Govindadeva: A Dialogue in Stone

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Item Code: IDL012
Author: Margaret H. Case
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
ISBN: 8185503036
Pages: 328 (Illustrated Throughout In B/W )
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 12.4" X 9.3"
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Book Description
From The Jacket

The red sandstone temple of Govindadeva, built in the sixteenth century, stands on a hill in the midst of the Vrindaban. It is the largest temple ever built to have been designed as a single structure, and immediately impresses a visitor with the strength of its massive exterior and the flying, vaulted spaces of its interior. It could, in fact, be Mana simha, one of the highest Mughal officials, and its red sandstone construction stamped it with the hallmark of Mughal imperial style. But it was designed to serve the purposes of the new devotion Vaisnavism being spread by the followers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu

This volume for the first time presents a detailed study of Govindadeva's design and iconography, richly illustrated with photographs and drawings. Other chapters discuss the history of its construction and desecration under Aurangzeb, and describe the temples built along the way for the image of Sri Govindadeva when he travelled too his present home in jaipur. Documentation from manuscript archives brings alive the lineage of priests serving the temple is reconstructed from manuscript sources. The authors are noted Indian, American, and European scholars.

The editor, Margaret H. Case, lives in Vrindaban and Lawrenceville, new Jersey; she has edited a number of volumes, most recently Heinrich Zimmer: Coming into His Own (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994). The photographer, Robyn Beeche, lives in Vrindaban and is photographing the culture life of Vraja. She has published her photographs in Arts and Crafts of India by Nicholas Barnard (London: Conran Octopus, 1993).

Certain locales have evolved as great culture centres where fusions take place. The priest and the king, the saint and the householder were magnetically pulled to these centres. In turn socio-political, culture and artistic movements radiated from them. Vrindaban in the North and Tanjavur in the South ate two such centres. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in one of has been investigating the dynamics of the centripetal and centrifugal forces of the two regions especially as reflected in architecture, literature, poetry, music and in the living traditions.

Govindadeva: A Dialogue in Stone is the second in the series of publications relating to the Vraja region conducted jointly with the Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthan, Vrindaban. The result of other aspects are at various stage of publication, viz. (i) Annotated Multi-lingual Bibliography on Vraja, (ii) Evening Blossoms: the Temple Tradition of Sanjhi in Vrindaban, and (iii) an edited and translated edition of Bhaktirasamrta Sindhu.

Incorporating the papers presented at a conference held in 1991, the present study, Govindadeva: A Dialogue in Stone, brings into focus the multi-faceted and multi-layered personality of Vraja through the great Temple Known as Govindadeva of the Mughal period. Contributors to the volume are Dr. Kapila Vatsayayan, Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami, Dr. George Michell, Dr. Nalini Thakur, Dr. John Burton-Page, Prof. Irfan Habib, Prof. R. Nath, Dr. Monika Horstmann, Shri Gopal Narayan Bahura, Dr. Catherine Asher, Dr. Asimakrishna Dasa and Dr. Vhandramani Singh. The volume brings into focus some of the little-known historical and cultural aspects of the Govindadeva Temple.



This is the second volume to be issued in the Vraja Nathadvara Prakalpa Series, part of a holistic project being undertaken jointly by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthana. The project aims to study the rich intellectual and cultural heritage of Vraja, an area centre to Indian culture. Such centres have generally been studied in isolation, that is, solely from one point of view, such centres have generally been studied in isolation, that is, solely from one point of view, such as history, religion activity in manifold fields. We envisage the study of Vraja as can integrated unit, in order to discern its holistic impact on the culture of the local people.

The present volume on the great temple of Sri Govindadeva in Vrndavana is such a study, for besides the through architectural and iconographic documentation it undertaken through drawings and photographs, it considers social and economic history as recorded in manuscripts and the oral tradition, as well as the ritual and devotional aspects of the temple. This volume was conceived together with a great Vraja-rasa-rasika, Dr. Tarapada Mukherji, on a chilly winter day on the roof of Jayasimha Ghera, overlooking the remains of Sri Govindadeva temple. Our friend did not wait to attend the conference or see the book, but his last scholarly contribution was on this "Golden Edifice". It is hoped that this volume, dedicated to his memory, will serve not merely to document a great religious and culture monument, but will help to elucidate what constitutes the capacity of Vraja as a whole for continued regeneration and renewal.

