Tuesday, February 28, 2017

MP Diaries - Sanchi Stupas, Masterpieces of Buddhist Art

On the last day of the year 2016, we began our journey early in order to explore Bhopal and around to the maximum extent possible. Having explored many interesting places like Bhimbetka, Ashapuri and Bhojpur the previous day, we awaited the exploration of Sanchi with equal curiosity. Sanchi was always on our wish list of  places to visit as it is proudly one among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. Sanchi is located in Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh and is situated close to the Tropic of Cancer, which is encountered on the Bhopal-Sanchi highway. Unfortunately, we missed the exact location of the Tropic of Cancer and weren't ready to travel back. A drive of around 50 minutes from Bhopal brought us to Sanchi. We were one amongst the few early visitors to this place and  as the crowd was thin giving us an opportunity to  enjoy the calm and serene environs of Sanchi.
Buddha Dharma Sangha
Dharma-Chakra, Yaksha and Tri-Ratna 
Sanchi is one of the few places that played a pivotal role and prevailed through out the Buddhist era in India, with its history spread across 1300 years. Sanchi has witnessed the genesis, rise and fall of Buddhism. There are many stories associating Sanchi with various kingdoms, right from Ashokan era to the reign of Paramaras. Sanchi seemed a perfect site to build the Stupas owing to its strategic location between the towns of Vidisha and Ujjain and its proximity to the place of confluence of  Bes and Betwa rivers. Post Ashokan period, Sanchi came under the control of Kshatrapas which was conquered later in 4th century AD by the Guptas. Sanchi regained importance under the Gupta rule with development and construction activities  progressing in full swing. The down fall of Sanchi began only in the 12th century AD and  the exact reason for its downfall is unknown and remains a mystery. Though the accepted theory is that the rise of Brahmanism led to the extinction of Buddhism in the land of its birth, the same may not be true, since there are evidences of  places like Ellora and Badami, where both the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism peacefully coexisted for several hundred years.
Sanchi Place to Visit in Madhya Pradesh
Temple No 18
In 1881, General Taylor discovered  the ruins and found a few intact stupas, thus bringing this place to light. Though many people visited this place later, it was only in 1881 that Major Cole took charge and  initiated a large scale repair work towards restoration and preservation of these monuments. It was Sir John Marshall, the then Director General of Archaeology in India between 1912 and 1919 who was responsible for restoring  Sanchi to its present condition. Various excavations carried out later by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Bhopal circle,  have made interesting revelations.
Monastery 46
Stupas are simple tomb like structures housing relics, better than burial tombs which were used by Buddhists and Jains. A Stupa generally comprises of torana/s (gateways), vedika (stone fence railing), pradakshina-patha (circumambulatory walkway), a cylindrical base  or foundation, stairway, medhi (upper pradakshina patha), anda (hemispherical flattened dome), harmika (kiosk),  yasti (mast)  and a chattra (spire/umbrella). When Buddha left for heavenly abode, his ashes were buried in eight different stupas. It is said that Ashoka further divided and placed them in 84 stupas, most of  which have vanished with the weakening of Buddhism.
Large Stone Bowl
Stupa 1 and Toranas - The largest stupa here is stupa 1, also known as the 'Great Stupa'. Though the size of this stupa was originally half its current size when  initially built during the Ashokan period, it was later improvised in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Shunga Dynasty. The four gateways here have magnificent toranas (gateways) belonging to 1st century BC. The gateways are in the form of three long and thin flat suspended stones standing on two pillars, portraying scenes from Jataka tales. Various scenes from Buddha's life and the subsequent history of Buddhism are depicted on the gateways here. The gateways of stupa 1 are truly an outstanding work of art on stone. This Stupa has a large dome with a  three tiered chattra or umbrella at its top.
Sanchi Stupa
Stupa 1
Stupa 3 - Situated very close to stupa 1, this stupa is much smaller and simpler in style with the presence of a single torana in its  front and houses a simple umbrella at its top, unlike stupa 1.
Stupa 3
Stupa 2 - Situated at the foot of the hill, this stupa  is similar to Stupa 3 with smaller dimensions and devoid of any torana. The chattra here lies broken.
Stupa 2
Temple 17 - This belongs to the Gupta period (5th century AD) and is one among the earliest temples of India. The temple is flat roofed  with a square sanctum  having a portico supported by 4 pillars.
Temple 18 - This is an apsidal shrine built in the 7th century AD on the earlier  remains of  a hall  belonging to the Mauryan empire. The temple has undergone restoration during 10th century AD with  an addition of carved door jambs.
Temples 17 and 18
Monastery 51 and the Stone Bowl - Monastery 51 is a large ruined structure comprising of various rooms surrounding a courtyard. The shrine was located right across the entrance. There is a giant stone bowl close by to this monastery.
Monastery 51
Monasteries 46 and 47 - These two monasteries are interlinked with each other, Monastery 47 being the larger of the two.  While Monastery 47 has many rooms, a pillared verandah that leads to an antechamber and a shrine, Monastery 46 has fewer rooms and can be reached through a doorway from the verandah of Monastery 47.
Monastery 46
Temple and Monastery 45 - This temple belonging to the medieval period was originally built during the 8th century AD along with the monastery and probably restored during the 11th century AD. The door jambs of this temple  have beautiful carvings depicting the river goddesses of Ganga and Yamuna.
Buddha Inside Monastery 45
Pillars - There are many pillars here of which, Pillar 10 is the most important and the oldest pillar erected by Ashoka.  While only the base of the pillar remains insitu, the  fragments of the shaft are placed in a shelter nearby and its capital is preserved  in the museum. Pillar Nos. 25 and 26 belonging to a later period also bear significance.
Ashoka Pillar
Ashoka Pillar 10
Building 43 - This ruined building having a peculiar round bastion at four corners,  is considered to be among the last built structures here.
Building 43
ASI Museum -  The Museum is situated at the base of the hill and houses various collections of artefacts found during excavations at Sanchi.
Ashokan Column  Lion Capital
Ashokan Column - Lion Capital 

