Thursday, November 11, 2010

Loni Bhapkar Temples : A Photo Travelogue

Who would have known that there is a treasure of such exquisite temples, hidden in a rather nondescript village near Pune, if wasn’t for some cursory ‘gupshup’ on the netchat ? 
Curiosity led to some google searching for more info about the location and this eventually culminated in my  trip to Loni Bapkar.
Loni Bhapkar is a small village situated around 55 kms from Pune (taking the Pune-Saswad-Jejuri road). It lies around 15 kilometers from Jejuri and around 8kms after Morgaon.

On the way, I took my ‘darshan’ at Morgaons famous Ashtavinayak temple, before proceeding for Loni Bhapkar. 

Morgaon Ganpati temple was constructed by Sant Morya Gosavi , founder of Ganpatya sect,sometime in the 17th century.
After driving approximately 8kms from Morgaon, I came across the Loni Bhapkar signboard. I had to take a right turn for Loni Bhapkar.
The road was rather rough, but manageable. I passed through some sugarcane fields for a couple of kilometres before actually sighting the village. 
I made a few enquiries about the temple and I was surprised to find that there was not just one but three medieval temples located in this village.

The first temple one comes across is the Bhairavnath temple. The temple has some beautiful shikharas that can be visible over the temple walls. I parked the car in a open space outside the temple and entered the temple premises through a huge fabricated metal gate. I soon discovered that this was not the main entrance but one of its four accessways . 

The temple has a rectangular plan and is surrounded by tall temple walls made from black stone.

The main entrance is earmarked by a spectacular nagarkhana ( a building like structure that doubles as the doorway. It also houses a room which may serve a an administrative office) . 

One of its walls is decorated with a lotus motif alongside a ‘vyaghra shilpa’ (carved tiger. vyaghra in sankrit is a tiger. It can even predate a tiger and can be a 'Vyaal'. But this particular beast is shown having great streangth and flight.So it is most probably a 'Sharabha' , a mythical half bird half animal of great streangth. It is shown carrying elephants in its paws). Vyagrhra/Vyaal shilpa's are the most common of the motifs found in medieval structures. Probably symbolising , a spirit of the tiger that guards the concerned temple.

Just facing the nagarkhana, are two tall stone deepamalas (a pillar where lamps are placed) . Alongside there is a stone post which may act as a flagmast , besides a deep stepped well where devotees take a bath before proceeding with the rituals.

On the right hand side of the nagarkhana was a huge temple bell. 
As my digital camera zoomed in on the bell , to my astonishment, it had the words IHS or the latin monogram, Jesus Homeo Salvator (Jesus my savious) inscribed on it, along with a cruciform and a date 1685. I wondered what a medieval Christian bell was doing in a Hindu temple? I was then explained by a local that it was a Portuguese make bell, and was probably brought as a war trophy, from one of the Maratha Portuguese battles.

As I moved further, I noticed a stone slab with Lord Krishna figure carved on its face. It was lying unworshipped and unattended in the corner. I paid my obeisance to this great avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu and proceeded further.

The entire temple is made from black stone except for the shikharas and the entablature.
The temple’s shikharas are made from an aggregate of lime, gypsum and plaster and colourfully painted on its exterior. 

The style appears ‘Devali-Nagara’, so prominent in Maharashtra, with a ‘Sekhari’ and ‘Indo saracenic’ influence.

 The main spire over the garbhagriha section is made of a central bulbous dome and has a ribbed design . It  is surrounded by smaller spires. Each spire has a ‘nasi’(niched windows: a dravida terminology) on its face with a deity idol carved within it. There is another turret like dome spire in ‘meghadambari’(umbrella) style placed before the main spire and is flanked by two ‘nasi sthambhas’ (niched spires).

The sabhamandap section also has a onion shaped dome surround by four minaret like spires.

The frieze is decorated with figurines of saints and the entire structure is very colourfully painted.

