Gwalior – Reminiscence of a Metropolis

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Gwalior Fort – Temples

Cunningham writes that Gwalior was fortunate enough in escaping the religious intolerance and wanton destruction of the Hindu temples caused by Sikandar Lodi. His destruction was witnessed in the forts of Himmatgarh, Narwar and Mandrel. He planned a siege on Gwalior but he died during the planning phase. Gwalior was captured by his son, Ibrahim Lodi, but he was busy with his internal troubles that not much destruction happened after this capture. The fort has as many as eleven temples but three are main structures.

The Sun Temple of Mihirakula – This temple does not exists anymore, however, it would have been erected at the banks of Suraj Kund. Cunningham suggests that this temple was probably destroyed by Iltutmish when he captured the fort in 1232 CE. Babur mentions that Iltutmish constructed a grand mosque near Suraj Kund, so Cunningham suggests that this mosque would have been erected after destroying this temple. The mosque is also no more at present as it was demolished by Baptiste to furnish materials for the walls of citadel.

The foundation inscription of this temple was found embedded into the citadel wall near Suraj Kund. Iltutmish strengthened the walls after his capture and it is most probable that he destroyed the temple and utilized its material in this strengthening work. Garde however mentions that the site of this old temple is marked by a modern temple dedicated to the same deity, Surya (Sun).


  1. Stone inscription of Mihirakula – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol III – written in Sanskrit, Nagari characters – dated to fifteenth regnal year of Mihirakula, 517 CE – The inscription talks about the erection of a Sun temple by a certain, Matricheta, the son of Matridasa and the grandson of Matritula. Matridasa was a minister under king Mihirakula (titled Pashupati), the son of Toramana.

Chaturbhuja Temple


Chaturbhuja Temple – This small temple is excavated from a single solid rock. This is a very interesting example of rock-cut architecture as this temple has all the required constituents a temple should have. Though the temple is not very symmetrical in its proportions however this might be due to restrictions posed by a solid rock portion from which it is hewn. It has a garbha-griha (sanctum) and a mukha-mandapa (portico) supported on four pillars in front. These pillars are designed in characteristic chain-and-bell motif with full vase at bottom and top. The sanctum is a 12 feet square room and portico is 10 feet by 9 feet in measurement.

Sanctum Doorway


River goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, are present on the sanctum door jambs riding on their respective mounts, makara and kachchapa (tortoise). The lintel of the sanctum door has an image of Vishnu over lalata-bimba (lintel center) while Garuda holding tails of serpent is carved on a lower level just below him. The figure standing under a hood of a serpent on right of Vishnu may be Balarama, one incarnation of the former or it could be a representation of Shesha. The figure on left of Vishnu may be Garuda.

Varaha on southern niche


The beams of the portico, inside, carries scenes of Krishna’s life on three sides, while on one side is engraved a large inscription dating from the reign of the Partihara ruler, Mihira Bhojadeva. Among the scenes from Krishna’s life, we see here, Krishna as a baby in Yashoda’s lap, Putana vadha, Sakatasura vadha, release of Nala-Kubera, Kesi vadha, Arishtasura vadha, churning of butter, stealing butter, lifting Govardhana mountain, Kaliya mardan, Kuvalayapeedh vadha, fighting with wrestlers in Kansa’s ranga-shala.

Vishnu on western niche


The temple is constructed in pancharatha style, one bhadra niche, two prati niches and two karna niches. On the main bhadra niches are found, Varaha on south, Vishnu on west and Trivikrama on north. The inscription found on the sanctum lintel eulogized Varaha and Trivikrama incarnation of Vishnu. On lower bhadra niches are found, Ganesha on south, Parvati in panchangni-tapa mudra on west and Kartikeya on north.

Trivikrama on northern niche


Six out of eight ashta-dikpalas are carved at their respective positions, these are Agni, Yama, Nrriti, Varuna, Vayu and Kubera. There are many other incarnations of Vishnu found around the temple, these are Rama, Krishna, Balarama and Nrisimha. There are images of female dancers on other niches.




