When the Adi Manav s sketched their cultural progress in the rock shelters of Bhimbetka some 30,000 years ago, using natural rocks as a canvas for a medium of expression. Intially they used to sketched with fingers probably with charcoal and blood of animals hunted down. Later they migrated with stonage and iron age to higher forms or encrpytion displaying their cultural lifestyle of hunting, dancing and domestication of animals.
Being the heartland of India education too seem to have prospered with Nalanda & Taxila as a model emulated in Sanchi. The stupa of Sachi seems to have been erected by Emperor Ashoka ( 304 – 232 BCE ). In 260 BC Ashoka realised the futility of war after the battle of Kalinga, he adopted Buddhism as the middle path for salvation of his soul. He actively got involved to spread Buddhism across his vast empire spreading from Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan upto Thailand where the wheel of dharma adorne the 4 lions pillar facing different direction.
Our journey to MP was long over despite me visiting some parts in 1983, on official duty, when i was based in Indore and Bhopal for 5 months. I did not have chance to visit any of the monuments in detail except probably Omkareshwar jyotiling.
Our host Prof Ganesh has been beckoning us for a long time probably 20 years to visit his adopted home town of Bhopal. Finally we decided to accept the invite even though late in the day. We were wonderstruck with a hospitality beyond compare with accomodation and boarding arranged by him.
Our first we decided to take a whirlwind tour of Ujjain, we boarded the AC bus to Dewas and than from there a local one to Ujjain. Here we were hosted for a sumptous lunch by the Vohra family. Vohra family is connected through my wife’s colleague Shalini, who daughters birthday we attended recently at Mumbai.
We hired a round trip by an autorikshaw paying him Rs 400 for visit to Kalaram temple, Singnapur temple, Mahadev Temple, Mangal temple, Ganpathi Temple, Ram Ghat, and few other spots concluding with Mahakal temple.
The most unique visit was to Kalaram temple wherein liquor is offered to the avataar of Shiva. Maybe in the Rudra tandav mode. We desisted from offering the same.
Finally we booked our return ticket to Bhopal not wanting to stand in huge queue at the station. Than we found to our surprise that Q was moving slowly at that rate or speed we would have missed the train so we decided to take the special dharshan. We coughed up 302 bucks for two special dharshan ticket, which joins the general queue luckily we short circuited that too and joined the queue from reverse within minutes we completed our dharshan, it was a fulfillment of sort.
Next Ganesh Kumar hosted us for a nice breakfast and thereafter we took off to a circuitous tour of Sanchi, Udaygiri caves, Raisen Fortress, Bhimbetka and finally Bhojpur Jain Temple.
Sanchi Stupa :
Sanchi is located 52 kms north of Bhopal in Raisen District which is close to the tropic of Cancer bisecting the topography. Probaby due to this fact and close to old trading routes of Vidhisa Emperor Ashoka selected it as an important landmark to spread Buddhism. He wrote his edict and erected Stupas to propagate the teachings of his guru. Sanchi too happened to be his in laws place by virtue of marriage to his queen Devi who hailed from a village nearby. In fact her marriage to Ashoka took place in Vidhisa which is hardly 10 kms away from Sanchi. She took lot of personal interest to oversee the construction of the edifice which is now bestowed with world heritage status in 1989. This huge area is filled with stupas, statues and plenty of learning centres as it were. I strongly suspect it was an university modelled on likes of Nalanda and Taxila. Monastary no 51 with a huge water storage tank seems to be an ideal class room setting housing at least 1000 monks for learning. Open air system of learning and probably closed room teachings were imparted during the rainy season i presume. The huge ruined monastery below the great stupa clearly signifies the association with learning process.
Sungas and the Guptas too contributed their might to make the place filled with history and their donors were lavishly praised in the incriptions all around the structure. A proper balustrade was erected to maintain the sanctity of the main stupa. Some of the stupas seems to have been resurrected by ASI where one finds the blank columns, which may have been chopped off as a sovenier worth possessing.
The main Stupa seems to been plundered or dug out by the British thinking that there will be some treasure trove but unfortunately only the Ashes of Buddha and a Silver vessel containing the same was found with some gold coins. Maisey and Cunnigham divided the loot as their personal trophy and took them away to London. Some of the artefacts were disposed off by Maisey to Albert and Victoria Museum. They thankfully returned the ashes and bones of Buddha which were displayed in Sri Lanka who revered the master. This was later converted in a modern Chaitgara Vihara at Sanchi.
The name Cunnigham Road used to ring a bell literally for us since we stay put in an accomodation from 1981 upto 1990. Now the historic association with Alexander Cunnigham who had literally established the ASI from 1861 and documented most of the historical sites from Taxila to Sanchi. He was promoted as director of ASI by Lord Mayo in 1870. He was associated with Sanchi from 1851 onwards and wrote a treatise on Ashoka’s Edict.