Apart from the constant participation and encouragement of my colleague Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, many people have contributed to this study over several years. We wish particularly to thank Dr. M. C. Joshi, then Director of the Archaeological Survey of India, for permission to photograph and make measured drawings of Sri Govindadeva temple. Equally important was the help and guidance of the gosvamis of the Sri Govindadeva tradition. We are grateful to Acarya Sri Pradyumna Kumar Deva Goswami and his family - serving Govindadeva at the Navina Govinda Mandira at Vrndavana and at Jayapura (where the original murti of Sri Govindadeva is now housed) - and Acakya Sri Pancanana Kishora Deva Goswami and his family - serving at the Pracina govinda Mandira at Vrndavana - for sharing their parampara and wisdom, and always encouraging those who participated in this special darsana of Sri Govindadeva.

We are happy that this volume can now be made available for all to enjoy


Editor's Preface

This volume has grown out of a conference held in April 1991 to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the great temple of Govindadeva in Vrndavana. The conference was dedicated to the memory of the beloved scholar, Tarapada Mukherji, whole untimely death in the summer of 1990 cut short his brilliant and productive research, much of it in his last years centred around Govindadeva temple.

Jointly sponsored by Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthana in Vrndavana and the India Council for Historical Research, New Delhi, the conference brought together scholars from around the would who have studied Govindadeva temple, and celebrated the temple as a living presence through a rasalila performance and a dance offering in the great mandapa of Govindadeva ji. The conference provided a focus and a springboard for research on the rich history and culture surrounding this temple. There was lively discussion among the participants, and the chapters of this volume reflect some of the different points of view brought to bear.

As always in a volume of this sort, the question of spelling has been a tortured one. After considerable discussion, we decided to transliterate all Sanskrit and Hindi words directly from their written form in Devanagari, ignoring local pronunciations and modern English usage. This is in accordance with IGNCA policy. Although many of the contributors would prefer it otherwise, we take as our guide none other than Frederic Salmon Growse, District Magistrate of Mathura in the 1870s, who was responsible for rescuing Govindadeva from imminent ruin through neglect. "Any one", he wrote, "having very moderate acquaintance with Indian history and mythology, would be competent to write a long list of names with unerring precision", because of the exactness possible in transliterating Devanagari script. He considered deviation from this rule to indicate carelessness or ethnocentrism on the part of his English colleagues.

Many people have contributed to the production of this volume of collected papers, beyond the contribution of their articles included here. Shrivatsa Goswami, Director of Sri Caitanya Prem Samsthana, convened the conference, and his leadership in intellect and spirit have inspired every stage of this enterprise. This volume would be unthinkable, without him, Asimakrishna Dasa, in the true spirit of bhakti, has been generous with his time and expertise, guiding the editor through the esoterica both of Sanskrit transliteration and computer technology. Robyn Beeche's remarkable photographs, which greatly enhanced the ambience of the great monument. This volume has in many senses been a joint enterprise with her. Jagdish Prakash Pathsariya cheerfully undertook the task of printing the manuscript from disk. And as always, it has been a pleasure working with katey Cooper and the helpful, expert staff of Vakil & Sons Ltd. To them and to each of the contributors, I offer thanks.



In the discipline of archeology, monuments in India have so far been investigated largely from the standpoint of chronology or architectural features, and at best in relation to political patronage. In the discipline of art history, the focus has been on the study of styles and schools, through detailed iconographic and stylistic analysis; for the most part the monument continues to be treated as a piece of historical evidence for tracing the development of structural or artistic forms, styles and motifs. In contrast have been studies on the monument and site as manifestations of a deep spiritual experience and a specific religious tenet or dogma. Meanwhile, those interested in performing arts of specific region in a particular period, usually without relating these either to political history or to data on monuments and, inscriptions.

For the devotee - the person who participates in rituals, rites, fairs, and festivals - the monuments is neither archaeology nor history, nor is it sculptural programming. It is a living presence, and abode of the divine, where physical space and finite time are transmuted to a plane of ceaseless eternal play here and now as also in the beyond.

