Heritage

Kashipath 2019 Day-7: From Cave Shelters To A Temple - To View The Astounding Work Of Raja Bhoja And Dr K K Muhammad

Bhojeshwar Temple constructed by Raja Bhoja in the 11th century CE. (Source: Amit Solanki - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6525251)
Snapshot
  • Day 7 of the Kashipath takes us to Bhimbetka once again to view the amazing Cave Shelter Nine, after which we reach Bhojpur, the city of the legendary Raja Bhoja, where we are absolutely stunned by the Bhojeshwara temple complex.

As the morning dawns on Day 7 of Kashipath 2019, we are determined to be at Bhimbetka to see the caves basking in the sunlight.

As we cross the ticket counter and arrive at the site, there is a kind of hush all around us except for the chirping of the birds and the occasional sound of falling leaves and twigs.

Jones gets into shooting the nice video documentary he is making. Amar says he feels as if some ancestral memories are flooding throughout the place.

I am not very sure about ancestral memories but I am definitely pondering over the human community that must have lived here.

A large community it should have been, in these cave shelters, recording all things that happened to them and around them for at least 8000 years before passing into oblivion; it is a mystery worth pondering over.

What happened to them? A very easy way to look at things with less cerebral activity and much prejudice is to think in terms of conflict and contact between outsiders and autochthonous (indigenous) people.

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Of course, did not the Vedic people colonize India the way European settlers colonized and grabbed the native lands in America? Did not the Mahabharata record the burning of an entire forest by Krishna and Arjuna?

But to assume this we have to leave out a lot of data. For example, in the case of the forest burning episode in Mahabharata, the deity who comes to oppose the burning of the forest is Indra, the quintessential Vedic God. How does one explain that?

A more complicated scenario comes to mind. The community, as it expanded, started experimenting with new ways of producing food – through cattle domestication and then through agriculture and so on.

Each such transition could have created both prosperity and schisms. As such transitions happened, parts of the community simply branched out and expanded into the valley and became settlers. The original community still remained where they were.

After a long while, a relatively small community was left behind – a stone-age community still recording whatever was going on – with them and around them. Perhaps this explains the cave paintings, the layers and the certain continuity, etc. Perhaps.

The morning sun creates its own painting on an empty rock canvas at Bhimbetka The morning sun creates its own painting on an empty rock canvas at Bhimbetka

The morning sunlight creates its own magical paintings on the rock canvas as it filters through the leaves of the gigantic trees. For a minute one is led to wonder if they are actually rock paintings and only a closer look reveals the artist as the morning sun and not our ancestors.

But all this did not prepare me for what I see in Cave Shelter Nine.

There is a small oval hole in the eastern side of Shelter Nine. Most probably natural, perhaps humans may have enhanced it. And through it, the morning sunlight falls on the rock surface.

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One can see in the painting on the wall on which the sunlight falls, a lot of circles drawn in colour pigment that has now become yellow. When we enter, the sun has moved a bit and the circle of light caused by the sunlight has moved a little lower than the painted circles.

Perhaps the first solar rays touched those circles every day. Or perhaps that happened during the time of the solstice and perhaps, in the enclosures of the Cave Shelter Nine, shamanic ceremonies were carried out? We do not know. Perhaps it is only a wild conjecture. Or perhaps …

Cave Shelter Nine: The small oval hole through which the early morning light filters through into the cave. Cave Shelter Nine: The small oval hole through which the early morning light filters through into the cave.
Cave Shelter Nine: Note the yellowish oval circles drawn on the  the rock canvas facing the hole through which the sunlight filters through.  Cave Shelter Nine: Note the yellowish oval circles drawn on the the rock canvas facing the hole through which the sunlight filters through. 

It is hard to leave Bhimbetka.

We also identified something interesting: a painting series in white pigment of a peacock, seven dancers and a red pigment painting of a figurine riding an elephant.

The peacock and seven sisters of Pleiades (as six maidens) are associated with Murugan and the elephant is indeed one of His mounts. All these are presented in one single row; had it been in Tamil Nadu it would have made me associate them all with Skanda-Muruga.

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But here? It could be more of me making improbable associations, intoxicated by the rays of the morning light playing their games on the mind.

However, it was nice to speculate so in this lonely place, where once, during the morning time, activities might have been rather hectic, from preparing for the hunt to taking care of the children to performing shamanic rituals.

Layers of paintings in white pigments. Layers of paintings in white pigments.

Now we leave for Bhojpur.

Thanks to our trip partner, Savaari Car Rentals: The place where you can hire an affordable and dependable taxi

I had been here two years or so ago. Now we are here again.

