Imaarat: Circle of inspiration

Did you know that Parliament House could have been modelled on the ancient Mitawali temple in Morena of Madhya Pradesh?

It is well known that both Herbert Baker and Edwin Lutyens, the architects of New Delhi, used a variety of Indian motifs and architectural styles while designing the grand edifices of the new capital of British Empire’s Jewel in the Crown. What is not so well known is that the inspiration for Parliament House or Sansad Bhavan could have been an ancient temple in central India — the Mitawali temple in Morena in Madhya Pradesh.

Morena was part of the well known badlands of central India, which included Bhind as well. Their names conjure up swirling dust raised by thundering hooves of galloping horses ridden by sinister-looking moustached riders with bandoliers slung across their chests and rifles on their backs. The romance of the Chambal ravines was brought to life by films like Mujhe Jeene Do and Mera Gaon Mera Desh. However, reality was very different. The life led by these dacoits, or baghis as they were called in that region, was quite different from the celluloid version. Paan Singh Tomar was probably closest to reality where the dacoits walked rather than rode horses.

One does not expect to see an abode of the gods in these badlands but one is in for a great surprise — the most incredible circuit of obscure temples lies 25 km deep inside Morena. From Gwalior one has to travel northwards towards Morena on NH3 and reach Noorabad where one takes a right turn. Noorabad was a small medieval outpost that grew prosperous during the times of Jahangir and is probably named after his wife Noorjehan. This is the route that took the armies from Delhi and Agra to Gwalior, Chanderi, Burhanpur and beyond to Deccan in medieval times. Even after all these centuries it is a wonder that the highway traces this ancient route to connect cities.

Circumnavigating the village of Mitawali, one approaches a 100-foot high hill where, from afar, a structure is visible. Halfway up the hill — a short climb on foot up the paved path takes one to the top, which is flat — the structure turns into two distinct temples. A small one in a corner and a circular shaped one at the edge of the hill. One immediately moves towards the edge of the hill. Rarely does one come across a circular temple or a temple without the regular characteristics such as the garba griha, mandap and shikhar.

One can immediately relate this design to that of the Parliament House in New Delhi and can be quite certain that the inspiration for the latter must have come from the temple.

While the Parliament House has pillars on the outer verandah, the Mitawali temple has pillars around the inner perimeter, which opens into a central courtyard. There are 64 four small temples, or alcoves, each housing a shivling. The central courtyard is ringed with the main shrine, again circular in shape, housing a large shivling. The pillars are generally unadorned and for a 10th century temple it is surprisingly well maintained.

These temples, as well as the ones in nearby Bateshwar and Padawali, are attributed to the Kachchhapaghatas wh­o ru­led the from Gwalior and rose to prominence in central India in the last decade of the 10th century. They built an amazing number and varieties of temples in their kingdom, which was believed to be a vassal state of the Gurjar-Pratihars and later the Chandelas. They also built temples in Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh, at Kad­waha, Surawaya, Mahua and Terahi .

Bateshwar temples are a group of about 200 temples spread over 25 acres and built across sloping hills near Padavali village. While the Padavali (meaning surrounded by hills) temple has some of the most exquisite carvings one can ever get to see.

The temples are situated at a comfortable distance north east of Gwalior and all three temples can be covered in half a day. Other ancient temple sites in Morena are Kutwar — Mahabharat’s Kunti village — and Sihonia village with Kakanmath tem­ple.

(GM Kapur is convener of the West Bengal chapter of Intach)

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