Sculpt­ing tem­ple de­sign

Domus - - CONTENTS - Text and pho­tos by Sudha Gana­p­athi and Anu­radha Shankar

Be­lieved to have been con­structed some­time be­tween the 11th and 12th cen­turies CE by the then reign­ing Par­mar and Chauhan rulers, the tem­ples of Ki­radu are lo­cated re­motely, west of Barmer in Ra­jasthan. Known as the ‘Kha­ju­raho of Ra­jasthan’ by the lo­cals — and cur­rently in a state of ruin ow­ing to de­lib­er­ate de­struc­tion and the rav­ages of na­ture — they now stand mute tes­ti­mony to the pas­sage of time, to the rise and fall of dy­nas­ties and their for­tunes

About 35 kilo­me­tres west of Barmer in Ra­jasthan, where the Thar Desert meets some scat­tered out­crops of the Aravalli moun­tain range, lie the ru­ins of the tem­ples of Ki­radu. The tem­ples have re­mained rel­a­tively un­known due to their iso­lated lo­ca­tion, and it is dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that they were once on an im­por­tant trade and pil­grim route con­nect­ing Sindh with Ajmer and Delhi. [1] Though there are only five tem­ples ‘stand­ing’ to­day at Ki­radu, lo­cal leg­ends claim that there were orig­i­nally around 108 tem­ples there. Piles of bro­ken stones — some elab­o­rately carved and some plain — lie scat­tered across the tem­ple com­plex, point­ing to­wards the ex­is­tence of more tem­ples at Ki­radu in the past. A soli­tary watch­man is in charge of the tem­ples of Ki­radu, though he leaves at sun­set, thanks to a curse as­so­ci­ated with the place — any­one who stays overnight at the tem­ples would turn into stone. [2] The same leg­ends also con­sider Ki­radu, whose name is de­rived from the an­cient site of Ki­ratakupa, to be as­so­ci­ated with the Ki­ratas (a hunt­ing tribe) who are men­tioned in the Ma­hab­harata. [3] Not much is known about who built these tem­ples, but they are be­lieved to have been con­structed by the Par­mar and Chauhan rulers of the re­gion, both of whom were feuda­to­ries of the Chalukyas of Gu­jarat (also called Solanki Ra­jputs) be­tween the 11th and 12th cen­turies CE. [4] Of the five tem­ples at Ki­radu, four are ded­i­cated to Shiva and one to Vishnu. The best pre­served tem­ple — also the big­gest and the most in­tri­cately carved — is the Somesh­wara tem­ple, ded­i­cated to Lord Shiva. Ac­cord­ing to an in­scrip­tion found there, this tem­ple is named af­ter Somesh­wara, a Par­mar king who ruled Ki­radu around 1161 CE. [5] The other three Shiva tem­ples are smaller, sin­gle­roomed struc­tures and ap­pear to have been built at a later date.

Ar­chi­tec­ture and Iconog­ra­phy

Ar­chi­tec­turally, these tem­ples mark the be­gin­ning of the Maru-Gur­jara style of ar­chi­tec­ture, a fu­sion of the ear­lier styles preva­lent in the desert state of Ra­jasthan (called Marusthala or Marudesh), and Gu­jarat (Gur­jara). [6] Though

none of the tem­ples have any idols in the garb­ha­griha, we know which de­ity was wor­shipped in each tem­ple from the lin­tels and, in the case of the Somesh­wara tem­ple, also from the afore­men­tioned in­scrip­tion. The lin­tels of all the Shiva tem­ples at Ki­radu have two lev­els of carv­ing. At the Somesh­wara tem­ple, the lin­tel has a va­ri­ety of images that in­cludes Brahma, Vishnu, Gane­sha, Kar­tikeya, and mul­ti­ple forms of Shiva, in­di­cat­ing that the sanc­tum would have once housed a Shiva Lingam. The cen­tral im­age on the up­per level of the lin­tel is that of Har­iHara-Pi­ta­maha-Surya, a com­pos­ite fig­ure that com­bines the as­pects of Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Surya. The door­frames are in­tri­cately carved with three deities on ei­ther side which in­clude Gane­sha and five Ma­trikas, among whom, Varahi, Ain­dri and Chamundi are recog­nis­able. The three smaller Shiva tem­ples have with images of Gane­sha and Ku­bera,

