Introduction – Bhedaghat is famous for its marble rocks which soar in glittering splendor to a height of about hundred feet on either side of the Narmada. Alexander Cunningham refers it as a bathing-place on Narmada whereas the village is situated at the confluence of the Narmada and a small stream locally known as Saraswati but known as Banganga at Karanbel. Because of the sangam (confluence) of two rivers, this place is considered holy. Cunningham mentions that King Gaya Karna took bath at this place with his queen, son, prime-minister, commander-in-chief etc at the occasion of granting a land to a brahmana. Queen Gosala Devi, widow of King Narasimha Deva, also took bath here while making a grant of a village.
Monuments – The only monument of interest is the Yogini Temple.
Chaunsath Yogini Temple – Yogini, a mere mention of this term brings an awe of fear among people. The main reason behind this is, probably, the secret of the Yogini cult which is kept in dark from the common mass. Vidya Dehejia, while working on the Yogini cult, mentions that it was very hard to find people related and indulged in Yogini rituals and even harder to get information out from them. It is told that you can only receive information if you go through a proper initiation into their sect and on oath that you will not part away or share that secret information to any uninitiated person.
Kaula and Kapalika are two main sects in which Yogini cult is practiced. Consumption of human flesh, sometimes human sacrifice and indulgence in sexual rites are among the main activities during their rituals. Mention of Yogini is found in Skanda Purana, Agni Purana, Kathasaritasagar, Malatimadhava, Rajatarangani, Uttamacharitrakathanaka etc where they are mentioned as sorceress, having magical powers to turn human into birds or animals, ability to fly into air etc. A connection between Yakshis and Yoginis was drawn by Dehejia as Kaula texts mention that the Yoginis used to live in the trees known as Kulavrksha and Yakshis are the goddesses of trees. Ananda K Commaraswamy was also of the opinion that Yakshi and Yogini are synonymous and the latter was evolved from the former only.
They are also associated with Goddess Durga and Shiva. Sapta-matrika (seven mothers) are an integral part of the Yogini cult however in few Yogini name-list these matrikas are omitted. Rudra Upanishad states that Shiva after slaying Jalandhara summoned the Yoginis (Sapta-matrika) to the battlefield and asked them to devour the flash of the demon and drink the blood. Yoginis are associated with cemeteries and battle field where they are said to devour upon the dead. They were worshiped by kings and soldiers before going on a battle for good luck and victory. Rajatarangini and Prabodha-Chandrodaya mention Yoginis to be lustful and blood-thirsty who could reanimate the dead to satisfy their desire or tear them into pieces to appease their hunger. They are said to be dancing on the battlefield using skulls of the slain as their symbol.
Placing the main deity in a dark and hidden chamber like a baby inside a womb has been the custom of the Hindu temples since ages. However the Yogini temples do not follow this practice and their monuments are open to sky. The Yogini temples are usually constructed with a circular cloister, except one temple, the rectangular Yogini temple at Khajuraho. In many such temples, n open shrine in the center of the circle dedicated to either Shiva or Bhairava is also found. Yogini cult is a heterodox sect hence it is expected that their monuments do not follow common Hindu temple architecture.
Dehejia mentions that it is not easy to identify an image of Yogini as there are about thirty different lists from various sources listing the names of Yoginis and their mounts. These name-lists seldom correspond with each other. If there is no label inscribed on the image, it would be very difficult to name the Yogini until and unless we have a reason to believe that a particular text was followed in that area. To our comfort, most yogini images at Bhedaghat are labeled.
It is evident that the Yogini cult was prevalent from ninth to twelfth century CE and later inscriptions on these temples support their use till late as sixteenth century CE, however after that the cult was lost in oblivion. Memories were wiped out to the extent that when these temples were discovered in the nineteenth century then we were perplexed to understand their nature and character.
The Yogini Temple at Bhedaghat is the largest yogini temple in India with the internal diameter of about 116 feet and the external diameter of about 131 feet. Cunningham describes it as a curious circular cloister of considerable antiquity located on singularly fine and commanding position above a hill near Narmada. The cloister consists of 84 square pillars which results in an arrangement of 81 cells and 3 entrances, two on west and one on south-east.
