Introduction – Bhitargaon (भीतरगांव ) is small village in Kanpur district and is famous for an ancient brick temple of the Gupta period. As per a local tradition, there was a city named Pushp-pur (Foolpur) in olden days The middle part of that city was known as Bhitargaon, which literally means the inner village. The external part of the city is known as Barigaon (which literally means the outer village), which is adjacent to Bhitargaon separated at a distance of about a km.
Inscriptions – No inscription has been found from this place till date.
Monuments – There is only one monuments of interest, the Gupta brick temple. However there is a mound, as well, with few scattered statues of not much interest.
Gupta Brick Temple – This temple is located amidst the dwelling houses and market place as if its splendor suddenly burst into view to a visitor. Alexander Cunningham visited this place in 1877 and again in 1878 on the invitation of the king Shiv Pratap who should be credited in putting this monument on the heritage map of India. cunningham mentions that the temple was known as Deval (temple) at that time.
He found the temple in much ruins and carried out repair work. He discovered a number of terracotta panels during his excavation around the temple. The bricks discovered during his excavation were utilized in restoration of the temple, he sent at least two panels to the Indian Museum, Kolktata, which are still exhibited there.
PWD (Public Works Department) prepared a budget for repair of this temple in 1894 with the bricks of same size. However the expenditure was seen as excessive and only quarter of that expenditure was sanctioned. But no action was taken on this and result of that the entire porch of the temple crumbled in 1895. The repairs were carried out in 1905 under the supervision of a PWD overseer who erected the entire body of the temple in an unrelieved straight vertical line and on top of that applied a thick coat of plaster till the height of about three and a half meters from ground level. He finished that plaster with gleaming white paint.
J Ph. Vogel carried out a survey in 1907 followed by A H Longhurst in 1909. Longhurst collected about 81 objects and send those to the State Museum at Lucknow. Longhurst prepared a detailed plan for removal of plaster and restoration of the base to its original condition. The temple lied ignored from the reach of the historians and scholars till 1960s when Mohammad Zaheer carried out an extensive survey of this site and wrote a monologue about the temple. He photographed all the existing panels on site and also tracked panels stocked in various museums.
V S Agrawala says its logical to find that the Gupta coroplasts took full advantage of the terracotta medium on a monumental scale. Their love for molded bricks had opened a new architectural front in which all the details of the building technique were incorporated according to the best standards of the age. The whole temple was conceived in terms of brick work, with molded pillars, pilasters, friezes, and reliefs.
This east facing temple is constructed on a square base with deep recesses and over the foundation of cell like formations. The temple is constituted of a porch containing steps, ardha-mandapa, antarala or passage and garbha-griha (sanctum). The porch with its flight of six steps topped with an arched roof was reported by Cunningham however no mention of it was made by Vogel and Longhurst. It appears that the porch which was the entrance to ardha-mandapa crumbled due to much deterioration.
Ardha-mandapa measuring 8 feet by 7.25 feet is at present without any roof however Cunningham reported a domical roof at the time of his visit. Zaheer mentions that this temple is one of the earliest examples of a ground plan with recesses. He says that recesses becomes necessary if shikhara (tower) is to constructed. When the recesses are deep and multiple, the shikhara is likely to have been high with prominent facets. The shikhara of this brick temple is twice in height to that of the base.
Antarala of 8 feet leads a visitor to the garbha-griha. Cunningham gave measure of 8 feet (2.44 m) however at present it is about 2.35 m. The reduction of 9 cm is probably due to alteration made during repairs. Garbha-griha is a square of 15 feet side. Width of the walls estimated by Cunningham was 8 feet however in reality this width is little more than 8 feet but not uniform across the walls.
Percy Brown in his conjectural drawing of the shikhara, surmounted the top of the shikhara with a barrel roof. R Nath in his conjectural diagram puts amalaka on top. However Cunningham mentions a spire which was struck by lightning making it exposed to sky. Cunningham, being a noted archaeologist would not have missed the barrel roof or amalaka if it was the case.
Cunningham reports the total height of 44 feet or 13.41 m. Percy Brown reports the total height of the temple as 70 feet which is also taken as it is by Krishna Deva and R Nath. Zaheer mentioned the total height of the temple as 15.41 m (50 feet 7 inches), the floor at 1.49 m, the body of the temple 4.11 m and shikhara 9.81 m.
