Ancient Mathas of Prachi Valley


BY: SUN STAFF - 27.11 2020

The Prachi River near Nuagaon


A serial presentation of mathas located in the ancient Prachi Valley of Orissa, and the Deities worshipped there.

Jayashankar Naik, an esteemed research scholar at Utkal University in Bhubaneswar, Orissa has presented a detailed survey of 'Archaeological Vestiges of Monasteries in the Prachi Valley, Odisha', recently published in 'Orissa Review'. Among the fifty sites included in the survey are many of interest to the Gaudiya Vaisnavas, and these will be the focus of our Sun series.

The fifty "monasteries" surveyed by Naik might more commonly be referred to as mathas, being asramas rather than temples, ancient relics or monument sites. The survey begins with a description of the Prachi Valley and a brief history of the spiritual missions that have taken root there.

'The Prachi, a small river of over 60 km. in length with a catchment area of around 600 sq. km [1], a part of the Mahanadi delta in Odisha along the eastern coast of India, is an important topographical as well as cultural landscape. [2] Presently the parts of the modern day districts of Puri, Khurda, Cuttack and Jagatsingpur comprise the Prachi Valley region. [3] Like the legendary origin of other rivers such as the Narmada, the Ganga and the Godavari, the sacred origin of the River Prachi is not an exception in the history of the Indian civilization. Its origin and importance have been depicted in the Uttarakhanda of Padma Purana, in the name of Prachi Mahatmya. [4]

The valley once cradled a civilization which is so rich and varied in character that its glory can hardly be explained. It is considered to be the holiest river of Odisha and is rightly called the Eastern Saraswati. [5] In its valley, there is everything that makes the history of Odisha most outstanding and glorious. Without the study of ancient sites, monuments and antiquities of Prachi Valley, the realm of Odisha history seems incomplete. [6]

A survey in the Prachi Valley reveals an incredible and splendid existence of diverse monuments of different sects, like Saivism, Vaisnavism, Sakta, Buddhist and Jain, but also the establishment of the numerous monasteries, locally known as mathas. Even the Prachi Mahatmya mentioned three, namely Antervedi, Viswamitra and Apsara mathas in the Prachi valley. [7] In course of time the number of mathas in the valley grew and played an important role in the socio-religious cultural life of the people.

The presiding Deity of almost all the mathas is associated with the Vaisnavite Deities like Vishnu, Krishna and Jagannatha, also known as Patitapavana. The antiquity of the mathas as claimed by the present Mahantas (who in charge of the monastery) in remote ancient time goes back to the Suryavamsi Gajapati period of 15th -16th century A.D., when the soil of Orissa was flooded with the stream of Vaisnavism. Prior to the existence of these mathas there were various asramas like Mudgalamuni Asrama, Viswamitra Asrama, Bharadwaja Asrama, Kapilamuni Asrama and Karnamuni Asrama, etc.. On the basis of the present antiquarian remains of the above sites, they would date back to the 10th to 13th century A.D. [8]

The Odisha State Archaeology Department unearthed a Buddhist monastery at Kuruma dated to 9th-10th century AD. [9] An intensive survey was conducted by the present author in the Prachi Valley, which identified 50 mathas existing along the banks of the Prachi as well as the dead channels of the Prachi system. In this survey are mentioned the names of these mathas, from Phulnakhara to Konark. Some are dealt with in detail.'

Radhakanta Matha at Nuagaon

Located on the left bank of the River Prachi, the Radhakanta Matha at Nuagaon is situated in the centre of the village of Nuagaon under the same Panchayat in Niali tehsil of Cuttack district. (Longitude - 86003 10" E.; lat. - 20008 13" N.; elev. 55 ft.) It is about 1 km north-west of the famous Sobhanesvara temple of Niali. It can be approached less than half km. towards the village from the primary school of Nuagaon on S.H. 60.

This is one of the greatest mathas of the Prachi Valley to have survived up till now. The main presiding Deity of this matha is Lord Krishna as Vanshidhari, along with the bronze image of Radha. Accordingly, the matha is known as Radhakanta matha. [10]

Besides the main Deities, also residing here are Lord Jagannatha, made of neem wood, who is worshipped along with Salagrama, bronze idols of Gopala, Radha-Govinda, Banka-Bihari, Madana-Mohana, Radhakanta; a black chlorite stone Deity of Laxmi-Nrisimha, and a sandstone image of Ganesha and Hanuman.

This matha belongs to the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya, and was founded by Charana das Goswami. Presently mahanta Madan Mohana das is taking care of this matha. Among the legends associated with this matha is that Lord Chaitanya resided here during his visit to Puri. Radhastami, Janmastami,Snana purnima, Nrisingha-janma are among the festivals observed here.

With an impressive entry gateway on the south, The matha is surrounded by high walls on each side, with R.C.C. residences on the northern, a thatched house on the east, R.C.C. hall with rooms on the south, a pidha temple in the centre, and the rest leading to a shaped courtyard on the north-eastern side. The five-tier pidha temple, rectangular on plan, faces to the south and houses the Deities in the sanctum. The frontal verandah stands over a platform of 50 cm in height. Inside a hall on the western side there are 14 samadhis which represent the 14 generations of mahantas of this matha.

The impressive gigantic gateway made of sandstone is beautifully decorated with four sakhas-sarpa (serpent coils), patra, sarpa and nara sakhas from exterior to interior, with a lion and a pidhamundi design housed with a standing man on each sideat the base. Sri Vanshidhari Krishna is on the centre of the lintel.

Two life-sized standing dvarapalas with sticks in their hand flank the gateway on each side. The dresses, boots and caps worn by these temple guardians are similar to the Britisher type, which clearly suggests that the gateway might have been built in the 19th century. In front of the gate a chandrasila made of seven pieces of sandstone is noticed.

A pair of detached lions are kept inside the matha. The matha is not protected by any agency. It has its own landed property and is maintained by its own funding.

(To be continued...)



1. Pradhan, P.K. (ed.), 2006, Editorial-Marketing Prachi Valley in Globalised Tourism Industry, Incredible Prachi Valley: Its Monuments & Tourism Possibilities, Proceedings of the UGC sponsored National Conference, Department of History, UN College of Science and Technology, Adaspur, Cuttack, Odisha, p.3

2. Tripathy, S.N,, 2006, The Prachi Valley of Odisha- A Geo-Religious Study, in D. Mohanty (ed.), Aitihya Souvenir, U.G.C. sponsored National Seminar on Contribution of Prachi Valley in the making of Odishan Culture, Department of History, Shishu Ananta Mahavidyalaya, Balipatna, Khurda, Odisha, p.31

3. Sahoo, A. C., 2006, Jaina Sculptural Art in the Prachi Valley: A Study, in P.K. Pradhan (ed.), op.cit, p.74.

4. Dash, J., 2006, Cultural Relics of a Lost River, in P.K. Pradhan (ed.), op.cit, p.34.

5. Behera, K.S. & U. N. Dhal (ed.), 1992, The Prachi Mahatmya, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, p.1.

6. Sahoo, A.R., 2010, Proceedings of the Orissa History Congress, XXXI Annual Session, p.29.

7. Mishra, A.K., 2006, Prachi Valley Civilization: Revisited, in P.K. Pradhan (ed.), op.cit, p.51.

8. Ray, P.K. (ed.), 1975, Archaeological Survey Report 1974-75, Prachi Valley, Odisha State Archaeology, Bhubaneswar, p. 41.

9. ibid, p.52.

10. ibid, p.41

Adapted from "Archaeological Vestiges of Monasteries in the Prachi Valley, Odisha" by Jayashankar Naik.