|A restored temple|
Fall of Harsvardhana (7th century AD): The end of State patronage to Buddhism and the rise of Hindu Kshatraps [satraps] led to gradual wane of Buddhism in face of the all -absorbing Hinduism. In architecture the Buddhist iconography was subsumed by Brahminical motifs.The above nugget was offered by my historian hubby.
Imagine your picnic leading you to a virtually unknown, stupendous archaeological site teeming with sculptures in suspended animation somewhere between the hoary relics of Sanchi and the decadent cornucopia of Khajuraho. Just 40 kilometers from Gwalior, beyond the industrial area of Malanpur (Morena), off the dusty, bumpy road to Rithora - Kalan lie two treasures- Bateshwar and Padaoli which the Madhya Pradesh tourism department refrains from promoting for unknown reasons. The fact that dacoits held sway in the surrounding ravines could be a part of the reason. But now thanks to newly built roads and end of dacoity, the sites are approachable. They are far more exciting than the standard sights of Gwālior comprising of Māhāls [palaces], Chhatris and Darwāzās [city gates].
I will talk about Padaoli at another time. Let me boggle your mind with the teeming temples of Bhooteshwar Mahadeo, better known as Bateshwar, which lie further up the road. The hum-drum Morena road ravaged by stone mining and dotted with mustard fields holds no promise of anything remotely exotic. But once you reach there you realize that the setting, now just an arid hillside must have been enrapturing once upon a time. Set amidst the tinkling bells of herds of goat and screeching parakeets, adjoining what appears to be a dried up waterfall is a cluster of ruins and an array of debris - the feet of Buddha here, the torso of a Yakshi there, columns, pillars and headless deities. The cash and resource-strapped Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is painstakingly restoring them. The ASI blurb at the site dates the temples from the sixth to the ninth century A.D. One theory says that this was a school for sculptors.
The ASI initiated a project in 2005 to restore the hundred-odd temples that form the ruins. Around twenty five temples have been restored and all are splendorous examples of the architecture of the early Gupta period. The temples are flat roofed and adorned with kalaśa. There have intricately carved door jambs, dwigpal on the three walls and an inner deity, mostly Shiva or the lingam, wherever one is present. What is fascinating is that the trident-bearing Siva figures have elongated earlobes and coiffure similar to Sanchi's Buddhist figures. The columns have ornamental patterns like wheels, whorls and flying Yakshis which are clearly Buddhist. This intriguing fusion apart, there are amorous scenes from the pre-Khajuraho period in many panels. I was delighted to find sculptures of the sort I have never seen elsewhere - that of a mother breastfeeding her child and a mother and a child bidding farewell to a warrior father. The presence of household items like flour mills, mortars and oil press lend credence to the view that the place was a school of sculpture.
Basham in his commentary on ancient Indian Art says:
The usual inspiration for Indian Art is not so much a quest for the Absolute as a delight in the world as the artist found it, a sensual vitality, and a feeling of growth and movement.
I could sense that love for life in Bateshwar - as also a feeling of smallness, for no future generations are going to be filled with a sense of awe by our legacy of hideous cement-concrete-glass. It is good that they don't last long.
|Elephants flanking a banyan tree in the centre: A Jataka symbol|
|A warrior on horseback and his wife and child bidding farewell to him.|
|A mother breastfeeding her child|
|Whorls similar to those found in Sanchi|
|A bas - relief of Shiva and Parvati in the sanctum. Shiva's coiffure and earlobes are shaped like those of Buddha's. Lingam in the foreground.|
|An oil press|