One of the lesser-known architectural masterpieces of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty is the Maladevi Temple located on the eastern edge of a steep slope overlooking the Manosarovar Talab in Gyaraspur. As this late 9th century temple is hardly a kilometre away from Hindola Torana, one can question if these two temples though built at different times were somehow connected.
Interestingly, the Maladevi Temple cannot be seen in entirety as one makes their way up the hill by road. However, as one begins their descent on foot, the temple emerges from behind the rocks with miles and miles of green fields, clumps of trees and hillocks dotting the expansive landscape behind.
Maladevi Temple proved to be a conundrum of sorts for historians, architects and archaeologists in the late 1800s. Initial archaeological excavations suggested that this was a Buddhist temple. On a closer look, some of the idols seated in the niches within the temple were found to be Jain Tirthankaras. It was then thought that this temple was dedicated to Adinatha as four large idols of Jain Tirthankaras in padmasana were found in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
However, the Lalata Bimba that is the most accurate insignia of a temple has a carving of Vaishnav Devi seated on Garuda establishing without a shadow of doubt that the original structure was a Devi temple. Perhaps, the name was changed to Maladevi by either the locals or a ruler who commissioned modifications to the temple to incorporate the Jain iconography of yakshas, yakshinis and others.
This temple has been ingeniously carved out of rock in some parts with later additions in stone. It stands on a natural platform and has a porch, mandapa and garbha griha. The main entrance to the sanctum sanctorum has Ganga and Yamuna on their respective vahanas flanked by their attendant. The imposing shikhara over the sanctum sanctorum is a visual delight.
Each and every part of external façade is richly embellished with traditional Hindu iconography, floral motifs, gods and goddesses seated in the niches, musicians, dancers, sages, stories from the scriptures, various forms of Divine Mother and others. These sculptures appear to be carved out of rock and are held in place by large boulders which makes this temple an engineering marvel!
The highly ornamental jharokhas, carved columns and linear elements on the external façade are typical of Jain architecture. Every part of the ceiling and walls inside the temple is adorned with intricate rock-cut carvings of dancers, celestial beings, gods and goddesses and auspicious Hindu motifs. The beams have detailed panels of figures enclosed in small niche like frames that are quite difficult to identify.
The circumambulation path around the sanctum is inaccessible now. Entry inside the temple is restricted as a large part of the sanctum sanctorum that is carved into the hill has caved in.
Maladevi Temple is a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Though it is in ruins today, the unparalleled mastery of the artisans of the Pratiharas is on full display.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)