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History hunting

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History hunting

Chambal may be associated with dacoits, but in ancient times the place was known for its architectural monuments and educational institutions. Gaurav Verma visits Mitawali looking for a temple which apparently inspired Lutyens’ Parliament House

The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilisation.

                                 — Frank Lloyd Wright

A quick trip to Gwalior was on the cards. A train journey provided a convenient option, but a road trip with the luxury of some sightseeing en route to the city of the Scindias was quite luring. The journey was long but a stopover at a well-known point in Agra and a brief lip-smacking lunch gave the much-needed energy and focus back to my mission. The thrill of being so close to a rich cultural heritage, lying hidden in a little-known place, was inspiring the adventurer in me to take the less-travelled road. After all, Morena district, situated near Gwalior, is famous for its architectural marvels, going back to pre-historic ages, as suggested by the rock paintings found in the hills. Mitawali, my destination, is also a part of our forgotten past.

The Madhya Pradesh tourism website mentions Mitawali under its “unknown among the known in Madhya Pradesh” initiative. Interestingly, the place has a 14th century temple which is believed to have inspired the design of our Parliament House in Delhi. This information was both intriguing and tempting. An inscription dated Vikram Samvat 1380 (1323 AD) claimed that the temple was built by the erstwhile ruler Maharaja Devapala. But that was all. The information was limited to that only. Still, it was more than enough to inspire me to see the similarity between the temple and Parliament House, and strive to unearth some more information.

So, I set myself on National Highway 3. After reaching Dhaulpur, half-an-hour before Morena, which took some four hours from Noida, I started asking for directions to reach Mitawali. All I got was blank faces, as clueless as mine. Finally, someone in Morena gave a vague information about the place. The situation was not quite encouraging, yet I had no option but to trust him and give it a try.

Luckily, he was right. Driving straight some 15 km from the Morena town, I was supposed to reach a place called Thekari. From Thekari, after taking a left turn, I was to drive a further 15 km. So, I kept a watch on the distance metre and kept asking the locals on the way to ensure I was in the right direction; a wrong turn would have either taken me to Gwalior (just 40 km away) or on a journey into the valleys of Chambal. Morena district, situated between the Chambal and Kwanri rivers, is in fact the headquarters of the Chambal division. Many famous dacoits and rebels, the famous Paan Singh Tomar included, also contributed in different ways to make the area famous.

Soon I was at Thekari, and I confidently took the left turn. Thereafter, it was fairly simple: Go straight for 15 km to finally see a direction signal for Mitawali. It is believed that Morena’s Mitawali, Padavali and Bateshwar areas formed a golden triangle wherein a reputed university existed around 1,000 years ago. The district alone boasts of almost 60 archaeologically-significant sites. The temple in Mitawali is also referred to as the temple of 64 goddesses (yoginis) and was the centre of teaching astrology and mathematics with the help of rays and shades of the Sun.

Though the road from Thekari to Mitawali was narrow, it was in fairly good shape, except for a few stretches which were being re-laid. Moreover, the excitement of getting closer to the site that ‘inspiration’ the design of India’s Parliament House ensured that the road condition was the last thing on my mind. A word of caution though — since there are no fuel stations after Thekari, make sure your vehicle does not run out of gas as the almost non-existent habitation in the area would be of little help if you need any.

Finally, I reached my destination. A 100-ft high mound and 100 steps to the temple stood in front of me. And as I saw the circular structure myself, for a moment it indeed felt like watching Delhi’s Parliament House. The structures of Parliament House and the Mitawali temple were strikingly similar. It seemed the architects drew inspiration from this temple in designing Parliament House, built by renowned architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker in the 1920s.

The most important aspect about the temple was that it was very well-maintained. Probably lack of human habitation around the structure made it retain its charm and class. The outer wall of the temple was decorated with images of Hindu gods and goddesses; the main circular temple in the centre was dedicated to Lord Shiva, and there were 64 small temples around it with an image of Shiva in each one of them.

Appreciating the view from the top as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but empty, barren land with no habitation. Moreover, despite being situated in the vicinity of the Chambal river, the meagre inhabitation in the region was a notable departure from the common historical rule: All ancient monuments situated near the rivers have ensured human settlements and flourishing cities. It seems some vital facts are still lying buried deep inside the soil, waiting to come out with the passage of time.

Apart from a caretaker, there were a couple of helps who ensured the temple was well-maintained and clean. I entered inside the temple. As I was walking in the circular verandah and thanked God for helping me reach the place and experience its tranquillity, the perforated base of the central temple caught my attention. The caretaker told me that it was built as a passage for rainwater to go into a huge reservoir below. I tried locating it but failed. It must have been built with precision so as not to obstruct the beauty of the monument in any way and serve its purpose secretly. Even the pipe-like pieces on the roofs, constructed to drain the rainwater, made me hail the architectural prowess of those times. It was perhaps these smart engineering techniques, apart from the limited number of visitors, which contributed in keeping the temple in a comparatively good state.

Yet, the temple needs attention. The Archaeological Survey of India, the body in-charge of India's historical sites, has only deputed a caretaker at the temple premises. Absence of any concerted renovation work is affecting the entire structure, especially the sculptures on the temple wall. Things would have worse had the place not been desolated.

As I prepared to return, I gave one last glance to this historical marvel and silently thanked God for giving me the opportunity to know and feel this place. But as I moved I wondered what had kept generations of Indians ignorant of this architectural gem. I was also informed that there are numerous other such sites lying unknown and unattended in the region.

I wish the Government wakes up to keep these historical monuments in good shape. The future generations deserve to see them to realise the glory of the nation in full bloom.

 
 
 

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