A short distance away from the Sas Bahu Temple is the intriguing Teli Ka Mandir, once the loftiest building within the walls of Gwalior Fort. It is unlikely that this is the original name for the temple, that seems to have been lost over time. Its present name is derived from Teli, meaning “oil dealer”, local folklore states that the temple was built by the oil merchant caste rather than a king, a royal, or the priestly class.
There are no inscriptions to help us categorically pin down a date for the temple construction. Based on the architectural design, the style of the art, and the earliest inscriptions, it is generally dated to between the 8th and 9th century.
The art historian Michael Meister suggests a date of 750 AD, the professor George Mitchell has attributed a date slightly later to around 800 AD, Bharne and Krusche have opted for 725 AD, and just to confuse matters even further there are some local documents that indicate construction could have been as late as the 11th century. The much later date may be the result of subsequent alterations or additions to the temple that have blurred some of the opinions.
The temple is quite unlike any other temple I have seen in India, there’s no direct parallel I can think of although you can see some similarities with Buddhist architecture and temples in the south of India with their Gopurams (entrance towers). I have no idea if this structure was influenced by such temples, or whether it was this temple that was the influencer on others. Guilds of artists no doubt collaborated and exchanged ideas and fashions, but tying down a concrete temple chronology across the whole of India must be nearly impossible.
A short flight of steps takes you to the entrance of the temple, flanked by sculptures of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna. Around the entrance and indeed covering a significant amount of the exterior is gavaksha ornamentation, a Buddhist influenced design you can often find in their chaitya halls.
For all the decoration adorning the exterior of the temple, the interior is surprisingly plain.
The temple has unfortunately been badly damaged over time, most notably by the raids of Qutb-ud-din Aibak and his successor Iltutmish in 1232 AD. Much of the masonry was reused to build a mosque nearby, a building which itself was destroyed by the Hindu Maratha centuries later.
The temple was rebuilt after the raids of 1232 AD, which may account for some of the later construction dates attributed to the temple. By the 19th century the temple was once again in ruins, and repairs were undertaken from 1881 to 1883 by Major Keith, an officer of the Royal Scots Regiment who were stationed in Gwalior.
Although the monument has been carefully and sympathetically restored on a number of occasions it has not always been possible to retain all of the carved detail, which accounts for some of the patchwork effect of detail and plain masonry that we now see today.
In the temple grounds are a number of blocks of carved masonry, some probably originate from the temple but others would appear to have come from other structures that once existed nearby. Most notable of these are what appear to be Jain statues. Of course there is a huge Jain influence in Gwalior, from the huge rock-cut statues carved into the side of the hill nearby, to evidence of Jain temples found on the top of the hill as reported and excavated by Alexander Cunningham in 1844.
In all the excitement of visiting this temple it would quite easy to overlook the impressive entrance gateway. So make sure you spend some time exploring it, as the carvings are amazing and it’s the perfect structure to act as a frame for photographing the front of the temple itself.
To visit the Teli Ka Mandir you need to purchase a ticket some distance away outside the Mansingh Palace. This single ticket allows access to this temple, the Mansingh Palace, and also nearby the Sas Bahu Temple.
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