Tag Archives: Archaeological Survey of India

Forgetten heritage and shades of Khajuraho near Udaipur

Well, since Udaipur is my hometown so I had always been knowing about this temple and have visited this quite a few number of times, since my school days. Similarly, almost all people from Udaipur know about it. But ironically, though Udaipur is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India for domestic as well as foreign tourists, still you will rarely find any tourist visiting this temple. Baring the school days, when we would come here for picnics or drop here while visiting the famous Eklingji temple; in recent times whenever I visited this temple, I or our group were the only persons around. So strange.

Well, this part of north-west India is full of shrines and temples but this image shows that it is no ordinary temple. It is actually a temple complex with a few temples around- a couple of them are still intact while there are others which have turned into ruins. The temple is called as Saas-Bahu (सास-बहू) temple. Bahu means young married woman and Saas means mother-in-law. And there is no historical reference behind this name. Actually, very little is known about the origin and construction of this temple. This is very intriguing given the elaborate architecture of this temple.

A look at the temple complex-

Interestingly, this region has a mix of temples- Jain, Shaivite as well as Vaishnava, very close to each other. Many of them have been top religious institutions of their times. This temple is indeed under supervision of ASI and what is known to us is that this temple belongs to eleventh century. This also means that the temple predates many of other prominent temples of this region by a few centuries. Tragedy for curious travellers like me is that, the inscription stone here clarifies nothing, worse  still, the language (there are two inscriptions- one in Hindi and in English) of the matter written here, presumably by the ASI, is hopeless. There are no sentences, no expressions and henceforth no meanings. The one who wrote this probably knew neither English, nor Hindi. This can happen only in India.

The complex has twin vaishnava temples. One is bigger and another smaller. The bigger one is surrounded by ten subsidiary shrines. Smaller temple is Panchayatna style, i.e. the main temple has four subsidiary smaller temples. Both temples have pancha-ratha sanctum. Inside the doorway is a mandapa, porch and lateral transepts. Porch also encloses balustrade.

The temple have quite detailed relief panels around the outer wall as well as inside the sanctum. Surprisingly, many of the relief panels are still quite intact. It’s these panels which bring to our mind the erring similarity between the sculptures of this temple and all famous temples of Khajuraho.  Have a look-

Such elaborate sculptures and minute but profuse ornamental carvings are also there inside the sanctums of the existing temples in complex. You can see the makara-torana inside the sanctums or mandapa, which is said to be typical feature of medieval temples of western India. You will find similar torans in many Jain temples, including famous Jain temples of Dilwara near Mount Abu. Even the pillars are lavishly carved with sculptures. See-

Ceilings, porches and the doorways too have quite delicate carvings as with most temples in the region. Although in one temple, you can find the ceiling burnt black. It might be either due to an accident or an deliberate attempt to extract sculptures by heating them.  Nobody knows. Have a look-

Now what brings similarity to Khajuraho is the criticism in the sculptures. Let’s have a closer look at few of the panels to see the detailed carvings-

You will see that not just the postures, mood and expression but in some of the sculptures, even the human carvings are quite similar to those find in various temples of Khajuraho. You can also have a look at some of the bigger sculptures-

Very interesting, isn’t it!

There are many temples around and also in the complex. Some are intact, some are ruined with only platforms left and some you can even see submerged in the lake like this one-

This Saas-Bahu temple is located just on the banks of this lake and by looking at the temple submerged in the lake, it can be safely assumed that there would have been bigger structure below, which is now under water. It also means that the lake would have come up later and was not there when these temples were constructed. It also can mean that there would have been few other temples in the complex which would have now completely submerged under the waters of this lake.

Now look at this another picture from a wider angle-

There is a luxury resort on the hillock on the other side of the lake. Seems strange, that when we are struggling to preserve this amazing, almost thousand year old heritage, there is such an opulent display of luxury nearby, which wants to showcase itself as heritage.

What would have been the main entrance of the temple during its glory… onlooking the existing lake

Where: This temple is just around 10 kilometres from the Udaipur city and off roughly a kilometre from NH8 which connects Delhi to Mumbai via Jaipur-Udaipur-Ahmedabad. While going from Udaipur to Delhi via NH8, there is famous EKlingji (एकलिंगजी) shiva temple. Just before you go downhill towards the Eklingji town, a road turns left over a dam. This road takes you to temple on other side of the lake, on which dam is built. This means, if you are coming from Delhi-Jaipur-Nathdwara side, than this road will come to your right once you cross the Eklingji town and climb uphill. Obviously Udaipur is the nearest railhead as well as airport to reach here.