There are total of 28 pilasters of which only three are in their original state and others are either partially repaired or completely replaced. These pilasters represent the best specimens among their category even when this temple is the earliest such brick temple in this category of architecture. The pilasters are adorned with sixteen different components composed of the combination of ornamented and ordinary bricks. The decoration on the ornamented bricks was carried out in their wet condition before baking.
Zaheer carried out an extensive comparison on the decorative art on bricks among the various brick temples of India. He found that the motifs and art decoration of Bhitargaon temple matched with those of at Ahichchhatra, Sarnath, Sravasti and Bhitari, all Gupta period sites. The patterns do not match with the temples of later centuries like that of Sirpur, Kharod, Parauli, Nagari or with those of the earlier centuries like those at Kasia, Pakhna Bihar. This supports that fact that the temple was constructed during the Gupta period.
Probably the most interesting and important feature which makes this temple class part from other is the presence of decorative terracotta panels across the walls and over the vimana. On the terracotta medium, J C Harle states, ‘It was, however, during the Gupta period that the finest sculptures in this ancient and perennial was made, works which have never been matched in their size and technique, at least in India, and which adds a whole new dimension to Gupta sculpture’.
Zaheer classified a total of 143 panels, in situ and stocked in various museums. A total of 128 panels are found in situ however few have been stolen from the site. Please visit the album attached in the last of this article to have a look on the panels in situ with their description.
Cunningham mentions that the temple cannot be placed later than seventh or eighth century CE, and could be even older. Vogel shifts the dates three centuries earlier to fourth or fifth century CE during the Gupta rule. Brown dates this temple to fifth century CE on account of its unique character. Harle says that it is unlikely that the temple dates from much after 425 CE, and, considering its position in the heart of Doab, it may be considerably earlier.
R D Banerji states that the affinity of this temple lies more with the Devgarh temple than those of Nachna and Bhumara. His suggestion is based upon missing plinth moldings and existence of shikhara. However plinth moldings are discovered in later excavations at the site. Banerji further mentions that the terracotta art of the temple appears later than the art of Mathura, Patna and Varanasi, three three major schools of the Gupta art. However Zaheer does not agree with Banerji here the latter compared terracotta art with the stone specimens of the other Gupta period shrine which is not correct.
E B Havell mentions that the decorative motifs of Bhitargaon temple bear curious resemblance with the brick temples at Sirpur and Kharod however Zaheer’s detailed analysis proves the contrary. V S Agrawala dates the temple to the early sixth century CE. Zaheer on account of iconographic studies and comparison with other terracotta temples, places this temple to fifth century CE and suggests that it could be even older.
Food and Accommodation – Bhitargaon is a very small village so you should better stay at Kanpur. There are tea shops and few snack shops at Bhitargaon however no proper restaurant as such.
How to Reach – Bhitargaon is about 43 km from Kanpur. Regular shared tempos ply from Naubasta (नौबस्ता) in Kanpur to Bhitargaon. It lies on Kapur-Hamirpur road on which you need to take a left turn from Sarh (साढ़) to wards Bhitargaon. Kanpur is the nearest big railway-head and airport.
- Agrawala, V S (1977). Gupta Art. Prithivi Prakashan. New Delhi.
- Banerji, R D (1933). The Age of the Imperial Guptas. Banares Hindu University. Varanasi.
- Brown, Percy (1959). Indian Architecture (Buddhist and Hindu Periods). D B Taraporevala. Mumbai.
- Deva, Krishna (1969). Temples of North India. National Book Trust. New Delhi. ISBN: 9788123719702.
- Deva, Krishna (1995). Temples of India. Aryan Books International. New Delhi. ISBN 8173050546.
- Harle, J C (1974). Gupta Sculpture. Munshiram Manoharlal. New Delhi. ISBN 8121506417
- Michell, George (1989). The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India Volume I: Buddhist, Jain, Hindu. London. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140081442.
- Rai, Uday Narayan (2006). Bhartiya Kala (in Hindi). Lokbharati Prakashan. Allahabad. ISBN 8180310973
- Zaheer, Mohammad (1981). The Temple of Bhitargaon. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi.