Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Bijamandal – Gone Temple

The Mystery of the Missing Temple

These are rare moments when you get goosebumps all over. You are standing in front of the mighty platform or jagati of the temple. You have never seen a temple platform this big or imposing. Even the Bhojpur temple close by wasn’t this big. This is something incredible and you get those goosebumps again as you relive those moments writing this.

The Majestic Vijaya Mandir - Bijamandal in Vidisha

Last time you were in Vidisha, you visited the Udaygiri caves with the magnificent relief of Varah. Udaygiri has a connection with Delhi in form of the Iron Pillar in the Qutb Complex. On the way from Sanchi and on the bypass you did see the sign for Bijamandal but did not give it a second thought. Later you saw some random photographs of broken bhaarvahaks and kirtimukhs on social media. You had a feeling that Bijamandal might be a big surprise waiting. Intentionally, you did not look it up and just filed it in the Someday folder of the mind waiting for a chance to surprise yourself.

You have started early from Sehore on a pleasant morning. The radar is locked in and you don’t even stop for the Tropic of Cancer sign before Sanchi or let your mind wander to the time you went through the dirt track looking for Satdhara or that you need to come back to see Sonari, Bhojpur and Andher (Satdhara, Sonari, Bhojpur and Andher are all Buddhist sites around Sanchi) and revisit Gyaraspur. MP always does it to you. It is easy to get distracted here.

The View that sets your heart racing - at Beejamandal in Vidhisha

Entering Vidisha, you see the sign again. This is a heavily built up unplanned area of the city. You walk through the gates past the ASI sign even as the neighbourhood is waking up. The first sight blows you away! This is the surprise that was waiting for you. Amid landscaped lawns lie huge mounds of temple pieces. In the distance, beyond the trees you can see a sprawling platform of a temple. Even from here you have a feeling that the temple would have been massive. You fight the urge to run towards the temple. You practically covered Bhojshala and Lat Masjid in half hour. Today you will savour the surprise slowly. Except for a few gardeners puttering around, you have the temple to yourself.

These are such lively Keertimukhs or Simhamukhs in company of Gandharvs and Apsaras. They are usually found on the pinnacle of the temple or on top of the main gate of a temple and on the lintel of the door frame of the inner sanctum - in front of the Sculpture Shed at Bijamandal

Beautiful piece of Parmar art

Now that you notice, you see those Kirtimukhs, that you saw long ago in photos, mounted on platforms in front of the locked storeroom on the left. On the right, there is a pile of large rectangular dressed blocks that probably came from the platform. Behind these stones is a small pretty baoli. The baoli comes as a surprise since there were no associated baolis in the mosque complexes in Dhar.

The 8th Century Baoli or Stepwell. Notice the huge Blocks in the rear. Would have definitely been ripped out of the rear of the temple platform - Bijamandal in Vidisha

Not sure if the pillars are in-situ here
Are those Krishna Leela scenes?

The L-shaped baoli looks well preserved. On the eastern end there is a large circular well. The first level has two carved pillars. ASI sign says the pillars are dated to 8th century. The presence of extant baoli shows that this place was the site of a temple or group of temples predating the big temple by about four hundred years. The pillar has some endearing scenes of Krishna Leela.

Field of Broken Dreams

The Mound of Bhumijas
The temple was built in a style called bhumjia, developed by the Parmars. The Bhumija shikhara based on a stellate plan is divided into quadrants by four latas or offsets. Each lata, in turn has five rows of miniature shrines or towers called aedicule. The hall has three entrances from east, north and south. Here it seems there was western entrance too. The whole complex including seven subsidiary shrines is placed on a high broad platform. Here the temple probably was a panchayatana and had five shrines

You are walking under the brilliant September sun through manicured lawns (like only MP or Karnataka ASI can do). Across the compound are stacks and mounds of broken temple members. You are seeing the plunder of this magnitude for the first time. In the coming days you will see more of the plunder in Thubon. Now that you are thinking, you saw the entire lake-side temple complex at Ashapuri felled to the ground. So the story repeats itself. The mighty Parmar temple that stood here was demolished and some of its parts were used to assemble the mosque sitting on the western side of the platform. The rest of the temple is spread across the grounds. The idols were probably destroyed or hidden away never to be found again (check museum exhibits in Vidisha, Gwalior and Bhopal for clues). One group of debris have the miniature shrines which would have come from the shikhar of the Bhumija style temple.

