Introduction – Batesar temple complex is situated in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh state. Batesar, in fact, is not the name of the village but the name of a valley which probably derives its name from the Bhuteshvara temple, the biggest temple of the complex. This temple complex lies in the village of Padhawali which also houses few other temples of interest.
Though this article is dedicated to the architecture and art in principle however interesting diversions should be allowed, if there is any. Batesar also asks for such a diversion. The diversion here is related to the infamous past of the Chambal valley which, though, many of us would be familiar through legends and anecdotes. Morena together with Bhind and Sheopur districts formed a triad, notorious for its Chambal ravines infested with dacoits. The deep maze of these ravines and scrub forests presented the ideal habitation for the dacoits where they could continue their activities remaining elusive.
The history of the dacoits of this region goes back to the thirteenth century CE, however it came to limelight during the British occupation. These dacoits were mostly the local outlaws, referred as ‘Baghis’, who drifted either due to the oppression of the higher castes, social inequality or injustice in the hands of law. Various legends, still popular, describe these outlaws as the Robin Hoods of their times. It was a common notion that many of these dacoits rob the riches and thereafter distribute the bounty to the poor and needy. Daku Maan Singh of Agra, who was active in the early decades of the twentieth century, was the most celebrated dacoit with this characteristic. He is also credited to led the largest gang till date.
Among the notorious dacoits, few can be named, Thakur Maan Singh, Putli Bai, Malkhan Singh, Dong-Batri brothers, Sultan Singh, Phoolan Devi and Mohar Singh. The dacoit menace continued for many decades even after the Indian independence. It took almost forty years for the Indian government to demolish these gangs. Two major surrenders of these dacoits were, one was at the instance of Vinoba Bhave in the early 1960s and one in 1972 at the instance of Jayaprakash Narayan. The last known major encounter was in the year of 2007 when nine bandits including Jagjivan Parihar, who had a prize on his head, were killed.
Though, there is no organized gang operating now in the Chambal region, however the gun culture is still prevalent. The government issued the gun licenses at free will to the villagers so that they could fight the dacoits. The dacoits are gone now but these guns are still active. As per an article of 2013 in Telegraph India, Bhind had 29,800 licensed guns, while Morena had 27,626 guns, and there was no count on the illegal arms. If you visit this region, you will frequently see people carrying arms at their will.
Various articles and blogs have eulogized the dacoits and risks involved however these are all the talks of the past. In my opinion, there is no risk or threat visiting this area, however, just for your safety, finish the business before the sunset and keep yourself to your business. At present, the region is recovering from its dreaded past and is all ready to welcome a visitor. But, of course, you, being a visitor, should not be extra adventurous and inquisitive in your approach.
Much written on the infamous past of the region, now I should return back to the main theme of this article, that is the architectural marvels of Batesar. Though Padhawali village has many other monuments of interest, this article is only dedicated to the Batesar temple complex.
The earliest reference, available to me, comes from the reports of Sir Alexander Cunningham. He visited this region in 1882-82 and mentioned this temple complex including various other monuments in its vicinity. Only very few temples were standing during his time. Among those were the Bhuteshvara temple, large Vishnu temple and few other smaller temples. The next available reference comes almost a century later, in 1987, when Dr. Rahman Ali worked upon the Pratihara art in India.
Soon after, in 1990, R D Trivedi discussed these temples in his monumental work on the Pratihara temples of Central India. After this, the temples found stray references in research works however no dedicated study was attempted. This status quo is still maintained, and the site is awaiting its due attention.
Batesar Temple Complex – This temple complex has not yet found the place it deserves in the research books and journals. One of the main reason of it could be the dilapidated conditions of these temples few years back. Another reason would be its remote location, as this site is little cut off from the popular tourist circuits. Not only its location was remote, but this region was also infested with dacoits keeping visitors and scholars at the bay. However, all these problems have been rectified now. There are no dacoits, the location is still remote but connected with main towns via good roads and the best part is that the temples have been reconstructed into their former glory. For all these improvements, the major credit goes to ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and its officers.