along with Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, five Ma­trikas, and the Nav­a­gra­has on the lin­tel. Here too, the five Ma­trikas ap­pear on the door­frames along with Gane­sha. The two big­gest tem­ples — the Somesh­wara tem­ple and the Vishnu tem­ple — have oc­tag­o­nal man­da­pas. At the Somesh­wara tem­ple, the lower halves of the pil­lars are square and bare of sculp­tures, with only a hint here and there of the in­tri­cate carv­ings they might have once borne. The up­per halves, how­ever, bear a wealth of fig­ures — dif­fer­ent forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, alone as well as with their con­sorts; the Ma­trikas (Mother God­desses); the Dik­palas (guardians of the di­rec­tions); sages, and a rare de­pic­tion of a Pan­cha Gane­sha. [7]. Re­li­gious as well as sec­u­lar scenes of mu­sic, dance, com­bat prac­tice, and war, have been de­picted on the tem­ple walls. The pil­lars at the Vishnu tem­ple, on the other hand, are oc­tag­o­nal in shape and would have sup­ported the roof. The oc­tag­o­nal man­dapa may have been a nritya man­dapa or a hall for dance and mu­sic per­for­mances. The pil­lars are pro­fusely carved with fig­ures of danc­ing women, prob­a­bly Ap­saras (ce­les­tial women) at the lower level, while the Ma­trikas, Dik­palas, and dif­fer­ent forms of the gods are carved above them. Vidyad­ha­ras or heav­enly be­ings, and then a row of Kiri­ta­mukhas

are right on top. Above the pil­lars are Makaras from which emerge dec­o­ra­tive arches or toranas. Sadly, only two such arches re­main, while noth­ing re­mains of the roof or the shikhara or the walls of the tem­ple. It is very in­ter­est­ing to note the man­ner in which deities are de­picted in the tem­ples of Ki­radu. The Dik­palas are large in size and eas­ily vis­i­ble on the outer walls of the tem­ples, and also on the pil­lars and higher niches of the spires. The Ma­trikas are smaller in size, but are de­picted in greater de­tail. One can also see the gods with their con­sorts on the pil­lars and in the niches. In ad­di­tion, there are a num­ber of com­pos­ite images, such as the Hari-HaraPi­ta­maha-Surya men­tioned ear­lier. In com­par­i­son to the afore­men­tioned Dik­palas and Ma­trikas, there are rel­a­tively fewer de­pic­tions of the var­i­ous forms of Shiva and Vishnu. Only two outer niches re­main at the Vishnu tem­ple. One niche has Vishnu in a med­i­ta­tive pos­ture, and the sec­ond has Vishnu on Garuda flanked, rather un­usu­ally, by two ele­phants. The Somesh­wara tem­ple has only two sculp­tures of Vishnu or rather two of his avatars — Va­mana, the dwarf, and an­other, which ap­pears to be Bud­dha. None of the other avatars of Vishnu can be seen and it is not clear if they were ever carved or were de­stroyed. Per­haps the most fas­ci­nat­ing sculp­tures at the Ki­radu Tem­ple Com­plex are the ones de­pict­ing sec­u­lar, non-re­li­gious themes. Bat­tle scenes with ele­phants, horses and char­i­ots; a warrior or some­times a bird emerg­ing from the mouth of amakara; a row of fig­ures fol­low­ing the curve of a pil­lar; Ap­saras on a pil­lar, each with a dif­fer­ent hair­style; an Ap­sara wear­ing a block-printed up­per gar­ment.