  1. Inscription of Adivaraha – Epigraphia Indica vol I – over the front door – written in Sanskrit, in 27 lines, in – dated in year (Vikrama) 932 or 875 CE – this Vishnu temple was constructed by Alla, the son of Vaillabhatta and the grandson of Nagarabhatta, belonging to the Varjara family migrated from Anandapura in Latamandala (Vadnagar in Gujrat). Vaillabhatta was the chief of the boundaries in the service of king Ramadeva, and his son, Alla, succeeded his father in office. Alla was appointed to the guardianship of Gopadri (present Gwalior) by king Srimad-Adivaraha.
  2. Inscription of Bhojadeva – Epigraphia Indica vol I – written in incorrect Sanskrit – dated in year (Vikrama) 933 – the inscription records four donations made to two temples by Alla, the son of Vaillabhatta and the guardian of Sri-Gopagiri (present Gwalior). The first donee is a Navadurga temple, situated beyond the Vrischikala river, which received three grants. The second donee, receiving the fourth grant, is a Vishnu temple called Vaillabhatta-swamin, which Alla has likewise caused to be built on the descent of the road of the illustrious Bhojadeva.

Teli ka Mandir


Teli ka Mandir – This is the loftiest building inside the Gwalior fort. The real name of the temple is lost, the present name is probably derived from a teli (oil-merchant) on whose expanse this structure was built as suggested by Cunningham. This east facing temple is built on a square plan, 60 feet side, with a projecting portico of 11 feet in east. M B Garde assigns this temple to 9th century CE.

Southern Facade


This temple is constructed with a Valabhi shikhara. It was widely assumed that this shikhara had its origins in South India however there are earlier temples of this style in north India as well. An earlier but quite moderate in comparison with the present temple is found at Naresar, not very far from Gwalior. These kinds of shikharas are rested over a oblong sanctum which is suitable to accommodate sapta-matrikas (seven mothers) or Vishnu in Anantashayana mudra.

Southern niche doorway


As the present temple also has an oblong sanctum, R D Trivedi suggests that it was probably dedicated to the Sakta goddesses or Sapta-matrikas. It is also supported by an inscription dedicated to a multi-armed goddess. Trivedi suggests that there would have been images of Sapta-matrikas in its sanctum which were removed at a later point of time, probably to give a different character to this temple. The temple is built in pancha-ratha style, with one bhadra niche, two prati or kapali niches and two karna niches. The western face is larger than the southern and northern hence it has all these five niches carved on that face.

Lakulisa with yogapatta


Bhagiratha in penance


The temple is entered through a huge gateway which leads into antarala. River goddesses are carved at the bottom of the door jambs. An interesting feature is the carving of a band just above these river goddesses. Above Yamuna is shown Lakulisa holding a danda (rod) and seated with a yoga-patta bound to his feet. Two sages are shown on his left, each one holding a bag on a rod over their shoulders. Above Ganga is shown king Bhagiratha standing on one leg in penance to bring Ganga to earth from heaven.

Brahma and Bhairava



  1. On the southern niche – Temples of the Pratihara Period in Central India – written in Sanskrit, in north Indian characters of eight century CE – undated, dated to middle to eighth century CE based upon paleographic studies – ‘Namah: Vanagrasakta-nettra valita-dridha-bhuja chakra-sulasi’ – the inscription is a salutation to a multi-armed goddess (probably Durga) who is holding a chakra, shula and asi (sword).

Sas-Bahu Temples


Sas-Bahu Temple – Sas-Bahu temple is the name given to two neighboring temples, one large and one small, situated near the eastern wall of the fort, to the immediate east of Suraj Kund.  These two shrines are also associated with the cult of Sahasrabahu, which H D Trivedi puts as an another attempt to Sanskritise the name Sas-Bahu. Babu Rajendra Lal, who first deciphered the inscriptions found here, associates these temples with Jaina faith however it is not correct. Both these shrines are very much Hindu in nature.

Sas Temple


The big temple, Sas temple, is built in the shape of a cross, 102 feet long and 74 feet wide, with two storeys. The short arm of the cross is in east-west direction. The temple has, from outside to inside, an ardha-mandapa (small hall), a mandapa (hall), a maha-mandapa (big hall), an antarala (vestibule) and lastly a garbha-griha (sanctum). It faces north, with its sanctum in south. The garbha-griha and arcdha-mandapa are of same dimensions, 15 feet square. Mandapa and antarala of the same length, 11.25 feet. The maha-mandapa is pretty big, about 31 feet square.

Southern facade


The shikhara of the temple is much ruined. Its present height is 70 feet, Cunningham estimates its original height to be not less than 100 feet. As Babur mentions that the Teli Temple was the highest one that suggests that probably the shikhara of the temple was already in ruins when he visited Gwalior Fort.

