P K Mishra
    The world -renowned temple town of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site for its archaecological and historical monuments ,was again in the news recently. Its earliest temples which date back to more than 1100 years- were ,surprisingly, not the first to be constructed at this pilgrimage site of yore. The ancient mounds recently excavated at Khaujuraho brought the existence of earlier brick temples to light. Hence even much earlier wooden temples could also have been a reality.

    To unravel these remains possibly dating back to the Gupta period (8th century AD) or earlier, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) undertook excavations in the early eighties and again this year.

    Situated amidst the Khudar and Kutni rivers besides the larger river Ken, the region around Khajuraho was blessed with much of the resources required to sustain a vibrant population. The Ken river facilitated the transportion of men and materials from other parts of the country. This helped in the import of ideas and craftsmen from distant lands. However, conspicuous building activity in the tract around Khajuraho started from as early as 200 BC, particularly at Bharhut in Satna district and during the Gupta period at Bhumra, Nachna and Deogarh. Talent was also available in the region. With these antecedents it is no wonder that 84 temples were reputedly built at Khajuraho in a period spanning from the 8th to 12th century AD.

Intensive Excavations

    To unravel the mystery of the 84 temples, the ASI initiated an intensive survey in 1980. The finding of 18 mounds and other associated structures with definite evidence of the remains gave some credence to the common belief that the remains of many more temples could be found outside the ambit of the 10 kms. diameter.

    In 1981 the ASI started excavating the largest of the Satdhara mounds located to the east of the Western Group of Temples. The excavations provided a rare insight into the cultural sequence of the place. The remains showed clear evidence of Pratihara and Chandela periods ( 11th &12th century AD) . One of the most interesting find was the presence of a triple shrine with a common Mandapa (porch) and Pradikshina Path. (path of circumambulation). Significantly, the earlier structures were now known to be made of bricks. The continuous occupation of the site is evident by the superimpositons of all the three periods on the brick structure.

Archaeological Finds

    Several sculptures including that of Mahishasur Mardini, Vamana and Yamuna were found. Other significant finds include various beads, terracotta pendants, figurines of bull, gamesmen, disc and iron objects . Among the iron objects , some remarkable ones included the arrow heads, fragmentary blades of dagger , leaf-shaped spear head besides nails and other miscellaneous artefacts.

    The excavation was resumed in the main mound of the Bijamandal group of mounds during 1998-99. The mound located about 3 km. south-east of the Western Group of Temples is approachable by a metalled road till Chaturbhuj temple. From there, a short travel on an unmetalled road towards the old Jatkhara village would lead one to the site.

    Also known as Vaidyanath, this mound on pre-excavation reconnaissance was thought to be remains of a big temple, at least comparable with the Vishwanath temple at Khajuraho, in dimension.

    Thus the mound with Shiva Linga was taken up for excavation in order to expose the extant remains of the temple at its base. The actual digging which started in early this year was undertaken at the highest levels of the mound excluding the Shiva Linga and Yonipatta. First the topmost layer consisting of stone chips came into view. This layer also had much cobble and broken architectural fragments and mutilated pieces of sculpture. Beneath the first, layer huge block stones were found. These colossal stones perhaps formed the foundation of the pillars supporting the Mahamandapa (large hall).

    Excavations were continued on the sides of the mounds so as to expose the extant mouldings. From the maze of partly-hidden and exposed strutures of entire architecture of the Garbagriha ( cell containing the image of the presiding deity), Mahamandapa (large hall),Mandapa (porch) and Ardhamandapa ( narrow sloping roof) were constructed. The extant remains belong to the basal part of the temple. The lowest of these are resting on coarsely-dressed blocks which apparently were below the soil.

    A study of the moulding revealed that the highest one was about 2.25 metres. At places, particularly in the northern half ,the mouldings were very few as these may have fallen down and rolled away. The Antarpatta mouldings show scenes of portly men being attended by male and maid servants to the accompaniment of dance and music. Other scenes include warriors on the move along with horses and elephants. A preponderance of elephants has been noticed. Most interestingly, in-situ depiction of Jain Tirthankaras is seen . Curiously, whereas one of the Tirthankaras has been carved to full detail including Swastika the other one at the opposite side was yet to be carved. In this panel the carving done from left to right has been lucidly shown by the fact that the attendant on the left of the viewer has been finely carved whereas the central deity and the attendant to its right was in the process of being given finishing touches.

    The sculputures at this site belong to three distinct phases. The earliest one has simpler sculptures with lesser attributes. These are more or less rotund in nature. The second phase is represented by sculptures with full elaboration in iconography. The third phase sculptures are slender with typical ornamented head dress. Many of the sculptures of divinities are either lacking in depiction of their attributes and Vahanas (vehicles) or else the attributes are different from those generally associated with them.

    For instance, the comparatively intact figure of Saraswati does not show her Vahana ,i.e. ,swan. Incidentally, this figure was also not given the finishing touches like combing of hair or carving of particular outlines of gems on the jewellery. Similarly, another in-situ figure apparently of Shiva as understood by headdress holds flower buds in its upper hands.

    This structure has been found to be longer than the largest temple of Khajuraho, namely Kandariya. Whereas Kandariya measures about 30 metres in length the extant remains of Bijamandal temples have a length of 34.60 metres. It is however slender in comparison to Kandariya by about 75 cms. Another technological finding was the lime coating especially over the Jain figures. The full grandeur of the marvels of Khajuraho is apt to come out once the excavation work is complete.