The sabhamandapa appeared to be Yadav kaalin (dating to the Yadava period viz.9-14th century) because of the style of its architecture especially because of the use of black stone in its construction.

The sabhamandapa (main hall) doorway is flanked by two carved pillars having inverted cobra hoods on their capitals and a floral design on its centre frame. To my dismay, I found the pillars have been rather gaudily painted as had been the entire sabhamandap interior. Even the open windows had been closed with a metal frame . 

I always believe that a temple , especially a old temple, appears more better in its natural form. The black stones used in temple construction have their own charm and should’nt have been marred by this coat of paint. But ignorance about conservation of old monuments does exist and renovation is often mistaken with preservation.

The sabhamandap is square in shape and has four pillars supporting the ceiling besides carved pilasters adorning the corners and wall centres. 

The ceiling has been designed in the shape of a lotus within a diamond shaped frame.
The pillars are embellished with motif work on the mala (central frame) and on the malasthanas (plate section above the central frame). 

Some of the 'malasthanas' had designs what appeared to be serpents with interwined tails and 
one also had a mural depiction of an animal hunt , where a animal that resembled a boar was being hunted by two men. 

One man was shown attacking the boar with a spear while another with a bow, was aiming his arrow at the animal from behind. 

Another pillar showed a group of musicians .

The floor of the sabhamandap is graced with a typical circular plate grooved on it circumference.

The inner walls of the sabhamandapa have two gavakshas/devkoshta(aedicules)One has an idol of Lord Ganesh placed in it while the other has a Shiva linga.

There is a antarala (vestibule) dividing the sabhamandapa and the garbhagriha(sanctum sanctorum). The antarala has a cluster of brass bells hanging from the ceiling.

The garbagriha has a intricately carved doorframe with statuettes of deities at the base ends.
The garbhagriha houses the radiant idols of Bhairav Bhairavi and Bhairav Yogeshwari, all being incarnations of Lord Shiva and Godess Parvati. I was told they had been contributed by Sardar Sonaji Bhapkar who hailed from this village. This village itself was a jagir of the Bhapkars who were the courtiers of the Peshwas in the late 18th century.
After seeking the blessings of the deities , I spent a lot of time wandering around the temple, trying to understand it features and also clicking photographs. 

After clicking photographs to my hearts content, I proceeded to my next stop, which was the Someshwar mandir(temple).

The Someshwar mandir is rather plain in appearance, devoid of any carvings or motif work unlike its Bhairavnath counterpart. 

The sabhamandap has a rectangular plan and the shikara of the garbhagrha is nagara with a stepped design and an onion shaped dome on the head.

In the courtyard, there is a statue of Nandi enshrined in a temple of his own. I offered my salutations to Shivas most faithfull devotee, who day in and day out tirelessly guards his doorway.

The sabhamandapa is square in shape with the usual broadened pillars there is a antarala (antechamber) which separates the sabhamandapa (hallway) from the gabhara (sanctum).

The gabhara houses a Shivalinga. I prayed before it in all earnestness and also spent a few moments seated in the sabhamandap. For some reason I experienced a calm inside the temple, which all temples should have, but generally dont.

The temples most interesting facet is the presence of several veergals. I had never seen so many veergals located in one place. 

Veergals are medieval stone slabs with carved images, dedicated to the local warriors who martyred themselves in the battlefield, mainly found in the Deccan region. 

This indicated that Loni Bhapkar was a village of martyrs.

Each veergal was unique in its own way with different pictorial depictions.

The typical veergal is usually composed of layers. Each layer has a story to tell. The first and the topmost layer shows the particular martyr facing a Shivaliga, symbolising that he has reached Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, after his death in battle. The second layer shows him with the ‘apsaras’ or celestial dancers indicating that life post death for martyrs is always in bliss, the third shows a battle scene depicting the martyrs exploits while the lowermost pictures the martyr with a bulls head probably showing that the martyr is now a part of Lord Shivas army, like Nandi the bull (also Shivas carrier and guard).
After taking leave of the Someshwar temple, I proceeded towards the Mallikarjun temple.

