‘Poetry in stone’ best describes the ancient Virateshwar Temple in Shahdol district renowned for its religious and spiritual potency. As the name suggests, Lord Shiva is worshipped here as Virateshwar, an embodiment of the entire gamut of creation. According to the priest and locals, the mere darshan of Lord Virateshwar helps one to experience the Supreme Consciousness (Chaitanya) within and is equal to having darshan of the twelve Jyothirlingas.
Legend has it that this region was a part of the kingdom of Virat or Matsyadesha in the Mahabharat and named after its king Maharaja Virat. Historical records state that the Pandavas spent their agyaatvaas (exile in incognito) in this kingdom. It is stated in the Mahabharat that before the Pandavas and Draupadi entered their final year of exile, they wrapped all their weapons in a cloth and placed it on a branch of an old Shami tree. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) found one such tree close to the temple confirming that the Pandavas did in fact spend their final year of exile in this region. There is a Pathala thod Arjun kund in Banganga that is said to have been created by Arjuna with his arrows.
According to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), this temple was built in the 10th century by the Kalachuris of Tripuri also known as Kalachuris of Chedi. Maharaja Yuvarajadeva I is credited with the construction of this architectural masterpiece.
The temple stands on a low platform and is built in the Vesara style of architecture with a garbha griha, an antarala and a mandapa. This east-facing temple (46 feet in length, 34 feet wide and 72 feet high) has richly decorated outer walls with three rows of sculptures. The shikhara of this thousand-year-old temple has tilted back about one and a half to two feet in the last few years. The temple has been renovated in recent years but the shikhara has not been restored to its original position.
The profuse relief work on the external facades is reminiscent of the temples of Khajuraho with intricately detailed sculptures depicting erotica, various yogic postures of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, Gods and Goddesses, floral and linear motifs and other auspicious Hindu iconography.
There is a majestic Nandi and lion statue near the entrance of the temple. There is an astounding statue of Lord Vishnu in the form of Chaturbhuj in the middle of the main entrance with Veenavaadini on the left and Lord Ganesha on the right. The ornamentation on the ceiling has since fallen off. The river Goddesses Yamuna and Ganga along with their attendants adorn the walls of the entrance of the garbha griha.
A Shiva Linga which is about 8 inches high is installed in the sanctum sanctorum. The outside walls are richly embellished with Veenavaadini seen on the right, Brahma in yoga mudra on the left and Lord Vishnu in the centre. There are also beautiful sculptures of Nandi, Arjuna holding the gandiva, Uma Maheshwar, Lord Ganesha in varada mudra, Lord Nataraja, Navagraha, Goddess Saraswati, Sapta Matrikas, Apsaras, Ashtadikpalakas and others.
The main attraction of this temple is the innumerable erotic sculptures of men and women. The imagination, skill and mastery of the artisans is reflected in the facial expressions, body language and detailing on each and every figure both male and female.
This is one of the finest examples of the grandeur, craftsmanship and architectural ingenuity of the Kalachuris and is definitely worth a visit. The spiritual energy of this place is to be experienced to be believed.
This temple is under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)