Located 35 km north of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and very close to the impressive Bateshwar Temple Complex, Garhi Padhavali (alternate spellings; Paravali, Padawali and Padavali) is a 10th century Shiva temple that holds a bit of a surprise for anyone who decides to visit this monument.
On arriving at the site you would be forgiven for thinking that there is no temple here at all. The path from the road takes you towards what appears to be a small compact fort (or garhi), with a flight of steps flanked by two posing lions enticing you into the interior.
But closer inspection of this fort wall does give us some clues. Notice how the construction appears to be in three distinct layers ? At the base is finely dressed stone with consistent carvings, followed by a rougher course of re-used stone, some of which is decorated, and then finally the upper course consisting of just plain stone bricks. Also notice how the fort bastions are only built from the same material as the upper wall ?
The stratigraphy of this fort wall would bring joy to the heart of any archaeologist. What we are looking at here is an older temple platform that has been augmented to act as the base of the fort wall. The fort itself is actually a relatively modern construction, being built by the Jat rulers of Gohad and Dholpur in the 19th century.
The real splendour of Garhi Padhavi lies up that flight of steps between the two lions. Note that the lions are in fact replicas, the original carvings can now be seen at the Gujari Mahal State Archaeological Museum in Gwalior. It’s one of those days when I wish I had more SD cards to hand for the camera…
The 10th century Shiva temple now stands in a courtyard in the interior of fort. Some scholars believe it was constructed by the Kachhapaghata rulers although there are no inscriptions to absolutely confirm this. Facing east on it’s own platform the temple is now incomplete, with only the mukha mandapa and ranga mandapa intact.
When Alexander Cunningham visited the temple in the 1880s he was faced with a very different scene to the one that exists today :
“…The temple consists of on open pillared hall, or mandapa, 25 feet square. The roof is supported on sixteen large pillars – 19 inches square, with the angles indented. The entrance is on the west through an outer hall, supported on two pillars. These are shorter than the pillars of the hall, but the requisite height of roof is obtained by a double architrave. The sanctum itself is entirely gone, and only its two entrance pillars now remain, with its lintel broken right across. A second architrave, which is lying on the ground, is also broken. The architraves over all the pillars are very richly sculptured…”
“…I think, therefore, that the temple must have been dedicated to Siva. It is now utterly desecrated, an upper storey having been added as a private dwelling-house, with a curved Bengali dome.”
Thankfully nobody is now living on the temple roof, and clearly quite a lot of restoration has occurred here to piece back the temple to its current condition.
We have K. K. Muhammed to thank for this, the ASI regional superintendent (now retired), who spearheaded the temple reconstruction in 2006. He was also responsible for overseeing the far more complex task of reconstructing 80 of the 200 temples that can be seen today at Bateshwar, just a couple of km away.
As you enter the temple you get a sneak preview of what is about to envelop you, it’s time to brace yourself and hope those neck muscles are in very good shape.
The temple is profusely decorated, there’s hardly a plain bit of stone on any of the architectural elements. The pillars, beams, ceiling and architraves are completely covered with iconography. It’s initially hard to make sense of it, and even more difficult to contemplate how to photograph.
The detail is exceptional, going right up to the darkest corners where really it’s only modern day technology in the form of zoom cameras that can easily reveal what has been carved.
The largest contiguous panel carvings are on beams extending across the four cardinal points of the temple. I am nowhere near qualified enough to describe them in immense detail, but here is a quick summary :
- North Panel (south-facing) – Lord Brahama , Shiva and Vishnu in old age, with lower section depicting celebration at Nandgaon of the birth of Lord Krishna.
- East Panel (west-facing) – Chamunda, with lower section depicting Lord Ram and his army of Vanaras performing a puja by a Shiva lingam before the war with Ravana.
- South Panel (north-facing) – Lord Shiva with Parvati and Nandi, lower section depicting war scene of Mahabharata killing Abhimanyu.
- West Panel (east-facing) – Lord Surya, with lower section depicting Lords Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.
The panorama of gods and goddesses just goes on and on. I don’t think I have seen such intricate carvings inside a temple since I visited the hindu temples just to the south of Osian, near Jodhpur in Rajasthan. But here the density and detail is far greater, can this be surpassed anywhere in India ?
Some scholars have declared that the carvings here are superior to those to be seen at the Khajuraho Temples. I’m not totally convinced by that, but in terms of the minute detail that has been applied it would be hard to rigorously argue otherwise.
As with Khajuraho there are some erotic scenes carved here, but a big difference lies in the fact that all these intricate carvings have been made inside the temple, whereas at Khajuraho all the artistic attention has been applied to the outside of the temple.
It’s interesting that Garhi Padhavali is broadly contemporary with the temples at Khajuraho, and yet we have this stark difference in how the iconography is displayed. At Khajuraho you don’t need to enter the temples, you can view them all from the outside. At Garhi Padhavali, you are forced to enter the temple to have the same visual experience.
The old name for Padhavali would appear to be Dharon. Local legend has it that this village was once part of a large city that also included the villages of Suhaniya (formally Simhapaniya) and Kutwar (formally Kantipuri). Alexander Cunningham appears to doubt that claim, probably because there’s a lack of archaeological evidence for it.
In terms of the archaeological record, Padhavali can be traced back to the 6th century AD based on sculptures found in the area. Remains of numerous Jain sculptures have also been found, so it would appear to have been once an important Jain center as well. Prior to the Kachhapaghatas, this area was ruled by the Chandelas, and the Pratiharas dynasty before that.
Many carvings and sculptures that have been collected from Garhi Padhavali can now be seen in the two archaeological museums in Gwalior; the Gujari Mahal State Museum and the ASI Museum inside Gwalior Fort. The Gujari Mahal museum has a fantastic Trimurti Panel found here that is well worth seeing if you can, there’s a photo of it on my blog post about that museum (link just above).
Not all the carvings have been removed from the site. Just west of the temple in the fort courtyard is a large pile of masonry, further remains of the Shiva temple that perhaps will one day be pieced together again.
Entry into the fort buildings is not permitted, although next to the temple you can get to see a seriously deep well that perhaps was once contemporary with the temple but was again modified and incorporated into the fort proper by the Jat rules in the 19th century.
Outside the fort walls are more examples of collected masonry, one gets the feeling that perhaps more than one temple once existed very close by.
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