 I must admit that,this was the temple that attracted me to Loni Bhapkar in the first place.
The Mallikarjun temple can easily be identified as a Hemadpanthi Yadavkaalin temple. Hemadpant was a minister in the court of Ramachandra , the last independent king of the Seuna Yadava dynasty. Hemadpant is attributed to constructing several temples in and around Maharashtra. His unique signatory architecture recognised all over Maharashtra by its use of chiselled black stone having a male female combination and without the use of any mortor. Even the introduction of the Modi script (prior to the use of devanagari to write marathi) is credited to Hemadpant.

The temple plan is rectangular and the temple itself is made in the Bhumija-Nagara style (Its peculiarity is the use of a central latina prasada projection and is flanked by several smaller spires, placed one above the other and arranged in symmetrical rows and columns). The bottom end of the central plate has a nasi like niched window. Typically there is a deity figurine in the nasi, but it has since withered away. The portion below the sikhara projects outwardly into a cornice which in turn is supported on the remaining layered frieze and architrave.The shikhara of the sabhamandapa has four smaller spires in each of its corners, while the central portion is a plain semi hemispherical dome. 

The temple walls have two ornate door frames and also some empty ‘devkoshtas’ (aedicules) where figurines of deities were conspicuously absent.

The façade of the temple comprises of two latticed windows surrounding two carved columns flanking the doorway. 

There are a few Nandi idol facing the temple.The main one appeared intact, but there were two more that were defaced.

The sabhamandapa itself is square shaped and the ceiling is supported by four pillars. There are also some carved pilasters adjoining the walls.

The temple was completely vacant and didn’t seem to have a regular ‘pujari’. If there was one then he seemed to be having his siesta. 

The sabhamandapa is an art connoissieurs delight. Its every nook and corner appeared to be sculpted, especially the pillars.


 Every pillar had a story to tell of its own. The sabhamandapa pillars were carved in layers. 

The pillar column has yakshas (celestial beings) which appear to carry weight of the ceiling.

Every central frame of the pillar has carvings viz. musicians playing various instruments, 

scene of Seeta haran i.e abduction of Seeta by Ravan while Rama Laxmana chase the demon Maricha who has assumed the form of a deer,

some vanars (monkeys) praying before Lord Rama,a wild elephant being tamed into submission by a man and 
a dog (?),

an elephant being chased by a beast (possibly a sharabha who has this penchant for elephants), 

apsaras dancing,a woman dressing up and helped by her maids,some pillars have motif work and much more.

 How I wished I had a better camera  (especially while clicking the images in the dark) ? 
When there is little light, ones camera needs to be absolutely steady, else the pictures appear very blurred. A  tripod to support the camera is recommended in such ituations.I hate the use of flash inside temples (and you are also advised against it, as photography is banned inside some temples. The reason given is, artificial lights are said to disturb the Gods and defile the sanctity of the place) as I always prefer using as much natural light as possible.But at times , the use of the flash is very much necessary.

The ceiling of the sabhamandapa is lotus shaped in the centre and in concntric circles within a diamond frame at its various sides.
Like in most temple designs, there is a short antarala separating the sabhamandapa and the garbhagriha.

The garbhagriha frame is very intricately carved with a Ganesha statuette adorning its head and various deity,apsara statuettes at its end bases. The garbhagriha was closed by a metal grill. 

But I could see two shivalingas inside, signifying presence of both Shiva and Parvati as Mallikarjuna (Mallika is another name fr Godess Parvati and Shiva is also known as Arjuna).

After I came out of the temple I noticed what looked like a huge Jala kunda (water tank)/barav (stepped well) in the left direction. As I closed in I realised the beauty in its enormity. 
The kunda was very ornate and facing what I was told was a Datta mandir. The Kunda was inwardly stepped and was rectangular in shape.

 It was surrounded by a stone wall which had several empty devkoshatas (niched windows/aedicules). 

