Bhojeshwar Temple, Bhimbetka
About Bhojeshwar Temple
Funerary monument theory
The Bhojpur temple features several peculiar elements, including the omission of a mandapa connected to the garbhagriha (sanctum), and the rectilinear roof instead of the typical curvilinear shikhara (dome tower). Three of the temple's walls feature a plain exterior; there are some carvings on the entrance wall, but these are of the 12th century style. Based on these peculiarities, researcher Shri Krishna Deva proposed that the temple was a funerary monument. Deva's hypothesis was further corroborated by the discovery of a medieval architectural text by M. A. Dhaky. This fragmentary text describes the construction of memorial temples erected over the remains of a dead person, conceived of as vehicles for ascent to the heaven. Such temples were called svargarohana-prasada ("temple commemorating the ascent to the svarga or heaven"). The text explicitly states that in such temples, a roof of receding tiers should be used instead of the typical shikhara. Kirit Mankodi notes that the superstructure of the Bhojpur temple would have been in this exact form upon its competition. He speculates that Bhoja may have started the construction of this shrine for the peace of soul of his father Sindhuraja or of his uncle Munja, who suffered a humiliating death in enemy territory.
Abandonment of construction
It appears that the construction work stopped abruptly. The reasons are not known, but historians speculate that the abandonment may have been triggered by a sudden natural disaster, a lack of resources, or a war. Before its restoration during 2006–07, the building lacked a roof. Based on this, archaeologist KK Muhammed theorizes that the roof could have collapsed due to a mathematical error made while calculating the load; subsequently, circumstances might have prevented Bhoja from rebuilding it.The evidence from the abandoned site has helped the scholars understand the mechanics and organisation of 11th century temple construction. To the north and the east of the temple, there are several quarry sites, where unfinished architectural fragments in various stages of carving were found. Also present are the remains of a large sloping ramp erected for carrying the carved slabs from the quarries to the temple site. Several carvings brought to the temple site from the quarries had been left at the site. The ASI moved these carvings to a warehouse in the 20th century.Detailed architectural plans for the finished temple are engraved on the rocks in the surrounding quarries. These architectural plans indicate that the original intention was to build a massive temple complex with many more temples. The successful execution of these plans would have made Bhojpur one of the largest temple complexes in India. The marks of over 1,300 masons are engraved on the temple building, the quarry rocks and two other shrines in the village. This includes the names of 50 masons engraved on the various portions of the temple structure. Other marks are in the form of various symbols such as circle, crossed circle, wheel, trident, swastika, conch shell, and Nagari script characters. These marks were meant to identify the amount of work completed by individuals, families or guilds involved in the construction. The marks would have been erased while giving the finishing touches, had the temple been completed.
The temple lies on a platform 115 feet (35 m) long, 82 feet (25 m) wide and 13 feet (4.0 m) high. On the platform lies a sanctum containing a large lingam. The sanctum plan comprises a square; on the outside, each side measures 65 feet (20 m); on the inside, each measures 42.5 feet (13.0 m).The lingam is built using three superimposed limestone blocks. The lingam is 7.5 feet (2.3 m) high and 17.8 feet (5.4 m) in circumference. It is set on a square platform, whose sides measure 21.5 feet (6.6 m). The total height of the lingam, including the platform is over 40 feet (12 m).The doorway to the sanctum is 33 feet (10 m) high. The wall at the entrance features sculptures of apsaras, ganas (attendants of Shiva) and river goddesses.The temple walls are window-less and are made of large sandstone blocks. The pre-restoration walls did not have any cementing material. The northern, southern and eastern walls feature three balconies, which rest on massive brackets. These are faux balconies that are purely ornamental. They are not approachable from either inside or outside of the temple, because they are located high up on the walls, and have no openings on the interior walls. The northern wall features a makara-pranala, which provided a drainage outlet for the liquid used to bathe the lingam. Other than the sculptures on the front wall, this makara sculpture is the only carving on the external walls. 8 images of goddesses were originally placed high up on the four interior walls (two on each wall); only one of these images now remains. The four brackets supporting the cornerstones feature four different divine couples: Shiva-Parvati, Brahma-Shakti, Rama-Sita, and Vishnu-Lakshmi. A single couple appears on all the three faces of each bracket.While the superstructure remains incomplete, it is clear that the shikhara (dome tower) was not intended to be curvilinear. According to Kirit Mankodi, the shikhara was intended to be a low pyramid-shaped samvarana roof, usually featured in the mandapas. According to Adam Hardy, the shikhara probably intended to be of phamsana (rectilinear in outline) style, although it is of bhumija (Latina or curvilinear in outline) style in its detailing.The incomplete but richly carved dome is supported by four octagonal pillars, each 39.96 feet (12.18 m) high. Each pillar is aligned with 3 pilasters. These 4 pillars and 12 pilasters are similar to the navaranga-mandapas of some other medieval temples, in which 16 pillars were organized to make up 9 compartments.The remnants of a sloping ramp can be seen on the north-eastern corner of the building. The ramp is built of sandstone slabs, each measuring 39 x 20 x 16 inches. The slabs are covered with soil and sand. The ramp itself is 300 feet (91 m) long, and slopes upwards to a height of 40 feet (12 m). Originally, the ramp reached up to the temple wall, but currently, a gap exists between the two.