Bhojpur is a tiny town that lies “a at the base of a rock strewn hill on the summit of which signs of a much older settlement may still be traced” wrote Major C. Eckford Laurd, in the Gazetteer Gleanings in Central India.
I am reading a tourist brochure, across the open rock forecourt is the Bhojeswar Shiva Temple, 28 kilometres south-east of Bhopal. Named after patron 11th century Raja Bhoj, who, according to the apocryphal Bhoja Prabandham , founded it.
“This is Gandwana land”, a friend explained of the ancient landmass beneath us, part of the Vindhya ranges.
However, only the temple survives in memory and it is incomplete. Had it been finished it was potentially one of the grandest examples of medieval architecture – a huge claim when once considers the temples of Khajuraho north of the same state.
“The temple at Bhojpur is above all, a tribute to one of the finest feats of aesthetic engineering in which perfection of design, and architectural landscaping join hands in a happy organic consummation.” wrote K K Chakravarty, in his Bhojpur Temple, (Bhopal, 1991.)
The temple is built on sandstone ridges typical of central India, next to a deep gorge where the Betwā River flows. Two large dams, constructed of massive hammer-dressed stones, were built in the eleventh century to divert and block the Betwā, so creating a large lake, but in the 15th century, one of the cyclopedian masonry dams was opened by Hoshang Shah of the 15th century, reportedly at the request of local merchants in Bhopal and Vidisha because bandits found the dam afforded them in accessible refuge there.Within its garbhgriha is a massive shiva lingam. Temple is built on 2 metre high plinth supported by four massive pillars, exquisitely carved in built in 3 sections octagonal in two lower portions with 24 facets in the upper section in an unfinished dome.
The bracket capitals of the pillars are decorated with intricate images of Parvati and Shiva.
On a pedestal of three graduating sandstone platforms, the uppermost 7metres square, Within the sanctum Santorum is a single stone lingam 2.3 m high and 5.3 metres in circumference. Once sheaved in gold it is claimed pillaged by invaders who stripped Bhoj’s possessions.
To the north remains of massive earthen ramparts, probably used to raise the blocks of stone in position, prove the temple incomplete . Numerous carved blocks still lay strewn on the site. These include stone rings for the temples dome.
Bhoj probably died in 1055 defending his capital from the Chalukyas and Lakshmi-Karna Kalachuri, the sculptures fled and the temple vision abandoned and looted.
Interesting hill side forecourt incisions show the ground plans, elevations, cross sections and superstructure, pillar diagrams and illustrations of the intended brackets and capitals.
As we left baskets with pythons were flashed open. Snakes are associated with Shankar the divine manifestation seen as destroyer, so I asked why a Shiva temple had them. I was told there actions were not really religious, but simply begging. Another person then claimed the temple was dedicated to Shankar but everything I read claimed the temple was to Shiva, the creative expression of god.
In a second visit a month later the snake bearing hawkers were absent. I missed them.