India

Kakanmath Temple – Defying the Laws of Gravity

Tucked away near the small village of Sihoniya, 65 km north of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, the now partially ruined Kakanmath Temple dominates the surrounding flat countryside. And yet for all that imposing stature, this temple is one that will leave you wondering just how it’s possible to be still standing.

The Kakanmath Temple was commissioned by the Kachchhapaghata ruler Kirttiraja sometime between 1015 and 1035 AD. An inscription found at the Sas Bahu temple in Gwalior records a Shiva temple being built at Siṁhapānīya which is known as Sihoniya today, so it is assumed this is that temple.

The source of the name Kakanmath is thought to be derived from kanak (meaning ‘gold’) and matha (meaning ‘shrine’), although there is a local legend that says the temple was named after Kakanavati or Kakanade, queen of Surajpala.

Standing 115 feet tall and clearly once heavily decorated, this temple is considered very similar to many of the temples that can be seen at Khajuraho. Many of the carvings are similar to those that can be seen at Khajuraho as well, I did spot one of the classic images of a woman plucking a thorn from the sole of her foot.

The pyramid-like structure has a pillared corridor leading to a central shrine. Originally the site was a temple complex, with this central temple surrounded by four subsidiary shrines.

Earthquakes and further damage from invaders has taken its toll on Kakanmath, the area surrounding the temple platform is littered with carved masonry from this and those subsidiary shrines. It’s one giant jigsaw puzzle that perhaps one day will be attempted by someone.

Subsidiary shrine at Kakanmath, one of four that were originally in the temple complex

The marvel at Kakanmath is just how this temple is managing to still stand. Stripped of most of the walls, it’s just a fragile bare skeleton of a temple now and looks as though it could fall down at any moment with even the gentlest of breezes.

Remember that this construction doesn’t use any concrete or binding agent, the entire thing is just relying on the weight of the stones in strategic positions and the ingenuity of the temple architects.

It’s staggering to think that this structure has survived for nearly a millennium. I’m convinced if anyone asked a modern-day architect to replicate what stands today they would claim it’s impossible.

The ruins at Kakanmath are so majestic, possibly more so because of the loss of the outer covering of walls. It does give you an unique insight into how these complicated buildings were originally constructed, I just hope the temple is stable enough to withstand the next 1,000 years.


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