPENS THE doors to a whole marvellous universe of Sanatana cultural heritage encompassing the following aspects: 

  1. Trade and commerce

  2. Law and Jurisprudence

  3. Shaiva-Shakta-Vaishnava harmony

  4. The intrinsic temperament of the Sanatana society 

  5. Temple management 

  6. Geographical, cultural, religious and fundamental unity of India. 

Actually it’s two inscriptions but the second one occurs before and is related to the first. It is worth mentioning because of a vital sidelight that it shines on a nascent but important theme in the political and social history of medieval India. 

Today, Sanjan is a small coastal town tucked away in the Valsad district, Gujarat. It derives its significance from the fabled Parsi folklore as the place where  persecuted Zoroastrians from Khorasan first landed in India and were given shelter by the Hindu ruler there. Sanjan is the site of the sugar-in-milk story. 

Sanjan is also the location where our story takes place. Its former name was Samyāna. 

AT THE PEAK OF THE RASHTRAKUTA POWER in the early tenth century, Samyāna enjoyed a prestigious status as a hub of maritime trade. Indra III (914 - 929 CE) had appointed a Tajika (i.e., people who hailed from Tajakistan. In this case, he was an Arab) as a viceroy of Samyāna. By that time, Parasikas (Parsis) had already established themselves as skilled professionals thriving in a cross-section of commercial and professional activity. While the Rashtrakutas justifiably deserve laurels as one of the world’s greatest empire-builders, they merit equally justified criticism for their myopic and indiscriminate policy of allowing Arab Muslims to flourish along the western coast. This policy would haunt future Hindu rulers in the region given the fact that these Arab Muslim businessmen (and Sufis, later) acted as recce agents for Turushka rulers who began invading deeper into India from the twelfth century onwards. 

OUR STORY IS NARRATED in a copperplate inscription belonging to the reign of Krishna III (939-967 CE), son of Amoghavarsha III. He was fourth in the Rashtrakuta lineage from Indra III. 

This and the aforementioned inscription were found in Chinchani, now a beach town about twenty-seven kilometres from Palghar, the same site of the horrific lynching of two defenceless sadhus in 2020. But the Palghar of the Rashtrakuta era was a far cry from what it has become today.

The chief value of this inscription is the wealth of insights it gives especially into what is today known as dispute resolution. It shows how a knotty dispute was resolved in a…divine fashion. While no divine intervention physically manifested in this case, the spirit of divinity at the core of the Hindu society was invoked to settle the matter.

Bhinmal and Sanjan: A Forgotten Connection

Samyāna boasted of a grand Vishnu temple whose main deity was Madhusudana. He was also known as Bhillamāladēva. The temple was built by a community of merchants originally hailing from Bhillamāla, which is today known as Bhinmal in Jalore district, Rajasthan. 

Bhinmal has a rich, chequered and tragic history. Its older name was Srimala, and the Shrimali Brahmanas of north India trace their origins to this place. For some time, it served as a capital of the Gurjara-Desa and is mentioned in Banabhatta’s renowned work, Harshacharita. It was also the birthplace of the Sanskrit poet, Magha whose Śiśupālavadha is counted among the Pan̄camahākāvyas (Five Great Poems) of Sanskrit. The illustrious and pioneering mathematician and astronomer, Brahmagupta was born and flourished in Bhillamāla.

Bhillamāla also underwent the sickeningly familiar tragedy of most such North Indian Sanatana centres of commerce and culture: of being pummelled by successive Turushka rampages of plunder and zealotry. The destruction was so utter that Srimala, meaning “garland of wealth,” became Bhinnamāla (or Bhinmal) meaning, “destroyed garland,” indicating the wholesale poverty inflicted by the pious warriors of Islam. As in the wake of all medieval Islamic invasions, mass migrations of Hindus followed. The Rajasthan District Gazetteer for Jalore gives us some details of Srimala’s gut-wrenching story:

In the reign of the early Hindu rulers, Bhinmal became one of the premier cities of the Northern India. According to the preserved tradition, the city was about 24 to 32 km in extent, laid-out in the shape of a square. There were several temples of Ganpati, Kshetrapala, Chandika-devis, Shivalingas and others. It had 84 gates…there is no doubt that it must have been a flourishing town in those days. From the…mediaeval times, we learn that Bhinmal was a prosperous  city, and a home of artists, who were in demand at other places also. They were expert sculptors, architects and Sutradharas. Bhinmal was also a great seat of learning and home of several illustrious scholars… The Brahamanas of this place, known as Srimalis were reputed for their Vedic learning. It is for this reason that Padmanabha calls it the  Brahmapuri of the Chauhans. …it (later) began to be called Bhinmal because of its poverty caused by its destruction at the hands of the Muslim invaders which forced the wealthy residents to migrate to other places.

Clearly, one group of Hindu merchants had fled to the neighbouring Gujarat. 

To Sanjan. 

And they settled there permanently. But they had not only not forgotten their beloved mother-root but had generationally preserved its memory in the patented Sanatana way: by building a temple named after their hometown. This was the Bhillamāladeva temple. That they were Vaishnava merchants is clear from the Madhusudana deity consecrated in that temple. 

We observe the same phenomenon at work to this day. Almost every major urban centre in India — Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, etc — boasts of several temples built by the migrant Hindu and Jain businessmen from Marwar and other places. Most if not all of them are named after their respective Kula-devatas. To state it explicitly, this phenomenon too, is among the infinite clues that help us understand the fundamental and edifying unity of the Sanatana-Samaja. 

Our contemporary tragedy written in the blood-ink of civilisational apathy and cultural negligence is that urban Hindus are no longer connected to or are interested in their own society. Small wonder that they have become easy fodder for love Jihad and prey for Christian conversions.

To be continued

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