Entrance Fee: Rs.30/- per head for Indian citizen and Rs.500/- per head for others. Entry is free for Children aged up to 15 years.
Distance from nearby major town:  48 km from Bhopal
Accommodation: Options for accommodation are few, with Gateway Retreat maintained by MPSTDC being a reasonable one. Alternatively, one can also stay at Bhopal overnight.
Where to eat: While there are many roadside eateries here, Hotel Sambodhi International is one of the better options. 
References:
1. Sanchi - World Heritage Series by ASI
2. Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent - Takeo Kamiya
3. Upenn

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Divine Beggar - Bhikshatana Story of Lord Shiva

Bhikshatana, one of the forms of Lord Shiva is depicted as a naked beggar accompanied by a dwarf who carries an alms bowl (bhikshapatra), and animals like the deer and dog. Bhikshatana murti or form is also considered to be a gentler phase of Bhairava between his two horrific forms of Brahmashirascheda murti (form assumed when  Lord Shiva severs the head of Lord Brahma) and Kankala murti (form assumed when Lord Shiva kills the door-keeper of Lord Vishnu). There are various legends associated with the origin of the Bhikshatana form of Lord Shiva, the most common being that Lord Shiva had an argument with Lord Brahma regarding the supreme creator of the Universe and with both being equally adamant about their superiority, the anger only built up on both sides. This fiercely debate provoked Lord Shiva to decapitate Brahma's fifth head (facing upwards) with his left thumb nail, after which the head of Brahma stuck to Shiva's left palm due to the sin he committed. In order to compensate for this heinous crime of Brahmahatya, he had to turn into mendicancy and hence assumed the form of a naked beggar and wandered the world begging for alms for twelve years. Sometimes his hair is arranged in a jatabhara (matted hair) or is seen standing on end and a bell is tied to his right leg, indicating that he is outside the Vedic religion. He is seen with four hands, carrying a staff with the bones of Brahma and Visvaksena (Lord Vishnu's door-keeper) attached to the top, a skull-cap and a drum. A snake is also seen encircling his body which is adorned with a few ornaments. An interesting feature distinguishing Bhikshatana from other forms of Shiva is that he is often seen wearing  Padukas (footwear) or wooden sandals which is rarely seen in the iconography of other forms of Shiva. The fierce form of Kankalamurti is seen wearing a necklace of skeletons (kankala). Sometimes he has a long staff topped by Brahma's skull, or a trident with the corpse of Visvaksena fixed to it.
Someshwara temple, Kunigal
Bhikshatana, Someshwara Temple, Kunigal

