New Delhi, July 2 (IANS): India has several ancient temples which are self-contained as well as vast complexes housing several of these places of worship. Among these, the Bateshwar temple complex of Madhya Pradesh located in Morena district stands out as it has more than 200 temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Goddess Shakti – representing the three main traditions of Hinduism.
Although the temples are generally small, they span over 25 acres and were built between the 9th and 11th centuries by the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty in a style of North Indian temples named after them. The complex was named after the Bhuteshvar temple – the largest temple dedicated to Lord Shiva on the site.
Explaining the significance of the complex and well-known archaeologist KK Muhammed, who retired as Regional Director, North of Archaeological Survey of India and spearheaded the restoration work of these temples, told India Narrative: ” This site has the largest number of temples which is 200 or even more if we count those around the complex.Apart from this, Aihole temple complex in Karnataka has 108 temples.As Bateshwar temples are dedicated to various denominations – Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, the goddess Shakti and also Hanumanji – makes it an important building site.”
Some of the interesting aspects of this complex include reliefs depicting Lord Shiva holding the hand of Goddess Parvati and those telling of the wedding of Shiva and Parvati with Lord Vishnu and Brahma attending; Nataraja on the Kritimukha or Face of Glory – the fierce monster with huge fangs and a gaping mouth which is considered the symbol of Lord Shiva; friezes with interesting stories from Bhagavata Purana; and carvings of women playing musical instruments and men battling lions and riding elephants, among others.
Between 2004 and 2012, the ASI team led by Muhammed started the restoration of these temples. Upon reaching the site, he and his team found it in ruins and crumbling.
Sharing his experience with India Narrative, Muhammed said: “It was like a puzzle on a gigantic scale. Fortunately, unlike other sites where the broken parts of the temple are missing or destroyed, here due to the dacoits they were untouched – in its pristine purity. We cleared the forest that had grown there and the mounds of debris and sorted the pieces and matched them. A few standing temples were a big help while we also used Vastu Shastra and consulted treatises on the architecture of temples like Manasara and Mayamata.”
According to Muhammed, it was tedious and backbreaking work requiring immense patience.
ASI is not new in restoring the lost glory of temple complexes in India and abroad. Between 1986 and 1993, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) restored Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat temple complex to Angkor Wat. This work performed under extremely stressful conditions. The temple area was densely forested. Khmer Rouge anti-government forces were present, creating an atmosphere of fear. Devinder Singh Sood was the ASI team leader in Siem Reap who restored parts of Angkor Wat.
For Muhammed, the restoration of the Bateshwar complex is very close to his heart. “Upon reaching the site, I could feel a vibration. It was as if Lord Shiva was calling to the innermost recesses of my heart. I knew I had to do the job, no matter the obstacles.”
The work was compounded by the presence of several notorious dacoit gangs in the Morena area. Again, Muhammed took up the challenge of contacting them through intermediaries. “At first they were skeptical of a Muslim leading the temples restoration project, but once I gained their trust they provided all the assistance which was basically non-interference with our staff and their movement.
It is this passion and dedication of Muhammed and his team that has seen ASI restore 80 temples.