The Kha­ju­raho of Ra­jasthan

Lo­cals re­fer to the Ki­radu Tem­ples as the Kha­ju­raho of Ra­jasthan. They are not far off the mark for the style and type of sculp­tures at Ki­radu, as well as the tem­ples them­selves, at first glance, are quite sim­i­lar to the ones at Kha­ju­raho. The or­der­ing and place­ment of sculp­tures, too, are al­most the same with Vyalas (myth­i­cal crea­tures) and Ap­saras ap­pear­ing be­tween the Dik­palas and other deities. The dif­fer­ences lie in the ac­tual deities placed in the var­i­ous niches, and the or­der of

deities in the lin­tels at Ki­radu, which are prob­a­bly more spe­cific to the cults who were wor­shipped there. The more ap­par­ent dif­fer­ence be­tween the tem­ples of Ki­radu and Kha­ju­raho is in their state of preser­va­tion. The tem­ples of Ki­radu are in ru­ins due to the both de­lib­er­ate de­struc­tion caused by in­vad­ing armies and the rav­ages of time and na­ture. [8] The de­struc­tion wreaked upon these tem­ples also hints at how im­por­tant the place must have been, both so­cially and po­lit­i­cally. Very few sculp­tures are fully in­tact; the mu­ti­lated limbs and breasts of the sculp­tures, the dis­fig­ured faces and the empty garbha gri­has are tes­ti­mony to this de­struc­tion. Na­ture, too, has played its part in the pre­sent con­di­tion of the tem­ples. The tem­ples of Ki­radu are lo­cated in a val­ley sur­rounded by hills and sand and rain­wa­ter com­ing down the slopes have con­trib­uted to the dam­age as well. Lo­cals spoke about flash floods and seis­mic ac­tiv­ity in the re­gion, which could have caused struc­tural dam­age to the tem­ples and brought many of them down.


In spite of the iso­la­tion and the des­o­la­tion that cur­rently en­velops the Ki­radu Tem­ples, it is not too dif­fi­cult to imag­ine what it would have been like in its hey­day. The tem­ples would not have been just a re­li­gious site; it would have been a so­cial place for peo­ple to get to­gether. There would have been markets, fairs and pu­jas, and peo­ple from nearby vil­lages would have gath­ered to par­tic­i­pate, and then par­take in the prasad or the bhog that fol­lowed. Itin­er­ant mu­si­cians and danc­ing troupes would have per­formed and en­ter­tained the peo­ple. Maybe on spe­cial days or on fes­ti­vals dance or mu­sic per­for­manceswould have been held at the nritya man­dapa of the Vishnu Tem­ple with the King him­self com­ing to wit­ness them along with his fam­ily and ret­inue of min­is­ters, mu­si­cians and dancers who were in­vited to per­form. These tem­ples have been wit­ness to so much — the con­struc­tion, con­se­cra­tion, the worship, the per­for­mances, the de­struc­tion, the ne­glect… The tem­ples stand mute tes­ti­mony to the pas­sage of time, to the rise and fall of dy­nas­ties and their for­tunes. If the lo­cals are to be be­lieved, Ki­radu is doomed for­ever due to the curse it has been be­stowed with; doomed to be ne­glected and for­got­ten.But per­haps all is not lost — the ASI has taken up the restora­tion of the five tem­ples. The Barmer Chap­ter of INTACH is also tak­ing a keen in­ter­est. The site will per­haps have a new set of devo­tees — the tourists and trav­ellers — bring­ing a ray of hope to the fate and fu­ture of the tem­ples of Ki­radu. 1] Ur­vashi Sri­vas­tava (2007); ‘The An­cient City of Ki­ratkoop: Lost in the Sands of Time’, Ar­chi­tec­ture plus De­sign, A Jour­nal of In­dian Ar­chi­tec­ture, March 2018. Cited from https:// in­di­a­her­itage­­cientc­ity-of-ki­ratkoop-lost-in-the-sands-of-time/ (Ac­cessed July 7 2018)

