Bhitargaon’s 1500-yr-old marvel in bricks | Lucknow News – Times of India

Bhitargaon's 1500-yr-old marvel in bricks | Lucknow News - Times of India

Bhatargaon, Kanpur: Hidden in the middle of a bustling town towards Hamirpur, 30 km from Kanpur city, in a cluster of thatched houses, criss-crossed by narrow lanes, lies the temple of Bhatargaon. A billboard at the gate mentions: ‘Gupta Period Temple’. A plaque was installed in the temple by the ASI Superintending Archaeologist, Lucknow CirclePeople say that the temple dates back to the 5th century and there are details of few architectural features.
Its location is difficult to find even in the age of Google Maps. As we turn the pages of history, we find that it was always like this. The temple has always been a hearth for seekers. The local residents have no idea and are not interested in the archaeological significance of the ancient structure as the temple has no deity.
Heavily renovated, this brick temple with a few terracotta carvings on the outer wall, a locked tomb and a shikara that collapsed 175 years ago is hardly a picture of happiness. No wonder it has few and far between visitors. An elderly caretaker posted here by the ASI has nothing. He sits on a bench on the lawn next to a visitors’ register that, even on a busy day, shows no more than a dozen names.
But that’s all there is to an untrained eye. For those in the know, it is a structure that has withstood the ravages of time, survived the “great idolatrous era” and survived “the greed of Mahmud or the prejudice of Alexander Lodi”.
An arduous journey and discovery
In 1875, Joseph David Begler, an Armenian-Indian engineer, archaeologist and photographer working in British India and reporting to the Archaeological Survey of India, visited Bhatargaon and found a temple that the locals believed that it was ancient. It was dilapidated and needed immediate preservation.
Begler, who was his assistant. Alexander CunninghamASI’s founder, returned to Calcutta and showed Cunningham his photographs. Who could not believe his eyes. Cunningham’s old friend and renowned Indian scholar, the linguist and historian Raja Siva Prasad had also written to him earlier about the same temple, noting that it contained “a superior type of terracotta sculpture”.
Despite his busy schedule and the rigors of long-distance travel these days, Cunningham, then 64, made the difficult journey – traveling by boat from Calcutta to Kanpur and then by horse-drawn carriage to this gentle village. . But in his own words, it was a good reason. In November 1877, Cunningham stood right in front of what he believed to be the oldest brick temple in all of India. He returned to the structure again in February 1878.
Ancient and scholarly appeal
Cunningham concluded that the temple, with typical features of Gupta architecture, was not older than the 7th or 8th century. “Give Bhatargaon Deol (as the local people referred to the temple at the time) is the only example of an ancient brick temple now standing and this style of building seems to have been widely practiced for many centuries…” he wrote. .
He concluded that the Bhatragoon temple must have been part of the ancient city of Phulpur. The local people of that time had no living memory of the prayer at the temple. Although he called the wall “ancient” and heard from his ancestors that its dome had been struck by lightning “2-4 years before the revolt of 1857”. From the terracotta figures on its outer wall, he concluded that it was a Vishnu temple.
Jean-Philippe Vogel, a Dutch Sanskritist and epigraphist who worked with the Archaeological Survey of India from 1901 to 1914, surveyed the temple in 1907 and placed it at least three centuries earlier than Cunningham estimated. He wrote that the decoration of the temple at Bhatraggaon is similar to that of the Nirvana temple at Kasia, which cannot be dated much later than the Gupta period. Based on its architecture, pilasters and other features, both JC Harle and Percy Brown place the temple around 450-460 AD.
Harley wrote, “The Davtra temple at Deogarh, the structure of which is largely speculative, and the Bhatargaon temple near Kanpur, the sole survivor of the innumerable brick temples raised in Madhya during the Gupta period, almost certainly had curved axils.”
According to him, the large size of the bricks – the original bricks still kept in the inner chamber of the renovated temple are too big for the present generation to see anything – “establishes the Gupta history of this temple. and 450 AD seems to be the latest”. Roughly, this would be the reign of Kumaragupta I (415-455 AD), who founded Nalanda University.
Protection and confusion
