The Shiva temples of Bijolia

It is past noon on that November day in 2016, when Niti (my friend and co-traveller for the Hadoti Trip) and I arrive at the Bijolia Temple Complex. There are three Shiva temples here — Mahakal, Undeshwar Mahadev and Hajareshwar temples — built over a 200-year-old period. Except for the priests who are gathered under a tree and chatting away, we can’t see anybody else around. The Mahakal Temple is closest to the entrance and we decide to begin with exploring that first, which turns out to be empty and silent.

We have hardly been there for 5 minutes when the silence is broken. A group of women and children enter with pooja thalis in hand. They appear to be locals and walk past us with smiles full of friendliness and curiosity towards the garbha griha or the sanctum. After a little hesitation, we follow and watch them offer pooja.

Bijolia temples, Undeshwar, Mahakal, Hajareshwar, Baijnath, Hindu Temples, Shiva Temples, Indian Art, Indian Aesthetics, Rajasthan, Heritage, living Temple
Devotees offering prayers along with milk and flowers to the shiva lingam in the garbha griha of the Mahakal Temple

The Shiva lingam in the garbha griha is not visible because it is covered with flowers from earlier offerings. Or so I reason till one of the women explains that the lingam is subterranean with only the tip visible above ground, which she showed by pushing the flowers aside.

The women and children leave after performing a short and beautiful pooja, and we are alone at the Mahakal Temple once again, free to resume our exploration of the Bijolia Temple Complex. 🙂

I refer to it as a temple complex, as all the three temples —Mahakal, Undeshwar Mahadev and Hajareshwar — are located within a walled enclosure. But in the past, even a 100 years ago, there would have been no wall and these would have been just three temples built around a sacred water body, the Mandakini Kund. The compound wall that encloses the three temples today would have been built only after came under the jurisdiction of the Archeological Society of India.

Bijolia temples, Undeshwar, Mahakal, Hajareshwar, Baijnath, Hindu Temples, Shiva Temples, Indian Art, Indian Aesthetics, Rajasthan, Heritage, living Temple
Mandakini kund in the foreground with the spires of the Hajareshwar Temple and the Mahakal Temple in the background. View from the Undeshwar Mahadev Temple.

Of the three temples in the Bijolia Complex, the Mahakal Temple is considered to be the oldest. A double shrined structure with a common sabha mandapa and a porch, this temple is believed to have been built between 1000-1099 CE. The sculptures on the external walls and niches have the usual Dikpalas or guardian deities of the directions, depictions of what looks like ascetics, Ganesha, Kartikeya, and some unusual forms that I have never seen before. For example, a composite form of Vishnu comprising Varaha, Narasimha and Hayagriva.

The temple appears to have undergone some repairs and reconstruction at some point in the recent past, if the difference in the colour of the sandstone on the external walls in some portions are any indication. The inside, however, appears to be untouched, or even if there have been changes it is not apparent in the dim light.

If one ignores the obvious signs of wear and tear, and wires, you could be stepping about 1,000 years into the past. At least that is what I felt like. It is also smaller than what I expect it to be, based on the temple’s external dimensions. The Nandi in front of the main shrine is almost unrecognisable and from certain angles looks like an odd-shaped boulder.

Presenting a set of photographs from the Mahakal Temple. Clicking on any of the photographs below will start a slide show; you can use the arrow keys to navigate through the set, and once done, do come back to read the rest of the post.

The Hajareshwara Temple is the smallest in the Bijolia Complex with a main shrine and a mandapa, and is believed to have been built between 1100-1125 CE. Based on an inscription in the mandapa which had the words Achintyadhvaja Jogi, experts believe that this temple was associated with the Pasupata Saiva sect. The presence of a sculptural relief of Lakulisa in a niche on the external wall also seems to indicate this.

Though the temple was known as Svarnajalesvara in the 12th and 13th centuries, it is known as Hajareshwara today due to the large Sahasralingam installed in the garbha griha. This is a Shiva Lingam, which has ‘sahasra’ or 1000 or ‘hajar’ miniature lingams carved on it.

Many of the miniature lingams at the base of the sahasralingam are barely visible and this is not surprising considering how old it is and the centuries of worship it has had. Though the temple was built in the 12th century, the sahasralingam is believed to have been under worship since the 9th century or maybe earlier. At least, that is what the temple priest, who spoke with me, believes.

Presenting a set of photographs from the Hajareshwara Temple. Clicking on any of the photographs below will start a slide show; you can use the arrow keys to navigate through the set, and once done, do come back to read the rest of the post.

The Undeswara Mahadeva Temple is dated to 1175, making it the youngest of the three Shiva temples in the Bijolia complex. A stellate shrine with a semi-open sabha mandapa in the east and two porches in the north and the south, the Undeshwara Mahadeva Temple is architecturally the most sophisticated in the Bijolia Temple Complex. There is also more variety in the sculptures here — in addition to the Dikpalas and forms of Shiva (especially Bhairava), one also sees forms Vishnu (including a rather scary depiction of his Narasimha avatar), and a slender elephant-headed goddess.

The sabha mandapa has some exquisite sculptures of musicians and dancing figures, both male and female, leading me to wonder if this used to be a performance space for dancers and musicians. It is quite easy to imagine performances being held in this space on special occasions.

The garbha griha is different from the other two Shiva temples here — it is sunk about 3 m below the level of the sabha mandapa floor and water seeping from the Mandakini Kund nearby keeps the shiva lingam installed here immersed, at least for some parts of the year. At the time when I visited, the water would have come up to my calves.

