Shiva in a unique form
The nondescript Talegaon village, also known as Talagram and Amerikapagram, is 90 km from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. Located on the banks of the Maniyari river, it is home to the 6th century Devrani-Jethani Temple complex. The twin temples built of red sandstone are in ruins, and stand on a six-acre sprawl that is now an open-air museum.
Yet they offer visitors a glimpse of the glory that must have once been. It is the unique seven-foot-high idol of Rudra Shiv, supposedly encompassing within it all of creation, that serves as the main crowd puller to this little hamlet.
The entrance to the precincts, architecturally in an Odishi style, is of recent origin. A beaming Hanuman flanked by swans is at the centre of an archway; the twin pillars of which have Karthik, Ganesh and a few apsaras sculpted on them. A small flight of steps to the left of the archway lead to the embankment of the Maniyari waters, its opposite bank shrouded in lush greens.
The area was once a dense forest; the accidental discovery of portions of the ruins by a cowherd kindled the interest of archaeologists. A series of excavations began in 1977, and the area is now an ASI-protected monument. A silver coin of Prasannamatra of the Sharabhapuria Dynasty unearthed here prompted scholars and historians to date the temples to the 6th century AD, when the Sharabhapuria rulers held sway in the region.
The king supposedly had the twin temples built for his two daughters-in-law; hence the name Jethani-Devrani (elder and younger daughters-in-law) Temple. The edifice must have certainly witnessed its days of grandeur, as testified by several exquisitely carved but damaged fragments of sculpture that lie scattered in the verdant lawns.
It is surmised that the art at Talegaon was partially influenced by the architectural style of the Guptas, who ruled large parts of India at that time. The temples bear testimony to the Shaivite cult that was followed in the region. While both the temples lie close to each other, the Devrani Temple is better preserved. The doorway to the sanctum sanctorum is ornately bejewelled and contains foliate scrolls interlaced with birds, swans and floral garlands, apart from carvings of mythological characters. Goddess Lakshmi as Gajalakshmi is flanked by the ghandarvs, and the pillars themselves are adorned with the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna. Alongside idols of Shiva-Parvati, there lies on a single slab of stone, the navagrahas, with other ruins that reveal sages and figures that bear semblance to the tantric idols seen in Khajuraho.
Remains of the past
The temple was built to resemble a chariot, pulled by a pair of elephants in the northward direction; hence the temple has entrances facing east, west and south. Most of the figures here, including those of elephants, crocodiles and goddesses, though intricately sculpted, have suffered damage of varying degrees. Half a dozen steps lead to the south entrance that has four pillars, two of which are held aloft by the bharvahaks or weight-bearers. These pillars are in various states of preserve.
Talegaon’s most stunning and unique discovery, unearthed with minimal damage, is the iconographic seven-foot-tall image that came to be named Rudra Shiv, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world. The idol, placed under lock and key, is believed to weigh well over five tons and is characteristic of the tantric cult much in practice among the villagers and tribals of the region in those times. The anatomy of the idol is a curious mix of the Almighty’s creation at all levels — amphibians to avians to mammals! While nothing is known about the artiste who created this masterpiece, it may be surmised that the serpent was his favourite subject. A pair of coiled serpents represents the head gear.
Serpent hoods adorn the shoulders, which come down to the arms in the form of a crocodile with serpents forming the fingertips. The snake also serves as motif for the waist band and the left leg which it entwines. A lizard in descent forms the nose of the idol, whose ears are adorned by peacocks. Frogs’ eyes, fish as moustache and crab for beard, complete the face. Seven human heads of varying sizes bedeck various parts of the torso. The largest of these forms the abdomen while a pair of smaller ones serves as the chest. Each thigh is sculpted with a pair of smiling heads on its front and exterior sides. The knee is portrayed by heads of the lion. The head and neck of a tortoise denote the genitalia. The feet of the idol are represented by the elephant, symbolic of the might holding up the entire being!
While the temple’s biggest celebration happens during Shivratri when it attracts devotees by the thousands. It lies deserted for the rest of the year barring the curious tourists who come in great numbers to see this unusual sculpture of Shiva.
* Road: Travel on NH 200 on Bilaspur-Raipur Route. Talagram lies on the Bhojpur-Dagori stretch of the highway. It is 30 km from Bilaspur and 90 km from Raipur. When travelling from Raipur, take a right turn after the Maniyari Bridge from Bhojpur village.
* Rail: Dagori Railway Station on the Bilaspur-Raipur network is the nearest, about 7.5 km from Talagram.
* Air: Raipur is the closest airport.