Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Monday, Jun 30, 2008

Metro Plus Delhi

Jai, Jai Shivshankar
Even as the ASI begins work on the landmark Bhojeshwar temple in Madhya Pradesh,
 Sheila Kumar pays tribute to an unfinished dream
Massive edifice The square shell of the temple; a 
worked jharoka on the outer wall

When I read about the ASI starting renovation work on the Bhojeshwar Shiva
 temple  in Madhya Pradesh, I couldn’t help but recall a visit to the magnificent
 shrine some years ago. Going down memory lane in this particular case was
easy; once you set eyes on this shrine, you will never forget it.

Flashback time. I’m in a car heading north of MP’s capital city Bhopal. It takes
a lot to beat the roads of central India when it comes to potholes, craters, and a
 stark absence of avenue trees lining the roads — something, anything to break
the monotony of the dull landscape. The road north was no different. And it didn’t
 help that we were on the fading cusp of late summer-early autumn, with a
relentlessly cruel sun shining down on us.

When our driver suggested a slight detour en route to take in the Bhojeshwar
 temple, the suggestion was well received; any break was a welcome break.
Turning down a kutcha dusty lane, we drove a while before coming to stop before
 something large, something unapologetically austere yet something that transfixed
the eye.

Lo and behold, the Bhojeshwar temple. The shell of the temple is made up of
solid walls of red stone, shooting up to the sky. Inside rests the largest lingam
 in the country, perhaps the world.

Raja Bhoj (1010-1053), wise ruler, visionary, patron of the arts, a budding
 architect himself, built pretty much of Bhopal and this temple, too, is his legacy.
 Built in 1050 AD, this stark yet stunning shrine basically comprises a carved
 dome resting on four massive pillars.

Intricately carved
The pillars, each of them 32 feet high, are richly carved with graceful figurines.
 But here’s the thing. You enter the sanctum sanctorum and find it open to the
 elements. Because, for reasons lost in the maze of history, this temple
remains incomplete. Speculation has pegged the incomplete pantheon to
war, shortage of funds, natural calamities and the like.

Inside the temple, the lingam dominates. All of 18 feet in circumference and
 about eight feet high, the polished stone stands in the centre of the edifice.
Set on a massive platform and made up of three superimposed limestone
blocks, it is truly magnificent, quite the acme of 11th century architecture.
 Strangely enough, it faces west rather than the circumscribed east.

A stone’s throw away stands a Jain shrine with a 20-feet statue of Mahavir
— they sure believed in things larger than life in these parts! For years, a
 bigmela used to be held at the Bhojeshwar temple on Shivratri.

Everywhere in the vicinity of the temple, there lie signs of the unfinished
dream. Pillars, brackets, columns are to be found some distance away
 from the temple. There is even a floor plan of the shrine, etched onto
 flat rock! A ramp had already been constructed along one temple wall
to carry the massive stones to the top of the building.

A small distance away is the dry flatbed of what used to be a cyclopean
 dam on a vast lake spanning all of 700 sq km. Once upon a time, the
 Bhojeshwar temple was surrounded by large bodies of water, fed by
 the Betwa River. Today, there is no dam, or water. The ASI has now
begun a restoration project at the site, aiming to give the temple a
roof, lay the grounds for a landscaped garden, all in all a general
 face lift, as it were. Somewhere in time, Raja Bhoj must be smiling.

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