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The ass curse stele tradition gaddhegal of ancient maharashtra.

INSCRIPTIONS CONSTITUTE A SIGNIFICANT SOURCE FOR UNDERSTANDING AND RE- constructing ancient and medieval Indian history. There is hardly any aspect of life, culture or activity that is not reflected in inscriptions. Gaddhegal or "the ass curse" is a peculiar feature of some ancient rock edicts. Rulers of various dynasties including the Chalukyas, Shilaharas, Kadambas, and later Yadavas, Bahmanis and the Vijayanagara (Sangama) rulers left behind ass curse edicts in the region of present-day Maharashtra. Known as "gadhedagalay" in Gujarat and "gadhedagal" in Malwa, these edicts were also prevalent as far east as Odisha and Bihar, and in Karnataka to the south.

Imprecatory Verses and Images

Ancient donative inscriptions usually give details of grants made by a ruler or wealthy person, and often end with imprecatory verses that indicate the punishment any transgressor of the grant must face. Such verses were popularly engraved in stone as well as copper-plate inscriptions:

Svadattam paradattam va yo haret vasundharam

Shashthim varsha sahasrani vishtha yam jayate krumi

One who seizes the land donated by him or by others will suffer as a worm in the faeces for six thousand years.

Earlier these imprecatory verses were composed in Sanskrit that could be traced to the ancient religious texts and often ascribed to sage Vyasa. But later ass curses were deliberately phrased in the vernacular, in this case Marathi, using the coarsest terms that would violate the limits of decency even by modern standards. For instance the Mahula rock edict of Shilahara king Haripaladeva, dated 1153 CE, reads:

sa(sha)(sana) vyavastha jo chali tehachiye maya gadhawu valaghe

A donkey will copulate with the transgressor's mother (cii Vol. vi, No. 26)

Such ass curses were carved as verses and also depicted as images on rocks and copper plates that recorded Hindu as well as Buddhist donative grants. They became a prominent feature of the rock edicts of the Shilaharas of North Konkan. In the earliest known rock edict of the Shilaharas--the Vihar edict of King Anantdeva I dated 108i CE - the ass curse is vividly inscribed in pictorial form (c11 Vol. vi, No. 18, figure 4).

Typically the gaddhegal stele comprises three panels. In the topmost one the sun and moon and a kalasha (water pot) are usually engraved, symbolizing the eternity of the edict and abundance, respectively, sometimes with a Shivalinga in between. The central panel carries the inscription that gives details of the grant, ending with the imprecatory verse, and the last panel illustrates the ass curse through the depiction of a donkey sodomizing a female figure. The order of the panels varies, some steles carrying the ass curse image at the top, or even halfway through the inscription (figure 5). Rock-carved marker stones such as these were placed in public places to be seen and understood by the common people, the imagery probably being for the benefit of those who were not literate, to highlight the punishment for transgressor

A hattigala (elephant copulation with human) stele of unknown date is kept in the premises of Amruteshvara temple in Ratanwadi, at the base of Ratangad (the historic fort captured by Shivaji, around 150 km from Mumbai). Here the donkey has been replaced with an elephant.

Copper-plate charters were royal records of donation that were ceremoniously handed over to the donees and remained in their private custody thereafter. It is interesting to note that the ass curse image was engraved on some of these as well. The Rajapur charter of Madhurantakadeva of the Chhindaka Naga dynasty of Bastar (dated 965 CE) records donation of a village called Rajapur and 70 gadyana (gold coins) to one Medipota. Engraved along with the usual imprecatory verses are a row of 12 hands at the top, a swastika, a cow with a bell hanging from her neck and a dagger and shield behind her feet, and the donkey copulating with a woman (Hira Lal, "Rajapur Plates of Madhurantakadeva", EI Vol. ix, pp. 174-80).

Ass Curse Images on Buddhist Rock Edicts and Copper-plate Inscriptions

The Bodh Gaya copper-plate edict of King Aiokavalla (Ashokachalla), dated to the 12th century CE, records an ass and pig curse at the end, along with an image. This edict also records construction of a vihara or monastery and provision for the maintenance of three chaitya prayer-halls (Vinoda Vihari Vidyavinoda, "Two Inscriptions from Bodh Gaya", EI Vol. xi', pp. 27-30). A rock edict, also from Bodh Gaya of the same period, depicts the sun, moon and an image of Buddha at the top, and an ass in copulation with a pig below. The inscription records the donation of a village that was accepted by a monk Mangalsvamin. The caution to anyone who might interfere with this gift reads "his father is a jackass and mother a pig" (Bsm; figures 2 and 3).

