BHOJPUR TEMPLE – A CHRONICLE OF ARCHETECTURAL BUILDING TECHNIQUES IN 11TH CENTURY
The Betwa river rises from the Vindhyachal Ranges in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. The river is well mentioned in Mahabharat and Skand Puran scriptures as Vetravati or Shuktamuti . Great Sanskrit poet Kalidas describes river Vetravati in his epic Maghdootam. The river passes through well-known ancient historical places such as Vidisha, Sanchi and Orchha. From its origin Betwa flows through Malwa Plateau in the half of its journey and the rest in UP before confluence in the Yamuna River at Hamirpur district. In Vidisha the river surrounds Udaigiri hills famous for its Gupta Period caves from three sides after flowing near Sanchi. Some historians say that Kalidas scripted Meghdootam on Udaigiri hillock.
This region was known as Dasharn Region in the ancient times and was part of Awantika Mahajanapad. Awantika Maha Janapad was divided in two parts with capitals at Ujjaiyini and Mahishmati or Maheshwar. In eleventh century the Dasharn Region which was also known as Malwa was ruled by Parmar King Bhoj with his capital at Dhar city. The modern city of Bhopal was named after him as Bhojpal in ancient times. In our school days we had read a story on Raja Bhoj that how his father Sindhuraja and his uncle Munja suffered a humiliating death in the hands of enemy.
The Betwa River flows through another ancient place Bhojpur named after King Bhoj where the king had began to construct a huge temple in 11th century. Though the shrine could not be completed but its sanctum sanctorum houses the world’s largest Shiv-Lingam on a huge three tier imposing plinth . It’s very fascinating admiring structure with astonishment. The attraction was so huge that in our school days that boys would cover 22 kilometers on cycles to admire and worship this colossus statue.
A saying goes in Bhopal that “Taal to Bhopal Taal baaki sab Tallaiya” that means if there is a huge lake its in Bhopal only and other lakes are just ponds in comparison. So people do admire Bhopal lake for its vastness. But the real biggest lake was constructed by King bhoj before founding this temple and the place Bhojpur. Bhopal lake is remaining part of that vast lake which does not exist now. In fact the historians say that the temple was originally stood on a rocky slope culminating on banks of a vast lake that was around 18.5 long and 7.5 miles wide. This huge water body was formed by building 3 earth and stone dams on Betwa River during Bhoja’s reign. The first dam was built trapping the river waters in a small ravine surrounded by hills. A second dam was constructed in a gap between the hills and third dam was built that still exists in present-day Bhopal which was being recharged by Kaliasot River to pour water in Bhojpur dam. This man-made reservoir existed until 15th century, when Malwa Sultan Hoshang Shah destroyed the stone barrage of two dams and emptied the lake. Some historians say that he breached the dam on locals demand. Quoting a contemporary Persian account some historians say merchants from Bhopal and Vidisha requested Hoshang Shah to pull down the dam as their caravans were being raided by bandits who would take refuge at inaccessible ice lands in the lake. Another legend say that the lack was a big obstacle on his invasion plan to capture town Hoshangabad across Narmada river. According to some legends the lake between two hills was so vast spreading in many miles that present day Mandidweep hillock town as the name indicates was also an Iceland surrounded by waters . The remnants of huge masonry stone cyclopean wall of dam still exist along with road to Bhojpur Hill. There are legends that reservoir water took many many years to flow out emptying the land. The land turned very fertile and later hundreds villages came up there.
One can see the huge structure of temple from distance on a rocky slope that culminates on a deep hilly depression where flows the river Betwa. The temple lies on a platform that is 115 feet long, 82 feet wide and 13 feet high. On the platform lies a sanctum comprising a square on the outside, each side measures 65 feet on the inside, each measures 42.5 feet. As the temple was under construction and abandoned before completion, so like any ancient architecture ascending Mandap with domes (Pavilions) could not be built. One comes across the sanctum sanctorum directly to a colossus Shivaling hold on a high three tier plinth rather huge superimposed lime stone blocks whose sides measure 21feets . The Lingam is 7.5 ft high and 17.8 ft in circumference. The total height of the lingam, including the three tier platform is over 40 feet .
