One of the many advantages travel bestows is the privilege to stand and gape in awe before wonders both natural and man made…not just the regular-touristy-must-see sights but even the lesser known hidden gems. In our country you stumble upon many such places often tucked away near some nondescript town or village and sometimes even without a proper road leading up to it. And so it was last year on a visit to Bhopal, where we had gone to attend the wedding of a friend’s son. There were no events lined up one evening so our local friends suggested a trip to Bhojpur. The many Amar-Chitra-Katha stories one had read as children about Raja Bhoj sprang to mind and our host further piqued our interest with tales of remnants of structures dating back to around a thousand years when the celebrated king ruled over the Betwa region. We were told we should reach there a little later in the evening for the beauty of the place takes on amazing hues under the golden rays of sunrise or sunset. On a practical level too it made more sense to avoid visiting that vast rocky expanse when it heats up under the blazing April sun.
On the way our friend, who had been visiting the area since childhood and who is a civil engineer by profession, also shared local folklore about how the king had vowed to build a series of dams “to arrest the streams of nine rivers and ninety-nine rivulets” and how you can still find remnants of these stone-masonry dams that diverted the flow of the Betwa River. The Cyclopean dam, a civil engineering marvel of olden times now lies in ruins on the western side of Bhojpur. Geographical site plans show that to the west of Bhojpur once lay a vast lake which was destroyed by Hoshang Shah of Malwa in the fifteenth century. Different reasons are attributed to this destruction but legend has it that it took his army three months to cut through the dam and the lake took three years to empty, while its bed was not habitable for thirty years thereafter. The climate of Malwa, our friend narrated, was forever altered by the removal of this vast sheet of water.
An hours drive and the road meandered through dark red sandstone ridges and amidst those standing in solitary brooding splendour was the unfinished Bhojesvara temple. Even all the eulogising by our friend could not dilute the reverence and awe the first sight of that great black temple evoked. As we walked up and read the inscriptions about its history and went around gazing at the richly carved structure itself, the awe was only heightened. The nine hundred year old temple was never completed for the king died in battle trying to defend his kingdom. The massive doorway is richly carved above and two exquisitely sculpted figures stand guard on either side. On the other three sides of the structure are balconies, each supported by brackets and four intricately carved pillars. Inside is a massive pedestal made of three stepped blocks of sandstone, seven meters square. An iron ladder ascends this huge pedestal to reach the uppermost platform, directly beneath the high roof. It used to be open to the sky and myths abound on how attempts to cover the dome have failed over the centuries. The Archaeological authorities have now put up some sort of artificial roofing to protect it from the elements but it’s a temporary solution. Dominating this platform is a magnificent lingam more than five meters high and over two meters in circumference. It is said to be the largest lingam in India crafted out of a single block of stone. Around the temple you come across even more interesting features…architectural drawings engraved on the flat surfaces of the quarry showing mouldings, pillars, and temple plans, as also the large earthen ramp behind the temple which shows how medieval craftsmen raised the large blocks of stone into position.
As the sun set and darkness began to descend we walked away to return to our car much humbled and introspective. The hubris of modern man in dismissing our forefathers as being ignorant in the ways of science…and even worse, the mindless greed of quarrying those ancient stone relics for petty personal profits…
(All photos credit…Surinder Sharma)