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2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Around Gwalior - A Riot of sculptures at Padhavali

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!

This must once have been on the lintel of a shrine. The panel depicts the Navagrahas, with Saraswarti on the extreme left and Lakshmi on the right. The central figure must have been Parvati, and it is possible that this may have originally stood over a shrine to the goddess
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….

Surya is in the centre of the main panel. The two smaller figures by his side are the Asvinis, depicted as horse-faced. He is shown seated on his chariot drawn by seven horses, driven by his charioteer Arun.
The two panels on the sides depict women, either the rivers, or his wives and their attendants.
The panel below shows three deities, most probably Brahma in the centre, with Shiva and Vishnu on either side. 

The main panel shows Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu, in that order. Around them are their attendants and other deities.
The panel below shows scenes from the life of Krishna, the Krishna Leelas. The images are too small for clarity, but you can see Putana feeding Krishna, Krishna lifting the Govardhana mountain, Krishna and Balarama destryoing demons and defeating wrestlers. 

The central panel depicts Chamunda, with multiple arms, and terrible aspect. On the two sides are the river goddesses again.
The panel below shows people worshipping a Lingam. It might depict the consecration of this temple, since it shows a number of people carrying pots of water, and others carrying spades and other implements used for construction. It has also been suggested that this panel might depict Rama worshipping the Shiva linga at Rameshwaram

This gorgeous panel is dedicated to Shiva. The central image has Sgiva and Parvati seated together, as Uma-Maheshwara, with Nandi and the lion by their side.  Behind them, you can also see the figure of Ganesha. Ganesha is also present in the panel on the left, along with the river goddess and her attendants.
The panel below is either from the Shiv Mahapuran, or from the Mahabharata, showing an army going to war. 

Even the decorative panels are so detailed, with so many miniscule figures! 

These two narrow panels have a wealth of detail in them. The panel above shows Krishna, his birth and a few of his leelas, killing the demons.
The panel below shows Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu in seated position, with their consorts., along with many figures, who could be deities or attendants or just divine figures. 

This is one of my favourite panels... on the top are musicians, elephants, people fighting, dancing, etc.
The panel below depicts the Dashavatar.. starting from Matsya, seen here as a fish, with the 4 vedas, Kurma as a tortoise with the churning of the ocean above him, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki on the horse at the end

Another equally interesting panel. I have no idea about the panel above. The figures are too small to identify.
The panel below starts on the left with the Churning of the Ocean, or Sagara manthan. Notice the tortoise (Kurma) with the mountain over it and the snake wound around. The next section seems to depict Vamana, Vishnu as the dward, accepting the donation of 3 steps of land from the king Bali. The final panel is intriguing, showing a woman with her back turned to us, then Vishnu  with his Gadha. The presence of a huge head on the right side makes me believe this could be the story of Sagar manthan continued, with Vishnu as Mohini and then Vishnu cutting of Rahu's head for drinking of the Amrit stealthily.

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.

  • Location: Padhavali is located in Morena district, abour 35 Km from Gwalior, and 1 Km from the Batesar Group of temples
  • How to Reach: It is easiest to hire a car from Gwalior and visit the temples at Bateswar and Mitavali as well.
  • Suggestions: There is hardly any shop or restaurant along the way, so make sure you eat before you leave Gwalior, or carry some food along. 

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