The town of Bhojpur is located in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh, situated about 30 km from Bhopal. Though it is a small town however being situated in the vicinity of Bhopal, it came under the notice of early travelers and historians. The first modern reference to the town was from John Malcolm in 1823. He mentions the legend of king Bhoj stating the king had vowed, to expiate the sacrifices made by his mother while his birth, to erect mounds to arrest the streams of nine rivers and ninety-nine rivulets. He discovered a suitable spot in his territory and decided to build a great mound between two hills, which arrested the current of nine rivers and ninety-eight lesser streams, thus he formed the whole into a great lake. Malcolm tells the town of Bhojpur was situated near the ruins of this mound and bears its former name. The remaining ninety-ninth stream was dammed by one minister of King Bhoj, whose name, Bhopal, was given to a village near the dam that forms the lake, on the bank of which the present city of Bhopal is situated.1 J D Cunningham in his account of 1847 mentions Bhojpur as the most southerly up the river Betwa than the other places in the Bhopal Agency. He tells the lake made by king Bhoj was sixteen or seventeen miles long and about seven or eight miles wide. Bhopal, the minister of king Bhoj, in order to bring the ninety-ninth stream to the lake made a rivulet that rises southwest of Bhopal to run south-easterly into the Betwa and thus into the lake. The lake continued to exist until it was destroyed by Sultan Hoshang Shah who lamented over the loss of so much good land. According to a common belief, three hundred and sixty villages now fill the bed of the lake of king Bhoj, and it is certain that the tract in question is one the most fertile in Bhopal. Cunningham opines that Malcolm mentions that King Bhoj built a city on the banks of his lake, however, it appears that he only erected a temple, the construction of which was started but never completed. Cunningham mentions two inscriptions, one on the pedestal of linga and another on the doorjamb, supposedly the work of some pilgrims.2
On the advice of Major Durand, Her Highness Nawab Sikandar Begum, the Nawab Begum of Bhopal, started writing a true history of the Chiefs of Bhopal up to her time. She undertook the task but was left incomplete due to her demise. Her daughter, Shah Jahan Begum of Bhopal, completed the work and got its English translation published in 1876. She mentions the pargana of Tal or Kaliakheri. The place came to be known as Tal because of a long broad and lofty dam of stone made by King Bhoj between the two hills. She describes the temple and provides a few dimensions. About the inscription, she tells it mentions that the foundations of the temple were laid in the 36th year of the Vikrama Era and the building was completed in the year 159 of the same era. Also, Maharaja Sri Sanabap Pach of the Matani family set up the image of the mighty Mahadeo.3 Kincaid in his account mentions the temple at Bhojpur was famous far and wide on account of its gigantic linga. He also mentions the existence of an earthen ramp that was made to roll up stones for the walls and roof. In spite of this temple surviving in a ruinous condition, the temple was under worship and thus its fame. Kincaid tells that he doubts if the inscriptions over the temple were ever interpreted properly. He further describes the lake and its destruction by Hoshang Shah as the latter wanted to utilize the bed of the lake, though traditions relate that he never personally benefitted from this act.4
As clear from the above, traditions credit the foundation of the Bhojpur town to the famous Paramara king Bhoja (1010-1055 CE). Bhoja was the most versatile ruler of the Paramara race, he was a great patron of arts, literature, and science. He is credited with authorship of various works in the fields of architecture, literature, music, and many other topics. The king constructed an artificial lake by building dams on the river Betwa and a temple on its bank in the town. The lake covered an area of approximately 30 km by 12 km. The low hills on its periphery served as its boundaries. It was constructed by first building a dam over river Betwa that allowed water to be collected in the depression surrounded by the hills. Then a second dam was constructed in the gap between the two hills. A third dam was constructed to divert a small river Kaliasot into the lake. This lake was dismantled by Sultan Hoshang Shah who breached two dams and emptied the lake. An image of Jain Tirthankara enshrined in a Jain Temple at Bhojpur carries an inscription that mentions king Bhoja.5
Muni Kantio Sagar, whose book on Bhojpur was published in 1954, mentions after ascending the platform of the temple, there is nothing much that can impart a feeling of awe to a visitor. The kind of impression one might have formed after hearing the praises for the place and its temple might be very different from what one sees on the site, and the main reason for this would be the modern structures of sati-pillars and chhatris over memorial samadhis raised in front the temple. After comparing the temple to that of Somnath, Sagar names it the Somnath of North India. Like the temple at Somnath is surrounded by an ocean and the continuous sound of waves can be heard, a similar role is placed by the waters of Betwa in the case of the Bhojpur temple.6
Shiva Temple – This intriguing and majestic temple was never completed and the construction was abandoned for some unknown reasons. Adam Hardy explains this extraordinarily ambitious architectural endeavor of the great Paramara king Bhoja (1010-1055 CE), if had been completed, would have been the biggest Hindu temple in the world, with its total height reaching over 100 meters. The temple as it stands today is a massive piece of masonry, a 19-meter square garbha-grha placed over a jagati (platform) measuring 35 meters long, 25 feet wide, and 4 meters high. The temple faces west. The walls of the garbha-grha are constructed using plain stone blocks. The monotony of these walls is broken by false balconies on the north, east, and south. All these balconies are false, there has been no opening provided on the walls and the balcony is constructed using four free-standing pillars supported over brackets. No access has been provided to reach these balconies. A makara spout on the north wall is provided as a water outlet. On the west, the massive main doorway rises 10-meters high. On the doorjambs are sculptures of the river goddesses and dvarapalas. Four 12-meters high pillars divide the garbha-grha into three bays, the central being the largest. The central bay has a massive shiva linga, each side of its pitha measuring over 20 feet and a total height of about 26 feet. The ceiling of the central bay was partially finished and probably it was planned to be covered with a corbelled ceiling. Provisions for images high up on the walls were made for two images on each side, presently only one image remains.
The ceiling is exquisitely carved in contrast to the plain exterior of the temple. The rings of the corbelled ceiling have various pattern designs. The eight brackets placed around the periphery have images of bharavahakas (weight bearers). The brackets supporting the cornerstones have images of multiple deities, Shiva-Parvati, Vishnu-Lakshmi, Rama-Sita, and Brahma-Brahmani. All three faces of the brackets carry the same divine couple. K K Muhammed7 narrates his visit to the temple during a rainy day and the whole of the inner garbha-grha was filled with water and there was no arrangement to drain out the water. He set up a team to study conservation aspects and processes to carry out a ceiling over the temple that would stop water logging and further damage to foundations. As the weight of the ceiling was the biggest challenge and a stone ceiling was out of the question, the ASI team worked out a fiberglass ceiling that was less in weight and fitted to the purpose. Pandey mentions another instance of a conservation challenge that happened in 1978-79 when one stone sill of the lintel got a crack and one part was bulged down. As the whole temple is built without any mortar and all the construction is resting over the inter-balance of different components, therefore this crack and bulge down would have caused the whole roof to fall down. The Archaeological Survey of India applied two jacks to get the two parts of the sill at the same level, inserted a steel plate in the crack, and fixed the same with nuts and bolts on both sides. Then they applied epoxy over the same in the same color as that of stone to hide the whole fixture.8
As the temple has not been finished therefore its original plan, conception, and purpose are a matter of conjecture. Deshpande9 opines this temple provides a visual demonstration of the various phases of temple construction. It appears that king Bhoja, who is also credited with the authorship of an architectural treatise Samaranganasutradhara, arranged with the help of the chief architect to outline different measures of temple construction and in the process, arranged for the training of craftsmen in the various aspects of temple construction. The three most significant aspects outlined by Deshpande were, 1) the existence of the masonry ramp over which stones were carried for being placed over the superstructure of the temple, 2) the existence of quarries where stones for the temple were quarried from within the vicinity of this temple as well as the presence of finished and semi-finished architectural members within those quarries and other places near the temple, and 3) the line drawings of pillars and other members engraved on the rock-floor. The rocks where these line drawings were found were fenced off during the tenure of Deshpande when he served as the Director General of Archaeology of the Madhya Pradesh Government. Deshpande concludes that here probably Bhoja had set up his school of training for temple craftsmen. And it is likely that his work was discontinued after the death of Bhoja and the temple construction came to a sudden halt.
Dr. Kirit Mankodi10 tells that though king Bhoja has been praised in various inscriptions for temple construction activities as well as many temples and establishments have been attributed to him in various epigraphs, however, no surviving monument of his definitive authorship has come down to us except the Shiva Temple at Bhojpur that can definitely be attributed to Bhoja. He says it is really unfortunate that the temple however an estimate of the vast labor force employed on this gigantic monument can be formed from the one thousand three hundred masons’ marks and names engraved all over the building and at the quarries. As per the scholar, the one final reason this temple holds our attention is the possibility that the temple was not a temple in the usual sense of the word, but rather a funerary monument. Krishna Deva was the first to suggest that the temple may be a memorial shrine. Later, M A Dhaky discovered an architectural text which described memorial temples erected over the remains of the dead and called svargarohanaprasada stating a regular shikhara should be avoided and replaced with a samvarana roof. Mankodi explains the peculiar form of this temple bereft of a mandapa and the garbha-grha carrying a samvarana roof made of receding tiers suggests that king Bhoja may have built this temple for his father Sindhuraja or for his uncle Munja. An argument against this theory may be that there is no mention of such a temple in the architectural treatise of Bhoja, Samaranganasutradhara. In case king Bhoja indeed constructed this temple as a memorial shrine, there must be a mention of such a temple design in his work, where he mentioned sixty-four temple types prevalent during his time.
