A city is never built in a day. Generally speaking, it takes centuries of construction to build a composite city. While doing so, each generation leaves traces of their respective ways of life and ever-changing methods of construction in the form of some monuments as testimonies of the skills, knowledge and attitudes prevailing in their era. Jabalpur was also no exception. There I was fortunate enough to observe the fluctuations between different layers of beliefs over a passage of more than ten centuries through the three ancient monuments that still co-exist with modernity and are visible over the earth’s surface. These monuments were the “Temple of Bari Khermai”, “Temple of Tripur Sundari” and the “Temple of Chausanth Yogini”.
I had neither heard such name as “Temple of Bari Khermai” earlier nor planned to visit this innocuous place. But, while I was paying my homage to an old Jain Digambar Temple at Hanuman Taal area, the name of that unknown temple cropped up. One of my colleagues, being a local, wanted to take me to that temple. He had himself not seen it, but had only heard about it. Amused with his persuasive requests, I agreed and off we went. It was also told to me that the Jabalpur city had altogether 52 water bodies (Taal) when the Gonds were ruling this area. The Hanuman Taal, where we were standing, was one of such taals. Many old temples and shrines were situated around that taal.
Proceeding towards the temple, enroute we crossed Anwarganj, where an old mosque was situated. So, I could take only a picture of its Red sandstone minaret, which was visible from outside corner, because the main mosque gates were closed at that time. Thereafter, we reached at the big tiled gate of the temple, named as Ma Karma Dwar. The gate did not give any indication about the temple being ancient. It was quite modern and must have been built recently. Inside, an entire temple complex was situated as is generally found in such traditional settings. Pretty interested to know about the Khermai Temple, however, I went straight to the main deity casually covering the others.
The main temple was surrounded by the local bridegroom and his party. We were subjected to watching over impromptu dance performance by the entire party over the band playing hard. It was a long wait but we could enter the sanctum sanctorum of the deity only when the dance subsided. It was an altogether modern construction without any trace of antiquity. Anyway, after offering my prayers, I could not resist my curiosity further and asked the busy priest about the origin of that temple. He put an approximate figure of two thousand and five hundred years. I did not know whether it was an exaggeration and I needed evidence, whatsoever small, to that claim of antiquity. The priest indicated towards the idol on the lower ground beneath the modern and bigger idol placed high on the pedestal. Everyone was kneeling before the smaller idol on the ground for praying. It was the original deity installed in the time bygone much before the modern construction had taken place.
Later, after coming back, as a result of further curiosity, I came across the entire cultural concept of tribal deities of our country through a book titled as “Tribal Roots of Hinduism” written by Shri Shiv Kumar Tiwari. In his book, he has described in details the prevalence of local tribal mother goddesses. Some of these goddesses were quite well-known for the city dwellers too. Example was that of “Shitlamai (शीतलामाई) ”, i.e, the Goddess of Chickenpox. I good olden days, hundreds of thousands of people had died due to the anger of the Shitlamai and many faithful had been favoured by the Goddess who spared their lives. The people in those times attributed every aspect of their lives to some supernatural beings. There were “Budhimai (बुढ़ी माई) (Supreme Goddess)” and “Thakuranimai (ठाकुरानीमाई) (Almighty Goddess)”. Thus, “Raatmai (रातमाई)” became the Goddess of Darkness/night and “Khermai” became the Goddess of villages. Definitely, it was a part of the religious culture when the Modern Jabalpur was not built and it was still a small village. The change brought by the modern times was stark. The tribal Goddess of Village was now in a temple in the city and under the patronage of the modern-day business community. The erstwhile Goddess-of-villages had turned into the simple temple of faith.
After that, on the next occasion I visited the Temple of Tripur Sundari, which was situated at the Tewar village, on the banks of the Narmada, approximately 12 kilometers on NH 12, away from the Main Jabalpur City. The atmosphere here was more serene as compared to any modern city humdrums without giving any indication that it was once the capital of the Kalchuri Dynasty during 08th to 13th centuries, i.e., almost for 500 years. The Kalchuri dynasty was established in the 07th Century by a king named as ‘Vamraja” and the most prominent king of this dynasty was king “Kama”. But after 14th Century, this dynasty got disintegrated. The exact reason of their decline is not known. But it is said that they were a great patron of art and culture. A cemented gate off the National Highway welcomes the visitors of this 07th Century temple, established by Kalchuri King Lakshmikarna.
From this gate, a single road through the greenery goes upto the temple. Enroute the visitors can also visit the temple of Goddess Baglamukhi. A colourful market welcomes the visitors to the temple, which is situated in a huge open ground. There were two remarkable items in that market besides normal assortments of artificial jewellery. The first was the delicious “Peda”, an Indian sweetmeat made of milk and the second was the coconut wrapped in the red clothes. The secret of those coconuts was soon out when we entered the temple. The entire premise was filled with the coconuts tied on every rails, windows and everywhere by people wishing for fulfillment of their worldly wishes. It was a colourful and unforgettable sight.
