Bhojeshwar Temple, Bhojpur
On the auspicious day of Mahashivratri, I decided to restart my blog with an article on the old Bhojeshwar Temple that houses the largest Shiv Ling in India. I visited this temple a couple of days ago and was awestruck by the simplicity in the design and the architecture that in fact enhanced the grandeur of the monolith Shiv Ling in the sanctum. This marvel is located at about half an hour’s drive south from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
Built by Raja Bhoja I in the eleventh century (A.D. 1010-55) the temple stood on the banks of a manmade lake created by the same ruler by damming of Betwa and Kaliasot Rivers. It is estimated that the lake covered an area of 250 square miles as it stretched from “Dumkheda, near Bhopal city, to Amoha in the south, and from Chaplasar in the east to Barkhedi in the west.”  Map given below shows the location of these places, the first having been swallowed by the city of Bhopal. Ostensibly, Sultan Hoshung Shah breached the dams in the fifteenth century and thus the lake is not to be seen today.
Map Source: C. Eckford Luard, “Gazetteer Gleanings in Central India: The Great Dam and Temple at Bhojpur in Bhopal State,” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1914 (London: 1914), p. 309, archive.org.
To reach the sanctum of the temple one has to climb a flight of stone steps to the platform that leads to the temple. This large rectangular platform on the western side of the temple has two small raised platforms covered with chhatris (Gazebo). One has a small marble Shiv-ling and the other has the sculpture of a serpent. Both these are worshipped by devotees who visit this temple. Besides the two chhatri-adorned platforms, there is a third raised but uncovered platform which has a Shiv-ling and serpent figures atop it and on the western side a small alcove houses a deity of Mahadev.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has set up barricades in the area between the three joined platforms and the main entrance of the temple thus preventing devotees from performing the parikrama (circumambulation) of the marble Shiv-Ling. The main temple itself is at an elevation from the platform and there exists old slabs of stones as stairs, which are both small and quite low from the threshold of the entrance for use of devotees. The ASI has installed two flights of stairs at the entrance for people to conveniently enter and exit the sanctum. Also, ASI should be commended for building a ramp to enable the feeble and the disabled to reach the sanctum without having to climb the large stone steps to the platform.
Standing at the threshold of the sanctum the view is to behold. The Shiv-Ling is set on a large platform which is situated much below the level of the threshold. Stone steps lead to the base of the Shiv-ling where devotees worship the Lingam with flowers and fruits. The single square sanctum has a high ceiling with a dome in the centre. According to Wikipedia, sections of the roof were missing until the beginning of the twenty first century when they were covered by fibreglass. It has been contended that the temple construction was abandoned midway leaving many features incomplete. Archaeologist K. K. Muhammed successfully completed the creation and installation of a missing pillar by sourcing the right kind of stone and by employing trained stone artisans. He also holds the view that a mathematical error by the medieval architect resulted in the collapsing of the roof that caused the abandonment of construction of the temple.
The entrance of the temple is both extremely broad and high, very unlike Hindu temple architecture. Probably the entrance was made so big so as to allow the shifting of the monolith Lingam into the sanctum. Prof. Kirit Mankodi terms the temple intriguing because of several peculiar features. This west facing temple lacks a mandapa (a pillared outer hall for devotees) and instead of a shikhara (a tall spire), which is a standard for Hindu temple structure, this temple has a samvarna (a dome shaped) roof. He echoes the view of Shri Krishna Deva and Prof Dhaky who surmise that this temple was a commemorative temple in memory of a departed person. 
The gigantic Lingam and the pedestal on which it sits occupy the whole space between the four pillars on each corner of the room. The space between the pillars and the walls adjacent to them is pretty narrow hardly allowing two people to pass through. However, in a single file devotees can easily complete circumambulation of the Lingam if they wish to.
