Bandhavgarh National Park is a treasure trove for wildlife enthusiasts, history buffs, naturalists and spiritualists. This ancient forest has been home to many great saints, sages and yogis as well as a strategic stronghold for many kingdoms. Bandhavgarh derived from the word bandhu which means brother and garh meaning fort has been a historically important place since the Treta Yuga. The fort within the Bandhavgarh National Park was built by the legendary architects Nala and Neela on the request of Lord Rama and gifted to his brother Lakshmana. This fort was built on the highest hill in central India (elevation of 2660 feet) to keep an eye on Lanka. Lakshmana is also called as Bandhavdeesh here and a temple atop the hill is dedicated to him. This fort located in the Tala region of the Bandhavgarh forest has been mentioned in Narada Pancharatra, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana and Valmiki’s Ramayana.
As the years went by, this fort was occupied by many dynasties like the Maghas, Vakatakas, Chandels, the Gonds, the Sengars and the royal family of Rewa who have played a vital role in the conservation of Bandhavgarh. There is historical evidence that this fort was extended by Raja Vyaghra Dev of Rewa during his reign. It is believed that this fort was used as intelligence quarters by Maharaja Gulab Singh and Maharaja Martand Singh of Rewa. There is even a tunnel that leads directly to the city of Rewa. A singular route deemed both dangerous and difficult through the dense forest leads you inside the fort.
Though, the fort is out of bounds to visitors since 2012, remnants of its old grandeur is seen in the royal court, treasury, stables, school and others. There are statues of Lord Vishnu’s Dashavatar as well as Shiva Lingas inside the fort.
There are around 39 caves dug in sandstone believed to be over 2000 years old where saints and sages have spent a great deal of time in meditation. Brahmi inscriptions and figures of tiger, pig, horsemen and elephant are seen on the walls of these caves. Badi gufa or the biggest cave dates back to the 10th century and comprises of numerous pillars and nine big rooms. These caves now shelter varied wildlife and fauna.
The renowned saint, Kabir is said to have spent many years in the fort meditating and writing his dohas. There is even a secret passage in his hermitage which was used by Sant Kabir whenever he wished to meet his Guru in Varanasi. The followers of Kabir walk on foot to the fort for their annual two-day celebration in the month of August every year.
The famous reclining Vishnu is located at the base of the fort and this water pond is frequented by tigers, leopards and other wildlife. Lord Vishnu is resting on the seven-headed serpent Adishesha and hence called as Sheshashaiya. There is a huge Shiva Linga in stone on the left and a Brahma that is not visible clearly but is seen behind the roots of an old tree.
It is said that Yuvarajadeva of the Kalachuris of Tripuri also known as Kalachuris of Chedi commissioned this Vishnu temple in the 10th century. However, there is no real evidence that a temple or a closed structure was ever built over the reclining Vishnu. The beautiful Shesha Shaiya is at least 1000 years old if not more carved out of a single sandstone.
Legend has it that the water from all the lakes that were engineered by the royal families in the past, somehow joined together and emerged from the foot of this 32 feet long reclining Vishnu statue. This stream is known as Charan Ganga which flows through Chakradhara alongside Siddababa and out of the park. Forest officials say that this river also called as Vetravali Ganga has never been known to dry up. Interestingly, there is blue-green algae also known as cyanobacteria all over which are known to produce large amounts of oxygen.
The reclining Vishnu along with the Shiva Linga and Brahma forming the Trimurthi is revered by locals who come to light lamps on Diwali. There are many incidents narrated by locals and the priest atop the hill of how tigers have come to the aid of humans when under threat from other wildlife like sloth bear.
A visit to Bandhavgarh National Park is indeed an ethereal experience which is not to be missed.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)