Entrance into the temple


Cunningham mentions that the temple was not in use during the Muslim rule. There are few inscriptions or rather pilgrim records inside the sanctum. One record is dated in Saka year 1160 or 1103 CE, about 11 years after the completion of the temple. The other records are dated in Saka year 1522 and Saka year 1540, 1465 and 1483 CE respectively. This suggests that the temple was in use again during the Tomara dynasty. However the temple was again in disuse after the capture of Gwalior fort by the Mughal rulers.




  1. Stone slab inscription of Mahipala – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol VII part III – written on two separate slabs, each with 21 lines – Sankrit language, Nagari characters – dated to Vikrama year 1149 (1092CE) – the inscription refers itself to the reign of Mahipala who belonged to the Kachchhapaghata dynasty of Gopadri (Gwalior). The object is to record the completion of the temple of Padmanatha, begun by his cousin Padmapala and the grants made by king in honor of the deity installed therein and in favor of few brahmanas. It also talks about establishment of a Brahmana colony, Brahmapuri, in the vicinity of the temple. The genealogy of the Kachchhapaghata (or Kachcchapari as mentioned in this inscription) is as follows; the dynasty was started by Lakshmana, followed by his son Vajradaman, followed by Mangalaraja, followed by Kirtiraja (who constructed a temple at Simhapaniya, modern Suhaniya), followed by his son Muladeva (also known as Bhuvanapala and bore title Trailokyamalla), followed by Devapala, followed by Padmapala, followed by his cousin brother Mahipala (son of Suryapala).

Bahu Temple


The small Bahu temple is also built in shape of a cross, but it has only single storey. It consists three ardha-mandapa, one mandapa, an antarala and a garbha-griha. The temple faces north and has entrances on its three side leading into the mandapa. An ardha-mandapa, 12 feet by 7.5 feet, is erected on all these three entrances. The mandapa is a 23 feet square hall supported on 12 pillars.

Rock-cut Sculptures: Cunningham writes that the rock sculptures of Gwalior are unique in Northern India as well for their number as for their gigantic size. Many of these sculptures were mutilated by Babur as he describes in his memoirs. He writes,’ They have hewn the solid rock of this Adwa, and sculptured out of it idols of larger and smaller size. On the south part of it idols of figures are perfectly naked, without even a rag to cover the parts of generation. Adwa is far from being a mean place, on contrary it is extremely pleasant. The greatest fault consists in the idol figures all about it: I directed these idols to be destroyed.’

Shiva as Gajantaka


There are many of these rock cut sculptures, on the approach from eastern and western entrances. The rock face on the southern side of Urwahi valley has 22 principal figures, all Jainas images. There are six inscriptions dated in the Saka year 1497 and 1510 or 1440 CE and 1453 CE respectively, during the reign of Tomar dynasty. Among the major figures, there is one of Adinath, one of seated Neminath and one of an unknown Jina. The statue of the unknown Jina is the highest one, about 57 feet as mentioned by Cunningham. Statue of Neminath is about 30 feet in height.

Nativity Scene


Another group of figures are carved on the rock face just below the Ek-Khamba Tal (pond). There are about 5 figures, prominent one is of a sleeping lady, about 8 feet in length, who might be Trishala, the mother of Mahavira. Another important sculpture group is carved on the rock face immediately under Gangola Talao (pond). This is the largest sculpture group consisting of not less than 18 statues from 20 to 30 feet in height. These statues are carved on the rock face which run for almost half a kilometer.

Vishnu, Surya and Mahishasuramardini


Another group of figures are carved on the rock face on the way further up from Lakhmana Gate. All the images, except very few Jaina, are Hindu. The largest one is chiseled off however the outlines are still there. Cunningham identifies it with Varaha however Garde says it’s of Shiva as Gajasamharamurti. Other images are of Ganesha, Shiva, Parvati, Vishnu, Surya etc.


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  • Pankaj Saksena

    Hello from a fan of your site from Gwalior. I am also a fellow traveler, madly in love with history, archaeology, sculpture and travel. I also visit a few places and click pics. Though, I hardly write descriptions in the beautiful way that you do.

    I am a native of Gwalior and have been to the fort many times!

    But it is Sahastra-Bahu Mandir. Sanskritization charge is just the leftist take of the issue, an effort to to politicize.

    • Saurabh Saxena

      Hi Pankaj,
      Thanks for your comment and nice words. You are right in your surmise that sahastra-bahu might be a leftist view to Sanskrtize or saffronize it.

  • yash saxena

    I have been a fan of this fort too, as for most part of my childhood the towering presence of this fort could be felt from my rooftop. :) Would be fascinated to read more about man mandir & ts underground passages. A post on that would be great!