Ever since Cunningham discovered the temple, it has not stopped attracting scholars from all over the world. British archaeologist and art historian Albert Henry Longhurst visited it in 1909 and found the temple to be very dilapidated. After Cunningham’s report made a splash in British academic circles, the PWD began conservation of the temple in 1884-85 but was put on hold due to lack of funds.
After 1909, a second round of preservation was attempted. Since then, several attempts have been made to restore the temple. Although heavily restored, the upper half of the temple remains untouched, as do the terracotta figures on the outer wall, which are now in advanced stages of decay.
Since the temple has not seen a prayer in at least 170 years, there is a confusion about the king deity of the temple who was.
Historian Muhammad Zaheer In his 1980 book ‘The Temple of Bhatargaon’ relies on pictorial analysis to dispute Cunningham’s claim that it is a Vishnu temple. As Ganesha is present in Bhadra in the south, the temple may also be dedicated to Shiva, he said.
“Many Shiva themes are also found in the temple’s terracotta panels. Ganesha occupies a prominent place in the Bhadra niche to the south. Shiva as the Gajasura Samhara idol appears in one panel. Although the features of this panel have been largely eroded. , his outstretched hands are very clear on the panel holding the elephant. In another panel, Shiva is shown seated with Parvati, who may be playing a game of dice,” he wrote.
Zahir counted a total of 143 terracotta panels belonging to the temple: 128 panels in situ, 2 in the Indian Museum, Kolkata, 12 panels in the State Museum, Lucknow, and one panel photographed by Cunningham that is now unaccounted for. could walk
The Marvel in Bricks
There is no uniformity about what a temple can be. Speculation abounds though. At a distance of about 500 feet from Bhatargaon Deol, Cunningham discovered an old mound of ruins covered with bricks and broken statues, which the locals called the ‘Temple of the Jhjinag’. He found them to be as ancient as Deol and asserted that the temple at Bhatargaon could have been part of a larger temple complex that was then standing.
When this author visited the place in 2023, the local residents knew nothing about ‘Jhiniag’ and no trace of any ruins was found. Cunningham claimed that the pillars of the Behta temple, 5 km from Bhatraggaon, were lifted from here. Zaheer denied this on the basis of the architecture of the two temples.
According to historians, the pictorial details of the Bhatraggaon temple alone make it one of the most classical examples of magnificent temple art. In one panel, Krishna is shown slaying Varshabhasura and in another, he is shown subduing Kuvalayapada, the demon elephant.
In another panel, he is shown seated with his elder brother Balarama, the latter with a serpent’s hood over his head. There are images of Goddesses Ganga, Yamuna, Parvati sitting with Shiva playing dice and Durga slaying demons.
Lone Survivor
A question that has always puzzled historians is how the temple survived so many hardships: the ravages of time, the looting of the local people and the looting and raiding of the medieval period and the raids of invaders for a millennium and a half. For a long time.
“It seems strange how the temple of Bhatargaon with its numerous terracotta sculptures could have survived the iconoclastic fury of the Muhammadan conquerors,” Conygham said. He had an interesting theory. He believed that the temple had always been protected due to its remote location.
Cunningham wrote, “Elevated amidst a dense grove of trees, and sheltered from the winds of the Arand river, the temple is so completely hidden, that even on my second visit I failed to descry it until I came to one of the villages. was within miles.” 1880.
“Perhaps his escape was only due to his good fortune. In the great age of idolatry, when Cawnpore was unknown, and Lucknow a mere country town, the main lines of road ran several miles round Bhatragoon. Passed through.
He believed that the temple could have belonged to a “private individual of special eminence”. And its details were unknown to the people in the surrounding big cities. As a result, it escaped the eyes of the attackers. “Had it been a place of pilgrimage like Thanesar or Mathura, it would not have escaped Mahmud’s greed or Alexander Lodi’s prejudice,” Cunningham concluded.
Was it a private temple?
Historians also believe that the temple could have belonged to a “private individual of special eminence”. And its details were unknown to the people in the surrounding big cities.

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