Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul.
Exploring an unfamiliar place on a motorcycle was an unusual way of travel for me. I rode through black ribbon roads, emerald jungles and encountered local tribesmen and women going about their daily chores.
Riding pillion with my motorcycle guide I set out on an adventure of discovery, mystery and folklore. We traversed the districts of Barsur, Dantewada and Bastar which are home to a rich assortment of ancient temples dating back to 1000 years.
Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations – Our first stop was the enchanting Narayanpal temple.
The Temple of Narayanpal – Dedicated to Vishnu, Location – Bastar
A few kms away from the magnificent Chitrakoote falls is one of the most beautiful temples found in Bastar. The temple of Narayanpal is an outstanding architectural creation.
The exteriors have been patiently and intricately carved. The temple tower has finely sculpted designs similar to the temple architecture of Orissa. As I navigate the premises, the temple reveals itself gradually. These weather-beaten stones tell us stories of gods and goddess, from a forgotten period.
Entering into the sanctum I look up, hypnotised at the concentric circles. Stone tablets carved with ancient calligraphy and images explain past events which increases my curiosity to know more.
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware – Barsur welcomed us with a glorious sunset over the Indravati river. A town, filled with legend and folklore, Barusr cannot be missed….
The Temple Town You Cannot Miss, Location – Barsur
In its days of glory, Barsur was a quaint temple town of more than a 100 temples. Most of them have disappeared over time. The handful that still remain are an eclectic mix of beauty and ruin.
A few centuries ago, the sound of chisel over stone, would have been a melodious symphony. Stone cutters and architects would have collaborated to create these exquisite houses of worship.
As we rode into streets flanked by serene lakes and carpeted with fallen leaves my guide gave me interesting insights about the history of the temples. We talked about the folklore of Mama Bhanja temple, counted the pillars of Battisa and marveled at the statues of Chandraditya.
The Temple of Chandraditya – dedicated to Shiva
Well-preserved, stunning sculptures are the hallmarks of Chandraditya temple. Each figure is carved giving attention to details. Gods and goddess are found alongwith with sculptures of daily life. Erotic sculptures were a norm and figured prominently as part of the temple architecture.
The placement of each of these sculptures could have a meaning. They, seemed to symbolize earthly pleasures and problems, which are supposed to be left outside before entering the temple.
A small pond is located behind the temple. It was the typical of the setup of those times. A waterbody was often accompanied with a temple in its vicinity. This allowed people to purify themselves, symbolically, the soul, before entering the temple.
Mama Bhanja Temple – Dedicated to Shiva
There is an interesting folklore about the origin of the Mama Bhanja temple. The story goes that a nephew killed his uncle and hung his head over the top of the temple, due to which it gets its name. The sculpture of the head can be seen on the temple tower even today.
The apex has intricate carvings and designs which are the high points. Its architecture style borrows similarities to the temples from Orissa, possibly due to the masons brought from there to build this temple.
Battisa Temple – Dedicated to Shiva
The absence of a tower makes for an unusual temple style. Named after the 32 stone pillars that dominate the space, Battisa emanates beauty in simplicity.
There are two inner sanctums containing a shiv ling each, accompanied by exquisitely crafted nandi bulls at both entrances. It was strange that, one of the shiv lings can rotate at 360 degrees while the other is set in stone and cannot be moved. A mystery perhaps, whose answers are lost in time.
The Twin Ganesh Temple – Dedicated to Ganesh
A gated enclosure houses the remains of two Ganeshaas, one bigger than the other. They were sculpted together for two sisters, which could be an explanation for the difference in size; however, we may never know this. Ruins around the Ganeshaas indicate the remains of a temple which had a shiv ling.
Unknown Lake Temple
The ruins stand stoically in the middle of a serene lake. Perhaps it was eroded and destroyed over time by the moods of nature. Maybe some of its parts are underwater, its glorious architecture waiting to be revealed someday.
As we rode away from Barsur, I looked back through the swaying rice paddies, trying to capture one last picture of this place in my memories.
And suddenly you realize your travels were more education than vacation – We had a pit stop at Dantewada to visit the popular Danteshwari temple. But before that, was an elaborate lunch at the Indian Coffee House. Spirituality and modernity walked side by side in Dantewada.
Danteshwari Temple – Dedicated to Goddess Danteshwari, Location – Dantewada
Goddess Danteshwari is considered as the patron goddess of Bastar and has a huge following with the locals and tribes alike.
Legend has it that the tooth (danth in hindi) of goddess Sati fell in this region. The people took this as a sign and built a temple in her honor naming it Danteshwari. The temple was established in Dantewada which has derived its name from the Goddess Danteshwari. There are several other sculptures of gods and goddesses found in the temple which are centuries old.
No place is boring, if you had a good night’s sleep and have a pocketfull of unexposed film – The air got cooler as we rode into Faraspal village. Camping under a sky full of stars and fireflies was just the beginning of an exciting adventure.
Dholkal Ganesh Temple – Dedicated to Ganesh, Location Bastar
At 3000 ft above sea level an idol of Ganeshaa, dating back to more than 1000 years, rests on top of the Dholkal hill. The tribes of Bastar were trekking up since centuries to worship Ganeshaa. The modern world discovered this only in 2012. The origins of how this temple came up on top of the hill is a mystery.
Lush forests and panoramic views are motivators for an easy day trek to Dholkal peak.
Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness – A motorcycle and some temple dust!
Barsur, Bastar and Danetewada are accessible by road. The nearest airport is Raipur.
You can contact unexploredbastar.com for such experiences. I recommend Sonsay my motorcycle guide for his patient and skillful riding.