Inside the temple on the southern wall, ruins of a balcony are visible (photos end of the para). In all probability, if completed this would have extended just over the Lingam to enable the king or other royalty to perform Hindu religious oblations of pouring milk and water on the Lingam as is done by devout Hindus over Shiv-Lings all over the country. Similarly, on the outside of the wall, one can see highly ornate remains of a balcony. Both the balconies are faux balconies as there are no approaches or exits to them. Since the superstructure could not be built, seemingly the stairs leading to these balconies remained unexecuted. The fact that these balconies exist on the inside and outside of the same wall and that to perform oblations on such a gigantic Lingam an elevated approach was necessary, it is highly plausible that the balconies were meant to be functional and would therefore have had stairs leading to them if the construction of the temple had been completed. The northern and eastern walls too have faux balconies on the outside but these truly seem to be faux balconies as on the inside of these walls there are no indications of balconies like that on the inside face of the southern wall. These balconies on the outside face of the northern and eastern walls may have been constructed to present a symmetrical design from the outside of the temple. Surprisingly, Kirit Mankodi has not mentioned the presence of an incomplete balcony projecting from the southern wall towards the lingam, and, therefore, has missed taking into consideration the possibility of the balconies on the outside and inside of the southern wall as being functional features of the final completed temple. If the balconies were meant to be used for rituals then would this temple still be called a commemorative one? Or as Mankodi states, built as a funerary temple?
in the above photo the incomplete balcony can be seen on the right wall, right behind the column in the foreground. Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018.
This photo was taken from the floor of the sanctum. The broken beam located right below the balcony suggests that the balcony was intended to be extended further to reach the lingam. Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018.
Several European travellers and officers of the East India Company who traversed these parts of central India in the nineteenth century have described this temple in their writings. In a travelogue of 1839, the author mentions that the Gosains of the temple ‘resided in a small court in front of the temple.’ In another description of 1847, it is said that the pedestal of the Lingam carried an inscription “achintya dhwaja” which meant ‘the sign of incomprehensible.’ The author also states that the temple possessed four pillars.
A remarkable feature of this temple site is the finding of a large number of stone carvings in various stages of completion in the quarries nearby. Along with the carvings, stones pieces have been found that have plans and names of masons etched on them. These are crucial in augmenting our understanding of the mechanics of Hindu temple construction of the medieval period and before. Also, a ramp used to carry the pieces to the top part of the temple is found on the eastern side of the temple.
Louis Rousselet visited this temple site in the 1860s and has given a detailed description of the temple:
The temple is situated on a high mount, part of which has been converted into a terrace and it is reached by a dilapidated flight is steps, overlooked by the poor buildings of the convent; where, passing under a little doorway, we found ourselves at once before a great façade. A vast pointed gap, the archwork of which has partly disappeared, occupies the centre, leaving the interior of the sanctuary visible; and the façade is very remarkable from the marked contrast of is simplicity and mode of construction with the other monuments of India. Large monoliths not measuring less than from thirty to forty feet in height, standing side by side, form the exterior wall; both sides of which had no other ornament than two heads of monsters, of graceful design, from which issued a chain terminating in a bell. The chain and the bell are well known as being one of the favourite adjuncts of Jain architecture.
I have said that the walls had no other ornaments besides these sculptures, but a short time since they were decorated with statues taken from another ancient temple. A flight of a few steps leads to the threshold of the portal, and then descends again to the base of the sanctuary, which slopes downwards. There you face an altar of such gigantic proportions that it fills the entire temple. It covers, in fact, a surface of forty-four square yards; and this enormous mass composed of three superposed granite monoliths, is finished by elegant cornices.
A staircase, concealed so as not to injure the general effect, leads to the summit of the altar, in the centre of which stands a polished cylindrical stone post, perfectly rounded at its summit, and, at the corners of the hall, four superb monolithic columns support the roof of the temple. These columns are considered by the Indians as marvels of their national architecture; and they maintain that he who has never seen the Bhojepore-ka-khoumbas has seen nothing. It is, indeed, impossible to conceive a more graceful form combined with so imposing a mass. Each shaft, which rests on a pedestal two yards in height, is divided into three equal sections; the first and the second are octagon, and the third had twenty four sides, which has the effect of adding wonderfully to the perspective, and augmenting the apparent height of the columns; and the capital forms a graceful campanile, whence issue heavy consoles, supporting the extremities of the four massive architraves on which the roof rests. It is on this roof, a magnificent concentric Jain dome, that the architect appears to have bestowed all the ornamental riches of which he has been so sparing in the rest of the edifice. Each of the circles of the cupola is a continuous network of lace, flowers, fruits, and arabesques, in the midst of which sport innumerable figures of musicians and dancing girls.
Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018. This shows the bell on the chain sculpted on the doorway as described by Rousselet above. The chain and bell column was missing before the repairs as is visible in the photos below. Also, the closeup of the doorway clearly shows the broken part on the top and left jamb.
If we ignore Rousselet’s incorrect ascription of certain features to Jain temples, such as the bell on chain which is an inalienable aspect of a Hindu temple as well, his description of the temple augments our understanding of the temple architecture as well as corroborates other descriptions. From the description given above and from the mention in the 1839 travelogue of Gosains residing in front of the temple, it is clear that the convent which housed the Gosains of the temple existed on the platform that today stands barren except for the three raised platforms mentioned earlier. Since Rousselet calls the convent structures as ‘poor buildings,’ it indicates that the convent structure was not temporary in nature but was possibly made of stone. Thus, when were these convent structures removed, by whom, and why?
Interesting to note is that these travellers noted a saying common among the local people about Raja Bhoj’s contribution to our rich cultural heritage:
Muchalpoor ka baolee our [aur] Bhojpoor ka Kumbh
Udayapoor ka Dehura (was built by one man)
‘Kumbh” here refers to the imposing tall pillars of the Bhojeshwar Temple.
Even more interesting is the description written in the early twentieth century. In an article written in 1914, the courtyard in front of the temple is described as nothing but a long and narrow “collection of mud and rubble.” This narrow courtyard extended to enclose some small “huts used by the local Mahant and his chelas.” Interestingly, in this description the author mentions the existence of four pillars within the temple. Thus, the destruction of the pillar gets pushed to sometime after 1914.
As to the reasons for this temple’s incomplete state, the finding of finished statues lying in the quarries indicates an abrupt abandonment of the site while the temple was still under construction. Archaeologists conjecture several reasons – such as flooding, earthquake, mathematical error, or war- for its abandonment. On seeing the temple, especially the doorway which clearly looks broken at places rather than being left incomplete as can be inferred from the rather jagged edge on the top of the doorway, I got a sense that the temple faced deliberate destruction. Whether the destruction took place while the temple was still under construction or after it was abandoned, is not clear. Nevertheless, if one studies the photographs of the temple taken before the renovation (given below), the roof does not look caved in but rather broken with force. Since Luard theorises that Sultan Hoshung Shah deliberately breached the dam out of “wantonness” it is highly possible that the Bhojeshwar temple too faced his “wanton” wrath which resulted in the damage visible to many travellers until the repairs were made recently.
The following two photos were taken before renovation of the temple as is seen from the extensively damaged roof. In the second photo one can see that the left column of the doorway which should have the chain and bell sculpture is missing.
Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018
Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018.
Photo taken by author on 10 February, 2018.
 M. N. Deshpande, “The Siva Temple at Bhojpur: Application of Samarangansutradhara,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay, Vols. 54-55/1979-80 (Combined) (New Series), ed. Devangana Desai (Bombay: 1983), pp. 35-39. Hathitrust
 C. Eckford Luard, “Gazetteer Gleanings in Central India: The Great Dam and Temple at Bhojpur in Bhopal State,” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1914 (London: 1914), pp. 309-316, archive.org.
 ,Kirit Mankodi, Scholar-Emperor and the Funerary Temple, Eleventh Century Bhojpur from academia.edu https://www.academia.edu/11335214/Scholar-emperor_and_a_Funerary_Temple_Eleventh_Century_Bhojpur
 “March between Mhow and Saugor, 1838,” The Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. VIII January to December 1839 (Calcutta: Bishop’s College Press, 1840), pp. 802-822, Google Books.
 J. D. Cunningham, “Notes on the Antiquities of the Districts within the Bhopal Agency &c,” The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XVI Part II July to December 1847 (Calcutta: 1847), pp. 739-744, Google Books. Cunningham was the Political Agent at Bhopal.
 Louis Rousselet, India and its Native Princes: Travels in Central India and the Presidencies of Bombay and Bengal, New Edition (London: Bickers & Sons, 1882), 471-472, Google Books.
 “March between Mhow and Saugor, 1838,” The Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. VIII January to December 1839 (Calcutta: Bishop’s College Press, 1840), pp. 813-814, Google Books.
 C. Eckford Luard, “Gazetteer Gleanings in Central India: The Great Dam and Temple at Bhojpur in Bhopal State,” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1914 (London: 1914), pp. 309.