How does one grasp the totality of a material phenomenon and a single monument, which works concurrently on many different planes, each valid and yet partial if seen in isolation? It was in response to a recognition of the inadequacy of one-dimensional and single-disciplined approaches that the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts initiated two projects under the general rubric of Ksetra Sampada. In both projects, the endeavour he been to explore all facets of a particular area, with a temple or a monuments at its centre, and to identify the spatial and temporal dimensions of the evolution and development of a regional culture unit. There could be no better examples of such regions than Vraja in the north and Tanjavur in the south. If Givindadeva ji or Krsna resides in Vraja and Vrndavana, Siva and the lingam reign in Tanjavur and Brhadisvara. The two regions or Ksetras have served as places of both convergence and radiation of many movements over many centuries. Major temples have been at the centre of these regions, and these have attained a special status both on accounts of their architectural grandeur and because of the continued enlivenment of the presence of the divine through a highly sophisticated system of rituals, combined with a wider and more popular calendar of fairs and festivities that punctuate time - daily, monthly and yearly.

Obviously no study of a region can be restricted to the socio-political history of architectural styles and techniques or to contemporary ites, rituals and fairs. The diverse and multiple dimensions of the monuments and the region form in facts a single unified whole. The encompassing vision, the process of expression and the final artistic forms have to be identified and studied not only singly but together. A necessary prerequisite is the study of the history of the monuments as physical form and as the abode of the deity. The architectural monuments undergoes changes and modification, so do the rituals and the fairs and festivals. In the case of Govindadeva ji the deity has travelled far and wide. In the case of Brhadisvara, although the lingam is immovable, the monuments and the cultural history of the monuments and region covers a span of over eight hundred years. The goal of comprehending all these aspects together has been a daunting task.

Understandably, on account of specialization in single disciplines it would be difficult to find a single scholars who could encompass the totally or would have the technical skills of analysing all aspects. A multi-disciplinary team was essential, and some element of aggregation as opposed to integration could not be avoided. Over the last six years, however, in collaboration with the Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthana in Vrndavana and the EFEO Pondcherry, with Shrivatsa Goswami as the director and coordinator of one project, and Dr. R. Nagaswami as the director and coordinator studies and socio-economic investigations.

These have been based on the primary material of inscriptions, land grants, and the sculptural and iconographic programming of the temple, as well as on research and documentation of ritual texts relevant to each temple and systematic studies of the daily, weakly, monthly and annual rites and rituals. Since the culinary arts, the visual arts of drawing and painting, the ephemeral arts of rice flour and mud and papers drawings, the music and the dance and drama are an essential parts of the life of the region with the temple as centre, independent but interconnected studies of these are in process. Equally important is the rich resource of human memory, carrying on the traditions in both regions. The people who carry this information in their memories are a link in a continuous transmission of values, content, style and techniques. Outside the immediate environs of the temple each artefact has a role to play in the reenactment of the ceaseless cosmic drama, be it the rasrlila of Krsna in Vrndavana or consecration as the kumbha-abhisekam of the great lingam in Brhadisvara.

The present volume on Govindadeva temple in Vrndavana is the result of a seminar jointly organized by the Indian Council of Historical Research and the Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthana. It heralds a series of studies on Vrndavana, the ksetra. As the Editor's Preface states, the conference brought together scholars from around the world: historians concerned with literary and documentary evidence, other scholars who have been fascinated and puzzled by the temple's architectural features and yet other artist who celebrated and Govindadeva temple as living presence through performance of the rasalila and dance offering in the great mandapa of Govindadeva ji. It was a rare meeting of scholars with varied backgrounds and areas of specialization and linguistic skills. Each had so far perceived the monument through his or her particular window. Now possibilities of other viewpoints and perception was evident both through the presentation of new historical material and also detailed works on the monuments. No volume can capture the lively discussions that were stimulated by this meeting. The papers presented in the present volume, however, which have been revised as a result of the mutual interactions at the conference, may be classified under the following groups:

First, essays that look at the architectural features of the monument. These have been a matter of considerable controversy. Some scholars have doubted whether the temple was ever completed, while others have held differing opinion on its subsequent desecration and reconstruction. These essays address issues of style as reflecting political dialogue or syncretism and the evolution of a new idiom of temple forms.