The Donkey, Symbol of the Inauspicious in Indian Tradition To understand the rationale behind this blatant imprecation and imagery, we need to consider the association of the donkey in the Indian tradition with infertility, folly, destruction and inauspicious events. Any humiliation of woman, seen as mother, brings pain and disgrace on the family. And if such humiliation is caused by a donkey then the disgrace would be unbearable. The following examples will enable us to understand how traditionally the donkey has come to be associated with the inauspicious.

In Hindu mythology, the ass is the mount of the ambivalent goddesses Shitala, Jyeshtha and Nirriti. The goddess Shitala is considered to be the cause as well as cure of smallpox. She is described as follows:

namami Shitaladevi rasabhastha digambara

marjani kalashopeta shurpalamkruta mastaka

Obeisance to Shitaladevi, who rides nude on the donkey, She holds a broom and kalasha in her hands, and a winnowing-fan is on her head.

In her iconography Shitala is represented as a young maiden crowned with a winnowing-fan, riding an ass and holding a short broom (either to spread or remove germs) and a pot full of pulses (representing germs) or cold water (for healing). Sometimes she is said to carry a bunch of neem (Azadirachta indica) leaves, an ancient and effective Ayurvedic remedy for most skin diseases.

Jyeshtha is the Hindu goddess of inauspicious things and misfortune. She is regarded as Alakshmi, the elder sister and antithesis of Lakshmi who is the goddess of good fortune and beauty. Jyeshtha is also described in most texts as riding a donkey.

Nirriti is the goddess of death and corruption. One of the dikpalas (guardians of the directions), she is said to live in the south, the direction of the kingdom of the dead. Her mount is also an ass.

If the ass in the steles is a symbol of the wrath of these deities, then the woman may be seen as representing Mother Earth. The image thus indicates that if what is ordained in the edict is transgressed, the land will be assaulted by these goddesses of pestilence and misfortune, depicted in the form of their vehicle, the ass.

The donkey is also associated with Ravana, anti-hero of the Ramayana, who was an extraordinary foe. Son of a Brahmin Vishravas and a demoness Kaikasi, and half-brother of Kubera, Ravana was a learned scholar and an ardent devotee of Shiva. In the Sundarakanda of the Ramayana there is a vivid description of the dream the ogress Trijata had in which she foresaw the destruction of Ravana's clan, Ravana fleeing south in a chariot drawn by a donkey. Besides, Ravana has been depicted in many ancient sculptures and paintings, and in several of these his tenth head is that of a donkey. Some folk forms such as the Pabuji Phad, a Rajasthani picture-scroll narrative tradition that includes episodes from the Ramayana, describe how, in spite of Ravana having the good qualities of a ruler, scholar and devotee, his singular act of folly brought destruction on himself and his clan. It may be observed that the ass imagery in depictions of Ravana signifies his act of folly and the subsequent destruction (figure 7).

It was believed in ancient India that if land was tilled by a donkey it would become barren. The earliest known record of such a belief is found in the famous Hathigumpha inscription of King Kharavela, 2nd century BCE (K.P. Jayswal and R.D. Banerjee, "The Hathigumpha Inscription of Kharavela", EI VOL xx, pp. 71-89). While enumerating the year-by-year achievements of the king, the edict points out the destruction of a market town called Pithudam: ... puvam raja nivesitam pithudam gadabha namgalena kasayati

... and the market town Pithudam, founded by the earlier kings was tilled with a plough pulled by donkeys.

Dhinda is a traditional punishment for those found guilty of crimes, and is usually meted out by village elders or the local panchayat system of justice. The guilty person's head is often shaved and a garland of used footwear hung around their neck before they are paraded around the village. Notably, they are made to ride on a donkey for this public humiliation.

As in many other cultures, in India too, various languages including Marathi use the word for ass in many idioms and phrases as a synonym for a stupid person. One such instance is found in the Jantanpal inscription dated 1218 CE in the reign of Nagavamshi king Narasimhadeva. The colophon of the inscription states:

jasya bhumi pralopya(ti) tasy gardabh wa(ba)p su(kri) mai

He who despoils the land has an ass for (his) father (and) a pig for (his) mother.

(Hira Lal, "Two inscriptions of the time of Nagavamshi King Narasimhadeva", EI Vol. x, p. 42, lines 17-18.)

