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Bateshwar Group of Temples: India’s Largest Jigsaw Puzzle

Madhya Pradesh is incredible partly for its infinite archaeological treasures. The entire landscape of this central Indian state is teeming with archaeological artifacts, some of which even date to pre-historic times. One such intriguing discovery is the Bateshwar Group of Temples in Morena. The temple complex, situated amidst the once infamous Chambal ravines, was previously a jumble of countless ruined structures. Gradually, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) went to unprecedented lengths and restored many of the shrines here. At present, it has around 200 temples. In fact, ASI is still engaged in restoration works here.

Bateshwar Group of Temples
The Bateshwar Group of Temples.

Where is Bateshwar Temples located:

This beguiling group of temples is in the Morena district. The site is 35 km north of Gwalior and 30 km east of Morena town. The shrines are spread over an approximately 25 acres of land.

History of Bateshwar Temples:

Locally, Bateshwar is also known as Batesara. The name Bateshwar is probably derived from Bhooteshwar, another name for Lord Shiva. According to experts, the Bateshwar Group of Temples belongs to the Gurjara – Pratihara era. The Gurjara – Pratihara was one of the most formidable dynasties in the post-Gupta era. They ruled over most of northern and central India from the mid-8th to 11th centuries. Claiming descent from Ram Chandra’s younger brother Lakshmana, the most eminent ruler of this dynasty was Mihir Bhoja. The Pratiharas were engaged in the long-drawn Tripartite Struggle with the Palas and Rashtrakutas for dominance of northern India.

Hanuman statue at Bateshwar
A vermillion-smeared statue of Hanuman lies at the center of the group of temples.

The shrines of Bateshwar were built between 750 – 800 CE. Eventually, the temples were reduced to mere rubbles. It is however unclear as to how these shrines were destroyed. No sign of invasion or attack was found here. Presently, the common consensus is that an earthquake in the 13th century led to the decay of Bateshwar. Gradually, the debris was engulfed by the forest and Bateshwar remained hidden from the prying eyes.

Picturesque Bateshwar
A moment of tranquility amidst the ruins.

It was Alexander Cunnigham, the trailblazing archaeologist, who first mentioned the Bateshwar Temples in 1882. He referred to them as “a confused assemblage of more than 100 temples large and small, but mostly small, to the south-east of Paravali Padavali”.

Rows of temples in Bateshwar
Rows of re-constructed temples.

Then in 1924, Bateshwar went under the protection of the ASI. For the next 81 years, the ASI preserved and recorded its ruins. But, no concerted effort was undertaken for the restoration of these shrines.

Few of the sculptures found here are a bit crude in nature.

Restoration of Bateshwar:

Things however changed in 2005. K.K. Muhammad, one of the most prominent archaeologists of India who was then ASI Bhopal’s regional superintendent, undertook the herculean task of restoring the Bateshwar temples. True, it was an uphill battle. The temples were reduced to muddle-up stone pieces and vegetation outgrew through the structures. The task was akin to solving a daunting jigsaw puzzle. Moreover, these ruins were overrun by the notorious Chambal dacoits. All in all, Bateshwar proved to be a formidable challenge to the ASI.

Broken remnants
Relics are scattered throughout this amazing archaeological site.

Thanks to the able leadership of K.K. Muhammad and the unflinching dedication of his team, many of the temples in Bateshwar were put back to their former glory. Even now, the ASI is engaged in further restoration works as well as beautification of the entire place.

Omgoing restoration work
The ASI is still busy with restoration works here.

The Chambal Dacoits:

The Chambal ravines have always been infamous for the dacoits, locally called ‘Baghis’. Anarchy was the law in Chambal, where even the Government forces feared to venture in. The dense forests as well as the remains of the ancient temples provided refuge to these menacing bands of robbers. Bateshwar was also one such shelter.

Relics of Bateshwar
It is hard to discern as to how these temples were destroyed piece by piece.

The area in and around Bateshwar was ‘reigned’ by Nirbhay Singh Gujjar, one of the last Chambal dacoits. Known as the “Last Lion of Chambal”, he committed over 200 crimes and carries a bounty of INR 2.5 lakh.

Inside Bateshwar complex
The silence here will help you reminisce the past of these shrines.

Meanwhile, realization had dawned upon K.K. Muhammad that the main obstacle to restoring Bateshwar was the Chambal ‘takes’. Bateshwar could never be restored without the intervention of the dacoits. Nothing in Chambal happened without their permission. Moreover, no mason or laborer was willing to work in this notorious place.

Bateshwar Temples
The temples here have a unique uniformity.

