We stood at the gate, surprised to find a fort instead of a temple. The driver urged us inside, assuring us that the temple was indeed there. As we walked in slowly, looking at the fragments of pillars and carved stones which lined the path, a well-built man came forward. “I am the caretaker here” he introduced himself. “Do you want me to take you around?” he asked. There didn’t seem to be guides around, or anyone else for that matter, so we agreed, and began our exploration of the Garhi Padhavali.
The site is called Garhi, which means fort, and Padhavali or Padhaoli is the name of the village. The fort is comparatively recent, built in the late 18th or early 19th century, by the Jat Ranas of Gohad. However, Padhavali has a history which goes back centuries. The museums at Gwalior are filled with sculptures and fragments of temples found here, and the region is still dotted with ancient shrines, small and big. However, the main monument here is within the fort itself.
Walking into the fort, we couldn’t help notice that stones from the temple had been re-used, in building it. We could see a panel of elephants fighting lions, and another of the Navagrahas, flanked by Lakshmi and Saraswati, on the walls.
Our guide told us that the pillars, lintels and other fragments had indeed been re-used, but by whom, he had no idea. He suggested that it might have been the Mughals, but if the fort had been built by the Jats, then they are the ones who would have chosen to re-use the fragments, either just due to necessity, or for divine protection. One thing that we noticed was that the fragments have been used in a very aesthetic manner, which suggests that the builders were aware of their beauty, and wished to do justice to them, even in their new setting!
Two lions stood guard at the entrance, and our guide informed us that they didn’t stand here originally. Like almost all the sculptures lying around, they were found here, and since they were a pair, they were placed here.
Samhith clambered up the steps quickly, following our guide, while I slowly made my way up, panting up the steps which were too high for me.
The mandapa was right in front of me. I stepped in, looked up, and stopped. ‘Stunned’ is too simple a word, to describe how I felt. Every single inch of the Mandapa is carved, and every section of the ceiling is worked so intricately, that my eyes strained as I tried to make sense of the detail. There are no words to describe the incredible detail, so let me just show you instead….
|Even the decorative panels are so detailed, with so many miniscule figures!|
|Yet another interesting panel, where I can only identify Ganesha on the left. In the centre might be Nataraja, suggested by the posture, but I can not guess the figure on the right.|
|More interesting panels... the one at the bottom seems to depict a marriage. Whose, I have no idea. I can once again see Ganesha among the figures but can't identify the rest.|
|The central figure in the bottom panel holds a danda (staff). I wonder if it could be Lakulisa? and the panel above is interesting as well, showing people going in a procession.|
|Kartikeya, seen seated on his peacock.|
Now, all these are carved on the ceiling of just this one mandapa here. And remember, this is just a mandapa.
|And this is where all these incredible panels are... Have you ever seen a mandapa this intricately carved?|
|The Mandapa, as seen from the back, where the temple would have once stood.|
Now, a mandapa wouldn’t have stood alone. There would have been a temple, and going by the positions of the deities in the mandapa, as well as a huge Nandi found here, it is believed that there must have been a Shiva temple here once, and the Nandi would have stood inside this mandapa! Can you now imagine what the temple must have been like?
Sadly, we have no way of knowing what the temple would have looked like. From what little we know, stylistically, as well as through a few inscriptions, this temple must have been built in the 10th century, during the reign of the Kacchapaghatas in the region. From the height that the mandapa stands on, it is clear that there must have been other monuments nearby, and that this was also an important place during that period. This is also indicated by the fact that more and more sculptures and fragments are being unearthed from the site, and work is still going on, exploring this site, as well as those around.
I had a bad crick in my neck by the time I went around the mandapa just once, straining my eyes and my neck trying to identify all the figures, and trying to click all of them! Needless to say, I remained unsatisfied on both counts. My camera is nowhere near as good as is needed for these exceptional images, and I am not as good on iconography and identifying images of the gods, as I would like to be.
On that note, we said goodbye to our guide, and walked back to our car, still awed at the sight we left behind, marveling at the greatness of those who lived here, more than a thousand years ago, and subdued at the thought of our ignorance today.
- Around Gwalior