This looks like the mouldings from the western side

Broken elements everywhere

Nice to see something to build in these ruins

Just like an automobile scrap market where the shops specialize in different dismembered parts of a car, here too the mounds have been sorted according to similar architectural elements. The thousands of broken temple elements say their own story. Being among these chopped and broken parts all around is like walking through a massacre and is not pleasant. This looks like a killing field that witnessed large scale mayhem. Just like the landscaped Commonwealth Graves, the grass, the shady trees and the tranquillity here seems to be providing some succour to these once living stone souls.

The awe-inspiring goosebump sight - Now imagine the majestic bhumija shikhar

Approaching from the north-east direction - the remnants of the northern gateway are seen. This temple was definitely a Sarvatobhadra with entrances from all cardinal directions

Walking through the plunder, you approach the temple slowly. And then the goosebumps hit you. You stand in front of the eastern entrance dwarfed by the platform. The mouldings on either side are heavily carved. Climbing up the steps you ascend the bare platform. Whatever was here on the top is gone. Looking down on the northeast side you see the temple parts painstakingly arranged around the tree trunks that you just walked through. Just below a small platform has been raised with few graves. 

Towering over the neighborhood. You love those staples holding the stone blocks together

Walking around, the neighbourhood houses seem to be dwarfed. It is not hard to imagine that this temple would clearly have been the largest in all of North India. The temple’s dimensions compare to the magnificent Konark Temple of Odisha. An inscription dedicated to Sun god has been recovered here. It is quite possible that one of the subsidiary shrine was dedicated to Surya. The temple, another gem of Parmara architectural marvels, would have looked majestic and splendid. All other temples, small and large, along with their platforms have simply vanished.

The Prayer Hall on the far end of the platform

Looking from North East side

Up on the rear of the platform, the mosque is sealed. The lock is wrapped in white cloth sealed with the tell-tale red wax. At Bhojshala, people of both communities take turn to worship; here the structure on top has simply been sealed off. You peer through the mesh to see the qibla wall with mihrab and minbar and pillars extending on both sides. Compared to Dhar mosques, this mosque looks as if it was raised half-heartedly. It seems the contractor who was erecting the beautiful monuments of Mandu had been sent here and who being homesick just wanted the completion certificate and be done with it. We will examine the possible reasons later.  


Compared to Dhar mosques this looks lacklustre

Now that you are thinking, this is what seemed to have happened. At Qutb Minar, Ajmer, Kaman, Dhar or Mandu, there is no sign of the actual temples. All the material of the temples was used up in the construction of the mosque, colonnades and if there were walls or forts around. So, all that you see of the temples are the pillars and other elements that are now part of the mosques. But here in Vidisha, something different happened. The temple was so huge that they probably did not have time to rip out the platform. On the other hand the platform was big enough to build the mosque on top. The temple’s shikhara and mandaps were brought down. Again, unlike the mentioned locations, this mosque is quite small in design. There are no colonnades on the other three sides. Either the instructions were to quickly assemble the mosque on the existing platform leaving most of the material on the grounds or there was not much left when the mosque was built about two hundred years later after the first demolition. We will examine this in detail.

Looking down towards remains of southern gate. Some Mouldings have been recently installed by ASI

The minars on south west corner. The minars seem to be made of shikhar base

Climbing down from the southern gate, you walk around the plinth taking in the huge dimensions and imagining the soaring Bhumija shikhara with the flag fluttering in the air. On the western side, the rear wall of the mosque rises built of stones that could have been part of missing platform in the western and northern ends. Unmistakable mounds are seen on both sides. The temple in all probability was a sarvatobhadra temple, where the approach was from all four cardinal directions.The minars raised later seems to be blocks from the walls of the shikhara or mandaps.

Now coming to the mystery - Was the Temple ever Completed? 

The evidence available that says the temple was completed:

Tabaqat-i-Nasiri chronicles the times of Ghurid rulers of Delhi Sultanate and other early Muslim rulers. The chronicles were named after Nasiruddin Mahmud (1246-1266), the grandson of Sultan Iltutmish (1211-1236). The book notes that Sultan Iltutmish after capture of Gwalior in 1234, took over the fortress of Bhilsa (earlier name of Vidisha) and demolished the idol temple which took three hundred years to construct and which was very high.

