With my brother shifting his base from Chhattisgarh to Muzaffarpur, a need arose to take his car from Bastar to Muzaffarpur. Again he asked me to accompany him, in return he promised to take me to the hinterlands of Northern Chhattisgarh. I lapped up the idea of visiting some remote parts of Chhattisgarh. We started researching for the best possible routes to be undertaken for reaching Patna. The direct route from Raipur to Patna was about 750 kms in distance which could have been stretched in a single day or at the most in two days of leisure driving. In the end, we covered a distance of 1300 kms between Raipur and Patna. I booked air-ticket for 27th May evening for Raipur and return by 1st June evening flight from Patna. We had almost 5 complete days in our hand to explore the area. Hence a travel from Dakshin Kosala to Patliputra ensued.
The flight was delayed by 30 minutes and I reached Raipur by 8.00 pm. My brother has started in the morning and drove around 300 kms to pick me up from Raipur. The initial plan was to stay for the night at Raipur instead we headed towards Sirpur, our first destination in journey for the night stay. Sirpur was about 75 kms from Raipur airport. We took SH 6 and covered the distance in about 90 minutes. We had pre-booked Hiuen Tsang resort in town, which is run by the Chhattisgarh Tourism. We reached Sirpur by 9.30 pm and checked into the resort for the night.
We got up early and had an early breakfast. We had to cover a lot of distance and places today. Again breakfast was simple but good. We cleared our dues and started for the sights the town had to offer, which was in fact quite a lot in number. It was around 9 in the morning and it was getting unbearably hot already. We started scouting the area. It was full of old temples, Hindu and Buddhist and archeological excavation sites.
We started with Gandheshwar Temple. It is also called 'Gandheshwar Mahadev' because the Shiva Linga here produces a pleasant fragrance every morning. The temple is situated on the banks of Mahanadi River. However the river was completely dry. Interestingly, it is said that this is the only Shiva Linga which is worshipped even today while thousands of other Lingas found in Sirpur are not. There were traces of Buddhist influence as well at the temple.
Next we visited Buddh viharas found on the other side of the town. These viharas are in a state of shambles without any roof over them. However, these viharas contain exquisite carvings which are absolutely unmatched in workmanship and splendor.
Surang Tila - Shiva temples:
It seemed to be an interesting looking temple and a different name which had our attention. Surang Tila was excavated in the year 2006. The inscription said that it was built in 7th Century AD. The roof has now collapsed and only the pillars remain. An interesting fact about the Surang Tila is a Shiva temple and there four different types of shivlingas - white, black, red and yellow. White was installed a Brahmin, by Red was by Kshatriya as he deals with blood, Yellow by Vaishya as he deals with Gold and Black by Shudra. However, all of them worshipped all the Shivlingas.
This is a 6th Century Shiva temple built by Mahashivgupt Balarjun. This is also a Panchayatan Shiva temple – two temples in center and four in the corner. The Garbha griha was star shaped. All pillars were made with dolomite which is one of the hardest stone and also most difficult to carve. Another interesting fact about this temple complex is that there are two temples because the king had two wives – one from Chhattisgarh and the other one from Karnataka. The 48 sculptures found at the temple explain in detail the perils of having two wives.
It was the last of the temple we visited in Sirpur. It was baking hot and walking on the stone pathways with bare foot was getting next to impossible. The east facing Lakshmana temple was built in 7th century AD. It is one of the most well preserved brick temple with a stone door frame. This temple is one among the best examples of brick temples of ancient India.
Our business at Sirpur was concluded by 11.00 am. Most of the major attraction was ticked off. Ram temple adjacent to Laxman temple was in ruins and the soaring temperatures made us avoid them. We carried on further to Shivrinarayan or Sheorinarayan which was about 70 kms from Sirpur and 65 kms from Bilaspur. Shivrinarayan is situated on the confluence of Mahanadi and Shivnath rivers. First half of the journey was smooth with good roads but the latter half was marred by roads under construction and broken roads but more or less going was smooth for most of the part. We reached Shivrinarayan by 12.45 pm.
Shivrinarayan is famous for its religious importance. It is situated in Janjgir-Champa District of Chhattisgarh. The Shivrinarayan Temple or Sheorinarayan Temple attracts thousands of pilgrims. The place is also known as Jagannath Puri of Chhattisgarh. It is believed that the idol that has been placed in the Jagannath temple has been built here. According to legends of Ramayana, this place is the same place where Lord Ram and Sita alongwith Laxman met Shabri and savoured the berries chosen and tasted by Shabri.
The temple is situated inside narrow bye-lanes of the town. It was already 1.00 pm and the temperature was ferocious to say the least. We had to remove our shoes at the very entrance of the temple premises. The stone floor of the temple was burning hot. Thankfully some cots were placed otherwise it would have been near impossible to enter the temple. The temple was painted white which camouflaged its antiquity. However, the worn out idols and sculptures were witness to the ages this temple has seen. We could give hardly ten minutes to the temple due to the burning floor.
