Pre-Historic Pooja Dunguri and the Cult of Chandalipat

Rameswar Naik

Reader in History


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Pooja Dunguri is comparatively the bigger one of the rocky hills which exists on the border of the Binka-Rampur Tahasils in the district of Subarnapur. The entire hill complex amidst bushy forest covers an area of about 1500/2000 square meters. Some tribal villages like Adakasa, Chanabeda, Tangarkarley and Chandali surround the place. The forest is fast thinning away due to conversion of “Forest Kisam” Land for cultivation purpose. As many as twenty six granite hillocks surround Pooja Dunguri within a range of 100-500 meters. Among them the important ones are Usha Kothi,Bagh Dunguri and Kabat Talei etc.

These hillocks along with Pooja Dunguri have pre-historic importance. Surface exploration have revealed certain artifacts such as pottery shreds, microliths, ring stones, grinding stones, mullers, charred bone pieces, fragment of one bluish-green glass bangle, a bronze bangle, cord-impressed lumps of clay, fragments of iron implements and chalk like pieces of hematite (geru). It is important that almost in each and every hillock traces of engravings are found. There are geometrical and non- geometrical designs such as oval and triangular patterns, triangle with a hole, foot marks, multiple lines, lines with cup-marks etc. Besides, there are scoop marks on rock surfaces and big grinding holes on the floor. The size of the scooping ranges from 1.5 feet in diameter and 1 foot in depth incase of the biggest one to 1 and 1.2 inches incase of the smaller cup-marks. In local terms the cup-marks are termed Ganjei Bata or “Cannabis Grinding”. A tunnel to the east of Pooja Dunguri is named Baba Math and is believed as the abode of the mystic Sadhus believed to be fond of cannabis.

More importantly some of the hillocks of the complex contain paintings executed on rock surfaces. While we come across the faded painting of a small animal at the Pooja Dunguri and an enigmatic design at Bagh Dunguri, there is a panel of rock painting at Ushakothi (21 02` 90” North and 83 41`98” East ). Rock art is a world-wide phenomenon, its antiquity dating back to thirty millennium when the early man was in the mesolithic age leading the life of a hunter gatherer. He used microliths and in order to express his feelings executed art in the form of carving, engraving and painting in his rock shelter. Rock art continued to be executed up to the iron-age (800 B.C.E.). At places it even continued in the historical period. We find concentration of rock art at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh in our country. In case of Odisha it is in the western part of the state in the districts of Sundargarh, Jharsuguda, Sambalpur, Subarnapur, Nuapada and Kalahandi. West Odisha being the extension of the Chatishgarh and Chhotnagpur plains, its geomorphologic and climatic conditions is very much akin to those regions. Ethno archaeological study reveals that there was penetration of early man invariably into these parts of the country because of similar living conditions. Art executed in and around the rock shelters found in forest-clad region are therefore distributed in a large area in East-M.P. and West-Odisha. In our region those are known by the name of Ushakothi, Yogimath, Lekhamoda etc. Ushakothi of the Pooja Dunguri complex in the district of Subarnapur is the only rock-art site discovered so far in the undivided district of Balangir. The local name for the paintings here is Putla Lekha or “inscribed idols”. The local inhabitants have been worshipping the place as the abode of the mother goddess (Bana Durga) and use to offer oblation in different festival occasions, especially during the Dasahara and the Dangar Yatra. On the 8th day of the bright fortnight in the month of Asvin, the famous   Bhai Jiuntia Brata  is celebrated by the sisters for the longevity of their brothers and Pooja is offered before goddess Durga seeking her blessing. The local tribal priest Jhankar also offers Pooja at Ushakothi in a general way.

But the celebration of the Dangar Yatra is quite different. It is observed on the full moon day of Chaitra. Though the Zamindar of the erstwhile Rampur zamindari is believed to be the originator, the antiquity of such a Yatra may be traced back to the remote past. On the very day the tribal of the region assemble at Rampur in the mid-place of the village in front of a free standing rock smeared with vermilion revered as goddess Chandalipat with the traditional Chhatra, Bairakh and weapons. Spirit is invoked into the person of a Binjhal Barua by the Brahmin Purohita with beating of drums, cymbals and other musical instruments. Previously he was being accompanied by two other Baruas (belonging to the same community) who stood as the human representatives of Patnesiri and Jharkhandien. Years back a woman used to partake as Jharkhandien in the celebration. After the Pooja, usually with the offering of the sacrificed goat, the team,along with the Barua proceed to the Pooja Dunguri taking the traditional forest route across villages like Adakasa, Badkarle, Chandli, Chanabeda etc. where similar Pooja and offerings are made. The team reach the cult-spot at Pooja Dunguri in the evening amidst the assemblage of a large number of people. The Chhatras, Bairakhas and the weapons are planted there and again Poona is performed with the revervaration of drums and dancing of the “possessed” Barua. The total hill-complex is transformed in to a fair. People rejoice in the moon-lit night. They seek blessings from the goddess for their ailments. In groups, they climb up and down the slopes and the terrains of the rocky hill. The Barua along with the party moves around different cult-spots in the complex, such as Ushakothi, Kabat Talei, Phul Changudi etc. Early in the morning they have their return journey to Rampur.