The temple according to sources has been ransacked four times. First by fellow Delhiites; Iltutmish in 1234 and Alauddin Khilji, in 1293; both of Delhi Sultanate, Bahadur Shah of Gujarat Sultanate in circa 1530, and then the most popular villain Aurangzeb (Mughal). To you it seems, Aurangzeb gets undeserved credit for temple felling. By the time he ascended the throne most of the temples of North India has been levelled. If the temple was incomplete and there was nothing to vandalize, then the temple would not have attracted so much attention. On the other hand, it is quite possible that the temple was repeatedly restored so that the successive attacker had enough demolition work. Or the temple was so huge to begin with that the demolition continued till the 17th century! The town of Vidisha where history happened is sacked repeatedly but the platform stays firm. Gardeners working on the grounds say the temple was three stories high.


The extant plinth of the temple looks reduced on the western side as if the western pitha has been cleaved. It is possible that at the time of mosque construction, the western and northern entrances were dug out and the southern entrance buried. The southern entrance was found during excavations. Looking at the scale of the entire project, the size of the broken elements – you don’t remember seeing this huge kirtimukh - and recovered images, it is apparent that money was not an impediment and there is no way a complete pitha could not have been constructed. Even the incomplete Bhojpur temple has a complete pitha.

A Wonderful drone view which leaves no doubt that the plinth was complete. Photo Credit - Yash Vardhan Singh

The present Google map of Bijamandal in Vidisha

All Ghurid mosques you have seen do not have the presence of any surviving temple pitha. The explanation could be that in all those locations there was a group of small temples that were felled and so it made sense to build the mosques ground up on a larger base. But here in Vidisha they found this huge pitha which did not made sense to be uprooted. So, they built a small mosque with the little that was left and consequently, the structure and design pales in comparison to Bhojshala and Lat Masjid.

During the monsoons of 1991, the northern wall collapsed, revealing a large number of images; some as large as eight feet. Henry Cousens in his amazing paper on Dhar Pillar, mentioned that the deities of demolished temples were mostly stuffed under the mosque platforms. For some reason, ASI has stored the images away from public eye. Large complete idols mean the pitha was complete - it is the complex images that take longer time to sculpt than raising a pitha. You can see a big bunch of dressed rectangular stones at the entrance which could have come from the dug up platform. Other large blocks from platform and shikhara base are apparently used in the western wall and raising the four minarets along with buttress.

One of these pillars carry Naravarman's inscription - Bijamandal Mosque

O. P. Mishra (Department of Archaeology, Archives and Museum, Bhopal) in his paper concurs with Adam Hardy. Adam Hardy is a professor in Cardiff University and an expert of temples. He is in news for designing a Hoysala style temple coming up in Kolar, Karnataka. 

Mishra wonders if there was a huge temple here, then where has the temple gone?

This observation is based on almost total absence of ornate 11th or 12th century pillars and absence of large number of architectural elements. The prayer hall has plain pillars with characteristics of 8th century. On one of these pillars there is an undated inscription dedicated to Goddess Carccika (Chamunda). The palaeography of inscription indicates its date somewhere in 11th or 12th century. The inscription mentions King Naravarman (1094-1134). The inscription pillar originally belonged to a small earlier Carccika Temple. As she was the tutelary goddess of the King, he wanted to build a temple to honour her special place. Mishra quotes examples to surmise that the temple was never completed and hence not demolished and was probably abandoned upon the death of Naravarman.

One of the pillars just outside the screen carries another inscription

Iltutmish and Khilji were mainly invaders who ransacked and looted places. They would have just plundered the temples and scooted. The mosque would have been built later during Malwa Sultanate in the early fifteenth century. So, for almost two hundred years, the demolished temple architectural members would have just been lying around. It is quite possible that in this intervening period from demolition and the raising of the mosque, most of the ornate elements and rich stone was pilfered away by the locals for their homes or to build smaller temples in the countryside. Only broken elements and desecrated images remained here. Comparing the design of this mosque, it looks like a very poor replica of Bhojshala and Lat Masjid. Here it is just a western prayer hall with very plain looking mihrab, minbar and with no black slabs or decoration. There is enough room on the platform to build a full-fledged hypostyle enclosed mosque. The builders of the mosque apparently had not much spolia left to build with except few plain pillars. And this is probably the reason that instead of an elaborate domed enclosed mosque there is only a flat-roofed prayer hall. Anyway, the capital of Mandu was far from Vidisha and it did not make sense to build something elaborate, especially when most construction was focussed in Mandu.

