Konch is about eighteen miles from Gaya on the Gaya-Daudnagar road. Gaya is the headquarters of the Gaya district and is served by the Gaya railway station of the Eastern Railway (Grand Chord line). It is also well situated on an all-weather road from Calcutta to Mughalsarai.
Konch contains remains of numerous temples, but the principal one is an ancient temple entirely of bricks. The temple is a square building, the dimension of which on the outside is 27 feet 6 inches square with a chamber inside 11 feet square. The entrance is to the east. The height is nearly 70 feet. It has two storeys. The lower story is vaulted in the Hindu fashion, that is, it has two arched roofs meeting in a ridge. Bricks overlapping on all the four sides till they meet at a point form the upper storey. The doorway isalmost as high as the room inside. The construction of the temple in bricks is a feat of high engineering skill considering the time it was built.
There is a mandap or a flat-roofed pillared hall in front. The mandap has now crumbled down. The stone pillars that supported it are lying in front of the temple. They are granite pillars and are ornamented by a single lotus carved on each of the faces in the lowest square portions of the pillars. This mandap was most likely built to form a roof for the accommodation of the large collection of statues assembled there.
A casual look at the Konch temple brings to mind the image of the Mahabodbi temple at Bodh Gaya. As a matter of fact, there is a theory that the ancient brick built temple at Konch served as the model for the Mahabodhi temple. But the Konch temple differs from the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya in that the latter has its four, sides straight from top to bottom, while the Konch temple has its sides curved in the, upper portion.
Moreover, the Bodh Gaya temple has numerous niches with images and ornamentation’s on the exterior of its walls, whereas the exterior of the Konch temple has no such niches. In the temple at Konch each wall is divided externally into seven phases by deeply recessed upright lines. These divisions still remain strongly pronounced, while a general coat of plaster mostly conceals the curved ornamentation.
There is a lingam of Koncheswar Mahadeva inside the temple. It would seem that a new floor has been constructed later at a somewhat higher level, so that the lingam now appears standing in a hollow. From this hollow a small channel leads to the north to carry off the oblation water poured over the lingam. The outlet of this channel is still there on the north side. This shows that this channel formed a part of the original construction.
The temple is built of properly shaped, well-burnt bricks though of different sizes. Some bricks measure 11" X 5 ½ " X 2 ¾", some 9" X 4 ¾" X 2 ¾ " and other 13" X 7 ½" X 2 ¾". The use of different types of bricks is, the temple has undergone extensive repairs from time to time, as held by Cunningham and Beglar of the Archaeological Survey of India. It is, however, clear that the last reconstruction was done quite a considerable period ago.
Konch temple or the area around is not protected under the Ancient Monuments Act and the temple is decaying rapidly.The entrance to the temple is, as usual, presented by a great rent or opening in the face of the tower. It consists of vertical sides, spanned by an arch of overlapping small sized bricks of the shape of a tall isosceles triangle with indented sides. This entrance is divided into two parts by a stone right across a lower rectangular one.
The lower rectangular portion gives admission into the sanctum. The portion above consists of an upper rectangle surmounted by a triangular opening. This upper portion of the opening leads to the upper chamber. J. D. Beglar, Assistant Archaeological Surveyor at that time, had visited the place during 1872-73 and he has mentioned in his report (1878) that the tower was surmounted by a cylindrical pinnacle as in the ease of the temple of Bodh Gaya.
This pinnacle had a hemispherical top. It also appears from his observations that the upper portion of the opening threw light on the object of worship, while the front of the object was dark. With the construction of the upper chamber the whole of the interior has now become dark.
The statues and other relies, whether inside or lying about, is Brahmanical. Inside the temple there are statues of Haragauri and the Ashta Saktis. The most interesting piece inside the shrine is a panel sculpture of the Dashavataras representing, Vishnu. A remarkable fact is that the Konch temple representation of the Dashavataras differs from such representations elsewhere as it divides the Vamana, avatara into two scenes by leaving out the ninth or the Buddha avatara and by representing Vishnu in the tenth or Kalki avatara along with a female deity with a small horse standing in front. These Dasharataras are exquisitely sculptured.
A fish standing vertically on its tail represents the fish incarnation. The tortoise incarnation bears a close resem- blance to the Saivic emblems of the argha and lingam with the sole addition of a couple of human figures on the sides holding a string which is wound round the lingam; the lingam thus does the duty of Mount Mandar.This temple of Siva worship is clearly of Brahmanical origin. The construction, the images and the tradition all support this.
It has not yet been definitely established as to when this temple was originally constructed. The massiveness of the pillars shows that it must have been built at a very early period.Tradition assigns it to Bhairavendra and also suggests it be dedicated to Surya. Beglar recorded the following lines of a ballad very popular in the area when lie carried out the archaeological survey in 1872-73:
Konch base' sab soch mite'
Durj Raj pasend Maha", mun gyan'
Bed Puranan Ki Charcha'
Tanha, Punjat hei a'd Bhawa'ni'
Sah, sara’f, haraf, chaab jiwan par bin bhakha'ni
Tatenhi Tatenhi Thun Mathu Ki Ja’nha' det
Abhy bar Sewsimbha Bhawasii.
These lines mean:
"Konch was established, all troubles ceased, Durj Raj chose a wise Mahamuni (as chief?), and discourse of Vedas and Puranas spread. There is worshipped Bhavani; merchants, good men, evil men, all life (heard of) the fame; on going (there) the gift of fearlessness and virile strength is bestowed by Siva and Bhavani." (Translation is Beglar's).
