Travel is therapy and it gets even better when your best buddies become your travel companions. With a shared interest in small towns having larger than life histories, we decided to head to Gwalior and Orchha to end the travel calendar of 2017. The city of Scindias welcomed us with open arms as we warmed up to it’s friendly embrace. Orchha left us spellbound and wishing for more. But this post isn’t about either. Instead I will begin with a village called Morena where we had a short stopover while heading back to Delhi from Gwalior.
Morena, tucked between Gwalior and Agra is a small village located in the infamous Chambal area which is where the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh share borders. Many of us remember Morena as the place where our most beloved winter delicacy gajak originated from. But hardly any of us know that there is so much more to this small town apart from our favourite sweet. Tripadvisor surprised me with information about Bateshwar Temple and we happily took a detour from our intended path. This unplanned adventure became the highlight of that road trip and also one of the best detours I have ever taken.
An old, broken lane took us off the highway and into what seemed to be a mistake. The condition of that road kept getting worse until we were surrounded by mustard fields in full bloom. Yellow of the sun, in perfect harmony with those of mustard flowers, with a village hut in background and curious kids running after a lone car- it was as if we were cherry picked from the mad rush of vehicles on the highway and put into a Bollywood movie. Braving that road for around 12 km and wondering how locals manage with such poor infrastructure, we reached our destination, all thanks to Google Maps, because frankly, Madhya Pradesh Tourism isn’t doing anything more than advertising.
Bateshwar is a group of more than 200 sandstone temples from the 750-800 CE period. As old as history themselves, these temples were damaged around the 13th Century. Historians are not clear whether it was the Mughals or an earthquake which was responsible for massive destruction which left this temple complex in a state of ruin. ASI has done a commendable job of reconstruction, literally building these temples from their own ashes, like a phoenix. Whether these temples were destroyed by Mughals is questionable, but archaeologist K.K. Muhammad took up this mammoth reconstruction task and it is his passion and faith that is responsible for such a great restoration story. It wasn’t an easy battle for him, convincing the dacoits to let the restoration work progress, fighting the mining mafia as well as corrupt politicians, and an endless wait for funds. Reconstruction took time and effort but what stands today is a work of art that only a passionate artist could have dreamt of re-creating.
Time stopped when we entered the temple complex, staring at broken pieces of history. There stood the first of many temples, perched on a hill-lock, re-created to its former glory. Sculptures in here left us spellbound as well as prepared us for the grandeur that awaited us. While Hampi taught me that ruins could be beautiful, Bateshwar reminded me that faith can’t be destroyed. It will spring up with a greater force subsequently, only more beautiful in its ruined form.
Even though these stones can’t speak, but they sure narrate a thousand stories from the times when they were more than just ruins. The artwork got more and more intricate as we moved in, and the sanctum sanctorum was most definitely some artist’s masterpiece.
From this ancient temple on the hill, one could spot the plains of Chambal for as far as the eyes could see. The view was mesmerizing but the temple structure formed an intriguing gateway to the group of Shiva Temples nearby. A short walk lead us to one of the most imposing structures I have ever seen. My jaw dropped, wondering about the ancient builders who could create such a masterpiece. Bateshwar Temples
Wandering around the ruins that still remain ( Restoration work has been stopped since 2013 because of lack of funds) , I realised that archaeologist K.K. Muhammad’s work was even more difficult than building these temples from scratch. To locate these art-pieces in a mass rubble, fit them like a massive jigsaw puzzle, not even knowing if remaining pieces survived the test of time, and then to try to rebuild a lost glory – isn’t it just too much effort for even a lifetime? But, I guess passion makes you do the un-thinkable, and everything else just falls in place – like the scattered pieces of faith that resonate from these broken sandstone temples.
A Shiv-linga resides in each of these small temples, which overlook the main sanctum located in one of the biggest temple in the complex. Locals have reclaimed this one, and one could see traces of flowers and incense sticks lying around. This one seemed to be returning back to life, after being abandoned for centuries. Faith, as they say…lives on. Bateshwar Temples
Water plays an important part in creation, and restoration of these temples was once difficult because there wasn’t any source of water nearby. But then ASI located an ancient water-tank, and the problem solved itself. It is miracles like this, which restores my faith in all good things…Bateshwar Temples were as keen to come back to life as ASI who was pumping life into them. Bateshwar Temples
Words won’t be enough to narrate the commendable work that ASI has accomplished, so I will let this picture speak. At Bateshwar Temples, I realised that not all ruins are dead, some breed passionate survival stories that recreate history. I stared at this view for a long time, deep in thought about how lucky I was to find this place, to experience how these stones spoke to me, narrating so many tales which I am still trying to comprehend.
Look who came to say goodbye as we were heading back.Though we left for Delhi soon but Morena deserves a second visit, to cover another architectural gem of the area – The 800 year old Chausath Yogini Mitawali Temple which is allegedly the inspiration behind the Parliament House of India.Bateshwar Temples