As such, K.K. Muhammad did the seemingly impossible task. Initially, he contacted the dacoit gang through intermediaries and sent requests to vacate the area so that he can carry out the work. However, nothing came out of this. One day, when all seemed lost, K.K. Muhammad stumbled upon the leader himself. He met Nirbhay in one of the ruined temples and told him about his ambitious project. He informed Nirbhay that it is clear from his surname that he is a descendant of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty. Therefore, it is his duty to protect these monuments from getting lost. With this, K.K. Muhammad did the impossible. He had convinced one of the most terrifying Chambal dacoits, who promised him non-interference as well as assistance in the restoration of Bateshwar.

India’s largest jigsaw puzzle.

The ASI-dacoit entente was, however, short-lived. Nirbhay Singh Gujjar was gunned down a few months later. Other Chambal crooks were either put behind bars or shot to death. Peace, finally, returned in the ravines of Chambal.

Ruins of Bateshwar
Ongoing excavations will bring forth more ruins.

In a way, the presence of the Chambal dacoits helped in the preservation of the Bateshwar temples. No one dared to visit or smuggle invaluable artifacts out of this site.

Menace of Mining Mafia:

Till now, the activities of robbers had kept illegal mining at bay. The void created by the end of dacoits was soon filled by the mining mafias. They proved to be a major hindrance to the restoration works.

When repeated appeals to the local authorities fell on deaf ears, K.K. Muhammad approached Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) chief K.S. Sudarshan. This step risked his career as a Government employee. Nonetheless, his effort was successful. Within 24 hours of contacting the RSS chief, he received the necessary help in his venture of restoring Bateshwar.

Restoration works
The site also shades light on the fieldwork of the ASI.

Our Experience at Bateshwar:

After reaching Bateshwar, we were first bowled over by the abundance of peacocks inside the site. This is not surprising given the name of the place. Morena roughly translates into ‘abode of peacocks’ (in Hindi, ‘Mor’ means peacock, and ‘Raina’ means living place).

A small shrine at the entrance
A small, single-roofed shrine near the entrance.

As we walked, the riveting archaeological site began to unfold before us. Present-day Bateshwar can best be described as rows of small temples arranged in neat order amidst the scattered ruins. The entire site is filled with broken pillars, wrecked friezes, and fragmented sculptures. A Hanuman statue, smeared with orange vermillion, stands at the center and is still worshipped by the locals. Needless to say, we were overwhelmed by the plenitude of artefacts in Bateshwar.

The cloudy weather added to the mystery of this place.

Out of the 200 temples in Bateshwar, 80 have been renovated by the ASI. The earliest temples here are characterized by plain square roofs, while the ones with artistic conical roofs belong to a later period. According to experts, these conical-roofed Bateshwar temples marked the beginning of ‘Mandapika’ shrines in central India. Such shrines represent the basic and bare minimum Hindu temples, taking it one step further from single cave cell design.

Mandapika shrines
Not widely known among tourists, you will mostly find this site all to yourself.
Small shrines
Delicate carvings on the door jamb.

The temples also manifest a variety of interesting sculptures. Some have ‘Nataraja’ above the entrance porch, while others have ‘Lakulisha’. Carvings of Shiva-Parvati are quite common, such as the marriage of Shiva and Parvati with Brahma and Vishnu in attendance. Sculptures depicting scenes from Bhagvata Purana, Navagraha, or nine planets, Vishnu’s Dashavatara, and Saptamatrikas depict the versatility of religious themes in Bateshwar. Furthermore, secular themes such as amorous couples, women playing various musical instruments, men riding elephants, and so on are also abundantly found here.

Sculptural panels
Relics of sculptural panels.
Carvings on the temples.

We were completely taken aback by the temples as well as the jumbled ruins. Every piece of ruin in Bateshwar carry memories of a time lost in the pages of history.

Fragments of past
Fragments of the past.

How to reach Bateshwar:

Bateshwar is an hour’s drive from Gwalior. Hiring cabs from Gwalior for reaching Morena is the most convenient way. You can combine Bateshwar, Padavali, and Mitaoli together for a day trip from Gwalior.

Remains of a deity
Remnants of a deity.

Where to stay in Bateswar:

There are no hotels in Bateshwar itself. We suggest staying at Gwalior. Make Gwalior your base and then explore the historical sites of Morena. We stayed at Deobagh in Gwalior. You can book rooms at Deobagh from the site of Neemrana Hotels.

Things to know:

1. No entrance fee or parking fee is charged at Bateshwar.

2. The Best way to reach Bateshwar is to hire a cab from Gwalior.

3. Carry drinking water with you as you will find no shop in this area.

4. The ASI is still engaged in the restoration work. It is better not to intervene in their area of work.

5. Refrain from visiting after 3-4 PM. The site is quite deserted, apart from the ASI workers.

6. Respect the ruins here. They constitute a part of our country’s heritage.

7. Check out our other blogs on Madhya Pradesh here.

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