An Inventory of Ass Curse Edicts in Maharashtra

Scholars like V.V. Mirashi, V.B. Kolte, M.G. Dikshit and S.G. Tulpule have noted several inscribed as well as pictographic ass curse edicts that were commissioned by rulers of various dynasties that once held sway over parts of Maharashtra. Foremost among these were the Shilaharas of North Konkan who originated as a feudal clan of the Rashtrakutas during the reign of King Govinda iii (793-814 CE).

Besides the three edicts mentioned at the beginning of this essay, some other marker stones of this dynasty have been found:

Sintra edict of Aparaditya I, dated 1137 CE (CH Vol. VI, No. 21)

Chanje edict of Aparaditya I, dated 1138 CE (CH Vol. vi, No. 22)

Ranjali edict of Haripaladeva, dated 1148 CE (Cu Vol. In, No. 24)

Agashi edict of Haripaladeva, dated 1150 CE (CH Vol. VI, No. 25)

As stated above, Marathi slowly made inroads into these inscriptions as the Sanskrit imprecatory verses were transformed into ass curses in Marathi. In addition to the Vi-har edict of Anantdeva I, the following Shilahara edicts include ass curses in Marathi:

Mahul edict of Haripaladeva, dated 1153 CE (CII Vol. VI, No. 26)

British Museum edict of Haripaladeva, dated 1154 CE (CII Vol. VI, No. 27)

Lonad edict of Aparaditya II, dated 1184 CE (CH Vol. vi, No. 30)

Parel edict of Aparaditya II, dated 1186 CE (Cu Vol. vi, No. 32)

Records of other ass curse stelae from Bombay Presidency and Kolaba (now Raigad) District gazetteers are listed below. These stelae are either uninscribed or illegible owing to their dilapidated condition, and in some cases no trace of them may survive today except for the gazetteer references. It is important to acknowledge them here as they are testimony to this ancient ass curse tradition as well as to the wide extent of land and other grants in the Maharashtra region.

Rakshi Hill, Sopara, uninscribed stele (GBP, p. 417)

Vagholi, Sopara, inscribed but completely ruined stele (GBP, p. 419)

Elephanta, two uninscribed stelae (GBP, p. 6o and KDG)

Kankeshwar Hill stele, Alibag

Bhandup, stele with nine-line inscription, vital details lost (GBP, p. 388) Dahisar, broken stele (GBP, p. 388)

Rajkot Chaul, ass curse grant stone, circa 10 x 2.5 cm, with letters too worn to be read (KDG)

James Burgess also recorded "a curious boundary marker with donkey and woman" found at Pargaum in Mahim Taluqa, Thana Zilla". He has given this stele a unique name - "gadda karo" (LARBP, p. l01).

Except for two, the following ass curse stelae found from various parts of Maharashtra are uninscribed, and no significant information could be gathered on them:

Pavshi, Taluka Kudal, District Sindhudurg

Akeri, Taluka Kudal, District Sindhudurg

Aundh, Taluka Khatav, District Satara

Otavane, Taluka Sawantwadi, District Sindhudurg

Dhanakawadi, Pune

Shiravali, Junnar (inscribed)

Tulajapur, District Osmanabad (inscribed)

Durga Devi Temple, Murud

Bhavani Temple, Varasoli, Alibag

However, I have had the opportunity to study other gaddhegal stelae from Maharashtra and these present interesting details as discussed below.

Akaloli is a small village 75 km from Mumbai. It is near Vajreshwari, famous for its hot water springs. The Shilahara-period gaddhegal found here is in the field of Mr Raghunath Nashik Manze, that has earned the nickname "gaddhyachi nada" or the field of the donkey. Much to my dismay, when I visited Akaloli in May 2013, the lower half of the inscribed slab had disappeared without a trace. As a result, neither could proper measurements be taken nor could any clue to the extent, content and issuer of the edict be found.

The surviving gaddhegal panel measures about 30 cm square. A few letters of the first line of the inscription are visible, confirming that the script is Nagari as in other Shilahara edicts. The upper part too is broken and only the moon is visible on the extreme right, but considering the width of the stele, the sun and the kalasha must have been engraved here as well. The gaddhegal is pictographically depicted below this (figure 8).

Valshinda is a hamlet near Sonale on the Bhiwandi-Nashik Highway, 39 km from Mumbai. Shreeram Sore and his friend Hanuman informed me about the edict found here. This stele is also lying in an open field. The slab is rather small, measuring 55 x 15 cm and only the sun and moon are engraved at the top. Though the stele is intact, the ravages of time and weather have effaced the inscription completely except for a few Nagari characters (figure 12).