[2] As with every tem­ple, there are many leg­ends, and mul­ti­ple ver­sions of each, as­so­ci­ated with Ki­radu. The most com­monly ac­cepted ver­sion re­lates to the dis­ci­ple of a sage (in some ver­sions, Gane­sha in dis­guise), ar­riv­ing at Ki­radu vil­lage. He is ig­nored by most peo­ple, and is forced to go hun­gry. Even­tu­ally, a pot­ter’s wife takes pity on him and feeds him with what lit­tle she has. The sage (in case of the Gane­sha ver­sion, this is Lord Shiva him­self) ar­rives, and is fu­ri­ous to see the state his dis­ci­ple is in. He curses the en­tire vil­lage to ruin, but spares the pot­ter’s wife and asks her to leave the vil­lage with­out look­ing be­hind. How­ever, at the vil­lage bor­ders, she is con­sumed by cu­rios­ity and turns back, only to be turned into stone. Vil­lagers con­sider a hero stone, with a woman’s fig­ure on it, lo­cated at the edge of the vil­lage, as proof of this story.

[3] Progress Re­port of the ASI Western Cir­cle, 1907. https://ar­­tails/­net dli.2015.70435?q=Ki­radu (Ac­cessed July 7 2018)

[4] Ashoke Ku­mar Ma­jum­dar (1956); Chaulukyas of Gu­jarat: A Sur­vey of the His­tory and Cul­ture of Gu­jarat from the Mid­dle of the Tenth to the End of the Thir­teenth Cen­tury; Bharatiya Vidya Bha­van. [5] Ibid.

[6]Michael W Meis­ter(1985); Sym­bol and Sur­face: Ma­sonic and Pil­lared Wal­lStruc­tures in North In­dia; Art­ibusAsiae, vol. 46, no. 1/2, pp. 129–148.

[7] Y. Kr­is­han (1992); A New In­ter­pre­ta­tion of ‘Pañca-Ganeśa’ Sculp­tures.’ Art­ibusAsiae, vol. 52, no. 1/2, pp. 47–53.

[8] Ashoke Ku­mar Ma­jum­dar (1956).

This page, top: One of the smaller Shiva tem­ples; right: re­mants of the sculp­tures lie scat­tered all over at Ki­radu Op­po­site page, top-left: the Somesh­wara Tem­ple is the best pre­served one among all the tem­ples at Ki­radu; top-right: the Hari-Hara-Pi­ta­maha-Surya, a com­pos­ite de­ity with fea­tures and at­tributes of Hari (Vishnu: mace and dis­cus), Hara (Shiva: weapons), Pi­ta­maha (Brahma: lamp and man­u­script) and Surya (lo­tuses in two hands); bot­tom: the in­tri­cately carved lin­tel and door­frame from one of the smaller Shiva Tem­ples

This page, top: the dif­fer­ent tiers of carv­ings on the pil­lars of man­dapa of the Vishnu Tem­ple; bot­tom: a rare de­pic­tion of Pan­cha Gane­sha. The cen­tral fig­ure is four-armed, while the other four are two-armed Op­po­site page, top:the Vishnu Tem­ple with the oc­tag­o­nal nritya man­dapa; bot­tom: a sculp­ture of Brahma and Brah­mini

This page, top: Two war­riors fir­ing ar­rows at one an­other. Ar­juna and Karna from the Ma­hab­harata, per­haps? Op­po­site page, top: a close-up of per­haps the nritya man­dapa with elab­o­rately carved toranas and pil­lars. One of the pil­lars has been re­con­structed as part of the restora­tion work un­der­taken by the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey Of In­dia (ASI) at Ki­radu; bot­tom: the de­pic­tion of mu­sic is very in­trin­sic to most of the sculp­tures

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