Art & Culture, History

Temple trudges…

Gurrjar Dev Temple, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India

If one were to look at the innate motivations that pique one’s curiosity about temple ruins – somewhere in the middle of the animal instinct of seeking shelter from the elements and the intellectual cycle of constructing theories from the deconstructed – it’d be the simple appeal of geometry, large cuboid appearances staring from plinths raised on small, curvaceous sculptures… gods brooding in sanctums as minions crowd the exteriors, partaking in chores mortal or meditating towards eternity… either way, it seems like a coalesce in progress far, far away… history dissolving into deep history, time into deep time… as if the heritage belongs more to the past then the present…

‘Tis rather intriguing how Dwarahat has managed to veil itself away from the tides of time, as valleys around it have expanded, ran up to the ridges, tripped over rivers and gnawed their way into depths of the earth, the town – albeit for a few screeching decibels near taxi stands – basks in a lush green idyll, like a small brook that even at its more torrential would contently lap around the ankles, never to be incited into indulging in the destructive dance of the mightier of its brethren…

And in that same unassuming manner the town is seldom forthcoming about its rich history… the times of the Katyuris and the Chands… the small clutch of temples that survive as the only remnants of ancient glory, and from where the colourful rung of modern-day abodes seem to emanate like petals of a flower…

They talk of a time when civilization was a narrative of metallurgy and masonry, these temples… representing some of the most complex examples of ancient Indian architectural styles, the granite gneiss used as the building blocks split and chiselled into artistic forms in surprisingly ingenious styles, tied together using iron clams instead of mortar… looking through the lens of modern technology where everything is broken down into binaries and semiconductors, the thought of engineering as a derivative of heavy manual labour brings about a pleasant nostalgia…

We started top down, with the Kacheri group of temples, a dozen shrines in a five-five-two schema alternating between Shiv and Vishnu… a prominent well sits at the front, but the space seems rather claustrophobic, compacted due to the nature of the slope… the common porticos and brackets in the front are a discerning feature of this group…

Winding down, the footpath leads to Maniyan group, nine temples spread out comfortably on a flattened patch in contrast to Kacheri… imagery of Jain tirthankara make an entry here, carved on the lintels of the shrines, making the complex a mixture of Jain and Hindu deities…

Ancient temples are also where religions seem to find comfort in entanglement, where spiritual and cultural beliefs are allowed to graze in the neighbour’s meadows and the wire fences (that get barbed further and further with every passing century it seems) are yet to be drawn… like a glacier they stand, for further downstream the tiny rivulets will gather volume and cut valleys of their own, a shared genesis but ending up in isolated opulence…

Giving a pass to the Ratan Deo group due to paucity of time, we went straight to Gurrjar Dev Temple, unarguably one of the most intricate monuments in Nagar style in the Western Himalaya both in terms of the architectural style as well as the complex, layered artwork… the two-tiered plinth structure rises over an octagonal layout (Sekhari shikhara style) the central shrine is elaborately embellished with animal as well as human motifs comprising bulls, elephants, dancers, apsaras, wrestlers… four smaller shrines dot the vertices – the panchayatan form – dedicated to Shiv as determined by the broken water outlet (pranal)… while most other complexes date from eleventh to thirteenth century, this one is assigned a little later from thirteenth to fourteenth century…

In a rather offhanded manner, these temples also throw a query on the nature of time, their art forms depicting a circular perception of time as against the linear progression of narrated history… the conundrum of whether to consider civilizations as independent entities or just like the branches of a tree, each with its own beginning and end yet conjoined to a single trunk and thus being read as a whole in the narrative of the tree… much of the interpretation of ancient symbolism is now lost in the alphabet – something rather difficult to unlearn…

The Mritunjaya group now finds itself in the middle of traffic, and is one of the few that are still in operation… dedicated to Shiv and following the triratha plan of Nagar sikhara style, it has a well-maintained complex with a smaller temple dedicated to Bhairav… a couple of hundred meters or so diagonally behind it lies the Badrinath group, with the lore that during the Char Dham yatra of the yesteryears when ‘twas more or less a pedestrian affair, the older pilgrims for who could not toil so far would make their peace with the deity here… like Mritunjaya, it is also in operation, a black stone image of Vishnu in the inner sanctum the idol of worship, flanked by two smaller shrines one of which is dedicated to Laxmi…

History is a tough ask, for it is almost always expected to have learnt its lessons and offer wisdom for posterity, yet no one gives it the freedom to be a collection of random events that even though individually disconnected might offer an explanation when viewed as a whole… heritage is lost without pondering over the fact if ‘twas supposed to survive this long, and there are hardly any benchmarks like age as there are for mortal beings… ‘tis the immortality of the mortal in that case and the anecdotes are shaped thus… yet for all the confusion around the philosophy of history, these monuments offer food for imagination and curiosity, the basis of humanity…

Kacheri Temple Complex, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Kacheri Group
Kacheri Group of Temples, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Kacheri Group
Maniyan Temple Complex, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Maniyan Group
Maniyan Temple Complex, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Jain tirthankara motif, Maniyan Group
Maniyan Temple Complex, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Motifs on the inside, Maniyan Group
Maniyan Temple Complex, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Maniyan Group
Gurrjar Dev Temple, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
The two-tiered plinth leading up to Gurrjar Dev Temple
Gurrjar Dev Temple, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Ornate artwork on pillars, with motifs ranging from animals (bull, elephants) to human figures dancing and wrestling, Gurrjar Dev Temple
Gurrjar Dev Temple, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Gurrjar Dev Temple
Mritunjaya Group of Temples, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Mritunjaya Group
Mritunjaya Group of Temples, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Mritunjaya Group
Badrinath Group of Temples, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Vishnu statue, Badrinath Group
Badrinath Temple Complex, Dwarahat, Uttarakhand, India
Badrinath Group

The temple complexes of Dwarahat, Uttarakhand

Author: Parth Joshi

Allured by the outdoors, the author is made up in parts of that quintessential lost soul wreathing under the pangs of biophilia in a desk job, a wannabe elegist mostly ending up in dungeons of poetasters and an optimist waiting for the senility of the modern world to fade away while sampling shoots and leaves. In saner times, he has a keen interest in areas pertaining to tourism, history, agriculture and climate change, especially with respect to historical interpretations, emerging technologies and future livelihoods. An avid trekker, runner, cyclist, birder and photographer, he is more often than not found gloating over anything hinterland, on foot or over computer monitors, and fantasizing solutions that can foster inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods for communities at the grassroots.

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