Khidrapur, a small village in Maharashtra, is home to a thousand-year-old temple
Driving through rural Kolhapur towards Khidrapur reminded me of my visits as a child to these parts of Maharashtra. At Sangli, we traveled in tongas towards the Shiva temple located on the banks of the picturesque river Krishna. The journey itself was exciting and looked forward to by us urban kids. This time we were visiting another Shiva temple but going by car. As we left the city behind and got into rural terrain the journey seemed no different from childhood journeys.
When we set out to visit the stone temple of Khidrapur, the guide book said 60 kms and it didn't seem that far but it took a much longer time to drive down as most of the road meanders through small villages. It was sugarcane harvest season and every now and then bullock carts loaded with sugarcane would block the one-lane roads, we would have to patiently cool our heels and let them pass before driving on. Tourists have not discovered this place yet. There aren't any road signs pointing to the temple site and one has to stop and enquire at several places.
It was harvest season and driving through rippling fields of millet, ripe yellow sunflowers, dense sugarcane and cool banana plantations made us forget the blistering afternoon heat. This was real village life untouched by urban ugliness. Old-fashioned red-roofed houses with wells in the courtyard and the beautiful white flowering 'chapha' trees gracing courtyards. Bullocks instead of tractors tilled the farms and not a single car zipped past us.
I had stumbled upon 'Khidrapur', when browsing through a friend's photostream. The beauty of the stone temple had left me entranced. The temple, it seemed, was an ancient stone structure, about a thousand years old and the style looked very similar to the beautiful temple of Belur and Halebid. Very little was known and published about it.
Khidrapur really is a very small village with only a couple of tea stalls outside the temple complex. Stepping through the simple stone entrance, the sight that meets your eyes leaves you spell bound. My teenage daughter, who usually greets new places with the bored cynicism typical of a teenager, was speechless and just wandered around touching the smooth, time worn stone structure with reverence.
The lone guide roaming the premises soon spotted us and gave us his spiel on the temple history and mythology. It was a wondrous story... the myth behind the beautiful, ancient stone temple. Lord Shiva is bequeathed with an unusual name here.
'Kopeshwar' the furious one and never was a name more befitting to his true nature. The story goes that his wife Sati went to visit her father, King Daksha. King Daksha had been less than impressed by his wild son-in-law Shiva of the austere and almost frightening demeanor, who got punch drunk with his followers and danced the wild, abandoned 'tandav', had a serpent around his neck, adorned his body with ashes and carried the river Ganga in the wild, matted locks on his head. And, so, Daksha insulted Shiva. Sati could not bear this and jumped into the 'yagna', immolating herself. Shiva was infuriated upon hearing this and started emitting tremendous heat. The legend says that this temple was built to cool him down.
The temple was supposedly built by three generations of kings, the Shilahar kings Gandaraditya, Vijayaditya and Bhoj-2 between 1109 and 1178 ad. There are inscriptions in Devanagri in the temple to support this. It's also one of the few temples where both the Shaivas and Vaishnavas, who are arch rivals, come together in worship.
Step into its cool precincts and marvel at the beautiful circular swarga mandap which is most unusual in its architecture. There are 12 beautiful tapering pillars which support the stone ceiling that is open to the skies. There is a beautiful round black stone slab at the centre which is called the 'rangshila'. Sitting on the centre of the stone with sun showering its rays down on you, through the round open 'akaash gavaksh' on the ceiling and looking towards the dark inner sanctum of the grabha griha with its beautiful Shiva ling is a unique experience.
The Sabhamandap, Antaralkaksha and Garbhagriha, which is almost entirely in darkness, follow. The guide book informs us that the temple is adorned with '105 elephants and 95 pillars and hundreds of sculptures depicting scenes about from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Shiva, the twelve astrological signs and flowers, trees, birds, human figurines.'
Unfortunately, the sculptures are badly mutilated by Islamic invaders in the later centuries. The story goes that one of Aurangzeb's progeny strayed when wandering around on her own and came across this temple. She was so entranced that she refused to leave the temple complex and go with her attendants. The Emperor came personally to fetch her. She requested him not mutilate the temple and mar its beauty and so the temple remained unscathed from the otherwise merciless Aurangzeb's saber.
It was Khyder Khan a later invader, who supposedly mutilated the carvings on the temple and cut almost all the elephants' trunks. There is no accurate historical record of this, though. Whoever destroyed it, you feel pained to see such beauty marred and mutilated. The irony is that the village of Wadi-Kopeshwar later came to be known as Khidrapur after this cruel invader.
Though, one does feel that this ancient architectural splendor should be appreciated and more people should visit, you dread the thought of it becoming another tourist spot. I am going to visit atleast one more time before that happens.