Second, essays that present primary material of great historical importance, such as farmans from the imperial court telling us of land grants, and records in Persian and other languages that elucidate the history of succession of the Gosvamis. Materials from Rajasthani sources also illuminate the adventurous journey of the icon from Vrndavana to Jayapura (Jaipur).

Third essays that deal with the texts of ritual - the bhoga, puja utsava, and srngara of Govindadeva - and also describe contemporary rituals in both Vrndavana and Jayapura.

These three broad section are woven together in a concluding essay by Shrivatsa Goswami as "Govinda Darsana: The Lotus in Stone". He identifies six petals of this lotus - the history, the power and politics, the ritual, the architecture and paintings, and the final sixth petal of dialogue (samvada). The metaphor of the lotus takes us into the structure of the temple and its multilayered meaning, from and technique, and also provides a very meaningful insight into the methodological problems of viewing a monuments through a unified vision as well as multiple perspectives.

in the essays of the first group the focus is naturally on the architectural from. As part of the largest project, Nalini Thakur's and her team have prepared detailed plans and elevations, measured drawings that highlight the special architectural features of the temple. Prices section and axonometric drawings have been draw, the latter being particularly valuable. The detailed photographs of Robyn, draw our attention to features of the temple that are not readily evident to the visitor. The has held her camera around, in, under, and over part of the structure, to show us the richness and complexity of its design and construction.

Nalini Thakur's essay points out the architectural antecedents of the temple, and points out that Mughal architecture of the period was a complex experiment with different forms. The Kacchavaha, rules, beginning with Vraja Bhagavanadasa, contributed significantly to the building programme of several Vaisnava temples, including this one. Govindadeva temple is a unique expression of the fusion of many streams and a splendid example of a traditional trabeate structural from that retained some of the traditional features - the sikhara (now lost), the bracketed openings and astrology moulded exteriors - but introduced some important elements, most notably the high vaulted arch and central dome, which are apparent departures. What was created was a new kind of ritual space for the performance of the rasalilas. In addition to describing the features of the temple, Nalini Thakur speculates on what is missing, particularly the lost sikhara and the missing sanctum.

This analysis prepares us for George Michell's essay on the missing sanctuary, in which he attempts to reconstruct its original place, size and shape. He also takes us through the history of demolition, modifications and reconstruction of the temple over a period of three hundred years. John Burton-Page's essay returns to the debate of Hindu-Muslim synthesis, rejecting the idea that the builders consciously set out to synthesize two styles. Nevertheless he recognizes that different architectural styles, both Hindu and Muslim, were available to the builders of the temple, and that many mosques and tombs had already assimilated the Gujarati style. Taken together, these three assays make it evident that three is considerable scope for further dialogue on the vital issues of completion, incompletion, precedents in synthesis or otherwise of Hindu and Mughal elements and, of course, evaluation of the work of F. S. Growse in restoring the temple in the nineteenth century. Catherine B. Asher exposes a hither-to less well known aspect of Mana Simha's (Man Singh's) contribution as a patron of temple architecture, in the light of various shrines built by him. Taken with the other three essays, it makes it clear that identification of the authentic sources for the emergence of a particular architectural from is itself a complex matter. Many factors play a role and no easy resolutions can be found.

Thus we return to the question of defining a ksetra, a region, and whether the characteristic architectural features are reliable indicators. Govindadeva temple, with its antecedent and parallels such as the other temples built Mana Simha, point to the active dialogue between patrons and artistic styles within and outside the region, ranging from Udisa (Orissa) and Bihar in the east to Gujarata in the west, yet resulting in a distinctive Vrndavana character.

Shrivatsa Goswami,s essay on the iconography and the programme of the sculpture reliefs of the temples draws our attention to the fact that the temple was not merely an experiment in assimilating artistic forms, but was the place and space for arresting in stone the joy and ecstasy of the eternal play, or lila, of Krsna as Govindadeva ji. Panel after panel recreate the lilas of Krsna, made more visible here than to the observer standing before the doorway, thanks to the photographs of Robyn Beeche. The pilgrim who enters the temple is familiar with these lilas through scripture, story, and the performance of rasalilas in Vrndavana. The frozen stone is another suggestive reminder, and the panels then begin to reverberate with life. Although sculptural reliefs of Krsna lilas are known elsewhere in Indian temples, they are mostly on the exterior walls and are not within the context of a vibrant living tradition. Here they move inward and enliven the mandapa with their presence.

