Etched in stone

A 19th century Krishna temple in Madhya Pradesh has a panel depicting six men offering namaz

Written by Shalini Rai Narayan | Published: January 18, 2009 11:19 am

A 19th century Krishna temple in Madhya Pradesh has a panel depicting six men offering namaz
Every full moon day,the Shyam Kaka temple at Shaka Jagir village in Rajgarh district,some 100 km from Bhopal,is packed with devotees from the area. But if you were to visit the temple on a regular day,you wouldn’t miss the engravings to the rear of the temple. A panel (set in a quartet) depicts six Muslim men dressed in long robes and traditional headgear,offering namaz.

The temple,built in the mid-1800s,exhibits a strong Indo-Saracenic influence in its architecture. Drawing elements from the native Indo-Islamic style and combining it with Gothic revival architecture,it includes the pietra dura technique of using polished stones,which has been so famously used in the Taj Mahal. The Shyam Kaka temple has sculptures of royal processions,village duels,dainty belles and imperial deities. There’s consistent use of floral motifs to embellish engraved panels and easy,flowing lines to depict human and animal forms and figures.

Legend has it that when Bhagali Devi,queen of Shyam Dev Khinchi,a Rajput ruler of the Khinchi clan,fell out with her husband,she moved out of his palace and took shelter with Amara Singh Gurjar,a local chieftain. When Shyam Dev Khinchi was later killed in a battle,the queen,stricken by remorse,ordered that a temple be built in his memory. Here,she installed an idol of Krishna or Shyam,which was also the name of her husband. As a token of gratitude towards Amara Singh Gurjar,she made him the head priest of Shyam Kaka temple and since 1844-45,Gurjars claim to have been the priests here.

But the panel with the Muslim men has another story to narrate. It is said that while the temple was being built,six men from Arabia came visiting. They got into a scholarly debate with the head priest,Amara Singh Gurjar,on the superiority of their faith,says Saajan Singh Gurjar,the priest at the temple. “The visitors insisted that Mecca and Medina are the holiest places on earth. In response,Amara Singh offered to take them to the two holy cities without stepping out of the temple. The skeptical Arab visitors challenged the priest to do so,” said Gurjar.

What followed,according to legend,was a divine revelation of Mecca and Medina in the temple complex. The Arabs,awestruck,offered prayers right there. “The panel showing the six Arab men was installed as a tribute to this incident,” informs Gurjar.

Though the Archaeological Survey of India has declared the temple a protected site,the temple complex can definitely do with some better maintenance. The information podium at the entrance needs to be spruced up. The temple’s brilliantly-carved quartets too need attention.

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