But its hallmark was a gazebo like construction at one end of this artificial pond. It was heavily carved with some beautiful sculptures. 

As I started peering at them in all earnestness I realised they were the Vishnu ‘dashavtars’(his ten incarnations) carved in stone besides other Gods like Shiva and mythological heroes like Arjuna,Krishna,Balrama  etc.. 

There was an interesting and unique carving of a Matrushilpa or a woman giving birth to a child.
Besides, there was a section for erotica as well. I have always tried to understand the meaning of erotica in temples. 

The closest explanation I got was,  just as a couple in a sexual intercourse is absolutely oblivious of its surroundings , simmilarly a devotee in a temple needs to detach himself from the outside world and concentrate only on the Lord . Hence these erotica figurines in temples. 

There were also some figurines of women dancing, some playing different musical instruments etc.

Later I moved around the kunda, surveying its wall from outside (and also hoping for a better angle for my camera)
when I chanced upon a isolated statue lying completely unattended in the adjoining field. After nearing it I realised it was Lord Vishnu in his Varaha avatar.The head appeared defaced and its body was adorned with ornaments in stone. There also appeared to be a asura (demon) beneath its limbs begging for mercy or was it a mortal with folded hands (he too was defaced)? Below every limb of Varaha were the paraphernalia of Vishnu, viz Shankh (conch),padma (lotus),gada(mace) and chakra ( sharp edged disc). I was told that the defaced worn off idol had (has) 142 images of Lord Vishnu carved on it.....hmmm, interesting.
I wanted to explore the temple further, but time was limited and it was getting dusky.

As I was driving away from the temple I noticed two pedhis (mansions with a fortification) at a distance of a few metres from each other. As I enquired I was told that they belonged to the descendents of Sardar Bhapkar.

The Bhapkar family had several names to its credit like Shahaji Bhapkar,Gorkoji Bhapkar, Sonaji Bhapkar (I had earlier noticed the name of Sonaji carved on the Bhairavnath temple floor), all of whom had distinguished themselves in various battles, most noteworthy being the battle of Panipat in the second half of the eighteenth century where several illustrious sons of this family martyred themselves for the pride of the maratha empre. 
How I wished to meet the members of this eminent lineage. But the sun was setting and time was a constraint, so I drove away bidding an adieu to the Loni Bhapkar village, promising to return soon.

Text and Photographs: Abhijit Rajadhyaksha


  1. awesome ,will visit his place as soon as posible

  2. Thank you Smita. Loni Bhapkar is indeed a hidden treasure trove.

  3. Yes Durgesh. It was certainly a revelation for me.

  4. Hi Abhijit,
    This was very nice information shared by you.

    Thanks a lot to share my village to all.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. The pleasure was entirely mine. Your village was a complete revelation.

  7. अभिजित राजाध्यक्ष
    धन्यवाद .
    माझ्या गावाचे फोटो काढून सर्वान समोर आणले . ऎतिहसिक व सांस्कृतिक गोष्टीना उजाळा मिळाला

  8. Dear Abhijeet,

    We all Bhapkar from Loni Bhapkar thanks to you from our bottom of heart. Really you did fabulous work and rediscover our village hidden things. you did great work and took our village on global map. thanks once again. I request you please visit our village on annual festival i.e. in month of April you will find many more things which you never seen before. Myself Dr. Prashant Bhapkar Lives in Bangalore. pls provide your contact number.

  9. अभिजित राजाध्यक्ष धन्यवाद .माझ्या गावातील फोटो काढून सर्वान समोर आणले . ऎतिहसिक व सांस्कृतिक गोष्टीना उजाळा मिळाला.या ऐतिहासिक वास्तू ला सर्वांनी भेट द्यावी . धन्यवाद ...

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  11. I am a 75 yr old and have a passion to visit old places. Reading yr travellogue I drove to supe from solapur pune road but lost my way in the village. Can you precisely give directions from solapur road hadapsar to these temples. I will make one more attempt. I am driving Honda city.