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The temples of Padawali and Mitawali in Morena region are beautiful chapters of history written in sandstone

The German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called architecture frozen music. And, like me, if you also find yourself at peace among the ruins and the wind passing through their pillars sound as sweet as a lullaby to you, then you would agree with and understand Goethe.

Never the one to miss a fort, ancient sculptures or structures, dilapidated or otherwise, wherever I travel, I happened to add another to my list recently. Around 40 km from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, in the district of Morena, made famous or rather infamous by Bollywood depiction of dacoits on horsebacks in Chambal, is Padawali.

The towering fort walls of Garhi Padawali are visible from a distance. As you reach your destination, first thing you notice is a majestic pair of lion and lioness standing guard at the entrance. A steep flight of stairs leads you to a compound where stands an ancient temple. The Archaeological Survey of India’s board informs that the temple was built during the 10th century. The fort walls that must have been erected when the temple was fortified by the rulers of Jat Ranas of Gohad during the 19th century, still stand trying to protect it. The temple is believed to have been dedicated to Lord Shiva as a huge nandi (Shiva’s mount or vahana) was found from its ruins. Some other references point at it being dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple originally consisted of a sanctum sanctorum, mandapa (the assembly hall) and mukhmandapa (the entrance porch), but the passage of time has erased a large part of it.

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What stands till now is a magnificent work of art. One look at the interiors of the mukhmandapa, built on a high platform — intricately carved with eye-catching 3D details — and you stand awe-struck at the beauty of it. The richly-carved sculptures, on the pillars and the ceiling, depict scenes from Ramayana, Krishna Leela (butter churning gopikas,Krishna fighting the bull Kesi to name a few),

Mahabharata, the 10 incarnations of God Vishnu, various scenes from mythology, like Samudra Manthan, Vishnu holding a conch, chakra, gada (club) and a lotus in his four hands and Vishnu resting on Garuda. There is also beautiful depiction of Lord Ganesha’s wedding, Lord Shiva dancing in the cemetery in preta (ghost) form, Shiva flanked by four-headed Brahma and hundreds of other Hindu gods and goddesses.

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If the mandapa here could well be the most ornate structure you would have ever seen in a Hindu temple, the erotic images would come as a surprise. If erotic art was something that many would have associated with Khajuraho, similar carvings here further the locals’ belief that this temple was actually a case study for its more famous counterparts southeast of Jhansi. Most of the Khajuraho temples were built between the second half of the 10th century and the first half of 11th and it was only by the 12th century that the site could boast of as many as 85 temples.

However, keeping the race to claim the fame aside, there’s more to explore than wondering who inspired whom. The eastern wall of the courtyard has double-storied cells. These cells must have been a centre of buzzing military activities once, housing cannon balls and other possible military paraphernalia, but now they sport a deafening silence. On the southern corner there is deep well like baoli.

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There are also ruins of several temples, houses and colonies in the region. The caretaker tells me more than 50 monuments of different kinds can be seen at Padawali up to the valley of Bhuteshwar. There is, however, one that he makes a special mention of. Hardly 3 km from Padawali stands another miracle in stone — the temple of Mitawali, which as per the Padawali caretaker-cum-guide, inspired the design of the Parliament House. With, the day having already progressed well into afternoon, we are in a dilemma. Though the locals had instructed us to not stay in the region beyond dusk due to lack of population, the temptation to see the architecture that inspired one of the most photographed building in the country takes over us.

When we reach Mitawali, the emotion almost borders on a treasure hunt gone right. There stands in front of us the 100-foot high mountain and 100 steps to the temple. And as I see the circular structure of the temple, it feels as if I was watching the Parliament House in the Capital. Designed by the Lutyens-Baker duo in 1912-13, the construction of the House had started in 1921 and was opened in 1927.

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Referred to as the temple of 64 Yoginis, Mitawali temple is believed to have been built in the ninth century and was the centre of education for astrology and mathematics. The outer wall is decorated with images of Hindu gods and goddesses, the main circular temple in the centre is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the 64 small temples with an image of Lord Shiva in each around the central temple. And, thanks to its location, with vast barren land all around, and absence of fame, the temple’s condition belies its age.

The perforated base of the central temple once again makes you marvel at the ancient engineering. The caretaker tells me it was built as a passage for rain water to go into a huge reservoir below, which I could not locate despite several efforts or may be it was made in such a way to serve its purpose secretly without interfering with the look of the building. The roof has these pipe-like pieces that can drain rain water in no time.

The Parliament House-like temple

The Parliament House-like temple and its engineering techniques made me thank that Padawali caretaker a million times. It is believed that Morena’s Mitawali, Padawali and Bateshwar areas formed a Golden Triangle or a huge university where Hinduism was taught around 1,000 years ago. I wonder if my joy is boundless on seeing just two out of those 50-plus such marvelous monuments standing in the region, how happy would I be if I could have a date with the rest too. And, that makes me leave Mitawali with a promise that the walk among the ruins is to be continued…

Text and photos: Rohit Sinha

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