One of the most impressive edifices built by the Guptas is the Dashavatara Temple at Deogarh village in Jhansi division of Uttar Pradesh. Deogarh or Devgarh derives its name from dev which means God and garh which means fort. Though only a single temple with a square sanctum sanctorum is seen today, excavations have revealed the existence of small square shrines in the four corners of the temple making this one of the earliest examples of the panchayatana layout.
Also called Sagar marh by the locals, this ancient temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu situated on the bank of the Betwa river in Deogarh was built probably around the 5th century. Historical research shows that the design of the shikhara built over the sanctum sanctorum is the first of its kind. However, it appears that this temple underwent significant damage over the years as there are different styles of architecture seen in the temple suggesting that successive kings made modifications to the original structure.
As the original idol placed in the garbha griha was either stolen or relocated, there was some doubt if this temple was in fact dedicated to Lord Shiva as there was a shakti peetam seated inside but the overwhelming relief work of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu seen on the facades indicated that this temple was indeed dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
This temple is said to be one of the earliest stone temples built and the structure seen today is in red sandstone and masonry. This temple sits on a high jagati (plinth) facing west so that the sun rays fall directly on the main idol. The plinth can be divided into nine squares and the main temple sits in the middle square. There is a flight of steps on all the four sides leading to the shrine.
The temple is about 45 feet high but evidence suggests that this temple might have been taller when built as the original towering spire appears to have had three receding tiers. There is a richly decorated entrance and elaborately carved panels on the three side walls. There is a rock-cut water tank (kund) in the western side of the temple.
The panchashakha (five segments) doorway of the main shrine is highly ornamented with rosettes, amorous figures, ornate pilasters and a garland in the Srivriksha motif. The lower portion of the doorway has dwarapalakas (gatekeepers) flanked by female figures. At the outer ends of each frame are keechakas holding a square pot in their hands which is typical of the Gupta style of architecture. At the top, we see makaravahini Ganga on the right and kurmavahini Yamuna on the left carved under an umbrella. The doorway lintel has Sheshashayya (Lord Vishnu seated on Adi Shesha) as lalata bimba.
The richly carved panels on the walls are spectacular depicting stories from the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharat and Hindu scriptures. Gajendra moksha, tapasya of Nara and Narayana, Ananthashayanam showing Lord Vishnu reclining on the seven-headed Adi Shesha, the story of Madhu and Kaitaba being attacked by the weapons of Lord Vishnu, Pancha Pandavas and Draupadi, Devaki handing over Lord Krishna to Vasudeva, incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the exile of Lord Rama, Sita Mata and Lakshmana, Lakshmana cutting the nose of Shurpanakha, Ravana threatening Sita Mata in Ashoka Vatika, battle of Lord Krishna and Kamsa, Lord Ganesha, Lord Kartikeya, Lord Brahma, Lord Indra, erotica and social scenes are some of the detailed panels seen on the façades.
Unfortunately, very few of the 80 panels have survived the test of time. This temple is a revelation of the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the Guptas.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)