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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.”