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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

Gwalior Part 4: The Temples of Gwalior Fort

“Everything here is massive!” was the recurrent thought as we explored Gwalior fort. First the colossal Jaina sculptures, then the monuments within the fort, and now the temples. They are impressive at first glance by their sheer size, but looking closer, there are so many intricate details on the smallest scale that amazement turns to awe at the talent and artisan-ship of those who built them. There are two such huge temples on the hill, both part of the Gwalior fort – the so-called Sas-Bahu temples and the Teli ka Mandir, both of which have interesting sources for their names!  

The Sas-Bahu or Sahastra-bahu Temples

The Sas-Bahu temples are so called, because in local lore, they were built by mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. However, the name is believed to be a corruption of the word “Sahastra-bahu”, the original name for the bigger temple. The deity inside the temple is also disputed. While most believe that the idol depicted Vishnu with a thousand arms (Sahastra – thousand, bahu – arms), it has also been suggested that it might have been the temple of a local cult, deifying Kartyaveerarjuna (from the story of Parasurama), who was called Sahastrabahu since he had a thousand arms. There are also suggestions that the temple might originally have been a Jain one!

The temple, as seen from the side. 

The temple is said to have been built in 1092 by King Mahipala of the Kacchapaghata dynasty. It is believed that his wife was an ardent devotee of Vishnu, and that she initiated the construction of the temple. Later, her daughter-in-law, who was a devotee of Shiva, built a smaller replica of the temple by its side, with the only difference being the deity in the sanctum! Thus, the temples came to be known as those built by mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and the name ‘Sas-bahu’ soon replaced ‘Sahastrabahu’ in collective memory!

The smaller temple, built by the daughter-in-law

We were tired by the time we arrived at these temples, and were only able to explore the bigger one. While the temple is still intact, most of the sculptures are broken, and their faces hacked off. According to what I read, only a part of the defacement has been willful, and the rest is due to weathering. Also, the temple has been heavily restored at some point of time.

For Samhith, the best part of the temple was the curved decoration at the entrance, flanking the steps. It was just perfect for him to slide down, and a lot more interesting than the sculptures, with their faces destroyed and empty sanctum.

I was, however, stunned by the detail and elegance of the figures on the pillars, and on the lintels.

These are the figures on the pillars flanking the entrance.

On the pillar to the left of the entrance are these three figures. The one in the centre is certainly female, and she could be Saraswati, since she holds a scroll, kamandalu and flower in three of her hands. The other two figures appear to be male, and could be Brahma and Shiva. 

On the pillar to the right side of the entrance, the figures are mutilated, so difficult to identify. The figure on the left holds a spear. Could it be Kartikeya? 

This is the lintel of the main entrance, where the figures are easier to identify.

Lintel of main doorway: Top left is Brahma, with his consort (either Savitri or Gayatri), Top right is Shiva, with Parvati, and in the centre are Vishnu and Lakshmi. Below them is Garuda. The panel between the three main figures on the top depicts the Navagrahas

The positions of these figures clearly indicate that this must have been a temple of Vishnu. More interesting however, is the manner in which all three deities have been depicted, with their consorts on their laps, in the position Uma and Maheshwara are usually seen in!

Every inch of stone seems to have been carved, like the base of the door frame....

Notice the Ganesha (left) and Bhairava (right) carved into the base of this doorway! 

The lintels over the doorways of the main sanctum as well as other smaller shrines have the most interesting depictions!!

Lintel of sanctum doorway.It is almost a replica of the main doorway, except that the gods are without their consorts!
The Navagrahas are also clearer here.
 Notice the panel above it, which depicts the Saptamaktrikas

 A panel of Navagrahas over another shrine. Notice the detailing of the seven planets, starting with the sun on the left. On the right are Rahu - the snake (above) and Ketu - the head (below)

A Saptamatrika panel over the doorway of another shrine. The goddesses are identifiable only by their vehicles, shown near their feet. Interestingly, the last, eighth figure on the right could be a feminine form of Ganesha, in which case this panel depicts Ashtamatrikas!

Another Saptamatrika panel, this time with the Chamunda and Ganesha seen clearly. 

A Vamana figure (the dwarfish form of Lord Vishnu ) over the lintel of one shrine. 
A shrine with Brahma with his consort depicted on the lintel.

It is extremely interesting to see how the temple had shrines to multiple deities set on the sides of the main sanctum, and the deities seen here.

The pillars are covered with interesting depictions too. Sadly, they are so badly defaced that we can barely identify a few.

One of the many Naga figures on the pillars.
This one is a 5 hooded figure, seen with two female Naga figures. Could be Nagaraja, or even Adishesha! 