While going out, we enquired about what more could be explored in the town and we were directed towards a nearby village called Kharod where we could visit another ancient Shabri temple and a Shiva temple. The detour would have hardly set us back by 5-6 kms, hence we decided to check them out. Shabri temple was right at the entrance of the village. It was an ASI protected monument built in 7th Century AD. It is again a brick temple but not in a condition as good as the Laxman temple of Sirpur. There was a huge pond in front of the temple. There was another group of temple called Math Mandir towards the south of Shabri temple. However, it was in a dilapidated state and neglected. There was another pond in front of it. Little further into the village we came across Laxmaneshwar Shiva temple built by the Chandravanshi kings of Sirpur in 8th Century AD. It had some exquisite art work inside the mandap and garbh-griha and extensive shila-lekhs (stone inscriptions) as well. The sculpture of Nandi was somewhat different and interesting.
We went ahead on the Sheorinarayan-Bilaspur road for another 35 kms. A detour on the left for about 10 kms on the village roads (where last two kms were absolutely non-existent) took us to another archaeological important town of Malhar. This was the more adventurous route which we took and not the usual route followed by visitors. Malhar is famous for its archeological importance. It is situated at 35 odd kms from Bilaspur. Temples dating back to the 10th and 11th century have been excavated and salvaged here.
A little further in the town, we got what we came to see – the ruins. Pataleshwar temple offered what we wanted. In fact it was a graveyard. Graveyard of thousands of stone sculptures, some intact and many in dilapidated state. Most of them were impressive having great artistic value. Repair-work on many sculptures was amply visible. There was a museum as well inside the temple complex which was closed at that time. After spending about half an hour there we move further to another attraction of the town – Dewari/Deori temple.
Dewari/Deori literally means brother-in-law. There were quite few such named temples around the region. It is also known as Bheem-Kichak temple. However, the dome or shikhar of the temple was completely ruined. Only the side walls were standing. Walls were exquisitely sculpted. There were many sculptures which looked like a strong man, may be Bheem, which is why it could have been named Bheem-Kichak temple. There were few big sculpted heads in the lawn of the temple which were reminiscent of Easter Island heads though not of that scale in size and antiquity. After we were done with the sight-seeing, we made an entry in the register kept by the caretaker. Not many had visited before us during the day. In all Malhar had been a good experience, we were glad we took the detour.
After the temple of brother-in-law at Malhar, now it was turn of the twin temples of sister-in-laws – the Devrani and Jethani temple situated at Tala village, which was about 50 kms from Malhar. The roads were single lane with construction going on for the second lane. Once we hit the Bilaspur-Raipur highway it was smooth sailing till Amerikapa. Here we took a detour of 6-7 kms to reach Tala Village which was situated on the banks of Maniyari River.
Tala village (Talagaon) is a nondescript village situated on the banks of Maniyari River about 30 kms from Bilaspur on the Bilaspur-Raipur road towards Raipur. Here lie the ruins of twin temples known as Devrani and Jethani temple. During a large scale excavation carried out around the temple ruins, many huge sculptures, in dilapidated state, were recovered. Amongst them was one unique idol which is now known as Rudra-Shiva. It defies all known art-forms and beliefs and does not conform to any style of sculpting prevalent during the times. It is believed to be from 6th century AD.
As per the local legends, these temples were built for the wives of two royal brothers. The Jethani or the Elder sister-in-law temple has completely fallen while the Devrani or the temple of the younger sister-in-law has the base platform intact along with stairs that lead to the garbh-griha. The door frame too has survived the vagaries of time. It has intricate carving all around it which fertilizes our imagination about the grandeur of the temple. However there are no remains of super-structure/ shikhara of these temples. Stone columns that would have stood as temple once are now piled upon one another which give it a semblance of a temple of bygone era. There is a small museum established in the premises which exhibits few excavated sculptures found at this site.
Rudra-Shiva idol: it is unique in every way and does not represent any sculpting styles in vogue. The idol is almost 8 feet in height and weighs more than 5 tonnes. The sculptor has used various creatures to form part of its anatomy. Two snakes make the head dress. They are tied around like a turban and the hoods crossing each other to give a bow like impression. Two serpent hoods are found above each shoulder. The ears are adorned by Peacocks. The nose is made of a descending lizard and so are the eye brows. Eyelashes are either in the pattern of an open mouth of a frog or the mouth of a roaring lion. The upper lip and moustaches are made of two fishes while the lower lips and chin are shaped like a crab. Crocodiles have been depicted as shoulders and both the hands look like coming out of its mouth. Seven human heads are engraved in various parts of the body. Of these a pair of small heads may be seen in either side of the chest. A bigger face forms the abdomen. These three faces have moustaches. Each thigh consists of a pair of heads of which two smiling faces are carved on the front side, while the other two are carved on both sides. Heads of lion are depicted on each knee. The waist band is also designed like a snake and the finger tips on both the arms end with snake heads. The genital organ (Penis) is made of head and neck of a tortoise. Two bell-like testicles are designed as forelimbs of the same animal. A snake is also shown entwining the left leg. Probably the legs are also formed like that of an Elephant but it is not very clear due to the bottom being broken.
