Skip to main content

Featured Post

The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

Around Gwalior - The Chausath Yogini Temple at Mitavali

We caught our first glimpse of the temple when Samhith stopped to play in a canal cutting across the road. 

We sat on the steps, enjoying the feel of the flowing water on our feet, staring into the distance, where the single hillock rose, and the circular walls of the temple rose above it. This was our first sight of the Chausath Yogini temple at Mitavali. (Also spelled as Mitawali, Mitaoli or Mitauli). 

Little is known about Yoginis and their temples. They are usually considered to be 64 in number, but there are also instances of temples being constructed to 42 or even 81 yoginis. They are usually depicted as beautiful women, but with heads of birds or animals, adding to the mystery surrounding them. Dr. Vidya Dehejia, who has done extensive research on the Yoginis, says

“…the Yoginīs formed a group of goddesses closely connected with the Kaula cult, and more specially with that branch of the Kaula path known as Yoginī Kaula. Visualized generally as sixty four in number, the Yoginīs were divided into eight kulas, or groupings of eight, and pictured as forming a circle around Siva as Bhairava. They were invoked by Kaula sādhakas to protect followers of the Kaula path and worshipped in order to gain a variety of magical abilities. Temples of the Yoginīs must have been constructed by such Kaula believers.”*

The temple at Mitavali is believed to have been built by the Kacchapaghata ruler, Devapala (1055 to 1075 A.D.), though the inscriptions at the temple are from much later, suggesting that the temple was restored, or re-embellished, or donations were made during that period. The latest dated inscription is from A.D.1503, the period when Man Singh Tomar ruled over Gwalior, suggesting that the temple was in use even then.

A smoothened circular stone structure outside the temple, with inscriptions.

The temple’s location, atop the hillock in the middle of nowhere seems to be typical of most Yogini shrines. These Yogini cults were tantric in nature, and had their roots in tribal worship, well outside the orthodox Brahminical tradition of the period. The cult seems to have been popular from the 9th to the 12th centuries, and it has been suggested that the constant threat of war, and attack by foreign invaders would have aided their popularity, with the powerful deities being invoked for protection and victory in war. The king would have patronized such temples for these purposes alone, keeping them away from the cities, while building traditional Brahminical shrines within the city.

Climbing up the hill, we were more than aware of our solitude. Our driver had stopped by the car, uninterested in climbing up to see an empty temple no one visited, and there wasn’t another soul around.

I walked slowly, admiring the beautiful patterns in the dendritic sandstone, which was such a common feature here. They added a touch of nature even to monuments, reminding us that the stones were here long before humans arrived to use them!

Samhith of course, had already reached the top, and stood waiting impatiently, as I paused to catch my breath. The temple stood before us, its doorway and the steps leading up to it the only break in the perfect circle of the exterior.

Almost all Yogini temples are circular in shape, and open to the skies, with a central shrine for Shiva or Bhairava. The Yoginis themselves are in niches or smaller shrines on the inner walls of the temple. They also stand out in their simplicity, in sharp contrast to the Brahminical shrines which are elaborately and intricately carved, with human as well as divine figures.

One of the few sculptures on the outer wall of the temple, depicting a couple, probably Shiva and Parvati

It was an eerie experience, to be up here, all alone. Our sole companion here was a dog, fast asleep by the door. The door itself appeared to be closed, and I hesitated, wondering if I should disturb the perfect isolation of the site. Even as I hesitated, Samhith walked up and tried the door, which opened at once. As for the dog, it woke up and walked away, leaving us free to enter. Having come so far, we didn’t hesitate any more, but walked in.

The temple is magnificent in its simplicity. The shrines of the 64 Yoginis, plus one extra shrine (probably for the main goddess) stand in a perfect circle, with a row of pillars forming a walkway, on a raised platform, which runs along the niches.

The niches must have originally housed the Yoginis, but sadly none of them remain today. Instead, the shrines house lingams, without their yonis. These are believed to have been added in more recent times, after the temple lost its importance and the Yogini images disappeared.

At the centre is a circular pavilion, with two concentric rings of pillars. Originally, this shrine must have housed an image of Shiva, but now, it is empty.

A Shiva linga stands alone, just outside this shrine today.

It is very interesting to see that there are clear channels for water to flow, and outlets are provided from all the raised platforms, and these channels all lead outside. It is clear that this must have been provided for a dual purpose – to deal with rainwater, since it’s an open shrine, and also to channel water from ritualistic oblations to the deities.