Banashankari Temple , Amargol

Malleshwara Temple Aghalaya
Bhikshatana - Malleswara Temple Aghalaya

Lakshmi Narashima Temple Nuggenahalli
Kankalamurti, Lakshmi Narashima Temple, Nuggehalli, Hassan

Lepakshi
Bhikshatana - Veerabhadraswamy Temple Lepakshi 
References:
1. The Illustrated Dictionary of Hindu Iconography - by Margaret Stutley
2. Wikipedia

Sunday, February 19, 2017

MP Diaries - Bhojpur, The Never Finished Edifice

Bhojpur is home to the magnificent temple of Bhojeshwar dedicated to Lord Shiva, built by Raja Bhojadeva of Paramara Dynasty during 11th century AD. The temple lies incomplete due to unknown reasons. Though there are various hypotheses with regards to the unfinishedness of this massive structure, the truth behind it being incomplete is still a mystery. It is hard to digest the fact that this temple was never finished, considering the efforts, planning and the resources that have been put in for the construction. The most accepted principle in temple construction is that the installation of the idol in the garbagriha or the sanctum sanctorum is carried out only after the temple is wholly constructed. Thus, to declare this temple was never finished itself seems a myth. Another angle to this could be that the Shiva Linga was installed here much before the Paramara period and Raja Bhojadeva only decided to built a grander temple than the already existing one. As per traditional belief, the huge Shivalinga here is associated with the Pandavas and this surely speaks about the antiqueness of the Linga.  Somehow we still remain skeptical about the temple being incomplete. There is a possibility that the temple was damaged due to an unexpected natural catastrophe or even the angle of enemies of the Paramaras such as the Chalukyas, Kalachuris or the Sultans of Delhi/ Gujarat having successfully attempted to destroy the temple cannot be discarded. Whatever the case may be or whichever theory we may adopt to give a rational explanation of this temple, the Shiv temple at Bhojpur today is a standing example portraying the exemplary architectural skills and techniques the Medieval Indians  possessed.
Bhojeshwar Temple, Bhojpur
Bhojeshwar Temple, Bhojpur
Nandi Mandapa 
Bhojpur Shiva Temple
The Mighty Shiva Linga 
As we continued from Ashapuri towards Bhojpur, the mighty Bhojeshwar temple was visible from far and seemed inviting. We were awestruck to witness this colossal edifice. As we entered the temple, the only intriguing thought that arose in our minds was that of the excellent execution and workmanship, considering the enormity of this structure. There are various evidences found here that give us a general idea about the temple construction. The ramp attached at the rear of the temple is one such, along with the line drawings exhibiting the plan of the temple with its various parts. The Bhojeshwar Linga is a gigantic one, sitting pretty on a huge platform. The Linga is considered to be one among the tallest and the grandest of all. Unlike other temples built by the Paramaras, this temple is devoid of a mandapa in front of the Garbhagriha (Sanctum) and houses a rectilinear roof instead of a curvilinear Shikara, again raising more questions about the purpose of this temple.
Sculptures on the Door Jamb
Shiva Parvati 
Gandharva 
Balcony 
Shaiva Dwarapala
The Ceiling 
Bhojeshwar temple is square in plan and built on a platform with a grand door jamb. The walls of the temple lack any kind of ornamentation and is window less, comprising three balconies on its three sides. The balconies are beautifully carved and supported by massive brackets. The ceiling of the temple rests on four monstrous pillars, of which the damaged one was replaced by an alternate pillar by the ASI during its restoration. Thanks to their effort, we can today enjoy viewing this masterpiece. Hereon we moved towards the site close-by to the temple which carries the line drawings of the temple plan and its various segments. Though witnessing such line drawings was our first, they only left us wondering about how and why the temple construction was discontinued (if so) as the drawings go on to depict the temple details very meticulously.   
Line Drawings Bhojpur
Map Depicting the Line Drawing Spots 
Line Drawing of the Pillar
The Unfinished Glory
 Distance from major town: 28 km from Bhopal
Accommodation: The best option would be to stay at Bhopal and plan the journey towards Bhojpur.
Where to eat: There are few road side eateries serving Poha and Jalebi with hot Chai.
References:
1. RBS Visitors Guide India -  "Madhya Pradesh"
2. Wikipedia
3. Temples of Madhya Pradesh - K K Chakravarty
4. Just tripping 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