Most Yogini temples are dedicated to sixty-four Yoginis. Skanda and Agni Puranas also mention about sixty-four Yoginis only. Hence while describing the Bhedaghat Yogini temple, Cunningham suggests that the temple is dedicated to sixty-four Yoginis and the rest of the cells are occupied by other related deities like matrikas, Shiva, Ganesha etc. His views were accepted by Krishna Deva, R K Sharma, however Dehejia points to Matottara Tantra which mentions a tradition of eighty-one Yoginis. Mula Chakra of Matottara Tantra talks about nine matrikas, Sapta-Matrikas with Chandika and Maha-Lakshmi, forming the inner circle of the chakra. Each of these nine matrikas issue nine Yoginis, thus forming a chakra of eighty-one. Hence, Dehejia states that the Bhedaghat temple was meant for these eighty-one Yoginis.
However the labels on images found at Bhedaghat do not match with the list given in Mula Chakra description. Dehejia tells that the usually these labels bear local influence and mostly these do not match with a single list. This is even seen in other Yogini temples. Another fact, as Dehejia states, is that many original images are missing from cells, and hence we can probably never get information on the original eighty-one images. However, presence of eighty-one cells is enough proof to suggest that the temple was dedicated to the eighty-one Yognis as explained in Mula Chakra of Matottara Tantra.
The same text also mentions that these eighty-one Yoginis were usually worshiped by royalties and thus it probably suggests that the temple at Bhedaghat was constructed by a royal member of some dynasty. Stella Kramrisch also mentions that a square which can be divided into eighty-one equal sections with central section used as temple sanctum is usually exercised by royal people. From these above two facts, Dehejia tells that the Bhedaghat temple was a construction of some Kalchuri king.
The statues in the cloister cells can be divided into two groups, standing and seated. Standing statues, five in number, are made of purplish sandstone while the sitting statues are in grey sandstone. These standing images bear no inscription and can easily be distinguished by their style of execution in comparison to the sitting statues. Hence these can be assigned to the Kushana period as many Kushana statues were discovered near Dhuandhar falls resembling with the style of these standing statues. To view all the images in the cells, please visit the album attached at the end of this article.
The central temple, now known as Gauri-Shankar temple, is probably built after the original circular temple as suggested by Cunningham. It is located off-center of the inner courtyard, which is indeed very peculiar. Cunningham suggests that there was probably another similar temple located diagonally opposite to it, however there is no evidence of such a shrine. The basement, 25 feet by 22 feet, is still of the original construction, however the superstructure is of a later period partially constructed in stone and partially in brick.
The main image inside is of Shiva and Parvati sitting over Nandi. Looking at the dimensions of this image and the fact that it is constructed over a pedestal, Cunningham suggests that this image belongs to the images placed in the cells of the inner circle. Probably, this image was removed from its original location at some later time. An image of Vishnu with Lakshmi riding over Garuda is embedded into the wall of the temple.
A slab discovered here, now kept in American Oriental Society’s Museum, bears an inscription mentioning that the Kalchuri queen Alhanadevi, the wife of the king Gayakarna, built this temple during the reign of her son Narasimhadeva in the Kalchuri year 907 (1155 CE). Does this inscription talk about the Yogini temple? Cunningham after studying the characters of the labels on the Yogini image pedestals tells that the characters of these labels are older than those used in the slab inscription hence the Yogini temple is older than the inscription. Hence this inscription probably talks about the construction of the Gauri-Shankara temple.
Vidya Dehejia mentions that as the inscription is found on an isolated slab and not within the temple compound hence it may have no connection with the concerned temple. So it should not be taken as the foundation inscription of either the Yogini temple or the Gauri-Shankar temple. There are five Kushana period images enshrined in the cloister cells which made R D Banerji and Cunningham to propose that there would have been an ancient Kushana period temple on the site of the current Yogini temple, later converted into a Yogini temple. If this is the case, then should we think that the temple was originally planned to house 64 Yoginis however the builders found few old statues in the original shrine and to give those proper respect and space they modified the original plan to accommodate 81 cells? Absurd, isn’t it?
Construction of 81 cells would have a proper reason and the only reason, as Dehejia suggests, is that it was meant for 81 Yoginis. As many original images have been lost, it is quite possible that the Kushana images were later installed in the empty cells. However, if this is the case, then how to account for the Ganesha and the Gauri-Shankar statues, the former is still in its original position while the latter is enshrined in the Gauri-Shankar temple. These two would have taken up two cells, reducing the number to 79 and total Yoginis to be accommodated are still 81?