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Khajuraho of Aravalis : Neelkanth

Immediately after Bhangarh, I landed to this place. And, I am sure that less than 10 percent of people present at Bhangarh would have heard about this temple and among those who would have heard, less than 10 percent would have ever visited it. As a day later at Kankwari fort, here too, we were the only travellers. There were some locals to pray, although. Besides, we also came to know that there were many tourists a day earlier (on first day of the new year).

Neelkanth1
Neelkanth Temple

Well, this is all about Neelkanth Temple, how it is commonly known. The board here says its name as Neelkantheshwar Temple (not any difference in the meaning of both words). Actually, if you go on searching online, all the pages will lead you to Neelkanth temple near Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. You would have been lucky enough to land on this post.

The board outside temple
The board outside temple

I have been to the Neelkanth temple in Uttarakhand as well. Despite the number of tourists & pilgrims that the temple attracts and despite its location on a beautiful hill with glorious views, that doesn’t fall in the league of this Neelkanth temple that I am writing about- lonely, deep inside a jungle valley of Sariska National Park.

Side view of the temple from out
Side view of the temple from out

The title of the post says a lot about, what I mean to say. Comparing any temple to Khajuraho might be seemingly a big deal, but while doing that I also have in mind, besides what is there; what is lost as well. Khajuraho is known for its sculptures and Neelkanth has got lot in common with Khajuraho. There have been many temples around the country, built around the medieval times, to have erotic sculptures. Most of them get a Khajuraho adjective prefixed to their names. Is Neelkanth a similar phenomenon?

Not much is known about the history of this temple. There is nothing here which puts any light on the origin of the temple. Locals say it is there from the time of Mahabharata and Pandavas had established the temple. Actually, in this area especially the Sariska National Park, there are a few places which are attributed to Pandavas, Pandu Pole being the most famous one. Its said that more recently, King Ajaipal built the Neelkanth temple in 1010 A.D. By that account, this temple is almost contemporary to Khajuraho temples. Neelkanth is Shiva temple (most prominent of Khajuraho temples is the Kandariya Mahadev Temple, which is also a Shiva temple). But unlike Kandariya Mahadev Temple, this Neelkanth temple is a functioning temple, where pujas are performed regularly.

Sanctum sanctorum of the Neelkanth temple
Sanctum sanctorum of the Neelkanth temple

Actually, from what is known, this place is a treasure trove of archaeological findings and perhaps Neelkanth is a part of it. It is said that this valley used to have 360 temples at some point of time in history. Most of them were destroyed- either by attackers, pirates, looters or got weathered down. One can still see ruins of many temples scattered around in this area. So rich has been discoveries here that at the Neelkanth temple complex on both sides of the entrance the sculptures excavated from the area have been kept behind big locked iron grills. There is a round the clock presence of police for the security of these priceless sculptures. There is a police post, while the temple itself is under the supervision of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). You can still find a lot of sculptures in the open, on the temple walls, pillars, panels etc.

An erotic sculpture at Neelkanth temple
An erotic sculpture at Neelkanth temple

Sculptures at Neelkanth are in many ways similar to Khajuraho temples- in postures as well as human figures. Have a look at them-

Just opposite to the main temple are samadhis (memorials) of the the siddhas from the different generations who have been priests to this temple.

Samadhis of the priests
Samadhis of the priests

There are few other notable structures near to the Neelkanth temple. There is also a small pond-

A small pond
A small pond

Just besides this pond are ruins of another temple-

Few hundred metres away is another important temple complex with one main temple and a platforms of few smaller temples left. Locally this is called an Naugaja (नौगजा) as it is nine gaja (गज or yards) above the ground level. Here in the main temple there is big 16 feet high statue of a Jain Tirthankar (tough to name, might be Mahavir or Adinath or someone else). Considering the condition of the temple and the statue, it also can’t be surely said that whether this statue was always here or was it brought later on. The platforms of other smaller temples in the complex have many sculptures of dancers and musicians, which indicates that this temple had something to do with dance and music. Have a look-

There is lot more to explore in this area. Besides these sculptures and archaeological wonders, this valley is naturally very beautiful. Interacting with the villagers is fascinating. But what also attracts you here is the number of peacocks and peahens, and I actually mean that the number is unusually huge then whatever I have seen at any other place in India. You will simply love their presence-

Vital Details:

Now the turn of some important details. As I said that the Neelkanth temple, other temples and the village are inside Sariska National Park territory. But this is not the core area of the tiger reserve. Here is a village which has escaped relocation probably because of the Archaeological importance of the temple. Only way to reach Neelkanth Temple is through Tehla. Tehla also has a gate to Sariska Tiger Reserve, but the way to Neelkanth temple is different from that. Tehla is around 65 kms from Sariska gate of the tiger reserve. From Sariska (or Alwar side) one has to reach Gola turn (मोड़). From here one road goes to Bhangarh and then to Dausa. Another one goes to Rajgarh via Tehla. Tehla is roughly 15 kms from Gola mod. From Tehla a road goes to Neelkanth. Temple is around 10 kms from here.