Beglar, however, himself recorded that many people of the locality did not agree with the interpretation, as many of the words are obsolete. At present these lines are almost forgotten in the locality. It may be mentioned that Kanch or Koncheswara is a name of Lord Siva. It was suggested that the lingam inside and the panel of sculpture of the Dashavatara, coupled with the absence of figures or images on the exterior, indicated that this Siva temple, of prior origin to the Buddhist edifices in the Gaya district.
The exterior of the temple with the missing cylindrical pinnacle mentioned by Beglar has further led to the theory that the Konch temple was the model on which the Mahabodhi temple of Bodh Gaya was built. This theory has not, however, been investigated properly. In Hiuen Tsangs description this temple is stated to have been built by a Brahman. He puts the probable date of the construction between the, First and Sixth Century A.D. Beglar's visit to the temple in 1872-73 has left for us a record of how he found the temple.
Beglar has also given his opinion as to the age of the temple and discards the view that it was originally a Buddhist chaitya where a lingam was introduced. According to him the temple is clearly a Brahmanical one and dedicated to Lord Siva. He has fully supported Hiuen Tsang's observation that this was a Hindu temple.
Beglar's account of the -external shape of the Konch temple is interesting and may be quoted. He observed:
"The external shape of the tower, however, differs from that of the great Buddha Gaya temple in being a curved and not a straight-sided pyramid; it is consequently more graceful than the temple at Buddha Gaya.
The ornamentation externally consists of a great oval on each face, at a point nearly in the middle of the total height of the tower proper, and of various mouldings and indentations rather sparingly used; the whole of the ornamen- tation is of brick cut to shape, and it is evident from the way the ornaments are distributed, that the whole of it was cut on the external faces of the tower after it had been built up plain. The labor required may easily be imagined too; this is due to the fact that the face of the brick-work is so even; for I do not think it possible without subsequent laborious rubbing down, that any amount of care in setting the bricks, and iri the preservation of the shape and sharpness of edges of the bricks during manufacture, could produce the wonder- fully smooth even face that the work has to this day, not with- standing the ravages of time.
"The temple does not appear to have been originally covered with plaster, but portions of it are now covered with plaster, the remains, no doubt, of a coat put on at some subsequent period.
"The tower is, or was surmounted by a cylindric pinnacle like the temple of Buddha Gaya. This sort of pinnacle is very remarkable, and its form resembling a lingam may be more than a mere accident of construction. Constructively, it was evidently impossible to form in brick the amalaka which invariably surmounts temples of stone, itself again surmounted by either urns or tapering discs ending in a spire."
Major General Cunningham, however, was of the opinion that the date of this temple should be ascribed to the Eighth Century A.D.
According to the commonly accepted tradition, however, Bhairavendra who lived in 1450 A.D built the temple. There is no accurate information as to when this Bhairavendra actually lived. It has been pointed out that the style and the general appearance of the temple have a great similarity to the temples at Deo and Umga in Gaya district. The two temples at Deo and Umga are taken to have been built about the 8th century A.D.
Major General Cunningham and H. B. Garrick who had visited the place in 1880-81 have observed:
"I found nothing that appeared to give any clue to the age of the temple save the great front opening formed by overlapping bricks, like those of Buddha Gaya temple, an the later temples of Deo-Barnarak and Mahadeopur. From its general resem- blance in other respects to the Barnarak temples, I conclude that it may be of the same age, that is about the 8th century A.D."
T. Bloch, Archaeological Surveyor, Bengal Circle, had visited the area in 1902 and, agreeing with this view, had observed about Konch, Utren, Deo and Umga temples in Bihar as follows:
" I have grouped these places together, because I consider it evident that the temple at Konch is of the same period as the temple at Deo and Umga. The resem- blance in style is remarkable. It originally had in front a flat-roofed pillared hall or mandapa which still may be seen on an old photograph, taken by Mr. Peppe, but which now hat fallen in, the stone pillars supporting it still lying in front of thetemple.
The same is characteristic for the temples at Deo and Umga, and the ornamentation of the Spire at Deo also is of the same kind as at Konch. The temple at Umga is plain, without ornaments. Moreover, tradition points to Bhairavendra, who lived about 1459 A.D., as the builder of the Konch temple. From his time also date, as we know from local inscriptions, the principal monuments at Deo and Umga. For these reasons, I think that the hitherto accepted date of the Konch temple, viz., eighth century A -D. should be put back for some seven centuries. The temple at Konch is not in a good state of preservation; although repaired some time ago, a great portion of the brick wall in front of the spire has fallen down. The building is worth being kept in a permanent state of repairs."
To the cast of the temple there is a large sheet of water with brick-covered mounds on all sides. In the west there is a ruined temple, 12 feet 3 inches square inside, and at the north-western corner there is a second ruined temple only 7 feet 8 inches square inside, with walls 2 feet 9 ½ inches thick. The Konch village, which stands to the south of the lake and the great temple, has also several sculptured images of which the best are a figure of Vishnu and a seated Buddha.
The temple is daily visited by a large number of local devotees. Special puja is offered on Shivaratri and other auspicious days to propitiate Lord Shiva when large crowds visit the temple. A big mela is held during the Shivaratri festival and thousands of people assemble, in the mela. It is a pity such an important and famous temple, which may have been taken as a model for the Mahabodhi temple of Gaya, should remain neglected and unprotected under the Ancient Monuments Act. Rapid decay has already set in and it is believed a large number of relies have already been removed.