From the prehistoric paintings of Bhimbhetka to the mature temple architecture of Khajuraho, a wealth of glorious ideas are crafted across the length and breadth of Madhya Pradesh, a state immensely blessed with heritage and history.
According to mythological legends, when Sati, the wife of Lord Shiva sacrificed herself at a yagna being performed by her father, Lord Shiva became extremely distraught and started dancing with her body. To safeguard the world from Shiva’s “Tandav Nritya” or “Dance of Celestial Destruction”, Lord Vishnu used his Sudarshan Chakra to cut up Sati’s body into 51 pieces.
A temple was subsequently erected at each of the places where these parts fell, and these 51 “Shakti Peethas” are believed to be exceptionally powerful temples.
Two of these exist in Madhya Pradesh – the temples in Chitrakoot and Amarkantak are considered Shati Peethas and are thronged by devotees in large numbers.
Madhya Pradesh in Central India is extremely rich in it’s heritage background and has been home to many kingdoms and great geography, resulting in a wide and rich range of architectural sites and cultural monuments. From the prehistoric cave paintings at Bhimbetka to the mature temple architecture at Khajuraho, a wealth of ideas are crafted across the length and breadth of Madhya Pradesh, a State immensely gifted in heritage and talent.
A historic marvel that Madhya Pradesh holds close to its bosom is the complex of temples at Khauraho. Perhaps most known for their erotic sculptures, the temples are also adorned with a large variety of sculptures depicting gods and Demi-Gods, Apsaras and Alasakanyas, as well as Mithuna sculptures. As famed art historian Dr. Devangana Desai points out: “The Khajuraho Temples represent a creative moment in Indian art when artistic talent combined with religious aspirations to produce a meaningful form. Aesthetically they express a superb harmony of architecture and sculpture, of monumental and plastic from.
The temple complex is also intriguing for the variety of worship practices and the different philosophical traditions such as the Panchayatana worship or the Yogini cult, or the Shaiva Sidhanta influencing the complex sculptural schemes. Of the many shrines and temples, the Lakshmana Temple housing the Vaikuntha image, and the Khandariya Mahadeva temple based on the Shaiva Sidhanta are the most important and very well developed in the architectural-sculptural schema. The complex is dotted with a variety of marvels from the pantheon of Vedic and Brahmanic gods and symbols. A part-shrine, part-mandapa structure in the western royal temple complex houses the Varaha—the divine boar—an incarnation of Vishnu.
The Khajuraho complex of temples is a world of its own—representing, depicting and celebrating the cosmic and the earthly, the divine and the human, the artistic and the natural in all its forms and ideas. The complex was the first in the State to be declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1986, followed by the site of Buddhist monuments at Sanchi in 1989 and the rock shelters of Bhimbetka in 2003. The UNESCO listing has not only encouraged attention to other important sites of historical and cultural value in the State but also provided the platform for promoting newer activities such as the Buddhist University at Sanchi.
Cave paintings have been the earliest documents of human life in world history, and coming from a very distant time period they allow us a peak into the early life of humans on earth. Distinct drawings with natural material on walls inside caves, sometimes in the most inaccessible parts of it, indicate how human beings resort to expression and magic in their attempt to survive in a harsh and difficult world. From animals to hunting scenes involving human figures, in good detail and fairly elaborate line work, the Bhimbetka drawings make one wonder about the people and environment in which these paintings were produced.
Just as most places of ritual significance in India are related to the stories of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, legend has it that the Pandavas passed by here during their banishment, and Bhim sat here, hence the name Bhimbetka. It is wonderful how many different legends and stories from different historical periods weave into our epics and myths, and Bhimbetka is one such example. The location is also an important site for its biodiversity and vibrant forest, possibly the reason why thousands of years ago it must have been a hotspot for early human society to take shape.
The culturally vibrant site of the Sanchi Stupa was an intellectual centre and an important pilgrim centre in its own day. While the Great Stupa perhaps supersedes everything else in historical glory here, the site has many smaller stupas and a very early temple structure, mostly dedicated to the Buddha, in the style of early Greek architecture as in the case of the Megaron.
The Stupa at Sanchi was commissioned by Emperor Ashoka the Great, in the third century BC and it is significant for the railings that surround it, with the four monumental and ornamental gateways or Toranas. Designed on the style of timber architecture but in stone, much like the railings, the Toranas are flush with stories from the life of the Buddha, as depicted in the Jataka tales. The Buddha is also represented in symbols at this site, such as a pair of sandals or a tree—one series shows the important stages in his life each represented by a different kind of tree.