In that absolute silence, where even Samhith was quiet, unlike his usual boisterous self, it felt as if our every sense was heightened. I could almost hear my heart beating louder, and it was a disconcerting feeling. Though there wasn’t a single person around, and the niches were empty of the deities they were made for, it almost felt like I was intruding. Calling to Samhith, I walked out, and he followed, for once, without an argument. Outside, he found his voice again, asking why we were rushing out, when we had just come. And for once, I had no reply.

As we began our descent, I looked back one last time, and there was the dog, sitting by the door, looking at us leave. Call it a flight of fancy if you will, but at that moment, I wondered if it was the dog I was seeing, or Bhairava himself**, the natural guardian of the temple!

* Dr. Vidya Dehejia, Yogini Cult and Temples, A Tantric Tradition, National Museum, New Delhi, 1986
** Bhairava is usually accompanied by a dog

  • Location: Mitavali / Mitawali / Mitaoli is located about 40 Km from Gwalior.
  • How to Reach: Take a car from Gwalior. Combine with Padhavali and Batesar.
    • Dr. Vidya Dehejia’s book on Yoginis, published by the National Museum Delhi, and is available at the museum, when in stock.


  1. One can only wonder how the temple would have looked when all the statues were there. Would they all look similar or all of them would be different? Did these 64 yoginis have a special characteristic of their own.

    Thanks for telling about Dr Dehejia's book - will try to pick a copy when I visit Delhi next.

  2. It must have been absolutely spellbinding with all those Yoginis in their niches. Yes, they must have had their own characteristics, just like they have in the other temples which still have the idols. Dr. Dehejia's book is just superb, but sadly not available right now, even at the National Museum. When i visited, they said it was out of print. I hope they print again soon. I borrowed it from a friend to read, but would love to buy it too, if its available, let me know if you get it.

  3. Stunning temple and the architecture is simply awesome. I will soon plan to visit this temple.

  4. Thanks for sharing such a great post about Gwalior

  5. It's really beautiful the way you have written this post. I loved it.

  6. Thanks for your great information. I really like this temple you mention. I like the architecture of the temple and I love to visit the temple.

  7. Lovely post. I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and time into the stuff you post!!


Post a Comment

Thanks so much for stopping by. Please leave a comment for me so that I will know you have been here....

Popular posts from this blog

The Havelis of Bikaner - A Photo Post

The lanes are narrow , twisting and turning amidst buildings old and new. Crumbling old structures with intricate workmanship stand side by side with art deco buildings, and more modern constructions, which follow no particular style. Autos, bicycles, motorcycles and vans rush past, blowing their horns as loudly as possible, while cows saunter past peacefully, completely unaffected by the noise. In the midst of all this chaos, children play by the side, and women go about their chores, as we explore these by-lanes of Bikaner, and its beautiful Havelis. Facade of one of the Rampuria Havelis

Ladakh - Planning The Trip

Over 2000 Km by road, in around 10 days. Stunning landscapes, wonderful people. That sums up our Ladakh trip. But how did it actually work? How did we make it happen? Read on to find out!  Leh, the capital of Ladakh , is accessible by air and road. Flying into Leh is the easiest, and time-saving option, while the road is the time consuming one, but with the added advantage of driving past some of the most beautiful landscapes in our country. Each option has much to recommend it, and we chose the road for just one reason – altitude sickness. Altitude sickness was one of my biggest concerns, since I suffer from motion-sickness. Yes, I do travel a lot, but that is despite my condition, and, over the years, have learnt how to handle it. I struggled with it when we visited Nathu-La in Sikkim, and wondered if I would be able to manage a week at the even higher altitudes that we would encounter in Ladakh. This was the reason we stuck to a basic plan, of only 9 days in Ladakh, though we

Bhedaghat - Home of the 81 Yoginis

The Narmada flows down the mountains , carving out a path for herself as she makes her way down to the plains of Central India. She cascades from the rocks, her fine spray making it appear as if billows of smoke (dhuan) arise from the flowing streams of water (dhaar), giving it the name Dhuandhar. Dhuandhar Falls The force of her flow creates a gorge , smoothening and carving out the rocks into fantastic shapes, the pure white of the rocks standing starkly against the shades of the water. It is a joy to cruise down the river in a boat, seeing the natural contours created by the river, now famous as the Marble Rocks. We are at Bhedaghat, located on the banks of the Narmada near Jabalpur, where thousands of visitors turn up to see these natural landscapes, creations of the sacred Narmada, and pay obeisance to her. However, to me, the most interesting thing about Bhedaghat, isn’t the falls or the rocks, or even the river. What makes Bhedaghat special is t