An identifiable figure of Vishnu, with his ayudha purushas

And the central hall, bound by pillars is impressive at first glance by its sheer size….

The ceiling is even more impressive. Look closer, and you can see many figures, some flying, and one deity with his consort. Sadly, it is too damaged to get any more details.

The outer walls are also covered with sculptures, though they are even more damaged than the ones inside.

It would be an understatement to say that we were impressed by this temple. As I came out, I wondered what the temple would have looked like, in its heyday. If it was so impressive now, can you imagine what it must have been like, then?

Anyway…. Moving on, we headed to the Teli-ka-mandir, our last stop on the hill.


No one really knows why this temple is called “Teli-ka-Mandir”. There are many theories, some as plausible as the others are far-fetched. While the most common belief is that the temple was built by the oil merchants, who were called Telis (tel = oil), there is also a belief that the name comes from the Telang Brahmins who worshipped here during the Rashtrakuta period, and even that the name comes from the Telengana region due to the southern influence seen in the architecture!

The architectural style of this temple is unlike anything else in Gwalior, which is why there are suggestions that this was built by someone from the south, or at least someone inspired by the style of southern India. The plain rectangular sanctum is topped by a wagon vaulted superstructure, which rises to a height of about 24.4 m, and makes this the tallest structure in the fort.

The doorway is elaborate, with river goddesses carved on the lower portion, flanked by attendants and dwarapalakas.

The elaborate doorway... lower panels of river goddesses, lintel with Ganesha and Garuda on top

River goddess on the right side of the doorway.. She might be Ganga, going by the animal below her, resembling a crocodile or Makara, and also take a closer look at the small figures on top., which depict the story of her descent on earth. Notice Bhagiratha performing penance?  

River goddess on the left side of the doorway.. Might be Yamuna. Notice the smaller figures of the gods above her, which are not as mutilated as in the previous sculpture. You can see Brahma, with his three heads, flanked by two women, and above him, Vishnu seated on Garuda. 

On the lintel is Ganesha, and above the doorway is a carving of Garuda. Interestingly the dwarapalakas flanking the river goddesses are Shaiva (the one on the left which is less mutilated resembles Bhairava), which suggests a Shaiva shrine, whereas the Garuda above suggests a Vishnu shrine. However, the interior of the shrine is completely bare, with no trace of carvings or idol, home only to bats today, and does not give a hint about the deity it once housed.

Entrance to a smaller shrine on another side... Note the river goddesses, with attendants, but without dwarapalakas. 

The outer walls of the temple are covered with detailed carvings and sculptures in the niches, though most are destroyed or unrecognizable. Here are two interesting panels….

Brahma, seated on a lotus, with three heads, and the figure next to him could be Bhairava. 

Another panel, with a sculpture of Kartikeya in one of the inner niches, seated on a peacock. The other sculptures are too mutilated for me to identify

Very little is known of this temple, though the style and some short inscriptions suggest that it was built around the year 850 A.D., during the reign of Mihira Bhoja (836-88), the most powerful among the Pratihara kings to rule Gwalior. This also makes the Teli-ka-Mandir one of the oldest structures in the Gwalior Fort!

Isnt it fascinating to think that the oldest structure in the fort is also the tallest?

On that note, we complete our tour of Gwalior Fort. There is more to Gwalior though, so look out for my next post!

Information on Gwalior Fort:
  • Timings: The Gwalior fort is open from sunrise to sunset. However, the State protected monuments are open from 9 AM to 5 PM.
    • Note: There are separate tickets for the two set of monuments, and the tickets are repeatedly checked at various points. Keep them safe till you are done with the fort, as well as all the temples on the hill.
  • Suggestions:
    • Keep a whole day, preferably starting at 9 AM, for the fort, including all its monuments, temples, the ASI museum and Jain sculptures, if you want to see them in detail, and at your leisure. We managed to combine all these, along with the Gurjari Mahal museum, in a day, but were rushed towards the end, since all monuments, including the museums, close at 5 PM.
    • Do attend the Sound and Light Show. It is worth staying overnight at Gwalior for this. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend it, so I have no details of the timings or the rates.

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  1. Though not a traveller; but always loved to travel all alone...hope to do that soon..You have some beautiful pictures in here...keep going!!!

  2. Fascinating! All the detail, even today when it is so badly damaged, is incredible. Like you, I was trying to imagine what it looked like when it was intact. I've really enjoyed this series of posts about Gwalior! Thank you!

  3. Absolutely detailed sculptures and your narration is spot on.. Beautiful temple.


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