K K Muhammed, acting as the Superintendent Archaeologist of Gwalior division, came to know about the plight of these temples. During those days, this area was under the command of the dacoits and their leader was Nirbhay Singh Gujjar who used to run a parallel government. K K Muhammed, determined to restore the old glory of Batesar, was able to convince the famous dacoit that these temples were constructed by his ancestors and therefore he should support the restoration activities. Gujjar got convinced of his ancestry, however being skeptical, he asked Muhammed to restore first four temples and a gateway.
With this arrangement, the dacoits provided protection to the ASI workers and also helped them in their restoration activities. Muhammed started working on his pet project and with passing time multitude of temples started springing up. Though his initial task was to restore four temples, he completed six in a row. Meanwhile, as the Indian government was pursuing the Chambal dacoits, Nirbhay Singh Gujjar was shot dead in 2005. This provided much relief to the inhabitants of the region and the restoration workers as well.
ASI continued their restoration work only to face a bigger problem lying ahead. After the fear of the dacoits was vanished, the sand mafia became active in this region. This mafia was more ferocious and strong than the dacoits. Due to presence of many sand mines in vicinity of the Batesar complex, the mining activities started taking its toll on the restored temples and work.
K K Muhammed, after not getting help from the government authorities to stop mining in that area, tuned to the RSS chief, K S Sudarshan. With involvement of Sudarshan, the government agencies came into action resulting in temporary half in the mining activities. This provide relief to the restoration work and it could continue on its pace.
As per a rough estimate by ASI, this complex has about two hundred temples, eighty of which are still waiting for their restoration. However, after the monumental efforts of ASI and Muhammed in particular, the Batesar temple complex has regained its lost glory. With its two hundred temples, Batesar can easily be termed as the largest temple group in India.
Majority of the temples in this complex fall under the category of pancha-ratha style, with five vertical offsets on each side. The earlier temples are without roof or mandapikas, while the later are with shikhara (tower).
As all the temples display the same style and arrangement, therefore we need not discuss each and every temple. Below are provided few salient features found in various temples of the complex.
On the walls of vimana are found Parvati in panchagni tapa mudra is present on south, Kartikeya or Surya on the west and Ganesha on the north. Ashta-dikpalas are found on the karna (corner) niches.
On the door lintel are found Nava-grhas (nine planets), Dashavatara (ten incarnations) and Sapta-matrikas (seven mothers). On some lintel, all three groups are found and on some lintels, either two or only one group is found.
A common feature on door lintels is the presence of Garuda on lalata-bimba. he is either depicted holding the tails of serpents forming one of the shakha (segment) of the doorway or carrying Vishnu. In his former depiction, Garuda is the controller of the serpent instead of a Vaishnava symbol therefore his presence does not result in Vaishnava character of the edifice.
The temple doorways are either carved with four or five shakhas (segments). Ganga and Yamuna are present at the doorjambs riding their respective mounts, makara and tortoise respectively. They are sometimes accompanied with dvarpalas (guardians) but always with an umbrella bearer.
Many of these temples depict a figure of Lakulisa holding a danda (rod). This suggests the influence of the Lakulisa sect in this region during the eight-ninth century CE. With more than two hundred temples, this complex would have been a major center of Lakulisa sect. However presence of few Vishnu temples suggests that worship of god other than Shiva was also allowed and prevalent.
Bhuteshvara Temple – This temple, also known as Bhutnath Temple, is the main and the biggest temple of this complex. This is the only live temple where locals come to worship the god. This temple is a group of eleven temples, one main temple and ten subsidiary shrines. Not all the subsidiary shrines are contemporary of the main temple.
The main temple faces east and originally consisted of a garbha-grha (sanctum sanctorum) and antarala (vestibule). A mandapa (pillared hall) in front of the temple was constructed at some later time. Another later addition is the roofed pradakshina-patha (circumambulation path) around the temple. Various subsidiary shrines are approachable through this roofed pradakshina-path.