The Conclusion

To sum up, this is your hypothesis: Iltutmish would have demolished and looted the temple, Khilji would have looted the somewhat restored temple with some more demolishing. Malwa Sultanate would have raised the mosque, stuffed the images under the platform after chopping them up. Bahadur Shah would have engaged in some more demolition and maybe raised the teetering minarets. Minarets don’t seem to be a feature of Malwa Sultanate. Nagarch in his paper reports that almost every image has been chopped. Aurangzeb did not have much left to do here except renaming Bhilsa as Alamgirpur! 

The Eastern Gateway of Bijamandal

Further, Mishra does not consider the chronicles of Iltutmish and Bahadur Shah and does not account for large scale chopping of images and the broken elements littering the entire complex. Temple construction takes years and is a never-ending process. Just like in forts, construction and addition of elements continues over the generations. Just because few elements look unfinished does not mean there was no temple here. Looking at the mound of miniature towers is enough proof that even the spire of the temple was raised.

Mishra should have just limited the scope of his paper to Goddess Carccika and the inscription instead of making an unscholarly assertion that no temple existed here. He deserves this rebuttal! You have totally enjoyed going through the limited material available to make your point. Wished Cunningham had spent some more time here which would have been helpful. Unlike Dhar, Vidisha does not seem to have any British Memoirs or any resident political agent. The story could have been as interesting as the Iron Pillar of Dhar!

ASI Accounts

Alexander Cunningham visited Bijamandal in 1874 and 1876. He writes in the Report of Tours in Bundelkhand and Malwa, Volume X: Inside the town there is a stone Masjid called Bijay Mandir, or the temple of Bijay. The Hindu name is said to have been derived from the founder of the original temple Bijay Rani. The temple was thrown down by the order of Aurangazeb and the present Masjid erected in its place; but the Hindus still frequent it at the time of the annual fair. By the Musalmans it is called 'The Alamgiri Masjid', while Bhilsa itself is called Alamgirpur. The building is 781/2 feet long by 261/2 feet broad and the roof is supported on four rows of plain square pillars with 13 openings to the front.

The ASI report of 1921-22 says that an inscription on a pillar mentions a temple dedicated to goddess Charchika. The temple could be one on which the mosque is built or it could be another one in the vicinity. The report further mentions that it is said the temple was built by a Bania woman Vijaya which explains the mosque is still called Bijay Mandal which is a corrupt form of Vijaya Mandira. This was the largest mosque in Bhilsa and until recently it was in disuse and neglected. As part of conservation, jungle upto 25 metres was cleared. It is clear that the jungle had overwhelmed the monument. You have seen this in current times - structures once spruced up by ASI are taken over by worshippers.

One Last Look at Vijaya Mandir

India never ceases to amaze. You have not seen any pictures of Bijamandal and you never really expected anything here. This is one of the momentous moments of your travels. Standing temples are not that interesting to investigate like the vanished temples are! And like you always say: History can’t be undone; History only teaches you.


You are still not sure why Alexander Cunningham did not treat Bijamandal with more depth. However, in Mathura he provides a detailed study of the Keshav Deva temple that existed at the spot of the Jama Masjid. Looking at the plan, and you are pretty sure that this is the clinching evidence that the Bijamandal did exist, at least its foundation, if not in its entirety. The plan of the two mosques is eerily similar and both the mosques were raised by Aurangzeb. The Jama Masjids were usually erected on the remains of the most majestic temple of the city.

As discussed in the below amazing Facebook post, it is quite possible that the foundation and the temple in the back was torn out to keep the west direction unobstructed.


Annual Report of ASI 1921-22, Page 41 – provides some history and details of conservation work carried out

Alexander Cunningham, Report of Tours in Bundelkhand and Malwa, Volume X in 1874-75 and 75-76, Page 36 - explains the evolution and contains list of all Bhumija temples

Bijamandal and Carcchika: Tutelary Goddess of Paramara King Naravarman by O. P. Mishra in Vol 22, No 1, Jan 2012 of Journal of Royal Asiatic Society

Art of the Paramaras of Malwa : proceedings of the UGC sponsored all-India seminar held at Prachya Niketan, Centre of Advanced Studies in Indology & Museology, Bhopal, Jan. 21-23, 1978 / edited by R.K. Sharma 30th Sep 2018 - thanks to all friends for an enlightening discussion

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