By Monidipa Dey
Standing amidst low hills and forested ridges the old State of Gwalior goes long back into history, yielding rich archaeological finds from times immemorial. Excavated remains from sites such as Ujjain and Vidisha, along with many others, have provided interesting insights into the history of this place. Vidisha finds great significance in ancient Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain books, and was once the capital of the Sunga dynasty. Ujjain, an important centre for trade and learning under the Mauryas and Guptas, also finds frequent mention in different old texts.
Besides these, Kantipuri and Padmavati (Pawaya) under the Naga dynasty of 3rd century CE, finds mention in the Puranas; while Tumbavana, an important Buddhist site, is found mentioned on a Sanchi railing. In the modern state of Madhya Pradesh, the Gwalior fort is of special importance, and its recorded history takes it well back into 5th century CE, when the Guptas controlled this part. The fort stands on a 300 feet high rocky narrow outcrop that is known as Gopachala/Gopagiri/Gopadri, which literally translated means, the shepherd’s hill.
Inside the fort there are many structures, and one among the most beautiful of them is the Saas-Bahu temple. The temple complex comprises of two temples, one large (saas) and one small (bahu), situated on the eastern end of the fort. The other name for this temple pair is Sahastrabahu, referring to the thousand armed or infinite Vishnu.
From an inscription on the temple mandapa it was deciphered by Alexander Cunningham that construction was started in 1093 CE, during the reign of the Kachchwaha king Mahipala, by Padmapala, the king’s brother. The temples, which faced large-scale destruction during the Delhi sultanate rule, have been largely reconstructed and repaired at various times.
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While the shikhara of the larger temple is non-existent, from the remains Cunningham derived that the plan showed a triple storied structure with balconies, and a cross foundation; thus, suggesting that the temple originally followed Bhumija style with a height of more than 100 feet. The larger temple (saas) shows three entryways from three cardinal directions, and has a mukh mandapa, with a richly carved entrance way that leads to a pillared main mandapa.
The entrance way holds a Garuda on the lintel, while Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are carved on the panel right above it. The door jambs show Ganga and Yamuna with their attendants. The mukhmandapa has an exquisitely carved ceiling. Inside the main mandapa there are four huge pillars that bear the weight of the upper storey, and these are exquisitely carved.
The smaller temple (bahu) has the mandapa with a stone seat (kakhasana) that runs all around it. The doorway to the now absent sanctum is richly carved, and gives an open view of the city below.
When to go: Gwalior can be visited during winter or monsoon, while summers are best avoided. While the temple will take an hour or so to see, the fort will take a whole day to explore, as there are many monuments to see inside it.
(The author is a travel writer. Views expressed are her own.)