It was supposed to be just a visit to the ruins of the Bhand Devra or Bhand Deora Temple, a 10th century CE temple enroute to Kota from Jhalawar. My friend Shubhra aka Historywali had told me that this was a place I should not miss, especially since I would be in the area. Little did I know it would turn out to be much more than just a visit to a temple ruin.
The day had begun with us (my friend Niti and I) bidding goodbye to Jhalawar and our fabulous host, Mahijit ji, before setting off on a 2.5-hour journey by road to the temple. Though Manoj, our car driver, wasn’t sure of the temple’s exact location, he knew the area and assured us that he would get us to the temple. All we had to do was to sit back and enjoy the drive that initially passed though a hilly and forested section, before the landscape flattened out.
About 2 hours into the journey, we saw a strange, flat-topped elevation rising in the distance. On asking Manoj if he knew anything about it, he just shrugged and said that it was a hill and the Bhand Devra Temple was close to it. I was intrigued for the hill didn’t look like any that I had seen before and I decided to check Google Maps to see if it could tell me what it was.
What came up had me rubbing my eyes in disbelief; Niti’s reaction was no different. We were looking at (see the screenshot I took below) what appeared to be a hollow hill or a a crater. An impact crater.
Do you know the name of this crater, asks Niti. Just as I am about to reply in the negative, I see a signboard which says that we are about 10 km from Ramgarh. And just like that I remember an undergraduate class in Geology and a mention of this crater, the Ramgarh Crater. I also recall my friend Doulose posting this rather fuzzy picture of the crater from an airplane.
According to the Geological Survey of India, the Ramgarh Crater is known by various names — ‘Ramgarh structure’, ‘Ramgarh meteoritic structure’, ‘Ramgarh ring structure’, and ‘Ramgarh dome’, among others. At its highest, the Ramgarh Crater rises about 200 m from its surroundings and has a diameter of about 3.2 km. Though it looks like and is assumed to be an impact crater, there has been no conclusive study to prove that the Ramgarh Crater was created as a result of a meteorite impact.
Niti and I alternate between watching the crater on the live map and looking out of the window at the ‘real’ crater as we move closer to it. Manoj stops briefly to ask for directions to the temple and is pointed towards the crater. Is the temple near the crater or inside it, I wonder. Just when I think that the car would swing around the crater, it turns sharply towards the narrow road leading into it and soon we are passing a small pond located just past the entrance to the Ramgarh Crater.
The Bhand Devra Temple is located about a kilometre inside, and a short and rather bumpy ride later we are alighting from the car to have our first look at the temple and its location. I am torn between wanting to explore the temple and explore the crater, whose “walls” surround the temple on all sides.
One of the first things I notice from where I stand at the entrance to the Bhand Devra Temple, is a flight of whitewashed steps leading up to the very top of what would be the crater rim. I ask Manoj if he knows anything about it and he has a very interesting story to share.
The steps lead to a natural cave where two temples — one dedicated to Kisnai (a local deity) and the other to Annapurna Devi — are located. The offerings for both the deities are uniquely different — while Kisnai is offered meat and alcohol, Annapurna Devi is offered sweets. A curtain is always drawn between the two deities only to be raised during distribution of the prasad.
Manoj is not sure about how old the cave temples are, except that they are very old ! There is, however, no such confusion regarding the age of the Bhand Devra Temple. According to the information board outside, inscriptions were found on the site which indicate that the temple was built in the 10th century CE by Raja Malaya Verma of Nag dynasty from Malwa, and was renovated in 1162 CE by Raja Trisna Verma of the Med dynasty.
Looking at the temple’s advanced state of ruin in front of me, it appears that the Bhand Devra Temple was never renovated after that. In fact, it looks like the temple will fall any minute — the spire is broken, there is vegetation growing profusely, some of the original pillars have received a patch up job with concrete, sculptures in the niches are missing, while many others are broken, etc. The ground around the temple is littered with broken and unrecognisable fragments of sculptures and other temple parts. I can see a couple of smaller structures, probably subsidiary shrines, some distance from the temple.
Clicking on any of the photographs below will start a slide show on the exterior portion of the Bhand Devra Temple. You can use the arrow keys to navigate through the set, and once done, do come back to read the rest of the post.
I am surprised at how small the Bhand Devra Temple is. Maybe the broken condition of the temple makes it look smaller than it actually is, but I don’t think so. The information board mentions that the Temple is dedicated to the “Tantric tradition of Saivism“. Could that be the reason for the size, I wonder? And what is the deity worshipped inside — the aniconic shiva lingam or an iconic form of Shiva?
Almost on cue, as if to answer my question, a man dressed in black comes out of the temple and beckons us in. He is the temple priest and leads us straight to the garbha griha or the sanctum, which has a rather new shiva lingam and a collection of relief sculptures that don’t appear to belong to the temple. For one, the stone is different, and for another the style is different — more folksy, than classical. I don’t know what used to be worshipped in the sanctum, but it was definitely not any of these. What was worshipped here originally is long gone.
