architecture, sculpture, drama and an eldritch vision combined in a
compelling assertion of reality in the great Bhojeshwar temple at Bhojpur,
situated just 50 km away from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
As you drive for a while on the Bhopal-Hoshangabad highway, you turn off
onto a branch road. From here onwards, the land seems to be greener,
appreciably more lush, and yielding to the plough. And then, a little less
than 30 kilometers out of Bhopal, the road begins to wind up an arid,
boulder-strewn hill rising above the softening mist. Only a little
distance away lies the ruins of an ancient capital and a majestic temple,
which has defied time and invaders for the past 900 years.
Once upon a time,
900 years ago, Bhojapura, a city centered around a Shiva temple, was
founded by the Paramara king of Dhar. And thereby hangs one of the many
fascinating tales of our land compounded of history, legend and the rich
bardic embroidery that is so typical of the sagas of our past. No one
really knows who the Paramaras were. They could have been warrior nomads
from the Steppes who had ridden into the reputedly rich lands of India.
The Paramara dynasty lasted for 110 years and produced a lineage of
warrior-scholars who were as adroit at waging wars as they were at penning
poems. But of all the heroic Paramaras who dominated Malwa, Raja Bhoja was
undoubtedly the greatest. He not only fought against the Huns and
Chalukyas of Kalyani, he also wrote books on astronomy, medicine, grammar,
lexicography, religion, and architecture. And then, according to the
legend, he contracted a terrible skin disease.
We often come across this phenomenon of dermatological disorders of kings.
The ruler of Surajkund in Haryana, for instance, was a victim of skin
disease; so was the great king who built the Sun temple at Konark.
Interestingly all such legendary patients had been advised by sages to dig
lakes, which would benefit the community, and to bathe in such socially
enriching reservoirs. Bhoja's conflict must have been extremely deep
because an ascetic advised him to construct a lake larger than any other
in India, fed by 365 springs and bathe in it at an auspicious hour.
About 40 kilometers from Bhopal, near the headwaters of the Betwa, Bhoja's
engineers found just such a concourse of natural springs. With great
ingenuity, they constructed a lake which spread over 64,750 hectares. The
great social benefits of this stupendous work must have soothed the
troubled mind of Bhoja because after he bathed in the lake his ailment was
cured. It was probably then that, in thanksgiving, he began the
construction of the great Bhojeshwar temple.
Today, the ruined
and incomplete Bhojeshwar Temple still humbles the mind. Constructed in
the latter part of the 11th century, its great stone blocks encompass a
doorframe, which towers ten meters high and five meters wide. Four titanic
pillars, richly carved, rise to support an incomplete dome. The high noon
sun lances through the dome, illuminates 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, open to the sky. Dominating this platform and the great
brooding temple is a magnificent lingam more than two meters high and over
five meters in circumference.
In the temple, religion and architecture, sculpture, drama and a weird
vision combine in a compelling assertion of reality. There is a brooding
imminence about this great black temple that demands attention and
reverence; and streams of school girls, as bright as moving garlands of
flowers, moved up and down the ladder seeking the blessings of the great
monolith, bowing to mumbled prayers from an ochre-robed, white-bearded
priest who stood near like a vision of a benevolent and slightly portly
If the incomplete temple can evoke such awe, how much reverential fear
would have been evoked by the final work of Raja Bhoja? But the savant
king was fated never to complete his imposing shrine. For, at the glorious
end of the Paramara era in 1060, the Chalukyas of Kalyani and Gujarat
combined with Lakshmi-Karna of the Kalachuri dynasty attacked Raja Bhoja's
capital. In that fierce battle, Raja Bhoja died defending his kingdom. And
so today, only the temple stands, and beyond it, a damaged Jain colossus
rides in a whitewashed building. Stones still lie around partially carved
as they had been when the sculptors fled nine centuries ago when Bhoja
fell. Eagles still wheel in the wide sky as they did over that ancient
bloody battlefield. And a train chuffs and mourns across the plain like a
sad spirit of a warrior, slowly departing.
But Bhoja’s forty-two-year reign is still celebrated in myth and legend as
well as in this time-defying monument. For, as long as the temple stands,
and the doorway towers and the sculptures enchant and the great lingam
broods with implacable power in the 900-year-old Bhojeshwar, so long will
the memory of King Bhoja shine like a diadem.