Bhojpur has a moderate number of people. But there is always an inflow. The place is both serene and majestic. Emperor Bhoja had built this temple, which, had it been completed, could have even dwarfed even the tallest temples we now have.

Unfortunately, Bhoja could not finish his grandiose design for whatever reason. Perhaps it was an architectural flaw. But that is unlikely because Bhoja himself had authored architectural manuals.

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That we do not read of such a multifaceted emperor in our history textbooks but recall him from our traditional memory is an indicator as to how deficient our history narrative is.

Perhaps the temple is incomplete because of Bhoja’s death even as the construction was going on. While that is a possible answer, usually the successor finishes what the father has started.

There is a third possibility. The Islamist incursions like the raids of Muhammad Ghaznavi had started by then. Though historians do not talk about it, there are literary narratives that speak of the victory of Bhoja over the ‘Turks’.

From the inscriptions, we understand that Bhoja headed a confederacy of Hindu chieftains, including Vidyadhara Candrateya, and expelled the Ghaznavis from India - from both Panchala and Vahika.

This final victory involved prolonged battles and being prepared for raids that often culminated not just in conquest but the wholesale massacre of Hindus. Perhaps this may have caused Bhoja to cease all his building activities in an abrupt manner.

Raja Bhoja’s magnificient temple. Raja Bhoja’s magnificient temple.

Yet, the Shivalinga stands majestic. Measuring 22 feet along with the Aavudai or the feminine base, this is one of the tallest Shivalingas in India. Another Shivalinga of Thanjavur at the Brihadeeswara Temple built by Rajaraja Chozha the Great stands at 29 feet.

It is quite interesting to note that it was in the same year, 1010 CE, when Rajaraja finished and consecrated the grand temple at Thanjavur that Raja Bhoja ascended the throne in Bhojpur. Was there then a Shaivaite wave of temple-building starting in India?

The 22-feet Shivalinga at the Bhojeshwara temple in Bhojpur. The 22-feet Shivalinga at the Bhojeshwara temple in Bhojpur.

Today we see abandoned sculptures lying around. This temple is unique in the sense that Bhoja had all the plans of the temple etched on rocks around the hillock on which the temple stands.

The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has made very appropriate displays that detail these plans and has raised iron railings around the displays to protect them. The ramp that was raised to bring in the required stones to the top of the hillock has survived to this day.

Perhaps this can also help in unravelling the mystery of how Rajaraja Chozha could have built his temple.

Most of the renovation work, as well as the detailed information-dissemination work, are impressive. Not in many temples or even ASI sites do we have such detailed and interesting descriptions.

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Usually, a dull blue-coloured ASI board with minimal information greets us at ASI sites. The way the information is shared often makes one wonder if the ASI boards have Twitter-like character restrictions!

But not here. Here in Bhojpur, the descriptions impart to the viewer a sense of grandeur while providing the knowledge. This place sets an example of how displays should be made in historical and cultural places of importance.

Even as it stands unfinished, the temple has an emotional impact on our team that flows out on to social media:

The construction work on the temple had abruptly ceased. Sometime later, a massive stone structure from the roof above had fallen on the Shivalinga and had broken its base. So, for centuries the temple roof was open to the skies and the Shivalinga with its broken base was exposed.

After centuries, a scholar from Kerala arrived here. He, with enormous care and dedication, put the base together. Then he got down to repairing the roof. The structure around could not bear as much load as it used to originally.

He could have done a patch-up job. But he did not. He zeroed in on a new material that would be light but would still lend itself to artistic work as befitting the grandeur of the vision that Raja Bhoja had had. Using this material he succeeded in recreating the roof.

The recreated roof over the Shivalinga at the Bhojeshwara Temple. The recreated roof over the Shivalinga at the Bhojeshwara Temple.

Now Shiva resides under the inverted lotus design of the fiberglass roof constructed by one of the great sons of India – Dr K K Muhammad. The detailed knowledge dissemination through displays as well as highlighting and preserving the design carvings were all done by none other than Dr Muhammad.

As the evening sets in, the bells ring in this unfinished temple. Monkeys mingle with humans. I see an old man bringing a flower basket for Shiva and a monkey trying to grab that basket. The old man happily gives away the basket and says that the monkey, too, is from Shiva.

This living culture of compassion and empathy nurtured by such great souls – from Bhoja Raja of the 11th century to Dr K K Muhammad of the 21st century – is indeed Sanathana.

Our car departs on the road ahead into the night of our seventh day.

You can read the other Kashipath articles here.

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