While in Raipur for the Annual Conference of the Indian Psychiatric Society, I suddenly decided, on a whim, to visit Bhoramdeo about which I had read some time ago. Since it involved staying overnight there, I was clueless as to how to take the idea forward. Google is a saviour in such instances! A quick search revealed a place Bhoramdeo Jungle Retreat. Since it was quite late by then, with much hesitation I rang up Sunny, the owner of the place. The connection was spotty. He said that he is far away from the resort, trekking in the jungle, but offered a place to stay without hesitation.
The next morning we drove down to Bhoramdeo. The first hour of drive was quite challenging as we had to negotiate huge trucks laden with iron ore. The landscape was enchanting after that and the road was smooth as silk. It wasn’t surprising then to hear from the driver, that we are heading towards Kawardha, the hometown of the Chief Minister of Chattisgarh, Dr Raman Singh! After thirty minutes’ drive from Kawardha, we landed at Bhoramdeo Jungle Retreat.
It was a welcoming and homely environment. The rooms were beautifully decorated with works of local artisans. After a delicious lunch under the canopy of a huge tree, we made our way to the Bhoramdev Temple, which was just around the corner.
At first view, the temple stunned me. The fact that there could be a temple so beautiful, yet so unknown, miles away from civilization was equally intriguing and surprising. The outer walls of the temple were embellished with panel upon panel of exquisite sculptures, covering a wide range of themes from the religious, the symbolic to the erotic. Soft morning rays of the winter sun dappled their way over the sal and bija leaves, setting the temple aglow with a gold lustre.
School kids in uniform fanned around me, I was blocking their view. The bigger boys gawked at the erotica nonplussed; girls glanced fleetingly and turned away, embarrassed. Their teachers had tactfully abandoned them, probably in their bid to avoid the uncomfortable questions. Little interpretations were whispered about with good-natured ribbing. Some nodded their little heads at a nayika who was kneeling in front of a man lipping his member. The smaller boys looked at the bigger ones hopeful of an explanation. The big ones just winked with knowing smiles!
The temple is said to have been brought to public attention by Alexander Cunningham, the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India who visited Bhoramdeo during the 1880s. Based on the inscriptions found in the temple he deduced that the temple was built by Lakshana Deva Raya, probably a religious head and dedicated to the king Gopaladeva. According to Cunningham, the temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu and when the Gonds came to power in the region, the image of Vishnu was replaced by the Shivalinga one finds inside the temple today. In local dialect ‘Bhoramdeo’ stands for Lord Shiva. The Shivalinga in the garbhagriha, is too small to have been part of the original temple.
Dating to 1100 AD and much older than the Khajuraho Temple Groups, the resemblance to Khajuraho in the images and architecture is striking. To a lesser extent, the semblance to Odisha's Konark Sun Temple is palpable. However, while the subject and sculptural style is contemporaneous with Khajuraho, to term Bhoramdeo as the “Khajuraho of Chhattisgarh” would not be quite apt in terms of magnitude.
The erotic sculptures are carved out only on outer walls of the temples. Inner walls do not have any sculptures. Perhaps it indicates that one can meet the God only after leaving behind all sensuality and pleasures. What is striking is that Hinduism while emphasizing diverse philosophical orientations - of renunciation, asceticism and detachment on the one hand could also accommodate sexuality and eroticism as part of the environment of the temple rather than in any secular space. Erotic images could be metaphors for the bliss of union with the divine. They could also represent the world of the senses in which we are immersed, and the quest to transcend them to achieve spiritual solace.
Chhattisgarh has been always considered as India's hidden secret. An unexplored and untouched travel destination.
And Bhoramdev Temple is a scintillating example of that!
Glimpses at: goo.gl/photos/bhJLgK515895UnN78