Based upon the paleographic studies of the label inscriptions of the image pedestals, most scholars agree upon assigning the Yogini temple to the last quarter of the tenth century CE. Dehejia assigns it to 975-1025 CE, to the rule of the Kalchuri king Yuvaraja II who probably built the temple to propitiate the Yoginis beseeching their assistance in defending his territories, banishing his foes, securing victory in battle and his bid for a rival kingdom. However, Yoginis did not respond to his plea, as he was defeated by the Paramaras and had to flee for his life.
The Gauri-Shankar temple was constructed about two centuries later, probably by queen Alhanadevi whose inscription dated 1155 CE is found on an isolated slab. Another inscription of queen Gosaladevi, which can be put slightly later than 1190 CE, does not talk about the construction but only her daily worship to the god. This suggests that the temple was already existing and the best bid would be to take the isolated slab inscription as the foundation inscription of the Gauri-Shankar temple.
- Bhedaghat inscription of Narasimha – Epigraphia Indica Vol II – language Sanskrit, characters Nagari – dated in the Kalchuri year 907 (1155-56 CE) – The inscription is dated in the reign of the Kalchuri king Narasimha. It registers that his mother, Alhanadevi, the widow of Gayakarna, constructed a temple of Shiva under the name of Vaidyanatha together with matha (monastery) and a hall of study which she endowed with the income from two villages, Namaundi and Makarapataka on the right bank of Narmada. The management of the whole complex was entrusted to a Pasupata ascetic Rudrarasi of the Lata lineage.
- Bhedaghat Gauri-Shakar Temple inscription of Vijayasimha – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV Part I – language Sanskrit, characters Nagari – undated – The object of the inscription is to record the obeisance of the queen Gosaladevi, the mother of the Kalchuri king Vijayasimha, and the grand-mother of the heir-apparent Ajayasimhadeva, to the enshrined god who appears to be named here Bhagnakhidra (the destroyer of diseases).
Marble Rocks – These perpendicular magnesium limestone rocks fringe the crystal clear waters of the Narmada providing a fascinating site. The serene loveliness of the scene is one of cool quiet, the sunlight sparkling on the marble white pinnacles and casting shadows on the pellucid waters. Captain J Forsyth speaks eloquently about the splendor of these rocks, in his words he says, ‘The eye never wearies of the effect produced by the broken and reflected sunlight, now glancing from a pinnacle of snow-white marble reared against the deep blue of the sky as from a point of silver; touching here and there with bright lights the prominences of the middle heights; and again losing itself in the soft bluish greys of their recesses. Here and there the white saccharine limestone is seamed by veins of dark green or black volcanic rock; a contrast which only enhances, like a setting of jet, the purity of the surrounding marble.’
Dhuandhar Falls – The Narmada, making its way through the Marble Rocks, narrows down and then plunges in a waterfall known as Dhuandhar or the smoke cascade. So powerful is the plunge that its roar is heard from a far distance. The falls and the breaking of the volume of water at the crest present an awesome spectacle of nature’s power unleashed.
Food and Accommodation – MP Tourism runs Motel Marble Rocks at Bhedaghat. This hotel is located above a hill from where you get a spectacular view of serpentine Narmada. This is the best place to stay at Bhedaghat, however there are few other hotels and resorts as well.
How to Reach – Bhedaghat is about 23km from Jabalpur, the latter is the nearest airport and railway-head as well. Public buses and other transports are readily available from Jabalpur.
- Banerji, R D (1931). The Haihayas of Tripuri and Their Monuments. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Burgess, J (1894). Epigraphia Indica vol II. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Cunningham, Alexander (1879). Report of a Tour in the Central Province in 1873-74-75-76 (Vol IX). Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Dehejia, Vidya (1986). Yogini Cult and Temples. National Museum. New Delhi.
- Deo, Jitendra Pratap Singh (2001). Tantric Art of Orissa. Kalpaz Publications. New Delhi. ISBN: 8178350416.
- Deva, Krishna (1969). Temples of North India. National Book Trust. New Delhi. ISBN: 9788123719702.
- Mirashi, V V (1955). Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum Vol IV. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.