One of the best-preserved brick temple complexes of the 9th – 10th century is found in the sleepy village of Nibiya Khera in Bhadwara. Though no inscription has been found, it is likely that the Gurjara – Pratihara dynasty who ruled over a large part of Northern India built this temple.
This temple complex has an east-facing main shrine with four subsidiary shrines placed in a particular manner that is quite uncommon. Normally, in the panchayatana layout, one sees the subsidiary shrines placed at the four corners with the main shrine in the middle. However, here we see three subsidiary shrines built at the corners but one shrine is built in line with the northern wall of the main shrine.
Though, a jagati (platform) is common in most of the temples built by the Pratiharas who favoured the Nagara style of architecture, here we see all the shrines rising directly from a large raised platform. The central shrine appears to be stellate on plan with dwadasha bhadras (twelve sides on the exterior) while the interior is square in plan. It has a mandapa, an antarala and the garbha griha but the original mandapa has since collapsed. Even the antarala appears to have been modified later and probably the original stellate plan had panchadasa bhadras.
Two Nandis sit majestically facing the entrance of the temple though one is severely damaged and the other appears to have been installed at a later date. This temple is one of the earliest surviving examples of the latina shikhara (slightly curved single spire placed over the square sanctum sanctorum) in brick. The richly embellished shikhara is styled as saptabhumi (seven seats).
Ganga and Yamuna are seen standing on their vahanas of makara and kachchhapa respectively with their attendants on either side of the lower part of the door jamb. The door frame of the garbha griha is made of stone and has a beautiful carving of Goddess Gajalakshmi seated on a lotus flanked by elephants on the lalatabimba. This gave rise to the theory that this temple was perhaps initially dedicated to Lord Vishnu but sometime later became a Shaivite temple dedicated to Lord Bhadraeshwara. There is a panel of the navagrahas carved above the door lintel.
There is a lovely Shiva Linga placed in the sanctum sanctorum. A panel on the inner west wall of the shrine appears to have some carvings which have unfortunately suffered from the ravages of the weather. One surmises that they could be of Lord Kartikeya and Lord Veerabhadra. Though the interior of the main shrine is quite plain, the exquisitely decorated exterior façade more than makes up for it.
The subsidiary shrines are constructed as triratha and their shikharas would have also been intricately carved but unfortunately their upper part seems to have either collapsed or been damaged. All these shrines are empty at present. Archaeologists and historians are still trying to determine what exactly happened to this temple complex and the idols that were seated in these smaller shrines.
There are stunning floral, geometric and linear motifs seen on the exteriors. Though the niches of both the central shrine and the surrounding ones are rather bare now, one can imagine the harmonious combination of motifs and iconography that had adorned these facades at one time.
This temple complex is rather unknown and has lived in the shadow of the more famous Bhitargaon Temple that is a little distance away for years but recently India Post issued a commemorative stamp of Nibiya Khera bringing it into the limelight.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)