A detailed study of the line drawings was taken up by Dr. Adam Hardy11 and his team. Bhumija temple style was favored by the Paramara kings as evident from various temples of that design built during their timeframe. Dr. Hardy opines the temple as it stands is not obviously Bhumija, but its detailing in the form of architectural drawings left in situ shows it to be the creation of those craftsmen who specialize in Bhumija temples. The Samaranganasutradhara, an architectural treatise attributed to King Bhoja, describes all the sixty-four temple forms prevalent during that time including that of Bhumija. More than twenty significant drawings had been etched over the rocks by the temple architects and sthapatis for the practical purpose of design, quarrying, and construction. The team of Dr. Hardy studied five such drawings that were relevant to the Bhumija design. He concludes the temple as it stands today is in fact the garbha-grha with an ambulatory path of the original structure. As per the original plan, the temple was designed as a sarvatobhadra temple with four entrances leading into the garbha-grha. An ambulatory path puts this temple in sandhara category and Hardy says even if we do not have any existing sandhara Bhumija temple, from the style of everything remaining at Bhojpur, that can only imply a Bhumija temple. In his architectural reconstruction of this temple, he defines it as a sapta-ratha (seven projections) temple with a seven bhumi (stories) shikhara (tower). And with the different elements, a pitha, vedibandha (adhisthana), keeping the jangha as low as possible, shikhara with seven bhumis, included in the elevation drawing, it would be difficult to arrive at a convincing elevation of lesser than 100 meters, and this puts the temple under the loftiest monument the world over.
With the reconstruction design of the temple from Adam Hardy, it is clear that Bhoja planned for a Bhumija temple and not a funerary temple. Then, what reasons there could be behind the sudden stop of the construction? The first possible reason could be a shortage of funds due to political instability. It is certain that the Paramara royal house suffered political turmoil after the death of Bhoja, and the house was reinstated by Udayaditya (1070-1093 CE), the brother of Bhoja. In about 1080 CE, Udayaditya consecrated the Udayeshvara Temple and this means the Paramara house did not have a fund shortage. Why Udayaditya did not finish his brother’s monumental project but rather started his own, though his project was also monumental in nature. It appears that the overall design, size, and style of the temple were impractical during that age. The biggest challenge would have been to raise a shikhara over the garbha-grha as going by the original design, the shikhara would have collapsed by its sheer weight. And this impracticality probably did not allow Udayasitya to restart work at the site and he instead started his own project elsewhere.
- Bhojpur Fragmentary Inscription of the time of Bhoja I12 – This inscription is engraved on the pedestal of a colossal image of a Jain Tirthankara in the old Jain temple at Bhojpur. It contains two lines written in Sanskrit and engraved in Nagari characters. The inscription is not dated, however, it mentions king Bhoja who can be identified by the Paramara king Bhoja I (1010-1055 CE). The first line of the inscription eulogies Chandrarddha-mauli (i.e. god Shiva) and Bhoja who is called [rajadhi]raja and Parameshvara. The second line mentions that the image was installed by a person named Sagarnandin and the installation ceremony was performed by the learned Jain monk Nemichandra.
1 Malcolm, John (1823). A memoir of Central India, including Malwa, and adjoining provinces. Kingsbury, Parbury & Allen. London. p. 25
2 Cunningham, J D (1847). Notes on the Antiquities of the District within the Bhopal Agency published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. XVI, pp. 739-744
3 Barstow, H C (1876). The Taj-ul Ikbal Tarikh Bhopal. Thacker, Spring and Co. Calcutta. pp. 206-07
4 Kincaid, W (1888). Rambles among Ruins in Central India published in the Indian Antiquary vol. XVII. p. 350
5 Epigraphia Indica vol. XXXIV. p. 185
6 कांतिसागर, मुनि (1954). भोजपुर। सूचना विभाग। भोपाल। p. 4
7 Muhammed, K K (2022). An Indian I Am. Prabhat Prakashan. New Delhi. ISBN 9789355210807.
8 पाण्डे, बृज मोहन (1992). पुरातत्त्व प्रसंगः। स्वाति पब्लिकेशन | दिल्ली। pp. 12-13
9 Deshpande, M N (1983). The Siva Temple at Bhojpur: Application of Samaranganasutradhara published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay volumes 54-55. pp. 35-39
10 Mankodi, Kirit (1986). Scholar-emperor and a Funerary Temple Eleventh Century Bhojpur published in MARG, vol. XXXIX, No 2. pp. 61-72
11 Hardy, Adam (2014). Bhoja, Bhojpur and the Bhumija published in Willis, Michael; Rag, Pankaj; Misra, O. P. and Tichit, Doria (eds). Cities and Settlements, Temples and Tanks in the Medieval Landscapes of Central India. Directorate of Archaeology, Archives and Museums. Bhopal. pp. 35-50.
12 Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. VII, Part II. pp. 60-61
Acknowledgment: Some of the photos above are in CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain from the collection released by Tapesh Yadav Foundation for Indian Heritage.