Gwalior fort: Temples within the Fort

Temples and forts have been an integral part of Indian architecture since times immemorial. It is not an anomaly to find temples dedicated to various deities within ramparts of forts found all across the country. Gwalior fort is one such tourist attraction in the state of Madhya Pradesh that is home to several temples; the most famous among them being the ‘Teli ka Mandir’ and ‘SahastraBahu temple’. It is difficult to put an exact date to the construction of the fort but it can be said with certainty that the structure has been standing atop the hill at least since the 10th century. Like with most other forts in the country, the Gwalior fort was also under the aegis of several rulers and dynasties.

Gwalior Fort

History of the fort:

The construction of this fort was commissioned by Raja Surya Sen in honour of Rishi Gwalipa who cured the king of leprosy. The inscriptions and structures within the fort can be attributed to different dynasties that held control of the fort at different points of time here. The dynasties under whose control the fort fell at various points in time included Tomars, Kachchhapaghatas (vassals of Chandelas), Gurjara-Pratiharas, Delhi Sultanate, Mughals and Marathas and finally passed on into the hands of the British.

Teli ka Mandir:

This is oldest structure within the fort premises and was possibly constructed between the 8th and 9th Century CE. What sets this temple apart from others is that it is the only temple constructed with elements of Dravidian architectural style the whole of North India. Both the name of the temple and the one who constructed it are shrouded in mystery. The popular belief is that it was commissioned during the reign of Pratihara king Mihira Bhoja. Local legends state that the temple was constructed by people belonging to the oilmen caste and hence the name Teli ka Mandir. Be that as it may, the temple is certainly an architectural marvel and even though it stands as ruins today its architectural style is clearly discernible. Another unique feature about this temple is that it houses deities of all three major Hindu sects namely Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism.

Teli ka Mandir front view
Teli ka Mandir

The temple’s architecture integrates North and South Indian styles of architecture to bring about a structure that is both marvellous and unique. The Shikar or Gopura is fashioned in Dravidian style while the motifs and carvings have been done in the Nagara style which is exclusive to North India. Carvings include figurines of couples, serpents and Devis and Devatas among others. Such integration of architectural styles also points towards the interaction between North and South India that extended beyond traditional trade ties. Another unique feature of this temple is that it does not house a Mandap like most other temples. It consists of a verandah and Garbha Griha separated by a doorway.  The Garbha Griha is rectangular in shape and there are extensive carvings on the outer walls of the temples. Restoration work was carried out here in the 1880s thereby restoring the carvings to a certain extent. This is certainly one of those structures that points towards exchange of ideas between Northern and Southern parts of the country since ancient times.

SahastraBahu Temple:

Bigger one dedicated to Sri Hari Vishnu

No, it is not Saas-Bahu temple and has got nothing to do with any rivalry between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law duo. Sahastra-Bahu means one with a thousand arms and that is where the temple gets its name from. This temple was built in honour of Sri Hari Vishnu in His Padmanabh form where He bears a thousand arms. Construction of this temple was commissioned by Kachchhapaghata ruler Mahipala around 11th Century CE. It is a complex of twin temple and that is probably why Sahastra-Bahu has been corrupted as Saas-Bahu.

It is a complex of twin temples; one dedicated to Sri Hari Vishnu and a smaller one that stands besides it has been built in honour of Mahadev. Limestone and red sand stone has been used in the construction of these temples. One can find extensive intricately carved motifs of flowers, deities, animal figurines and mythical beings on the walls of both these temples. The smaller temple is a one storey replica of the larger one. The carvings and mesmerising structures, though somewhat in ruins, can be rightly considered as poetry in stone.

No doubt there are numerous temples all across Bharatvarsha that mandate our attention. Each temple is a testimony to the greatness of artisans who brought to life such structures that stand tall even today. Protecting this rich heritage is the duty of every Indian.