According to an early 19th Century tradition, during the “Gondmaru”(Gond Menace), the Binjhal Zamindar of Rampur being defeated by the Gond Zamindar of Bheden fled and took shelter at Pooja Dunguri. Later on, by the blessings of goddess Chandlipat (presiding deity of the Dunguri) he lodged a counter attack upon the enemy, drove him out and regained his seat. Goddess Chandlipat was adopted by him as the presiding deity of the zamindari. Since then, the annual Dangar Yatra was instituted to commemorate this victory. Very soon, the popularity of the goddess spread to the zamindaris of Sukha and Sohela and she was revered in a wide spread region of 82 Mouzas. Even the name of the goddess finds mention in Swarnapura Gunadarshah, a Sanskrit work composed in 1921 by Pt.Damodar Mishra, the court poet of Sir B.M. Singhdeo, the feudatory chief of Subarnapur. He writes in context of the historical geography of Rampur and describes the goddess as follows:

“Devi Chandilipaliyam Bhagabati Seyam Jaganmangala

Abhistadehi Bhujangaharini Sive naumi tabanghri dwayam”

An in depth study reveals that Goddess Chandlipat was being revered since remote times in and around the Pooja Dunguri complex. Dangar Yatra might be a traditional celebration of the tribal population of this region like the Chait Parab in other localities. The tribal like the Gonds and the Binjhals largely dependent upon the forest products might have instituted such a festival for the protection of the hillocks, the flora and the fauna of the hill-complex. It might be mentioned here that most of the forest plants and trees blossom during this time (March-April).

It is interesting that village Chandli, dominated by the Gonds is in the vicinity of the hill-complex. There is a monolithic rock (6`6” in height) on the eastern outskirt of the village, being worshipped as goddess Chandlipat. It is debatable whether the village is named after the goddess or otherwise. Erection of such as a monolithic rock and worshipping it as the guardian deity of the village might remind one of the megalithic memorial (the deity is worshipped in such a form in all the places of this region). Again, at the cult-spot of the Pooja Dunguri a huge boulder resting upon two others is being worshipped as such. This may also be taken as a megalithic setting. Myths and legends associated with certain natural rock formations such as Bar-Kanian, Baragharia, Kabat Telei, etc also point out to be megalithic burial/sacrificial spots.

It is further interesting that while the deity is a mother goddess to the Binjhals, it is a male god for the Gonds. The Gonds believe that Chandlipat originated in their village (Chandli) in the form of the phallus of Lord Shiva (Ling phuta = Swayambhu). They do not offer animal sacrifice to him; the Binjhal Jhankar does it for them. It seems that the deity stood as an unifying factor for the one-time rival communities of the Gonds and the Binjhals. The Dangar Yatra might have served the purpose of ethnic integration in the long run.

Whatever may be the antiquity of the deity Chandlipat, it is for certain that Pooja Dunguri was a cult-spot of the mother goddess from time immemorial. Engravings of certain patterns doubtless to represent the female genitalia-the source of productivity, generation and growth. There are two such marks- (1) Executed above 12/15 feet above the cult-spot in Pooja Dunguri. The mark is having an incised hole in the middle. (2) A leaf-like pattern engraved on a cliff-rock at a considerable height at Kabat Talei. Such patterns are also intended to be incised on natural rock formations at various places of the hill-complex. On the other hand, rock paintings and associated finds as described above attest that the place was once occupied by the pre-historic man. We come across a series of such paintings on the wall and ceiling of Ushakothi, believed to be a rock shelter. Animals of hunt are depicted along with certain marks. To the extreme left of the panel, a deer-like animal is shown with pegs and harpoons on its body. Another dwarfish animal seems to be a boar is also shown to the right with a peg on his body. In between these two, a long figure is depicted vertically; which might be that of a monitor lizard. The obscure animal figure at Pooja Dunguri might be either of a standing horse or a jackal. All these figures are drawn on mono-chrome ochre color. They point out to the hunting and food habits of the Mesolithic man believed to be the artist of these paintings. The charred bone pieces of bovine and caprice animals found from the cavities of the rocks along with the cord-impressed clay attest to the fact that once it was the abode of the hunter-gatherer who also lived as herdsman.

Recently traces of Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlements of early men have been found from places like Hikudi, Khambeswaripali, Kumersingha and Nuagarh on the left bank of river Mahanadi, in the Sonepur-Birmaharajpur region. Earlier discovery of prehistoric paintings and engravings in the hill complex of Pooja Dunguri in the Ang-Mahanadi valley further strengthens the fact that there was penetration of early man into this district. Inter-departmental indepth study might reveal more authentic information about this archeologically rich site.


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