In the Girgaum locality of central Mumbai, a gaddhegal stele is preserved in the Pimpaleshvara temple at Pimpalwadi. It is inscribed in Nagari characters, with images of the the sun and moon at the top and the gaddhegal imagery below. Again, though this marker stone is intact the inscription is weathered and has not been deciphered yet. However it is likely that it records a donation made to Lord Pimpaleshvara (figure 9).

Lonad is located in the Bhiwandi Taluka of Thane District. The ass curse panel at the dilapidated Shiva temple here has an inscription that is completely worn out. Interestingly, there is no gaddhegal imagery below the inscription; this imagery has been carved separately on an independent panel.

Kiravali is north of Mumbai, 3 km from Vasai railway station in Vasai Taluka. Two gaddhegal stelae were found in this small village near the temple of the local goddess Chanakai. The first is an interesting and rare type of marker stone that combines gaddhegal and savatsa dhenu (cow and its suckling calf). It is kept in a small shrine called "vaghobache deul" or the temple of the tiger--the ass having been mistaken for a tiger by the villagers! However the area where this stele is located is known as "gaivadi" or the hamlet of the cow. It is an uninscribed stone (figure ii).

The second stele lies in the backyard of Jeet Chaudhary's house. It is a large gaddhegal stone with a much mutilated Sanskrit inscription of 13 lines in Nagari characters, that records a grant of Shilahara king Anantdeva iii (figure 1). After deciphering the record I have realized that it is the only available inscription issued by this 13th-century king apart from the Dive Agar inscription that was ordered by his feudatory, Ram Mandalik (cn Vol. vi, No. 37).

The savatsa dhenu imagery of cow and its suckling calf necessitates explanation. Here, it is important to take note of the Vasai stone inscription of Shilahara king Anantdeva II dated November 30, 1198 CE (CII Vol. vi, No. 33, pp. 163-64). This was discovered near the ancient temple of Trivikrama in the Vasai fort, which is close to Kiravali, the find spot of the newly discovered gaddhegal stelae mentioned above. Though it has the typical sun, moon and the auspicious kalasha symbols at the top with the usual imprecatory verses below, the savatsa dhenu imagery is engraved instead of the gaddhegal at the bottom of the stele.

Again, a few metres away from the "gaddhyachi nada" in Akaloli mentioned above, is "gaddhyacha mala" or "gaddhyacha dubi"--the ground of the donkey. Though it has the nickname of the donkey, I found two identical savatsa dhenu stelae there. Both the stelae are uninscribed. The sun and moon are depicted at the top and the cow with its suckling calf below. The residents of Akaloli still offer a coconut to these stelae immediately after the birth of a calf in their village (figure 10).

Similar cow and calf imagery was reported to have been found in Virar in the vicinity of the present railway station (GBP, p. 382). Such imagery is also commonly seen along with various inscriptions relating to land grants in southern India, including those by the Shilaharas of the Kolhapur branch. In the Talale copper-plate inscription of Shilahara king Gandaraditya dated 1110 CE (CII Vol. vi, No. 45) there is an engraving of a cow and its suckling calf with a double-edged sword in upright position on the right, the whole surmounted by sun and moon (figure 6).

V.V. Mirashi has explained that the cow represents the land, its milk the produce of the land, the calf the recipient of the grant and the sword the royal power (cil Vol. vi, No. 45, pp. 207-08). This imagery is repeated on copper-plate and rock edicts of various kings who belonged to the Kolhapur branch of the Shilahara dynasty. Examples can be cited of the Kolhapur stone inscriptions of Gandaraditya dated 1136 CE (CII VOL VI, No. 49, pp. 229-30), of Vijayaditya dated 1143 CE (CII Vol. VI, No. 53, p. 246), the Bahmani Jain stone inscriptions of the same king dated 1151 CE (CII Vol. VI, No. 54, p. 250), the Kolhapur stone inscriptions of Bhoja II dated 1182 CE (cri Vol. vi, No. 58, p. 258) and 1190 CE (CII Vol. VI, No. 59, p. 264) as well as his Kasheli copper-plate grant dated 1191 CE (CII Vol. VI, No. 60, p. 268).

The Ass Curse Tradition under Vijayanagara and Muslim Rulers

It has been observed that the Muslim rulers who succeeded the Shilaharas and Yadavas--the Nayate, Bahmani and Adilshahi sultans--also occasionally constructed stone edicts with gaddhegal imprecations in Marathi.

The edict at Dombivili, in Thane District, dated 1396 CE, was issued by Alu Naku, a local Muslim Nayate chief. The inscription is completely worn out today, as a result of worship by the locals who consider the stone as representing the deity Shani Deva. A recently discovered ass curse stele at Varasoli, Alibag is also worshipped as Shani Deva. Unfortunately it is completely coated with white and red paint, thus obstructing further inquiry. The gaddhegal is presented only graphically at the end of these stelae.