Sunset at Neelkanth Temple
Sunset at Neelkanth Temple

From Tehla, a jungle road goes towards park area. You pass through Mansarovar Dam on the right. Roughly after seven kms you will hit a hill and then one has to climb (drive) on a very rough winding road upto the top. There is a fort gate on the top. The hills surrounding the park have a fortified wall on the top, which used to be part of Rajaur Garh (राजौरगढ़) .  From the gate through the fort wall, you move another kilometre downhill to Neelkanth village and through village to the temple.

There was no fees, entrance fees to be paid anywhere. Police at the temple prohibits you from taking photos inside the sanctum ( surely if they see a large DSLR hanging around your neck). But you can argue and convince. Ironically, nobody stops you from clicking image from your mobile, even if your mobile camera resolution is far better than any DSLR. But then, this is how it works in India.

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Haunted fort of Bhangarh : Nothing spooky about it!

SO much has been written and told about Bhangarh fort in recent times as the most haunted place of India (some claim to be in Asia) that if you just blindfold somebody and take him or her to a place and whisper in ear that- you are in ‘BHANGARH’ and that person will just get spooked and run out of horror. We did something similar. We didn’t blindfold but kept telling all the way that we are going to some other place (fort) and kept all hints of Bhangarh out of the view of that person. Once we entered the fort and the person came to know about the truth that we were in Bhangarh, we could see the horror written on the face. But with no scope of running for anybody, we continued. Rest all is history and we came out laughing on all the spooky stories of Bhangarh.

The main fortress
The main fortress

With extent of writings on Bhangrah in past many years, ironically when you go on searching for Princess Ratnavati on Google, all initial results take you to ‘haunted’ story of Bhangarh fort, whereas in our childhood, the only Ratnavati we had heard about was the Princess of Jaisalmer who fought bravely against the forces of Alauddin Khilji. But then, we never read about Bhangarh even!

The gate just before the fortress
The gate just before the fortress

In times of Harry Potters and Vampire Academies, there is always a good market (perhaps it always had been) for spooky stories on haunted places and paranormal activities. Hence the Bhangarh story  got a perfect scoop. Mass media has made it more and more spicy, dramatised and indeed thrilling.

What we all are sure about is the documented part of the Bhangarh’s history. That, this was founded by Raja Bhagwant Das of Amber in 16th century. During that time this whole area came under the Amber rule. Bhagwant Das was the close lieutenant of Mughal emperor Akbar and also the elder brother of Akbar’s Rajput queen Jodha Bai. Perhaps from Bhagwant Das came the name Bhangarh. His eldest son Man Singh was the one of the nine jewels of Akbar. Madho Singh was his younger brother and father Bhagwant Das handed over Bhangarh to Madho Singh.

Bhangarh13

Bhangarh was not just a palace but a fort city. Whatever is left now is just the ruins of what would have been a sprawling city at one point of time. What is now left of the city part is just few temples, old havelis and the main market Johari Bazar, whose name will remind you of its namesake in pink city Jaipur. This city would have been magnificent at its peak with big havelis, palaces, temples, houses, markets. Even the shops in the Johari Bazar were all identical and double storied. The pathway to the palace now passes through this Johari Bazar.

At some point of time the fort city was abandoned and hence got ruined, may be because of some local power struggle leading to a war with nearby rulers. There are some stories about a war between Bhangarh and nearby Ajabgarh. Amidst the ruins emerges a story which everybody would like to tell with a lots of juice.

Hotspots for some spine-chilling stories are trees like this in Hindu mythology.
Hotspots for some spine-chilling stories are trees like this in Hindu mythology.

Ruins like this are always hotbeds for folklores and some paranormal stories. The sad part is that there isn’t much of documented history of Raja Madho Singh (if it is, then not known too much). When there is no proper documentation, then there is every possibility of additions and subtractions in the orals history that passes from generations to generations. History of ruining of Bhangarh has gone through that. Stories of haunt refer to Ratnavati but whereas some people say that she was Madho Singh’s daughter while other say she was Madho SIngh’s wife. In any case, there are two different stories of ruining of Bhangarh and only one can be true  and in that race the juicer story of Princess Ratnavati holds the fort. That says that fort ruined due to curse of a black magician (tantrik) who was in love with Ratnavati. I don’t want to detail any of the stories as they are everywhere on the net.

This Canatoph on the hilltop adjacent to ruins is said to be in memory of the black magician who cursed Bhangarh.
This Canatoph on the hilltop adjacent to ruins is said to be in memory of the black magician who cursed Bhangarh.