Marked for its very basic form but beautifully rich in idea is the Bhojeshwar temple at Bhojpur. A very early temple, apparent in its architectural form, it is also very sophisticated in scale as it is a simple cella on a plinth, housing a gigantic Shiva Linga which measures 5.5 m (18ft) in height and 2.3 m (7.5ft) in circumference. The temple has monumental doors with fairly sophisticated and broad architraves with sculptures on them as against the plain surfaces of the walls punctuated by blind Jharokhas or balconies. The temple is unfinished and one finds scattered sculptures in the vicinity, which were mostly crafted to adorn the temple. Pieces of stone that fit in the jigsaw of the masonry wall have markings on them, and as suggested by some historians and archaeologists, these are the markings or name indicators of the different stone masons and craftsmen that worked on the blocks.
Around the temple you also find some patterns of markings etched on the stone ground, at times they appear like game boards, probably marked by workers who would have entertained themselves over a game of dice in their break time, and one will find similar chalk markings even at a modern-day construction site. Fine columns inside the cella help transfer a square enclosure into a circular dome roofing the temple. Simple, but very fine and majestic in its details and elements, bold in its idea, this temple stands as a primary example of early temple architecture in India.
With a history that dates back to the 11th century, when the city was founded by Afghan soldier Dost Mahammad Khan, Bhopal is a surprising blend of the past and the contemporary. While markers, mosques and palaces within the old city reinforce the aristocratic imprint of its regal past, the new city and its dynamic architecture and infrastructure emphasize its modernistic outlook. Perhaps the most popular of the city`s tourist attractions is the Taj-ul-Masjid—one of the largest mosques in Asia. Literally meaning ‘the Crown of Mosques’, Taj-ul-Masjid is located in the heart of the old city and its construction was initiated by Nawab Shah Jehan Begum. Moti Masjid is another architectural landmark of Bhopal. Shaukat Mahal, one of the palaces of the Nawabs of Bhopal, is a distinct structure that blends oriental and occidental styles of art and architecture, making it a distinguished landmark in Bhopal. The ornate building of Sadar Manzil served as the hall of public audience in the past. Gohar Mahal, another 19th century palace that infuses elements of both Hindu and Mughal architecture, is also located nearby.
The ruined city of Mandu, with a history dating back to the sixth century, rightfully lends itself to the State`s architectural glory with a string of wonders such as the Jahaz Mahal, Hindola Mahal, Jami Masjid, Roopmati Pavilion and Hoshang Shah`s Tomb among many others.
Gwalior is another historic marvel, with the imposing Gwalior Fort and the breathtaking Jai Vilas Palace being just two of its architectural gifts to the State.
Throughout Madhya Pradesh, there are a number of temples and shrines that have emerged as important spiritual centres for Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain pilgrimages; Omkareshwar, Maheshwar, Ujjain, Bhopal, Amarkantak, Sanchi and Chitrakoot are generally considered the most sacred.
The Omkareshwar Temple is situated on an island that resembles the Hindu symbol “Om”, making it particularly important. Adding to the sanctity of Omkareshwar is the presence of a unique Jyotirlinga that embodies Lord Shiva; one of the 12 found in the entire country. The Jyotirlinga is housed within the Shri Omkar Mandhata temple, while the SIddhanath temple contains frescoes of elephants that rise up to 15 meters in height, carved on stone slabs.
Situated on the banks of the Shipra River, once every 12 years, the sacred town of Ujjain hosts the Kimbh Mela, called Simhastha, where millions of pilgrims throng to take the holy dip in the river. It is often said that one feels strange pulses of energy when at the temples of Ujjain, and this is attributed to the passing of the Tropic of Cancer through it. The Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain, dedicated to Lord Shiva, houses one ot the 12 Jyotirlinga and is an extremely revered place of pilgrimage.
The temple town of Maheshwar on the banks of the river Narmada is famous for Kaleshwar, Rajarajeshwara, Vithaleshwara and Ahileshwar temples. One can imagine the town`s importance, given that it finds mention in the mythological epics of Ramayan and Mahabhatara.
Similarly, according to mythological legend, when Sati, the wife of Lord Shiva sacrificed herself at a yagna being performed by her father, Lord Shiva became extremely distraught and started dancing with her body. To safeguard the world from Shiva`s Tandav Nritya or The Dance of Destruction, Lord Vishnu used his Sudharshan Chakra to cut up Sati`s body into 51 pieces. A temple was erected at each of the places where these parts fell, and these 51 ‘Shakti Peethas’ are believed to be exceptionally powerful temples. Two of these exist in Madhya Pradesh—the temples in Chitrakoot and Amarkantak are considered Shakti Peethas and are thronged by devotees in large numbers.
Aesthetically, Madhya Pradesh is just beautiful; it’s a gorgeous state. The architecture, monuments, the forests, the small streets – it’s an incredible place to be.