The Rudra Mahalaya Temple at Sidhpur

The gates to the Rudra Mahalaya Temple at Sidhpur are locked when I arrive just before 6 pm that December evening in 2014. Surrounded by modern-day residential houses, the centuries-old temple is deserted and looks like it is holding out against a seige.The twilight makes the temple, which is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, look lifeless as well. As I’m wondering what to do, a passerby stops to say, “Call out for the watchman. He’ll come and open the gate.”

I call out for the watchman and the driver of the auto-rickshaw I have hired also adds to my calls. Soon, I can see someone coming out of the temple and walking towards us.

‘Yes?”, he asks.

“I want to see the temple,” I say, prepared to argue it out with him if he says something about closing times or anything else.

“Okay,” he says simply, pulling out a key bunch and deflating my ready arguments immediately. “Put your camera away. No photography allowed here.”

“Why not?” I ask, getting ready to argue again.

“Rules,” is the simple and frustrating answer.

I realise I have no choice in this matter and put away my camera. Only when I put away the camera and close my bag does the watchman open the gates and allow me inside. “You can take pictures from outside the gate, if you want to.”

Rudra Mahalaya Temple, Shiva Temple, Sidhpur, Siddhraj Jaisinh, 12th Century, GujaratI just shrug and follow him inside and stop when I reach the temple. And stare at the sight in front of me.

In the “verandah” of the temple are two beds covered with mosquito netting. A clothes line is strung between two pillars of the temple and is almost sagging to the floor with the number of clothes hanging on them. There are a couple of suitcases in one corner, an earthen water pot, and a table piled with vessels and jars and boxes. I can’t see a stove, but I’m sure it’s there somewhere. All very domestic.

“Who lives here?” I ask the watchman, even though I can guess at the answer.

“We do,” he answers. “There are two of us and we take turns in guarding the property. We have to stay here as we have not been given any other accommodation.”

I don’t feel like entering the temple anymore as it seems like I’m entering someone’s private space. Instead, I decide to explore the compound whose condition isn’t much better with rubble, piles of stone waiting to be used in the repair and restoration of the temple… it is a depressing sight all around.

The auto rickshaw driver, who has accompanied me inside, sidles up to me and whispers, “Madam, take pictures and show the world what this temple is really like. I’ll keep a look out for the security guys.”

I don’t usually go against “No photography” rules, but I’m feeling a little rebellious and take 3 quick photos with my mobile camera, before I feel guilty and put it away.

The grand, towering toran, which would have been the entrance to the Rudra Mahalaya Temple.
Rudra Mahalaya Temple, Shiva Temple, Sidhpur, Siddhraj Jaisinh, 12th Century, GujaratRubble and a carved slab of stone.Rudra Mahalaya Temple, Shiva Temple, Sidhpur, Siddhraj Jaisinh, 12th Century, GujaratWhat this structure would have been is anybody’s guess ! Rudra Mahalaya Temple, Shiva Temple, Sidhpur, Siddhraj Jaisinh, 12th Century, GujaratI finish my ‘tour’ of the Rudra Mahalaya Temple within 15 minutes and leave after thanking the security guard. As he locks the gate behind me, I take pictures of the temple complex from outside, careful to avoid the chain link fence from appearing in the frame. In the dying light, I notice the tilted spire of the temple, the temporary solutions to close openings and of course, the carvings. I can’t see the details very clearly, but can still make out that they must have been exquisite.

Rudra Mahalaya Temple, Shiva Temple, Sidhpur, Siddhraj Jaisinh, 12th Century, Gujarat Rudra Mahalaya Temple, Shiva Temple, Sidhpur, Siddhraj Jaisinh, 12th Century, GujaratThe Rudra Mahalaya is probably the oldest temple in Sidhpur. It was built by Siddhraj Jaisinh of the Solanki dynasty (and the same king who built the Sahastralinga Talav that I blogged about last week) in 12th century CE. According to the Gujarat Tourism website, the Rudra Mahalaya temple

… was an architectural wonder with a three-storeyed ‘shikhara’, 1600 pillars, 12 entrance doors… The eastern gate was adorned with beautifully carved ‘Toran’… The ornamentation of the temple was exuberant as shown by the elaborate and detailed carvings of the pillars and the beautiful Toran, which are the only remains of the temple today.

Traces of that wonder can be seen, but just about. It was the description of Rudra Mahalaya Temple that made me visit it. I wonder, if I would have visited it if the website had shared the true state that the temple is in.