The priest appoints himself as our guide and takes us around, but we soon realise that he’s only interested in showing us the erotic sculptures stating that the Bhand Devra Temple is the “Khajuraho” of Rajasthan. I guess people love to hear such things for it gives them a context. But I’m not one of them and if you were to refer to a temple as the “Khajuraho of fill-in-the-blanks” or an Islāmic tomb as the “Taj Mahal of fill-in-the-blanks“, in front of me I get really, really annoyed. But I digress. We ignore him after this and explore the temple on our own and when the priest realises that we are not interested, he goes away.
There is a very impressive sabha mandap or audience hall with massive, ornately carved pillars that depict everyday life, erotica, music, dance, as well as the usual sculptures that one comes across in temples like these — the ashta dikpalas, the sapta matrikas, Ganesha, some avatars of Vishnu, etc. But there is something unique to the Bhand Devra Temple, something that I have not seen in other temples — it is filled with sculptures of Shiva in the form of Bhairava.
No two Bhairava sculptures are alike and I stop counting after 12 Bhairava sculptures. The number of Bhairava sculptures in the sabha mandap and the fact that the Bhand Devra is a tantric temple, makes me wonder if the main deity installed in the sanctum was also a Bhairava.
According to the priest, the Bhand Devra Temple is no ordinary tantric temple, but is a yogini temple. There used to be sculptures of the 64 yoginis at the temple, but none remain today except one. When that sculpture is pointed to me, all I can see are the remains of what would have been a beautiful sculpture when whole. But whether it is a yogini sculpture or something else, I cannot say with any degree of certainty.
When I mention as much and ask him how he knows if this is a yogini temple or sculpture, he is quite offended and says, “Hamein sab pataa hai is mandir ke baare mein (I know everything about this temple)”.
Clicking on any of the photographs below will start a slide show on the interior portion of the Bhand Devra Temple. You can use the arrow keys to navigate through the set, and once done, do come back to read the rest of the post.
We move on to exploring the shrines around the Bhand Devra. There would have been four of them, but only three are standing, and that too barely, and there is no trace of the fourth. At least none that I could see. It was also difficult to find out to whom the shrines were dedicated to or how old they were.
One of the shrines had a small idol of a devi or goddess installed, but like the shiva lingam in the main temple, it looked like a recent addition, rather than the original. The sculpture looked like one that had fallen from a niche of the main temple and brought to this shrine.
After nearly two hours exploring the temple and its surrounding shrines, we decide to leave. I would have loved to spend more time exploring the crater, but we had a longish drive to Kota ahead of us. It has been a satisfying visit in terms of the surprises that came up and satisfying too in terms of the questions that are buzzing around in my mind.
Why is/was this a tantric temple? If this is a yogini temple, where is the circular structure associated with their worship? What is the name of the temple — surely it couldn’t have been called the Bhand Devra, which in the local language means a ruined temple? What was the form of the deity in the garbha griha? Where is the fourth shrine? Did a community of tantriks live inside the crater?… The questions keep coming, answers to which I don’t have and I don’t know where to begin.
As we are leaving, Niti asks me to check the location of the Bhand Devra Temple, vis-à-vis the Ramgarh Crater on Google Maps. When I check, the blue dot, which pinpoints the location, is blinking in the centre of the crater (see screenshot on the right). I guessed as much, says Niti, considering that the Bhand Devra is dedicated to the Tantric tradition of Saivism.
And quite suddenly, the possible significance of a temple (the Bhand Devra) located in the centre of a ring-like structure (Ramgarh Crater) sinks in. What little I know about tantrik temples is the remoteness of the location. The temple’s position in the centre of a (almost) circular structure kind of makes logical sense, not just as a tantric temple, but also for a yogini temple. But where are the yogini sculptures?
When I told spoke about the Bhand Devra Temple and the Ramgarh crater to my archaeologist friend, Andre, he said,
What if the crater itself was the open to the skies circular structure that yogini temples usually have?
What if, indeed? And to think, this was to be just a visit to see a temple ruin ! 😛
PS: I would love to hear your views on the temple and the crater.
Acknowledgements: Shubhra Chatterji, for telling me about the Bhand Devra Temple and insisting that I visit it. Without that, I would never have found out about its location in the Ramgarh Crater and the probable relationship between the two.
The Hadoti Trip Series: Dear Hadoti | Discovering Jhalawar | The painted rooms of Garh Mahal of Jhalawar | Bhawani Natyashala: The Opera House of Jhalawar | An evening in Jhalrapatan | The Buddhist rock-cut caves at Kolvi | The Gagron Fort at Jhalawar | An impact crater, a temple ruin and some discoveries | A fun evening in Kota | A safari on the River Chambal |