The essays of this first section gently reveal the dynamic of this interplay of the physical and the mouldings, its motifs of lotus and lilas, provides the space for experiencing the presence of Govinda - Krsna - and his companion Radha, for the priest, the devotee, the pilgrim and the lay participator, through the daily, monthly and annual rituals in the service of the Lord. The physical plan of the temple, although definable and measurable and finite, is transubstantiated through ritual into the cosmic space of Govinda ji, symbolizing Nitya Vrndavana, his divine abode and the eternal arena for the rasalila. The dialectics lie in constructing a physical edifice with the explicit and implicit goal of transmuting the physical element to an emotive and spiritual plane. Although many great monuments of diverse traditions - Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and Islamic (particularly if Indian origin) - have received the attention of spiritual journey, few scholars have attempted to comprehend the process of emergence of a cultural concept into a concrete structure, and how the transcends place and specific time.

The essays of the second group are of a different order. They provide basic information from primary sources, farmans, land grants, and official records of Mughal and Rajasthana courts. These are proof of an active interest taken by the imperial power not only in the building of the temple but also in the lives of the Gosvamis. Irfan Habib's essay is an impressive documentation based on the meticulous and diligent work done jointly with the late Tarapada Mukherji. We also get a vivid accounts of the life of the successive Gosvamis and convincing proof of imperial support in G. N. Bahura's accounts citing various farmans and land grants issued by Akbar's court. It is clear from these that mutual dialogue and support was more the rule than the exception in the sixteenth century. These documents should dispel erroneous impressions created by some that there was only conflict between people belonging to different faiths.

The essays by R. Nath and Monika Horstmann reconstruct the journey of the image from Vrndavana to Jayapura. R. Nath narrates the history of the building of successive Govindadeva temples until the image was finally installed in Jayapura. Monika Horstmann gives us additional information about the transportation of images from the Govindadeva temple, at Vrndavana to Rajasthan, and about the abhikaris (custodians) of this shrine from Sri Rupa Gosvami onward down to Nilambara in the eighteenth century. Comparing the Rajasthani documents that she has investigated with the Persian ones examined by Irfan Habib it is interesting to note the difference of emphasis. Whereas the latter are interested in official decrees and the personal history of the Gosvamis and issues of succession, the former are more interested in the safety of the icon, the symbol of the divine.

Illuminating as these essays are, they still leave room for further investigation into the question of the exact moment of the emergence of the yugala murti (the divine couple0 as an icon to be worshipped. Although the Udisa connection - the gift of a Radha image by Purusottama Deva, son of Pratapa Rudradeva - is undeniable, the installation of a representation image of Radha continues to be an enigma. G. N. Bahura's essay pertinently draws attention to the influence of Jayadeva's Gita Govinda and the role of the Gosvamis in installing Radha as Ahladini Sakti of Krsna, but this is an avenue requiring much greater research. How and when does Radha become deified and why does the yugala murti become central to the worship in Vrndavana? We know that the Gita Govinda travelled to all parts of India; in Gujarata, Kerala, Karnataka, Asama (Assam), and Maharastra, the icon of Radha did not enter the inner sanctum. It was only in Vrndavana that worship of her began, though later it travelled to Manipura and other places. No doubt Caitanya and his followers, the Gosvamis, elevated the conception of Radha to deity and enunciated the sakhi bhava, but the transition of a character from the text of the Gita Govinda to its presence in commentaries by the Gosvamis, to icon and deity to be worshipped, raises many fundamental questions about processes of deification yet to be investigated in depth.