The Bhangarh story is more of abandonment and neglect. The palace was said to be seven storied, whose three stories are completely lost. Rest of it is in ruins and in danger of further irreparable damage due to influx of tourists and bad handling of the property. ASI is probably doing nothing than opening and closing the gates at schedule times. Whole property is left to hundreds of selfie-crazy and haunt-fancied tourists with no sight of any guards anywhere. Inside the palace, there are no signages, boards or information boards. This is further ruining the property which at some point of time in history would have been a glorious one. See the images below-

One of the more intact structures in Bhangarh complex is the Gopinath Temple but ironically it has lost its main idol to the thieves. This is a Krishna temple (hence the name Gopinath). Perhaps the theft of the main statue prompted authorities to be more stringent.

Gopinath Temple
Gopinath Temple

There are some stories about Princess Ratnavati being a devotee of Lord Krishna. But the main temple courtyard had something to do with dance & music, I presume; as the roof of the hall just outside the sanctorum is decorated with some beautiful statues of musicians. You can see it for yourself-

There are some other carvings too, resembling to other temple structures of north India, just like this one-

Bhangarh11

Another intriguing structure is right behind this Gopinath temple which local people say was place for cremation or burial (different stories!). Any such place inside the palace and that too so close to a temple is a rarity.

Cremation place!
Cremation place!

Another interesting fact about this place (palace) is a large number of aromatic Pandanus fascicularis (commonly Kewra or केवड़ा) plants which fill the air with a natural fragrance.

Pandanus fascicularis (Kewra)
Pandanus fascicularis (Kewra)

This place is still worth a visit for all those interested in history, architecture, forts, palaces… and in those things, this palace is known for. Not bad even, just to travel and see a new place, but always travel responsibly.

Internet is also strewn with many accounts of people who suffered when they tried to stay in the palace in night. All of them are mere hearsay, with no real account from anybody with a personal experience. As a proof of paranormal activities in this fort, people foolishly also indicate the ASI board which says that nobody should stay here after sunset. But as far as I know, most the ASI controlled forts and other properties in country open only from sunrise to sunset or within fixed timings. Nowhere one is allowed to stay in night. It also is meant to deter all those who want to extract something more out of it- some stories, some weird experiences and some pieces of history, et.al.

How, when and where:

Bhangarh is located in Alwar District of Rajasthan. You can go here from either Jaipur, Dausa or Alwar. It is close to Sariska National Park and Tiger Reserve. Tehla gate of the Sariska reserve is just 20 kms from here. But normally tourists use main Sariska gate for the tiger reserve which is almost 50 kms from Bhangarh. People coming to Sariska will always like to go to Bhangarh for a half day trip. (Please write to us for detailed road instructions.) Jaipur is roughly 80 kms and Alwar on the other side is also the same around 80 kms from here.

Avoid going there in summers as it will be too hot. Since this place is witnessing steady increase in influx of tourists, small level hotels and restaurants are coming up at Bhangarh village and other nearby villages on the route. But they are still to develop good value. You can always try some local food in the region.

(Any queries? Please write to us.)

Now online images of Indian heritage sites to woo tourists

Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi
Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi

Sitting next to their desktops, people across the world will now be able to explore iconic Indian world heritage sites like the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar and Red Fort, besides other monuments. Google and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have jointly launched 360-degree panoramic imagery of 30 out of 100 “nationally-important monuments”. Apart from getting access to high resolution pictures of 30 such old monuments manifesting the aesthetic sensibilities of the erstwhile rulers, people living abroad would get vital information on these monuments which are an interesting combination of Persian and Islamic architecture. Along with high resolution pictures, the written text would explain why these monuments have become national treasures and their relevance in contemporary times. The underlying objective behind the whole exercise is to encourage prospective foreign tourists to visit the country. The project at an event organised at the historic Safdarjung Tomb here.

Red Fort
Red Fort

With the release of these new panoramic images, it is now possible for billions of people across the world to see and explore India’s magnificent heritage like the to take a walk at the Rock Cut Jain Temple, marvel at the Nagarjuna Konda Buddhist stupas and relive history at Fatehpur Sikri. The objective behind the partnership between ASI and Google is to create a dynamic, immersive online experience by which the people within country and around the world can understand the engage more of India’s diverse cultural heritage. Among the 30 monuments are Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Agha Khan Palace, Bibi ka Maqbara, Fort St George, Nagarjuna Hill, Raigad Fort.  The remaining 70 heritage sites of the country will be made online towards this year end.

The search engine giant and the Ministry of Culture had signed a memorandum at the Qutub Minar complex last October, following which the company created a “virtual walkthrough” application using its ‘Street View Trekker’ technology for the first time in India.