The ASI has found during routine scrubbing the remains of an ancient temple that dates back to the 5th century CE, the Gupta period, at Bilsarh village in UP’s Etah. The staircase, excavated last month, has Shankhalipi inscriptions which the ASI has now confirmed say ‘Sri Mahendraditya’, the title of the Gupta ruler Kumaragupta I who ruled over what is now north-central India for 40 years.
Bilsarh has been protected since 1928 and was known as an important Gupta period site. “There were two decorative pillars close to one another, with human figurines (found earlier). We excavated further and found the stairs,” said Vasant Swarnkar, superintending archaeologist of ASI’s Agra circle. “We found something written on it in Shankhalipi.” Shankhalipi is an ornate, stylised ancient script, used between the 4th and 8th centuries CE for names and signatures.
The inscription found on the Etah remains had earlier been seen on a horse statue found in Lakhimpur Kheri. It is now at the state museum in Lucknow. But that was not confirmation enough. So, Swarnkar sent images of the inscriptions to noted epigraphist Dr Devendra Handa. At the same time, ASI officials visited Lucknow to go over the horse statue inscription again. Both confirmed it was Shankhalipi.
The Etah remains are only the third structural temple of the Gupta period found so far. “The Guptas were the first to build structural temples for Brahminical, Buddhist and Jain followers. Prior to that, only rock-cut temples were built,” said Prof Manvendra Pundhir from Aligarh Muslim University’s history department. “Before this, only two structural temples were found—Dashavatara in Deogarh and Bhitargaon in Kanpur Dehat. The Etah pillars are well-sculpted, better than the earlier examples in which only lower sections were carved.”