One of the finest brick temples of India is the Bhitargaon Temple at Bhitargaon village in Ghatampur tehsil in Kanpur Nagar district. Considered to be the earliest surviving temple built by the Guptas, this architectural masterpiece is constantly in the news for its innovative construction as well as its mysterious background. Though the plan of this ancient temple suggests that it has been built according to the tenets of Vastu Shastra, there is no record of any god being either installed or worshipped here. The first rays of the sun fall directly on this east-facing temple which made some historians suggest this temple was probably dedicated to Lord Surya but the villagers categorically state that there is no presence of divine energy in this place for centuries.
Since the 1900s, no local or villager or birds or even animals pass through or even enter the temple premises after dusk. Locals say that for the last hundred years, strange happenings have been witnessed at midnight like the sounds of shehnai, dhol and ghungroo as well as movement of persons within the temple.
Some villagers found gold bricks while digging near a pond near the temple which led them to think that there is some invaluable treasure that lies somewhere in this temple and is guarded by certain elements that are not visible to the naked eye. There have been several instances when dacoits as well as wanderers have entered this temple in search of this treasure after sunset only to be found dead the next morning! Even the locals are petrified to enter this temple during daytime and generally avoid this place altogether. It is said that this entire region used to be a dense forest in the ancient times and this temple was accidently discovered by nomads.
However, this temple is considered to be one of the greatest achievements of the Guptas. It is widely accepted that this temple was built in the 5th century by Skandagupta as many temples in brick are found in the vicinity built in the same period. The temple originally had stunning sculptures in the outer façade along with an elaborately detailed mandapa, ardhamandapa, antarala and the rare trapezoidal-shaped shikhara above the sanctum sanctorum. This is suggestive of being one of the earliest examples of the Nagara style of architecture which took on several variations over the years.
Unfortunately, this temple was struck by lightning somewhere in the late 1800s and suffered immense damage. The structure that we see today has been reconstructed based on records, eyewitness reports and findings from excavations on the site. The temple houses an idol of Lord Vishnu in his Vamana avatar, Durga Devi with four arms as well as an image of Lord Ganesha with four arms. There is a Varaha carving in the back of the temple indicating that this temple was probably dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
The temple is built on a platform of about 36 feet by 47 feet and rises to a height of about 68 feet from the ground. The temple also appears to be square in plan with tri rathas indicating that a tall spire was built above it. The walls of the temple are 8 feet thick and the sanctum sanctorum is square in plan about 15 feet in measurement built in two storeys. 18-inch-long, 9-inch-wide and 3-inch-high bricks were used to create this marvellous structure. This temple has the earliest known voussoir or true arch in India.
Ornamental terracotta panels of figures, gods and goddesses, animals, stories of the abduction of Sita Mata, penance of Nara and Narayana and other stories from the Puranas adorn the walls. Pilasters, friezes, reliefs, moulded pillars and horizontal bands on the roof and walls are testimony to the ingenuity and masterly skill of the sculptors and craftsmen of the Gupta period.
It is sad that this temple has been desecrated on multiple occasions over the years and only fragments of the past grandeur and architectural brilliance of the Guptas remain. This temple is now a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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