We were to catch a train at Lalitpur which is located on the trunk route between Chennai and Delhi closer to Jhansi junction in the state of Uttar Pradesh (India). However, we learnt that the train was running some six hours behind schedule and therefore was not likely to arrive before 8.00 PM. We were at Lalitpur before noon and were upset for we had to wait for such a long time before we could start moving. Meanwhile, our driver who drove us this far, to see us off, suggested a visit to Deogarh to spend the time as he knew about my obsessions. We were really thrilled at the idea of making use of this time gap fruitfully and drove away to this cherished destination. It was at a mere distance of 33 km's south of Laitpur at the western end of the Lalitpur Hills.
Once on the top of the hill, ruined temple structures seemed waiting for us. In fact there is an insignificant medieval fort built by a ruler named Kirtiverma somewhere in the 12th century and therefore named as Kirtigiri. In one of the inscriptions it is also referred to as Luachhgiri but presently it is known as Deogarh only. Standing temples could have been there much before the fort came into being. We came across a ruined structure of a Varaha temple. Only the platform exists. The idol seems to have been stolen away. Devgarh was a great centre of Jainism from 8th to the 17th century and there were supposed to have been some 40 temples around, out of which 31 still exist. The temple of Jain Tirthankara Shantinath is of unique importance with splendid carvings. Within the temple campus are panels depicting scenes from Jain mythology, Tirthankara images, Manasthamba votive pillars, Ayagpatta votive tablets, Sarvatobhadra Jain images visible from all sides and Sahasrakuta pillars carved with a thousand motifs of Jain monks. Among other important structures at Deogarh are the rock cut caves, Siddha-ki-Gufa, Rajghati and the Naharghati.
The river Betva flows majestically winding its way through a deep gorge on the right. From the top of the hill, it offers an excitingly beautiful, out of this world panorama. We were just spell bound looking down. The only other spot we could think of which could match this wondrous beauty was encountered at Satdhara near Sanchi. Steps have been carved out leading to the waters of the river. Number of cells have been cut out of the rock to the left as we climb down. These small cells were once inhabited by the Jain monks who used to meditate there enjoying the natural beauty surrounding it. Many of the cells have inscriptions on the walls in a script datable to around 8th/9th century AD.
After climbing up, we rested a while, had a re-look at the surroundings which were full of wilderness with growth of vegetation all around. Clearly, there were no attempts to keep the place tidy. We then drove back. Within a few kilometers of drive we came across a standing temple at the left with which we seemed to have been acquainted but never knew that well this is here. A small interruption has become inevitable.
In India when we started providing a shelter to our Gods with various manifestations, we thought they will be safe in caves like Barabar,Ajanta and Ellora. In the plains, we continued to worship them keeping under sacred trees. Then there was an awakening. We provided for a roof for them by constructing a square flat roofed structure called temples. Thereafter, we got worried about the devotees visiting such shrines and for them a small porch (Mandapa) got added. The earliest living examples of such temples are found at Tigawa near Jabalpur and Sanchi. In the evolutionary process of Indian temple architecture, the next thing was to provide a cap for the flat roofed structure known as Shikhara. The earliest example of this type of Panchayatan style temple is in Devgarh which is datable to around 470 AD. The one at which we stopped.
This temple dedicated to lord Vishnu is known as Dashavatara temple made of red sand stone. Some of the sculptures are of black and gray granite as well. Built over a high elavated platform, the door jamb is adorned with sculptures of the river godess Ganga on the one side and Yamuna on the other. Entry into the sanctum sanctorum was, however, blocked. We had to remain contended going round and having a look on the other three sides. There were panels showing the salvation of Gajendra (Gajendra Moksha), Penance of Nar and Narayan, and Vishnu depicted resting over the mythical serpant called Sheshanag. Lord Kartikeya riding his vehicle, the Peacock, lord Indra on his Elephant Airavata, Lord Brahma over the lotus and lord Shiva and his consort Parvathi on the Bull (Nandi) are depicted above the reclining figure of Vishnu. Under the same panel, it is perhaps for the first time in the Indian temple iconography that we find the team of Pandavas together with their wife Draupadi appearing below the reclining Vishnu. However, we do have such examples of Pandavas appearing in temples dedicated to lord Shiva from the 7th century onwards. (This is however, contested. They have now been identifed asfour Ayudha Purushas with Madhu and Kaitabha, the demons at the left)
By the time we were back at Lalitpur, it was around 6.00 PM only and therefore we went to a joint near the clock tower of the town famous for their hot mangodas (Pakodas) and returned to the station after a fill. The waiting for the train continued.