The essays of the third groups deal with the text of ritual followed in Vrndavana and Jayapura. Asima Krishnadasa makes a detailed comparison of the rituals prescribed in the Haribhaktivilasa of Gopala Bhatta and followed by Radharamana temple, and the Srigovindavarsikadvadasakam, which relates exclusively to the worship in Govindadeva temple in Jayapura, and clearly brings out the points of convergence and divergence. Both Asima Krishnadasa and Chandramani Singh give vivid accounts of the adornment of Radha Govinda on each occasion and the special food to be offered. The pancopacara (fivefold), the dasopacara (tenfold) and sodasopacara (sixteenfold) worship are standard to the system of daily puja and special celebrations in both Vaisnava and Saiva temples. Although the fundamental symbolism remains universal, the details very from text to text and from temple to temple. These two essays, read together, exemplify once again how in fundamentals the texts and the rituals agree, but in details there is vast scope for change and the incorporation of local practice. This is another example of the constant flow of tradition along with change. Dynamics of the frozen and the fluid, the text and practice (sastra and prayoga) is an aspect ritual which has far-reaching ramifications for comprehending Indian traditions in many other spheres. Ritual enlivens the stone, gives it its life and breath so that the stone becomes the living presence of the deity.

These essays will be of great value to those interested in ritual studies. Of late there has been worldwide interest in ritual as a means of understanding the functions and cultural context of statues and sculpture, even where ritual has become extinct. The contemporary practice of puja in Radharamana temple, including the entire methodology, sequence and configuration throughout the annual calendar, is meticulously designed to evoke and invoke the deity. Govindadeva temple may well have followed a similar if not identical pattern of seva (Worship).

The wheel comes full circle with this. A conception is articulated in stone; sociopolitical factors, the vicissitudes of history, play a part; the monument and the ritual undergo changes in place and time. Yet through the very process the eternal is experienced. It is through ritual that frozen stone and image are enlivened, given presence, empowered, and to which the devotee surrenders himself. Time and place are consecrated in finitude to suggest the experience of trans-time and the infinite.

Appropriately, Shrivatsa Goswami's essay on the six petals of Govindadeva temple concludes the dialogue, or one may say brings to a pause the continuing dialogue. It was taken up in a subsequent conference entitled "The Continuing Creation of Vraja," and many of those papers were published in the Journal of Vaisnava Studies 3 : 1 (1994). There, as here, the editorial task was challenging. Matters of transliteration and variations of spelling that were decided upon for this volume may disturb some readers, but they will no doubt understand that here also the spirit is more important than the particularities or changing tastes. And the spirit calls for a beginning, to move from a linear to a cyclic approach, from a one-dimensional to multidimensional approaches, so that each discipline will begin to play the role of a particular gopi in the rasamandala of Vrndavana scholarship.




List of Illustrations   ix
Foreword   xix
Editor's Preface   xxi
1. Introduction - Kapila Vatsyayan 3
Architecture: The Temple in Stone
2. The Building of Govindadeva - Nalini Thakur; photographs by Robyn Beeche 11
3. The Iconography of Govindadeva Temple - Shrivatsa Goswami; photographs by Robyn Beeche 69
4. The Missing Sanctuary - George Michell 115
5. The Early Vrndavana Temples: The "Hindu-Muslim Synthesis" Rejected - John Burton-Page 123
History: Power and Politics in Stone
6. A Documentary History of the Gosa'ins (Gosvamis) of the Caitanya Sect at Vrndavana - Irfan Habib 131
7. Sri Govindadeva's Itinerary from Vrndavana to Jayapura c. 1534-1727 - R. Nath 161
8. Govindadeva and His Custodians from 1643 through the Time of Jaya Simha II (1700-1743) - Monika Horstmann 185
9. Sri Govinda Gatha: Service Rendered to Govinda by the Rulers of Amera and Jayapura - Gopal Narayan Bahura 195
10. Kacchavaha Pride and Prestige: The temple Patronage of Raja Mana Simha - Catherine Asher 215
Ritual and Culture: the Living Stone
11. Srigovindavarsikadvadasakam: Twelve Verses on the Yearly Festivals of Sri Govinda - Asimakrishna Dasa 241
12. Bhoga, Puja, Utsava and Srngara of Sri Govindadeva - Chandramani Singh 261
13. Govinda Darsana: The Lotus in Stone - Shrivatsa Goswami 269
  Appendix: Inscriptions of Govindadeva Temple 279
  Select Bibliography 289
  Contributors 292
  Index 293

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