Cunningham set sail from India with a rich haul of artefact collections from Indian sub continent on Indus, but his treasure trove got stuck in a cyclonic storm and sunk into the Indian Ocean some where close to Sri Lanka in 1884. The British managed to salvage a large portion of gold and silver coins and retrieved it to the British Museum. He was bestowed with a honour as Knight Commander of the Order of Indian Empire in 1887.
Subsequently ASI resurrected all the ruins which were almost abandoned. The trace of Buddhist statues too seems to have been vandalised by invading tribes such as Altamash, Quitubbdin Aibak and Ghazni s. One can find heads of Buddha being chopped off and strew around and some intact one s with Ear piece being taken away in the museum below. The museum is closed on Friday. The museum has a wonderful collection of all types of artefacts potraying Buddha and his consorts, and various other characters from Hindu mythology. Further the royal symbol of lions seated facing all the four directions signifies the extent to which Ashoka reigned. He was know as Devanpriya, meaning darling of the god. He spread the gospel of middle path like a missionery.
Sanchi seems to have been totally ravaged by the invaders and as well as treasure hunters after its re discovery in 1818 by General Taylor. Till 1881 random loot of the site was taking place, some of them maybe adorning private museums abroad. Later the process of systematic restoration took place from 1881 with documentation efforts, Sir John Marshall is credited to have resurrected a monumental historic edifice between 1912 and 1919.
Jawaharlal Nehru seems to have added some glamour to this place by opening a new Mahabodhi temple dedicated to the nation in 1952. Vikramaditya fables surround Sanchi with tales from Betala, he too had contributed towards refurbishing Sachi Edifices. Sunga dynasty too had their presence. The greatest contribution to Indian History is Dharma Chakra which adorns the indian flage. Four lions signified the spread of Buddhism to nook and corners of the world. Ashoka engaged his family to spread the same in a missionary style. His grandfather Chandragupta Maurya was responsible for spread of Jainism after abdication of Throne in favour of his son Bindusara.
UDAYAGIRI CAVES : ( Madhya Pradesh )
Udayagiri Caves is located 13 Kms North of Sanchi, one needs to cover this destination if one has to soak in the history of the heartland of India. There are many destinations by the name Udayagiri one need not be confused one is in Bubneswar which is combined with Khandagiri caves another is located after Padmanabpuram Palace in Kerala.
According to traditional beliefs this location was originally a Jain destination which was established by Chandragupta Maurya before abdication of his throne in favour of his son Bindusara. This theory is indirectly collaborated by the visit of Faxian, a chinese traveller,( 337 – 422 ) who recorded that the lifestyle of local people were filled with Jainism and their tradition of non meat consuming populace, and avoided onion and garlic in general.
Chandragupta II ( 380 – 480 ) ( Fabled as Vikramaditya ) along with his 9 gems created a landmark destination of Udaygiri caves with Varaha or Vishnu along with Shivling as their diety. The original Iron Pillar was probably installed where the cave no 20 stands today at Udaygiri. The documentation has been generally endorsed that Illtumush or Altumush ( 1211 – 1236 AD ) invaded this place and ransaked the terrain for its treasures and booty. He than transported the Iron pillar which was installed during the Chandragupta II.
I happened to notice a collapsed edifice of ancient origin which later was confirmed as a palace of Vikramaditya in state of ruins. The emperor palace must have been majestic for that age considering the fact that he had taken minting with gold and silver coinage to its peak during his reign. No wonder his period was known as the golden age in Indian history.
Alexander Cunningham had carried out extensive survey and mapping of the hillock containing 20 caves in all. Some of the artefacts have been totally removed and there is no trace of them. Some of the caves are just an opening. We were not able to place the first 8 caves at all, maybe its location is on the other side of the hillock.
Caves : In all 20 caves are documented in a vast hillock, many a times we hardly get to see 8 caves which are locked for posterity or preservation. Udayagiri literally means moutain of sunrise.
Cave 4 : No where in the world probably Shiv Ling is embedded with diety, which a clear proof that the original statue has been displaced with this contraption.
Cave 5 : The symbol of the Gupta empire Varha ( Vishnu Avatar ) is potrayed in all its majestic form, with consorts paying their respect all around.
Cave 13 : One can find Lord Vishnu lying on a huge phyton in his Seshasaina avataar after subjugating the reptile. Chandragupta II himself is potrayed as a disciple of the lord in one of the sculptures in the chamber.
The trekking experience across the hillock was really fulfilling in between we found that cave no 19 was completed sealed, besides on the hillock was a beautiful summer rest house probably used for hunting by the royalty located.
We trudged down a ravine type of rocky steps, which was neatly carved out of the hillock and down below we found a guide who opened the cave number 20 which was locked. We tipped with Rs 10 for showing and guiding us to another great destination known as the Raisen fortress.
Raisen Fort :
This fortress is located approximately 30 kms away from Udayagiri caves with a deviation from main road proceeding towards Vidisha and from thereon towards NH12 towards Hosangabad.
