The stage was set for the magnum opus. Somnath Temple had been rebuilt. Bhoj Tal, the huge lake spread over forty kilometres, a marvel of civil engineering, provided water to the people of Bhopal and Malwa. On the banks of Betwa, the city of Bhojpur was founded. Two dams were built on Betwa to channelize water to feed the lake. Hundreds of artisans have sculpted the group of most magnificent temples on the banks of Bhoj Tal at Ashapuri. The treatise called Samarangana Sutradhara on classical Indian architecture was complete. The curtain was raised. The act lasted for several years. Sadly the magnum opus ended without the climax for reasons we might never know.
From a distance, the temple looks like a massive cube of stone sitting on a hill dwarfing the town below. You have not seen anything like this before. For a temple, the shape and dimensions are truly majestic and colossal. You have never seen a temple so different, so huge, and so bare outside. The sqat position provides intimidating presence and conveys massive solidity. You walk up the hill towards the temple on a freshly laid tar path.
The path leads to the stairs that brings you on the top of the seventeen foot high platform or forecourt. The platform has huge dimensions of 106x78x17 feet. There are a couple of chattris in the middle of the platform. And beyond the platform is the colossal west facing facade of the Bhojpur or Bhojeshwar Temple. Looking at the seemingly incomplete temple with no shikhar or superstructure, it is apparent that the platform’s large dimensions were designed to incorporate mandap, mahamandap and antaral that were never built.
ASI has installed wooden steps to enter the girbhgriha. The gateway (33 feet high and 16 feet wide) is flanked by huge pillars. The pillars are bare except kirtimukhs and chains with bells. You have seen similar pillars at Qutb complex in Delhi. On both sides of the walls are few images including that of Sursundaris, Yamuna and Ganga. At the base of the pillars on the either side are beautifully sculpted possible Ishaans or Shiv Dwarpal. They seem to be a secondary placement.
As you step into the doorway you are blown away by the enormous Shivling mounted on a three stepped pedestal. The priest on the top of the pedestal has climbed with the help of a ladder. The pedestal is about 15 feet high. And in the middle of the pedestal rises the polished Shivling. The ASI sign says that the Shivling (6.7 feet high and 8 feet diametre) along with Yoni Patta rises to a height of 22 feet and is the tallest in the world.
You step down into the girbhgriha. Surrounding the Shivling are four massive pillars. The pillars carry some ornamentation. The inside walls are bare. It is when you look up that you are amazed. The pillar capitals are sculpted with images of deities. The brackets holding the ceiling have bharvahaks. The domed ceiling is generously carved. Eight Gandharvs adorn the outer rim of the dome along with dense carvings of motifs. Gandharvs are celestial beings who guard som and also play music in Indra' s durbar. According to Vishnu Puran they are sons of Brahma. They have incredible healing powers and are also considered to be divine messengers between humans and Gods.
You circumambulate the Shivling. High above and unseen, the priest washes the top platform. You try to be careful just in case the pail of water hits you and the camera. On a cold winter morning, there is a steady stream of devotees who offer flowers and light incense sticks at the base of the pedestal. Thousand years later nothing seem to have changed. And what remains unchanged is the amazing ability of India’s history to leave you wonder struck.
|View from Canopies on Platform|
Lush grounds on the south of the temple look inviting. There are a couple of structures here that could be temple, tomb or stup. The east wall still has the scaffolding as part of continuing conservation of the temple. And then you see the ridge meeting the temple at the north-east corner. This in fact is the extant ramp that was used to haul up the huge blocks of stones to erect the walls of the temple. The stones pushed up on the ramp would be as big as 35x5x5 feet and weigh as much as 70 tonnes each. This is the only temple in the world where the ramp used to carry stones is still extant otherwise it would have been a big mystery figuring out the technology used!
The temple’s imposing external walls are largely bare except with the relief of balconies high up. There is a possibility that deities were arranged on these balconies. Makar Mukhi Jalashay or Somsutra pierces the north wall from where the water used for washing the ling flows out. People believe drinking this water after pradakshina has curing powers. There are some fragments lying around. They could have come from this temple or were never used as the temple was left incomplete.
Looking at some old photos, it is apparent that the temple has gone large scale conservation. Due to unknown reasons, the dome of the temple had collapsed breaking the yoni patta into two pieces and since then the temple remained open to the sky. The stones from upper levels of walls had fallen off. The platform was in a ruined state. Mr. KK Mohammad of ASI who brought back Bateshwar Temples in Morena back to life, again led the restoration efforts here.