The temple is ornamented with a few sculptures and carvings at the façade but exterior of three sides walls are plain even there are no windows except a stone crocodile Makara for water delivery. The wall at the entrance features sculptures of celestial nymphs and attendants of Shiva and river goddesses. There was no dome Shikhara but 4 colossal pillars hold a ceiling at the top with intricate sculpture carvings. Each of the 40 yard four huge pillars are single stone piece. The restoring archeologists were stunned to find that how these 35 ton each pillars were positioned as there were no cranes those days. There are so many perceptions on this temple. There is no mandap or pavilion with a dome in front of sanctum sanatorium. Its roof or ceiling which remained opened for a long specially when we would visit the temple 5 or 6 decades ago. The roof is rectilinear and not typical curvilinear culminating in a dome. Taking an account of features that only front of temple having ornamental sculpture and carving and three exterior walls are plain, researcher Shri Krishnadeva says that temple was a funerary monument. The study of certain medieval text explains that temple were raised on the bodies of royal persons and such temples were considered as vehicle for ascent to heavens. These temples were known as palaces or chariots for accent to heavens. That is why the ceiling is rectilinear open and not curvilinear turning in dome. The researchers give reference of King Bhoj’s father Sindhuraja and uncle Munja who suffered humiliating death in the enemy territory. But large temple drawings and architecture plan engraved along quarries on escarpment and unfinished Stones and a huge ramp behind confirm that there were intentions to build a huge temple complex.
Now the question is that why the temple was incomplete or abandoned. As the temple was incomplete no inscription or historical edith is available that who commissioned it, But name of the place Bhojpur corroborates this temple’s association to King Bhoj. Some historical copper plates and literary accounts confirm that it was a region where King Bhoj ruled who built big dams. Inscriptions of later Paramar rulars say that “King Bhoj covered the earth with temples”. Some Jain contemporary literature throw light that he built 104 temples in his capital Dhar. The association of the temple to King Bhoja is also ascertained on account of Merutunga who reports that in Prabandhchintamany Bhoja bestowed on the poet Māgha describing all the merit of the new Bhojasvāmin temple that he was about to build himself , and then set out for the country of Mālava. However historian say that Magha was in 7th century and temple was commissioned in 11th century. The style of the sculpture on the building confirms an early to mid-eleventh-century date for the structure. The mason’s mark on this temple has an inscription dated 1035 CE confirms that it was commissioned in 11th century.
There is a perception among the history scholars that the construction of this temple was stopped abruptly or abandoned due to a sudden natural disaster or defeat in war. As temple lacked a roof, archeologist K K Muhammad who was responsible for temple restoration says that ceiling could have fallen due to a mathematical error while calculating load and then king Bhoj left the idea of building this temple following other circumstances.
So the temple was incomplete and abandoned but it has left a unique fact with unfinished task and materials. The structural architectural plans maps and drawings engraved along quarries over rocky sand stone escarpment, stone architectural parts cut and designed with fashion scattered all over on the slope, un finished sculptures statues left in the ground, un molded pillars and a big earthen ramp behind the temple ascending up to the top of temple suggests building process of 11th century. The ramp was used to transport stones and other building material to the top and to place large blocks into positions . The architectural plans, map and drawing indicate that the original intention was to build a massive temple complex with many more temples. One more important fact has come to light . The masons who worked there have left their marks as engraved on the temple building, the quarry rocks and two other shrines in the village. Their number goes to thirteen hundred. This includes the names of 50 masons engraved on the temple structure. Other marks in the form of symbols such as circle, crossed circle, wheel, trident Swastika and other characters of Nagari script are also engraved and inscribed on stone. The historian say that marks meant to identify the amount of work completed by individuals, families or guilds involved in the construction. Normally such marks are erased after the temple is complete. But all these have helped scholars understand the temple construction techniques of 11th-century India.
For centuries there was system of Mahant or priest in this temple. They belonged to a single family. The surrounding princely states had attached a few of lands villages with temple and its revenue earning. But now this temple has been taken over by Archeological Survey of India for its maintenance and restoration from time to time. Lakhs of people from Bhopal and adjoining towns throng in this temple during Shrawan Mondays every year.This temple is not a stone monument only but a document and chronicle that throws architectural building process in 11th century.