Thanks to our guide and driver who took pains to reach us to this important landmark destination which is spread over two hillocks one is the Western front and other is the eastern part of the fort.
Raisen Fort is credited to have been built by local chieftan Rai Singh. Therefore the name of the fortress was associated with the residence or Rainivas or Rajavilasini. We can firmly conclude that fortress was originally was royal residence which was fortified with bastions. It was built around 10th Century AD and it was completed in four to five phases.
There have traces of pre historic mankind with finds of various paintings, tools and traces of human existence. Excavations of the area are still on to unravel the mystery of the region with sculptures and prehistoric paintings.
Originally the fortress seemed to contain a few jain and hindu temples, which have all been vandalised and utilised in construction of the edifice at Raisen fortress. Raisen being strategically located near the trading route of Vidhisa was constantly under seize from various invaders such as Alauddin Khilji in 1234 AD who plunder and vandalised this place. Till 1293 AD Raisen was under Khilji dynasty later it was captured by Mohammed Bin Thuglak who too carried some plunder away to Delhi and Daulatabad.
In 1532 the fort came under Bahadur Shah, later it was attacked and seized by the Moghuls under Akbar and Aurangazeb. It was Aurangazeb who realised the strategic importance and full fortified Raisen building all the edifices from the salvaged pillars.
After the decline of Moghul empire it was captured by Amir Pindhari till 1816 when British took over the strategic fortress to control Malwa Region. In 1951 it was taken over by ASI.
Bhimbetka Rock Shelters :
Bhimbetka is located 45 kms south of Bhopal towards Hosangabad. It is approximately 5 kms away from the national highway 69. The park closes at 6 PM.
Imagine that you are travelling in a train in 1957 and it strikes your imagination that there maybe rock shelters and paintings of pre-historic origin in Bhimbetka Region. That is what Wakankar observed while travelling from Mumbai to Bhopal, than he returned in 1958 to carry out an extensive search spreading over 25 kms and identified 642 rock shelters containing paintings and remanents of pre-historic mankind along with burial places.
The core area of the rock shelter is spread over 1892 hectares which is approximately 18.9 square kms. The entire zone can be divided into VII core areas Bhimbetka ( 243 ) Bhonrawali ( 181 ) Lakha Jaur ( 153 ). All these fall under the Ratapani Sanctuary controlled by the state forest department.
Ratapani Tiger reserve forest is approximately spread over 823 square kilometres and i figure out that we covered at least 50 kms trying to reach this world famous destination which may have links with Indus Valley Civilisation dating back to 30,000 plus years ago. Ratapani reserve forest is filled with 50% of teakwood plantation, no wonder we get the finest teakwood in MP. We just made it to Bhimbetka by a whisker of a minute, 6PM the gate is closed for the visitors. Luckily the forest department guy obliged and gave us the ticket of Rs 50 per head. We were escorted on a full moon night and a chilling forest weather. Luckily we carried a powerful torch to see the paintings in most of 19 rock shelters.
Since Bhimbetka has been awarded world heritage status in 2003, the description and pathways are so beautifully designed, that it can beat any destination of such historic importance. Some of them are seeing wear and tear due to usage of flimsy material.
The security guard was trying to scare us to finish our tour of rock shelters ASAP with wild Bear attacks. Least did he know that it is domain of the tigers and the sanctuary has been identified as reserve forest for them. He was carrying a huge bamboo stick to scare away any animal intrusion obviously. These enclosures have been fenced though but it seems inadequate in case of tiger attack if they are inclined to leap and cross over.
One of the main painting area is found in the Zoo Rock and Tortise type of formation rock perched on another hilly projection. All these shelters have been barricaded so that tourist don t vandalise them. Night mode cameras with high resolution probably can capture the depth of paintings, which are mostly from their community living. One can find scenes of hunting, elephant ride, Bisons, cattles and other domesticated animals. One figure even shows a wild boar chasing a hunter, symbolising the hunter being hunted.
I have not seen the paintings of Altamira in Spain, but i would definitely rate Bhimbetka as the finest and largest evidence of pre historic life style which is still to be uncovered in the world. Maybe burial grounds need to be carefully excavated, there are traces of bone carving and many artifacts of ancient world.
Well we missed out on Bhojpur Shiv temple and had to satisfy ourselves with Jain temple visit. On the final day we were escorted to Bada Talab, Boat Club, Birla Mandir and Guhar Mahal by Jain and family. Thus our trip wound off in a bang literally being pampered and treated beyond expecation. I think the people of MP do possess a large heart and i can vouch for it guys.
Acknowledgement : Majority of the writing and findings are original penning of the author himself, but references are primarily drawn from UNESCO, ASI, Wiki and Bing Search. I gratefully acknowledge the source to respective authors without any prejudice, this is more of knowledge sharing blog rather than a commercial one.