After 1000 years, the temple finally has a roof - no not carved out of red sandstone but a canopy built of fibreglass with inverted lotus motif. ASI did not want to risk another cave-in and therefore installed a lighter dome. From inside, looking up at the ceiling you could have never figured that out. One of the 33 tonne original missing pillar was replaced with a 12 tonne pillar. The structure looks quite impressive and solid in appearance. Good work again by ASI!
|Rock Etchings with Temple Plans - Photo Courtesy Gency Chaudhuri|
|Shivling and Padavali - Photo Courtesy Gency Chaudhuri|
You walk towards north west of the temple where you can see some cordoned off enclosures over the rock outcrops. Now this is a surprise. You have seen Ashok Rock Edicts, paintings on rock, but here on the rocks are extensive etchings of buildings and plans. The etchings include elevation and plans; pillars, shikhars and kalas; all pointers that there were elaborate plans to build a large complex of temples. Looking at at drawings of a mandap, it is apparent that the design is entirely new and never seen before. Just beyond is a shivling with footsteps. It is apparent that engraved on rocks are the elaborate blueprints of a large complex of temples that was never built for reasons we will probably never find out.
Raja Bhojdev (1010-1055AD) the greatest ruler of Parmar dynasty ruled over Malwa in Central India where he led several military campaigns in all directions. Once he went after Mahmud Ghazni who had come to sack Somnath. Ghazni promptly retreated to Sindh. As part of North Indian Confederacy, Bhoj fought with Salar Masud, nephew of Ghazni, in the battle of Bahraich where Salar Masud was killed. Bhoj also battled the Western Chalukys of Deccan. Here he partnered with Rajendra Chola I of the powerful Tamil dynasty of Cholas. So while Cholas pushed the Chalukyas from South, Raja Bhoj attacked from the North. The outcome is not clear of this war with Chalukyas. King Bhoj died fighting his one time ally Bhimdev Solanki from present Mahim in Mumbai that was then part of Gujarat and Kalachuri King Vishnukarna ruling from present day Jabalpur in MP.
Raja Bhoj in addition to being a strong military general was a great patron of art, architecture and learning. He was a writer too who authored eleven books out of which Samarangana Sutradhara is the most famous. The 83 chapter treatise on civil engineering systematically explains how to construct buildings, forts and temples. It even has a discourse on building flying machines. To walk his talk Raja Bhoj along with Bhimdev Solanki rebuilt the Somnath Temple after it was sacked by Ghazni in 1024. At Ashapuri, few kilometres from Bhojpur, a complex of twenty six temples was built with the finest architecture. New temple form of Bhumija style was innovated here. Ashapuri was a laboratory where artisans arrived from places as far as the Deccan to develop new styles and forms. It is possible that Bhojpur Temple could have been a new form in the making.
It was time to lift the curtain on the Magnum Opus - time to build a temple so majestic that there would be no parallels in the history of temple building.
Bhojpur the city founded by Raja Bhoj was appropriately chosen as the stage for the magnum opus. The inspiration for the mammoth temple could have come from his comrade King Rajendra Chola. Rajendra Chola’s father Chola Chola had built the towering Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple and Rajendra Chola had built an equally imposing temple nearby. It is also possible that Bhoj might have taken consultation from the Chola stapathis. In that case the engineering aspect in addition to Raja Bhoj’s own temple construction competence would have been foolproof.
The site chosen was on a hill, overlooking the Betwa river. The palace was nearby so Raja Bhoj could himself keep an eye on the progress. The quarry was again close to the temple site. Remains of unfinished temple members at the site of quarry can be still seen. The planning was perfect. But what could have gone wrong?
The biggest unanswered question is why was the last act left unstaged? Why did the temple remain unfinished even though the Parmar dynasty lasted for another 250 years and grand temples like Udayeshwara Temple continued to be built? Was royal patronage discontinued and there was a funds crunch? Did a natural calamity like an earthquake strike damaging the temple? Was it a case of faulty engineering that a shikhar could not be mounted? Or was it plain pillage by adversaries?
There are no clear answers but there could be several ‘what might have happened' scenarios:
- With the death of Raja Bhoj, his successors might not have taken interest in the temple completion; the royal patronage was stopped and resources diverted to newer projects
- The adversaries like Solankis or Kalchuris might have damaged the temple as it was a common treatment meted out to the vanquished party
- Delhi or Gujarat Sultanate might have pillaged the temple during their Malwa excursions
- Though the probability is low, there might have been an engineering miscalculation that led to collapse of the roof and the damage to yoni patta. The missing pillar that was replaced or installed by ASI is a big mystery.
- Though there are no historical records, but a powerful earthquake might have ripped through the area damaging the roof and the outer walls. Temples at nearby Ashapuri have their plinths devastated; something that is impossible to be attributed to humans.
- Then there is a possibility of combination of wide spread damage by earthquake followed by vandalism.
Even without the last act, Bhojpur Temple is a glorious edifice. The temple that looms over the town built by Raja Bhoj is stuff of legendary stories with which the king is remembered for. Come and see the lores and legends come alive at Bhojpur.
Getting There: Bhojpur Temple in Raisen district of MP is about 30 kms from Bhopal. Ashapuri is 6 kms south of Bhojpur Temple. You can see Bhojpur Temple, Ashapuri Temples & Museum and Bhimbetka in a single day.