The beautiful Polo Forest also known as Vijayanagar Forest located at the foothills of the Aravalli range bordering Gujarat and Rajasthan on the banks of the Harnav River was a place of great importance for the ancient kingdom of Vijayanagar. This densely wooded region derives its name from the word Pol meaning gateway in the local language. Polo Forest is near the Abhapur village around 44 km from Idar in Sabarkantha district in Gujarat. This forest is spread over 400 square kilometres and home to myriad medicinal herbs, birds, animals, reptiles and trees.
There are some stunning temples built during the 10th – 15th century within the forest that has been documented to some extent by the Archaeology Department. One can experience the former glory of the Jain temples, Shiva Shakti temple, Sun temple, Shiva temple with a kund and the Sharaneshwar Mahadev temple while exploring the forest.
Sharaneshwar Mahadev temple has caught the interest of historians, architects as well as archaeologists. This temple is believed to have been built in the 15th century. There is an enclosure wall for this temple which is highly unusual suggesting that this temple was probably either worshipped exclusively by the ruling queen or perhaps there was a great saint who frequented this place.
The temple on first glance appears to be two-storeyed but some local guides say that it is in fact three-storeyed. There are gates in the east and west side. Though the temple is in ruins, it doesn’t seem to eclipse the beautiful carvings, intricate patterns on the pillars and the overall grandeur.
This ancient temple is unique in its structure and its three-dimensional figurines that are rarely seen in other temples built in this period. Another interesting aspect of this temple is that Nandi is seated on a pillar higher than Lord Shiva.
There is the typical sanctum sanctorum, maha mandapa, mandapa and the path around the central shrine for circumambulation. There is a yagnakunda as well with other embellishments that appear to be from the post Chalukya style. However, the pillars are slightly contrasting with some quite plain with the inverted lotus on the capital and base while some others are extremely ornate.
The carvings on the walls are absolutely lovely of Yama, Brahma, Bhairava, Vishnu, Shiva, Indra, Parvathi, Ganesha, elephants, swans and scenes of social life. This suggests some influence of the tribal people who live in the forest. There is a stone that mentions Rao Bhana as the ruler of Idar which will probably mark this temple down to the Vikram Samvat 1554 and Shaka Samvat 1420.
This temple is located in a very quiet part of the forest and stands out for its detailed design, statues and carvings. The temple bears a forlorn look but is remarkable nevertheless.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)