MP Diaries - Ashapuri, A Ruined Capital

Ashapuri is one of the best kept secrets of Madhya Pradesh. Being very close to the capital city of Bhopal and located between two of the most prominent tourist places of Bhimbetka and Bhojpur, this place is hardly visited by tourists. We too were unaware of this place until a board at Midway Retreat in Bhimbetka displayed it. A quick research about the same on google helped us gather more information. We were more than happy to visit this place as it was located on the way to our next destination of Bhojpur. The sign board put up by Madhya Pradesh Tourism made it easier for us to reach this place, which is located about 22 km from Bhimbetka towards Bhojpur.
Ruins of Ashapuri with lake in the background 
Pink Lotus 
Ashapuri was the temple laboratory of the Pratihara and Paramara clans during 9th century AD. The numerous temples that are now in ruins bear a testimony to this. As we entered the Bhootnath temple complex, the care taker walked down the steps towards us with the visitors book in hand. After gathering details from us, he doubled up as our guide. As we maneuvered through the ruins, we stumbled upon the main temple complex of Bhootnath, built on the banks of a lake. The complex houses 26 uniquely styled temples of varying proportions. The locals are bound to the belief that this place was razed to dust by Mughals and hence is in ruins. The site is well maintained by the ASI and temples are systematically numbered from 1 to 26. Temple number 5 is the main temple of this complex and is dedicated to Bhootnath (Lord Shiva). The remains of this temple speaks volumes about the art and architecture of Pratiharas, who contributed majorly towards the temple construction. A large number of idols and other segments of the temples, most of which are partially damaged are kept spread wide across the temple complex, while many others are displayed at the museum nearby.
Remains of  BhootnathTemple 
Andhakasura form of Shiva 
Sapthamatrikas 
Ruins all the Way
Our guide also mentioned about the presence of another temple dedicated to Goddess Durga at a fair distance (about 400 meters) from the Bhootnath complex. This temple too lies in a  ruined state with fragments of idols spread across the temple. Just outside the Bhootnath temple complex is a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman. Hereon, we drove towards the museum during lunch time and realised it was closed. We inquired about directions to another temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Billota temple at the entrance of the village. Unfortunately, this temple too was closed. A big Shiva linga is seen outside the temple with many small lingas carved on it, called as the Sahasralinga. A beautifully carved but broken pillar base is also seen in this complex, with a carving that exhibits the various avatars of Lord Vishnu. Thus ended our exploration. It is good to know that a joint effort has been initiated by Madhya Pradesh Government in collaboration with the World Monuments Fund towards restoring Ashapuri back to its glory.
Goddess Durga Temple
Lord Brahma 
Shiva Temple, Billota 
Sahasralinga 
Parshuram (6th Avatar of  Lord Vishnu)
Vamana (5th Avatar of  Lord Vishnu)
Distance from the nearby town: 36 km from Bhopal. 
Accommodation: There are no accommodation options here. The best would be to plan for an overnight stay at Bhopal. 
Where to eat: The nearest eateries are about 6 km from here, at Bhojpur. 
References:

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