The second day after leaving Bhopal, we visited the historical Shiva Temple in Bhojpur, an architectural wonder built in the 10th century AD and famous for housing the largest Shiva Linga in the world. Traditional lore speaks of this astounding monument being incomplete as it was built in one night. It was interesting to note different historical and mythological narratives about this sacred site revealing the gaps in cultural and academic historicity. The majestic structure, under ASI’s protection, was a treat to the eyes and soul alike given the sacredness of the monolith which is the ‘lingam’, standing 10 feet tall on carved blocks of huge stone. Yet one couldn’t help notice the tourists, loud, irreverent, ‘selfie culture’ lot that thronged this symbol of spiritual ascendance.
Looking at the magnificent awe inspiring structure carved out of stones was a humbling experience in itself but it seemed that the visitors were least interested in maintaining the sanctity of this stunning architectural wonder. The question occurred to me as to why we, the Indian tourist community with our rich spiritual traditions, seem reluctant to observe and realize ourselves in sacred places? After all, these temples and huge monolithic architecture are built all around the world in ancient cultures to signify and symbolize the highest powers of the universe and thereby demand respect and decorum. But for those raised in modernity and its concomitant science, a deep reflection of how much we don’t know or have lost pre-historic and obviously highly developed knowledge systems. Our inability to maintain this basic respect for the art and architectural heritage of a particular culture in a each historical epoch speaks a lot of our own value system which clearly needs a rethink.
This, one of its kind Shiva Temple, was built in 10th century during the rule of Raja Bhoj of the Parmar dynasty. The king was a practitioner of Tantra, a unique spiritual system. One can find the Tantric symbology all over the temple with its demonic gods, goddesses and strange half human creatures, a technique found in any other Parmar architecture and also noticeable in the 7th century Mahabalipuram architecture and some even more ancient remains of Dravidian art and architecture.
The story goes that the construction had to be abandoned as the king decided to accept an invitation from a neighbouring kingdom that was under attack by the infamous Ghazni. He could never return to complete the construction. This is the official historical version endorsed by the Archaeological Society of India that also tells of how such stone carved temples would often have a blueprint of the complete structure drawn on the floor. The narrator, a highly placed civil servant whose mother had been an archaeologist, claimed to have discovered it and challenged us to find it for ourselves. The structure is so amazing with its gods and goddesses and strange avatars and creatures carved in the stones on pillars standing some fifty feet tall that I completely forgot to look at the floor for the blueprint. The temple's huge and world’s biggest Shiv Linga seemed dwarfed by the surrounding pillars with statues carved at the top of Goddesses as of overlooking the Loman below. The ceiling is equally amazing with intricate and meticulous design carvings that were symbolic of Tantric art.
The whole experience was mind boggling as certain questions, raised for the pyramids, the Ajanta temple, the Ellora caves and most of the ancient structures, surfaced in my mind. Questions that challenged my science conditioned rationally trained mind as a subject of modernity like what technology was used. How could they build such huge structures in such short time and if they could really have built all this with mere hammer and chisel as history would have us believe. Something is definitely amiss in our understanding and some special or sacred knowledge has definitely been lost in the narrative of history. With these questions in mind my circumambulation round the lingam brought me to a local guide who had a completely different take on the history of the structure.
The local tradition is more mythological and holds that this magnificent stone architecture was constructed by the Pandavas which was never completed as it was supposed to be constructed on the particular ‘tithi’ (an auspicious time period) alone. Efforts by later rulers and archaeologists alike failed in completing the structure. This was interesting for most sacred structures are often built on the remains of a pre-existing structure. Apparently, the ancients knew about certain energy spots of earth which thereby would become sacred places. The guide explained that the ten feet tall lingam was placed by Kunti, mother of the Pandavas, being 25 feet tall herself. I couldn’t help think of similar myths of 25 feet giant race in many ancient cultures across the world. For me this story was an example of how a rich positive cultural narrative is woven which then serves as a fabric that weaves a particular regional identity together. Humans as cultural beings, this aspect of alternate history was of particular interest specially given the stress on creating positive narratives in the Jai Jagat movement.
In the present time, what is deeply concerning is the way we look at these structures of great cultural significance. Dhyanlingam like Bhojpur Shiva lingam that once offered space for meditation and self-realization is turning into a tourist spot where people are busy taking pictures ready to be uploaded on Facebook. This manifests the sad state of education that has completely ignored the importance of learning life of discoveries. It is sad to see that most education systems aim at creating machine-like individuals who earn, spend and continue the mundane cycle.
Looking at the tech savvy generation of tourists it is sad to see a loss of value for cultural heritage and also the surface knowledge that the generation is satisfied with given the ubiquity of mobile phones and Google, of course. It is this culture of the self, the truly and completely self absorbed ‘me’ generation that all we see at such sacred places are people clicking selfies or insisting others to take their pictures even before going into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
The question then arises if that wonderment in us, the seeker in us is alive? How curious are we to learn about life, it's truths and meanings? How willing are we to accommodate new ideas and raise questions. How can we escape modern education's conditioning that allows for only one method rooted in reason and rationality and thereby limiting our imagination, deconstructing our rich cultural narratives and in the end dehumanizing us. The spectacles of this mediatized self destructive society as seen in the phenomena of terrorism or this phenomena of ‘selfie bombardment’ in a highly temporal and virtual space, the root cause and the effect are the same – violence and more so violence towards the self as well as others. Violence in forms not apparent but no less violent. We need to get out of this ‘me, my, mine’ mode if we are to bring some peace in our lives and care for others. This obviously calls for inculcating empathy for the other and a deeper understanding of nonviolence as a way of life. The beginning must come with alternative education systems or education systems with foundations of innate callings that is connected and in harmony with life and nature and respect for the other.