And that brings me to the state of the two monuments built by Siddhraj — the Sahastralinga Talav at Patan and the Rudra Mahalaya in Siddhpur — both maintained by the ASI and having different standards for each. While the museum at the former is not open to the public for fear of the sculptures getting damaged, the Rudra Mahalaya Temple, while technically open, is almost a residence for the men who guard it.

The Rudra Mahalaya temple is already in a state of precarious ruin, and wouldn’t the guards staying there make it worse? Is providing security to a heritage monument synonymous with conservation? In an atmosphere where there are insistent and strident calls for Indian art treasures ‘looted’ by colonisers to be returned to the country, a ghar wapsi of sorts, I wonder what will the future for such artifacts be.

Locked up for fear of being damaged or out in the open to be used as a prop? 😦


North Gujarat Series:
Rani ni Vav | The Sahastralinga Talav | The Vohrawads of Sidhpur | Ambaji | The Sun Temple of Modhera | Vadnagar


Notes:

  1. Though I was based in Mehsana and combined the visit to Sidhpur with a trip to Patan, you can easily do it from Ahmedabad as well.
  2. Please click here for another write-up and perspective on the Rudra Mahalaya Temple.
  3. If you require any further information or assistance in planning a trip to this region, please feel free to write to me as a comment or through the Contact page of the blog.

23 thoughts on “The Rudra Mahalaya Temple at Sidhpur

  1. I felt so terribly sad when I read about the mosquito netting and beds. At this rate, the structure will be gone sooner. If it is under ASI conservation, surely it needs to be in better condition. They can even charge the visitors and maintain the place. Really sad state of affairs. And the carvings look so exquisite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The ASI is overwhelmed with properties to look after and not much staff or money to maintain them. While I can understand, and maybe, even forgive the condition of the temple as repair and restoration is not easy.

      What is not forgivable for me are the guards converting it into living quarters. And again, I wouldn’t really blame them as they have not been given any alternate accommodation.

      The temple carvings are exquisite indeed and have suffered much damage over the centuries. I wish I had taken time to see them more carefully and maybe sketch one or two of them at least.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t agree to the term waste of heritage, for IMHO heritage can never be a waste. But as for the callous treatment, couldn’t agree more with you. Unfortunately, we see more of the callous treatment of our heritage structure than not. 😦

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  2. He probably did not want you to take pictures of his home inside the temple so made up his own rules about no photography inside the temple!!! Did he show you any notice board prohibiting photography inside the temple complex?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The only board outside the temple was the red and blue one of the ASI. I don’t recall seeing any board saying no photography. Whatever the resaon for not allowing it inside the temple – it was clear that I would not have been allowed in till I put my camera away.

      I have a feeling that these are “no photography” instructions were given to him as part of his duties. Besides, he had no problems with me taking photos from the outside. The good thing was he didn’t follow me around once I entered and had no problem with my entering the temple too. It was just my decision not to.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I would like to go Rudra Mahalaya Temple. Your photos are good too. Its a Good place to understand the old culture of statue work and all. Even I am wondering they not allowed photography inside temple?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Randev ji, for commenting on the post and appreciating my photographs. The Rudra Mahalaya Temple is indeed very beautiful and I highly recommend that you visit it. As for why photography is not allowed inside, your guess is as good as mine !

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    1. And a beautiful temple it still is, in spite of the state it is in. I saw a beautiful Nataraja, damaged of course, but with such a fine expression !

      After seeing “temple as a residence for the people who guard it”, I have some questions: Are there many more places like this in India? Is the Rudra Mahalaya in this state because not too many visitors are expected? Considering the amount spent in beautifying places, can’t some money be spent towards providing suitable accommodation?

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  4. Looking at the photos left me wondering what might have been. It is obvious that the temple was as much a labor of love as an expression of faith. About callousness, I would say that it all begins at home. Surely there must be someone in Sidhpur who is knowledgeable about the temple and can do something to spread awareness about it. Then I would question the way we teach our young people about our heritage. It is not something that you read about, you must be able to see and feel it. The ASI people work under tremendous odds in many places. Often they are at the receiving end of the local communities’ ire.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. While once a very famous temple during the Chalukya dynasty, the temple was dismantled and made into a mosque in 15th century by Muslim sultan Ahmad Shah I. This is why the structure is so fragmented and such poor condition. Since many years this land had been under dispute regarding the same temple-mosque issue. This is the reason why the ASI has been unable to repair and restore the temple and why you aren’t allowed to take photos. Not completely the ASI fault.

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    1. Welcome to my blog, Sanjana, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

      I have found that Indian authorities are paranoid about photographs for reasons that they are not sure of. While the mosque temple dispute may be a reason for photography not being allowed – not that it makes any sense to me – how would you justify converting it into a shelter for the security guards?

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