While the imprecatory verse in the edict found at Dabhol in Ratnagiri District (known for its controversial power plant) states that the ass will copulate with the transgressor as well as with his mother (tyavari va tyacbe maevari gadade ase), the edict found in the Bada Imam Dargah at Miraj in southern Maharashtra has an imprecatory verse stating that the ass will copulate with the transgressor's wife (tyacbe bailevari gadbou).

At the Taj Bavadi tank in Bijapur (Karnataka) is a rock with the gaddhegal in Farsi. The gaddhegal involves both the mother and the wife of the transgressor (khara bana jhana va madara-i-u savara bashada).

Ramgad in Sindhudurg District is home to the first Marathi rock edict of the Sangama dynasty. Deciphered by Shashikant Dhopate, the edict is preserved in the Oriental Research Institute, Thane. This edict of King Devaraya 11 (1426-46) depicts an ass curse image below the inscription.


Having survived for nearly four centuries, the gaddhegal tradition slowly died out, slipping into oblivion. Today, at some places like Akaloli and Kiravali the oral tradition survives, but elsewhere, except for a few subject experts, people are not even aware of the relevance and importance of these marker stones. Those in the custody of various museums are safe and well looked after; however many of them still lie in open fields and succumb to the ravages of time and people. Some like the Dombivili edict have become objects of puja by devotees who believe it to be Shani Deva; the worship Includes ample use of water, oil, flowers and vermilion. In some cases the blatant imagery has given rise to superstitions and blind beliefs. I was told by a "concerned" villager at Valshinda that "such an incident had actually happened there in the past" and some offerings were periodically made at the stone that depicted the "incident" to ward off any recurrence of the evil. The undated and uninscribed ass curse stele at Dhanakawadi, Pune is worshipped by locals as Khandoba Deva while the inscribed marker stone at Thorwe Shirawali near Junnar is worshipped as "Gadhe Samadhi".

People should be made aware of this rare historical heritage and the need to document and preserve it for posterity.

Gaddhegal stele that records a grant of Shilahara king Anantdeva in (c. 1245-55), Kiravali. Photograph: Siddharth Kale.

Caption: Copper-plate edict of King Ashokachalla with image of ass and pig curse, Bodh Gaya, 12th century CE. Photograph: Rupali Mokashi.

Caption: 3 Rock edict with image of sun, moon and the Buddha at the top and an ass copulating with a pig below, Bodh Gaya, 12th century CE. Photograph: Rupali Mokashi.

Caption: 4 Ass curse image on the Vihar edict of King Anantdcva 1, the earliest known rock edict of the Shilaharas of North Konkan, 1081 CE. Photograph: Rupali Mokashi.

Caption: 5 Stele with image of ass curse in the centre, breaking the inscription into two parts, Karneshwar temple, Sangameshwar. Photograph: Amit Samant.

Caption: 6 Copper plate of Shilahara king Gandaraditya, with engraving of cow and its suckling calf, double-edged sword, sun and moon, Talale, noo CE. From cii Vol. vi, No. 45.

Caption: 7 Ravana with ass head, signifying his act of folly and destruction, Siddheshvara temple, bk. Photograph: Sagar Borkar.

Caption: 8 Gaddhegal stele, Akaloll. Photograph: Rupali Mokashi.

Caption: Gaddhegal stele, Pimpalwadi, Mumbai. Photograph: Rupali Mokashi.

Caption: Stele with image of cow and its suckling calf, Akaloli. Photograph: Vikas Manze.

Caption: Gaddhegal stele with image of a cow and its suckling calf, Vaghobache Deul, Kiravali. Photograph: Siddharth Kale.

Caption: Gaddhegal stele, Valshinda. Photograph: Rupali Mokashi.


BSM :Gregory Schopen, Bones, Stones and Monks, Collected Papers on the Archaeology, Epigraphy and Texts of Monastic Buddhism in India, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

CII : V.V. Mirashi (ed.), Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. In: Inscriptions of the Shilaharas, New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1977.

EI : Epigraphia Indica, New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India.

GBP : Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, Vol. XIV: Thana Places of Interest, Mumbai: Government Central Press, 2000 (reprint).

KDG : Kolaba District Gazetteer,

LARBP : James Burgess, List of Antiquarian Remains in the Bombay Presidency: with an appendix of inscriptions for Gujrat, Bombay, 1885.
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Author:Mokashi, Rupali
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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