Impressed with the colourful display of those tied-up coconuts, we went up to the sanctum sanctorum and saw the three-headed deity. We prayed before the Goddess/deity and asked the priest whether he was direct from the same lineage that worshipped the deity since ancient Kalchuri times. He replied in negative saying that the temple had got lost in history till it was renovated in the early ‘90s. He further added that before its renovation, the approach road was so tough that many vehicles could not negotiate the incline and hardly any people could come. So, That’s it. The ancient had given way to modernity. We would neither come to know about the religious practices followed by the Kalchuris at their capital nor the very name of the deity, which is shrouded in confusion created by two versions. The first version says that it is the idol of Beautiful Goddess of three universes. In this form, she is the highest form of Goddess Durga/Parvati. The second version states that it is the idol of Lord Shiva with three faces eg. Aghora, Tatpurusha and Sadyajot. Navratri is the special time to visit this temple.
Later I came to know that the geographical span of Tripur Sundari temples are scattered till the modern day Tripura. One of my colleagues also informed me about the existence of a Tripur Sundari temple at modern day Bhagalpur in Bihar. What does it signify? Whether the Kalchuri kingdom spanned far and wide covering the entire Central India and also part of North East? Or, whether they were influenced by the religious practices followed east of them? Those questions remained unanswered still in my mind.
Anyway, after coming out of the temple, my eyes spotted the third remarkable items available in the market there. It was early December 2014 and plenty of pale green coloured, round-shaped fresh guavas had arrived in the market. They delighted us. Some of them were huge equaling in size with a small-sized water-melon. One full guava was enough for one person’s lunch. Enjoying that delicacy, we proceeded ahead towards the banks of the Narmada at Bheda Ghat (about which I have already written) to visit the ancient Temple of Chaunsath Yogini.
After parking the car in the premises of Motel Marble Rocks, the MP Tourism property, we walked upto the base of the small hill to find a long and high flight of steps to climb. But it was also very nicely designed. After every four steps, there was one wider step where the tired ones can stop for breath. Iron railings were also provided for holding oneself. In addition, on the sidetrack, smooth incline/slope was constructed to enable people with knee problems who normally have difficulty in climbing through the normal steps. Though I did not count the number of steps, I guesstimate it as about 100.
Observing the steps and the facilities there, an interesting question cropped up in my mind. “Have we become weaker and more complacent that our counterpart who lived and constructed such temples?” Or, in other side of it, “Are we more caring than our counterpart who lived and constructed such temples?” With those questions, I climbed up the steps slowly with assured steps and found myself standing before a circular temple on the flattened top of the hill. How long it would have taken those people to carve out a hill-top to make it a flat surface? Subsequently, how long it would have taken to construct a temple, which stands even to this day? Anyway, a very pleasant and peaceful atmosphere had prevailed there which prompted us to sit down on the cemented bench. It was one of those places where one sits for doing nothing but to relax with the soothing atmosphere. It was also one of such places that are considered good for photoshoots for budding models as we had a chance to witness one such photoshoot going on there. Later, I came to know that the outer diameter of the circle was 41 meter. Due to its round shape, this temple is also called “Golakimath”.
Relaxed and peaceful, we entered the circular compound and immediately spotted the imposing temple, which stood majestically in the middle of the circle. On the circumference of the circle stood the statues of sixty-four Yoginis, Saptmatrika and also few more deities, each one in the specific enclosures/chapel dedicated to it in the verandah around the periphery. We started with the yoginis and saw the rampant mutilation of statue there. Some of the statues were bereft of their limbs, some had lost their heads, some breasts were chopped off and in some case the entire body was cut into two halves. Later, I was told that such mutilation is attributed when the temple was ransacked during cetain invasion during 11th Century. Anyway, the yoginis, i.e., consort of yogis, had voluptuous figures showing ornaments and tantric symbols pertaining to the 08th to 10th Century.
The main temple was dedicated to the Shiva and Parvati riding on the Nandi Bull depicting a scene of the Shiva’s Baraat. The Lord Shiva is depicted with his trident in his left hand and the Goddes Parvati holding a mirror in her right hand. It is said to be the only temple in which the Shiva-Parvati had been depicted sitting on the Nandi Bull. It is said that the temple was constructed by the Kalchuri king Yuvaraja, who used to visit the confluence of Narmada and a small river named as Bawanganga for bathing. Who knows what the truth is? But, ten centuries later, the worship of the deity still continues here and lots of visitors/devotees come here every day.
Besides those three ancient temples, I had also visited the modern-day Shwetambar Jain Temple near Jewellery bazar, Old Digambar Jain temple near Hanumaan Taal, Modern Shiva Statue at Kachnaar City and the ancient Gupteshwar Temple at Nagpur Highway. Everywhere the ancient and the modern mixed well in their own respective domains. The people at large were peaceful and the city carried its heritage and the modernity with simplicity. Dear Readers, let me now complete my stories on Jabalpur with the couplet from the song “Maa Rewa” from Indian Ocean:
“माँ रेवा थारो पानी निर्मल, खल खल बहतो जायो रे…
अमरकान्त से निकली ओ रेवा, जन जन करी रयो थारी सेवा
सेवा से सब पावे मेवा, असो वेद पुराण बतायो रे…..
माँ रेवा थारो पानी निर्मल, खल खल बहतो जायो रे…”