Presenting a set of photographs from the Undeshwar Mahadeva Temple. Clicking on any of the photographs below will start a slide show; you can use the arrow keys to navigate through the set, and once done, do come back to read the rest of the post.

Two hours and three Shiva temples later, we are ready to leave Bijolia. The curiosity that I had come with with regard to the temples has now been replaced with questions. Lots of questions, for which I have only guesses as answers. For example:

Why were the 3 Shiva temples built near to each other? Maybe it was because of the sacred Mandakini Kund. When the first temple (Mahakal) was built, it perhaps made the area even more sacred, with two other temples coming up soon.

Bijolia temples, Undeshwar, Mahakal, Hajareshwar, Baijnath, Hindu Temples, Shiva Temples, Indian Art, Indian Aesthetics, Rajasthan, Heritage, living TempleWho built the temples? No idea, but this would not have been possible without the approval of the rulers of Bijolia.

Thanks to the inscription found in the Hajareshwara Temple, we know that it was built by the Pashupata sect. Maybe the other two temples were also built by other Saivaite sects. The Mahakal Temple has panels of ascetics on its external wall (like the one on the left); perhaps this temple was built by the sect these ascetics belonged to. I wish I knew who they were though. As for the Undeshwara Mahadeva Temple, I wonder if it was a tantric temple. The presence of many Bhairava sculptures makes it a possibility; at the same time, the location is not exactly isolated as tantric temples usually are. So…

What is the significance of the Hayagriva-Narasimha-Varaha sculpture? This is one of the largest sculptures at the Bijolia Temple Complex, and one that has been sculpted with a lot of detail. In spite of being mutilated, its sinuous form is mesmerising as is the single visible eye of Hayagriva. Though the Undeshwar Mahadev Temple has forms of Vishnu on its external walls, the Mahakal Temple has just this, making it, in my opinion, even more significant. I wish I knew what that was.

Almost 8 months after the visit and now writing about it, I realise that it is not just the temples that I know nothing about, but also Bijolia itself. Prior to my Hadoti Trip, I did not know about Bijolia; it got added to my itinerary, thanks to a friend who told me about it. That and the fact that I could easily visit Bijolia enroute to Bundi, the third and final leg of my Hadoti Trip, from Kota. I wish that I had gone beyond just checking the distance and the ‘doability’ of the visit; I wish I had read up about Bijolia or Vindhyavali as it was known before I visited it and not before writing this blog post. Thanks to this omission, I missed out on quite a bit.

I missed out on Bijolia Fort. Imagine my surprise when I saw first saw the Fort walls and then drove along it for a while on our way to the temple complex. I wish I could have explored the Fort, but unfortunately, we did not have the time.

Though I made a brief visit to the Shri Digambar Jain Parshvanath Temple in Bijolia, I was unaware of the site’s significance. The Jains believe that this is where Parshvanath, the 23rd Tirthankar, attained kevalgyaan or divine knowledge.

I missed out on seeing the Bijolia Inscriptions, which date back to 1175 CE. The first inscription is the genealogy of the Chauhan dynasty who ruled the region and also mentions the temples in the area, including the Mahakal Temple. The second inscription is a Jain poem, the Uttama Sikhara Purana, inscribed near the door of the main shrine in the Parshwanath Temple.

Travel is about many things and hits & misses are one of them. I can’t think of my visit to Bijolia without all that I missed out on. I hope that when you visit Bijolia after reading this post, you will be better prepared and planned.

And you will visit Bijolia, won’t you? 🙂


Acknowledgements: A big thank you to Arjun a.k.a @Hidden Heritage for telling me about the Bijolia Temples and also assuring me that it was entirely doable as part of my Hadoti Trip.


The Hadoti Trip Series: Dear Hadoti | Discovering Jhalawar | The painted rooms in 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 KotaA safari on the Chambal River | The painted rooms of the Kota Garh Palace | The Shiva temples of Bijolia | The temples at Badoli | That and this in Bundi | The painted rooms of Bundi Palace | The stepwells of Bundi | The Hadoti Trip Planner |


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23 thoughts on “The Shiva temples of Bijolia

  1. The soulful pictures seeping in spiritual sentiment, well detailed and documented information, as well as in-depth writing, makes this write up one of the best things to read. The amount of hard work and time you injected is very commendable on your part, Sudhagee. Brilliant work, as usual, It makes me want to visit Bijolia and enjoy reading on reasons why the Shiva Temples cohabit together. Jumping to click on the pictures. abhi.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Vishal. Your comments are always so appreciative and encouraging.

      Sometimes I think that I write too much, as my posts seem to be getting longer and longer. But this is how I want to write, so I guess that’s how my posts are going be like. 🙂

      Hope you enjoyed the pictures as much as you liked reading about the temples.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pradip, I missed out a lot in Bijolia as I wasn’t aware about anything else apart from the temples. Hopefully, I’ll be able to visit Bijolia again and see all that I missed out on including the Fort and Palace

      Like

    1. A warm welcome here, Rachna. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I never cease to be amazed during my travels as there is always something that I haven’t read about or something that my pre-trip research hasn’t revealed. I love such surprises, don’t you?

      Like

  2. Thank you for writing blog on the Shiva temples of Bijolia. I was not knowing about this place but after reading this blog I got to know about this place.The images and information given here are amazing and awesome.

    Like

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