The temple is a pancharatha (five rathas) temple. The niches on karna (corner vertical offset) allow arrangement for the ashta-dikpalas (Indra, Agni, Yama, Nrrtti, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera and Ishana) placed facing their respective directions. All the dikpalas are depicted with four hands and with their respective mounts.
The three bhadra (central) niches on the three sides of the vimana house four-armed Parvati seated among panch-agni (five fires) accompanied with a lion and a deer in the north niche, Kartikeya shown with three plaits (tri-sikha) seated over a peacock in the west niche and eight-armed dancing Ganesha in the south niche. Kapili niches on the south has four-armed Brahma while the northern niche has four-armed Vishnu.
The shikhara (tower) of the temple is a five story structure, its stories are divided with compressed amalakas. A large amalaka is placed at the top. The upper members above this amalaka are missing. In front of this shikhara, a suka-nasika is provided. This suka-nasika is of three tiers. On the lowermost tier, in a niche in the front, is shown Lakulisa with a danda (rod) in his left hand. Niche on the middle tier is empty. The uppermost tier niche is also empty however is it enclosed within a chaitya window (dormer window).
The temple doorway displays various ornamentation characteristics of the Pratihara workmanship. The doorway is constructed in the pancha-shakha (five segments) style, these are patra-sakha (leaf segment), naga-sakha (snake segment), mithuna-sakha (couples segment), stambha-sakha (pillar segment) and bahya-sakha (foliage segment). The udumbara (door-sill) has couchant lions at the terminals.
At the door jambs are found river goddesses, Ganga on a makara and Yamuna on a tortoise, on either sides. They are accompanied with dvarpalas (guardians). Above the chhatra (umbrella) on Ganga, a figure of bull is present while that on the Yamuna’s, a trident is evident. These features are associated to the Shaiva character of this temple. Garuda is present on the lalata-bimba (center of the door lintel), he is shown holding the tails of the serpents emerging out on either sides and filling up the naga-sakha of the doorway.
Presence of Garuda made Cunningham think that this temple was dedicated to Vishnu and as it had a shivalinga inside therefore it was not the original place of the temple. However, this is not the case as presence of Garuda in no manner suggest the main deity to be Vishnu. Garuda is only present to hold the tails of the serpent in the manner of controlling them. Garuda is also present on many other temples at site and many of these temples are evidently dedicated to Shiva.
R D Trivedi assigns this temple to the late eighth century CE. He also dates the complex to late eighth century CE to ninth century CE. This dating is based upon style and architecture among the Pratihara temples strewn across this region. An epigraph record at this place also supports this dating of Trivedi.
How to Reach – Batesar temple complex is tagged in Google maps (search for Padhavali). It is about 35 KM from Gwalior, 15 Km from Nurabad, 17 Km from Banmor. Please do not get confused with Bateshwar near Agra on the banks of Yamuna as our Batesar is in Morena district. If you are coming from Delhi or Agra towards Gwalior, you need to take a left turn on reaching Nurabad or Banmore town. This road will lead you directly to Batesar. Use google maps and take directions on a printed paper for better navigation.
In case you want to stay, Gwalior of Agra are the best options as these cities are well connected to other Indian metropolises. You can also stay in MP tourism hotels at Morena or Bhind.
- Ali, Rahman (1987). Pratihara Art in India. Agam Kala Prakashan. New Delhi.
- Cunningham, Alexander (1885). Report of a Tour in Eastern Rajputana in 1882-83. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Trivedi, R D (1990). Temples of the Pratihara Period in Central India. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.
- Nirdesh Singh on Batesar on Ghumakkar.com, retrieved on March 13, 2016
- ASI Temple Survey Project in Bhopal Circle, retrieved on March 13, 2016
- Man of Monuments (K K Muhammed) in The Hindu, retrieved on March 13, 2016
- The Curse of Chambal, retrieved on March 13, 2016
- Rebirth of a Forgotten Temple Complex on Youtube, retrieved on March 13, 2016