The idol was locked away in a small gated room. The view was obstructed. Upon our polite request and impressing upon the caretaker that we have come all the way from Delhi to see this idol, the caretaker opened the locks and allowed us have a look real closely. We could touch it and photograph it without any hindrances from the grills. In fact the caretaker gave us a guided tour of the both the temples and also opened up the museum for us.
Once we were through with the temple he advised us to visit Madku village or Madku dweep situated on the banks of Shivnath River. The island resembles the shape of a frog. 19 ancient temples were unearthed here. It was exciting enough proposition. However, we had to reach Kawardha for the night halt which was about 120 kms away on the opposite direction and the day was fast fading with just an hour of sunlight left and Madku dweep was 12 kms away. Hence, we decided to skip Madku dweep even though it was enticing enough to warrant a visit.
We reached Kawardha which was about 120 kms from Tala, by 8.00 pm. The roads were good even though double-lane but devoid of traffic which allowed us to cover the distance in about 2 hours. It took us 30 minutes further to find a hotel for the night. Next destination in our plan was Bhoramdeo temple and Madwa Mahal. Bhoramdeo was situated about 17 kms away from Kawardha. Bhoramdeo was once the capital of Nagvanshi kings from 9th century to 14th century and later it came under the control of Haihayvanshi Kings belonging to the state of Ratanpur. We started early after having south Indian breakfast near the bus stand of Kawardha. It took us about 30 minutes to reach Bhoramdeo. It is situated in Maikal range of hill. The temple complex was huge. A huge lake was also situated in the front of the temple. But before visiting Bhoramdeo, we went to Madwa Mahal.
Madwa Mahal was situated about 1 kilometer from Bhoramdeo. Madwa Mahal means marriage hall in local dialect and also known as Dullhadeo. It was built in 1349 during the reign of Ramchandra Deo of the Nagavanshi dynasty and has a unique Shiva Linga erected over 16 pillars. Madwa Mahal was originally a Shiva temple but due its shape, like a marriage mandap, it is known as “Madwa Mahal”. We spent about 30 minutes admiring the sculptures and art-work before leaving for Bhoramdeo temple.
Bhoramdeo Temple is a temple dedicated to the god Shiva. The main temple is the Bhoramdeo temple built in stone. However one of the older temple in the complex is made of bricks. The temple walls have been sculpted with erotic akin to the Khajuraho temple, hence Bhoramdeo is also known as the "Khajuraho of Chhattisgarh". We spent about 45 minutes wondering about the amount of art-work undertaken to complete this temple complex and then left Ambikapur, our destination for the day and visiting Pali falling in between.
From Bhoramdeo, we drove back to Kawardha. Ambikapur was our night destination which was about 350 kms in distance. The route we took from Kawardha to Ratanpur was single lane roads where construction work was in progress at many places. This slowed us down considerably. But we joined the main highway once we reached Ratanpur. There were few old temples at Ratanpur but we decided to skip it. The day was getting very hot. We decided to visit another ancient Shiva temple at Pali, situated right beside the highway. Pali was at a distance of about 165 kms from Kawardha. By 1.00 pm we reached Shiva temple, Pali. The temple is a protected monument having exquisite carvings depicting various Hindu deities on its walls and dome. The stone pathway was burning hot which prohibited movement around the temple. A huge pond was situated right in front of the temple but even that didn’t provide any respite from the heat. Though the temple was quite impressive. After spending some time there we left for Ambikapur.
Pali to Ambikapur was about 175 kms in distance. However, good roads meant we covered the distance in good time. Ambikapur is a city and Surguja district headquarters. Being close to the border of erstwhile Bihar, we could trace the influence very clearly. Also, it seemed to be a well-organized and clean city as compared to other contemporary towns in Chhattisgarh or elsewhere. We reached Ambikapur late in the afternoon. Though we had enough time to carry on the journey, but lack of staying options in the route of Neterhat made us chose Ambikapur as our destination to break journey. We found a hotel to our liking and rested for a while. Thereafter we explored a bit of the town and found a nice eatery nearby our hotel and tried some snacks there. Came back to our hotel and rested again before heading for the hotel’s restaurant for a nice dinner.